Veterans will soon get to shop tax-free online with AAFES

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Hey veterans, you can soon shop tax free.

Starting later this year, all honorably discharged veterans, no matter their branch of service,  will be eligible to shop tax-free online at the Army & Air Force Exchange Service with the same discounts they enjoyed on base while in the military. It’s the latest way in which the organization is trying to keep its customers as the armed forces shrink and airmen and soldiers buy more for delivery.

Adding 13 million potential new customers will give extra ammunition to the group that runs the stores on U.S. Army and Air Force bases worldwide as it fights Amazon and other retailers for veterans’ online shopping dollars.

Since hiring its first civilian CEO five years ago, the Exchange has upgraded the brands at base stores to include items like Disney toys, Michael Kors fashions and other top names. Like private stores, it’s also imposed tighter cost controls, reduced the number of employees and improved people’s experience on the website.

“The intent is to really beat Amazon at their game because we have locations literally on the installations,” said CEO Tom Shull. “We’re leaning toward not just ship-from-store but pick-up-from-store and eventually deliver-from-store.”

The Exchange is adding shipping centers within its stores to allow it to send products directly from those locations more cheaply and quickly. Twenty-six stores now ship orders, and that will expand to 55 by the end of the year.

Continue onto Stars & Stripes to read more about this service.

Kirstie Ennis: Going “Full Throttle”

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Kirstie Ennis

By Brady Rhoades

Veteran Kirstie Ennis is one of the best Paralympian snowboarders in the world, and she’s also eying the seven great summits, recently climbing 19,341-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and 16,024-foot Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia. On one leg.

As a Marine Corps sergeant. in Afghanistan—a helicopter door gunner—she wrecked a leg when the helicopter she was in crashed. That leg was amputated above the knee in 2015.

Her jaw was destroyed, she lost teeth, she injured discs in her spine, and she suffered facial lacerations, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD.

In the process of undergoing more than 40 surgeries, she came to a realization, acquiring a come-to-terms toughness and wisdom that would help motivate her to train as a snowboarder for the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang County, in the Gangwon region of South Korea.

And to attempt to conquer the tallest peaks on all seven continents.

Countless times a day, she repeats one of her mantras: Stop worrying about what you lost. Look at what you’ve got. Or: What counts is what’s behind your rib cage and six inches between your ears.

She’s only 26, but her near-death experience offered an invaluable lesson on how precious time is.

“I go full throttle,” she said. “I come up with obnoxious goals and I go after them.”

It’s hard to believe that this fifth-gear athlete chasing Paralympian goals—and literally ascending historic heights for an above-the-knee-amputee mountain climber—spent months in hospital beds, nearly lifeless, filled with doubt, enveloped in depression. She wondered how she’d ever get around, go on. What would she do? Would she ever wear a dress again? Would anyone ever be attracted to her?

Idle time can be a wounded warrior’s worst enemy. Fathers can be their best friends.

“Dad said, ‘People in the Middle East couldn’t kill you, and now you’re going to collapse?'” she recalls. “The light went on and I said, ‘I made it home. Nobody owes me a damn thing.'”

Kirstie Ennis

Ennis had to mine for the toughness that is at her core, but her sense of humor? That comes effortlessly.

The same year her leg was amputated, she participated in the Walking with the Wounded event, in which wounded warriors trek 1,000 miles, ending at Buckingham Palace in London. Ennis left dozens of dog tags bearing the names of fallen comrades along the way. She also met Prince Harry, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

Prince Harry, not one to shirk his duties, logged many miles during the event. At one point, he turned to Ennis and complained that his knee ached.

“I looked over and was like, ‘That’s (expletive) cute, really,’” Ennis said. Prince Harry cracked up.

Ennis and Prince Harry became fast friends. At the conclusion of her walk, she presented the final dog tag to him.

Their embrace was photographed and zoomed across the wires, making her a celebrity in a matter of minutes.

For her service to the country, Ennis has earned the NATO Medal, Combat Action Wings with three gold stars, National Defense Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Air Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Afghanistan National Campaign Medal, two Letters of Appreciation, Certificate of Commendation, and a Certificate of Appreciation.

But who says you can’t be uber-tough and sexy?

ESPN called, asking her to grace the cover of ESPN The Magazine‘s 2017 Body Issue, with rather risqué photos of her on the inside pages. They wanted her to climb Joshua Tree, sans clothes.

She had her doubts. But Ennis tends to run toward challenges, toward fear.

“I thought about it and considered the demographic and the people Kirstie Ennisthat would see it, and I realized that it wasn’t about me anymore,” she said. “Any man, woman, or child facing some sort of adversity has the potential to be inspired by these pictures of someone who has only been missing her leg for a few years go out and do things she wasn’t doing with two legs.”

Ennis appeared in the Body Issue, along with other great athletes, such as Javier Baez (baseball), A.J. Andrews (softball), and Malakai Fekitoa (rugby).

The daughter of two Marines, Ennis enlisted out of Florida when she was 17 years old, in 2008. She served for four years as a helicopter door gunner and airframes mechanic when disaster struck on June 23, 2012.

While on her second deployment in Afghanistan, Ennis’ CH-53D helicopter crashed in the Helmand Province.

Badly injured, she fought to remain on active duty but was medically retired in 2014. After her below-the-knee amputation on November 23, 2015, Ennis contracted the antibiotic-resistant MRSA and, because of a resulting infection, doctors were forced to remove her knee a month later.

“A below-the-knee amputation is night-and-day from above-the-knee,” she said. “You have to relearn everything. You’re basically a toddler.”

When she was told that surgeons would have to perform above-the-knee surgery, she said she “lost it.” She cried. She wailed.

“It’s one curveball after another,” she said.

She still struggles, emotionally. “I’d be lying if I said it’s easy,” she said.

Two years after her life-altering surgery, she’s adapted, and she’s developed coping skills, which is a critical component of recovery.

Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t.

Set lofty goals.

Stay busy.

And true to her military training, be of service to others.

“When I’m having a bad day, I help someone who’s missing three limbs,” she said. “There’s this common misconception about what strength is. In the grand scheme of things, we’re in this together. You have to realize that you have to turn to somebody.”

Some of her best days involving helping other wounded warriors—whether it be through her notoriety as a star Paralympian or simply visiting a hospital.

“I know I’m on a platform,” she said. “I want to inspire people to reach their potential.”

She recalls a wounded warrior uttering eight words that she’ll never forget and that make her journey—as harrowing as it has been—worth it.

“You inspired me to walk another 10 steps,” the woman said.

 

Army Sergeant First Class Wade Mitcheltree Receives ELAN-Controlled Custom Smart Home from the Gary Sinise Foundation

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Gary Sinise Foundation

PETALUMA, CALIFORNIA, February 6, 2018 — During his second tour in Afghanistan in 2012, U.S. Army SFC Wade Mitcheltree was severely injured by an IED, resulting in the loss of both his legs and his right arm below the elbow. When Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment) learned of Mitcheltree’s bravery, they awarded him a brand new specially adapted smart-home in Tigard, Oregon, that allows him to independently manage day-to-day tasks with ease.

Randy Reagan of Quadrant Systems, the integration firm that managed the project’ technology integration, knew that an ELAN Entertainment and Control System was the best smart home platform for Mitcheltree and his family. “ELAN is by far the most intuitive control system out there,” Reagan said. “It’s very simple for the homeowner to understand how to use it without having an expert show them. The icons are large, and the lighting controls are laid out on the touch panel the same way they are on the keypads on the wall. It’s perfect for Wade, his wife, and his two sons.”

Reagan built the home’s system around an ELAN gSC10 controller, with an ELAN g1 for secondary control and an ELAN S86A for audio distribution. Multiple ELAN touch panels and remotes were integrated throughout the two-story residence so that the Mitcheltree family can access the platform from any room of the house at any time. With just the tap on a screen, the family can manage the home’s audio, video, lighting, climate and security systems.

“Even if Wade is on the second floor, he can have full control over the whole house using any of the touch panels or his own iPad,” said Reagan. “If someone rings the doorbell, he can easily see and talk to them through the ELAN Intercom, and even unlock the door. We set up ‘away’ and ‘welcome’ scenes on the ELAN system, so that he can easily configure the entire home with just the touch of a button.”

For entertainment, Quadrant Systems also installed a robust multi-Gary Sinise Foundationroom audio system, which includes of SpeakerCraft in-ceiling speakers and Sunfire subwoofers. The entire system is easily controlled through the ELAN platform, so each member of the family can stream any music they choose throughout the whole house or just in one room. This versatility, along with the crystal-clear audio from SpeakerCraft and Sunfire, makes their new home the perfect place to entertain friends and family.

Reagan and his team also installed an impressive security system that Mitcheltree can arm and manage through both a physical keypad and the ELAN platform. It includes a complete and comprehensive DSC system, and is also connected to the motorized locks on the exterior doors. “Through ELAN, Wade and his wife can easily secure their house from their bed or anywhere in the world using their iPads,” said Reagan. “This gives them an incredibly important peace-of-mind and an enhanced sense of security, which is especially important as they have children.”

Judith Otter, Executive Director of the Gary Sinise Foundation, emphasized how important the customized features of the home were to Mitcheltree and his family. “They’ve been through a long and emotional journey working toward Wade’s full recovery, and this home allows them to relax and worry less about daily tasks,” Otter said. “The ELAN system is especially important for Wade, as it allows him nearly complete independence, which otherwise may not have been possible. We’re grateful for the involvement of everyone behind the ELAN brand as we work to continue providing American heroes with a completely customized specially adapted smart home.”

For high-res images of the home, click here. To watch a video of the home dedication, click here.

About ELAN
ELAN, now part of Nortek Security & Control, develops an award-winning line of whole-house entertainment and control solutions distributed through a comprehensive channel of select dealers throughout the United States, Canada, and countries worldwide. The ELAN 8 update was honored with the “2017 Human Interface Product of the Year” award and continues to expand its intuitive functionality. To learn more, visit www.elanhomesystems.com.

About Nortek Security & Control
Nortek Security & Control LLC (NSC) is a global leader in smart connected devices and systems for residential, security, access control, and digital health markets. NSC and its partners have deployed more than 4 million connected systems and over 20 million security and home control sensors and peripherals. Through its family of brands including 2GIG®, ELAN®, GoControl®, Linear®, Mighty Mule® and Numera®, NSC designs solutions for national telecoms, big box retailers, OEM partners, service providers, security dealers and consumers.

Headquartered in Carlsbad, California, NSC is a subsidiary of Melrose Industries PLC, a global investment company specializing in acquisition and performance improvement. With over 50 years of innovation, NSC is dedicated to addressing the lifestyle and business needs of millions of customers every day. For further information, visit nortekcontrol.com.

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PAVE Employment Event Series Connects Veterans to a World of Opportunity

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PVA

WASHINGTON, D.C.—PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment), a leading provider of vocational counseling and job placement assistance for veterans a flagship program under Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans), will be conducting six PAVE Employment Events that bring veterans and transitioning service members together with prospective employers to overcome the significant barriers they face in the workplace. Events will be held in key markets across the U.S. in 2018.

PAVE is open to all veterans, their spouses and the caregivers of disabled veterans. PAVE counselors work to connect those individuals with a network of over 1,200 corporate partners committed to supporting veterans and their families. Services are offered to veterans, spouses and caregivers at no cost and once a participant joins the program, they are a partner for life. This ensures the long-term success of the veteran workforce and gives participants the confidence needed to take on whatever challenges lie ahead.

“We have this great group of veterans entering the workforce that has already undergone extensive training but in many cases, needs a little assistance navigating the job market,” said Shelly Stewart, national program director for PAVE. “It’s incredibly rewarding to help guide them through that process and watch them flourish.”

While PAVE is open to any veteran, spouse, or caregiver, the program is run by the Paralyzed Veterans, an organization chartered over 70 years ago to ensure paralyzed veterans receive the benefits they deserve through their service. This has placed PAVE in a unique position to address the needs of paralyzed veterans in the job market, such as mobility, accessibility, and other physical challenges.

“PAVE has been an integral part of our recruiting efforts and helping us place veterans in our organization. They put veterans’ needs first,” said Thomas Birch, recruitment consultant for Xceed Group.

In 2016, there were roughly 20.9 million veterans in the U.S. That accounts for about nine percent of the civilian non-institutional population and a major contributor to the American workforce. PAVE Employment Events give organizations the opportunity to directly connect with this vast pool of potential employees and play a pivotal role in the lives of veterans looking to take the next step in their careers.

“PAVE events are a rich environment for a job opportunity,” said Leon Mallery, Air Force veteran and PAVE participant that secured a job as a result of a PAVE event. “There are employers eager to spend one-on-one time with you and see if there’s a way you can fit into their organization.”

For more information on how veterans, spouses, caregivers, and employers can join the PAVE program and participate in upcoming Employment Events click here. For additional details on the event in Tampa, click here.

Upcoming Event Times and Locations:
• February 7, 2018 – Tampa, Florida
• April 11, 2018 – New York, New York
• July 11, 2018 – Nashville, Tennessee
• October 17, 2018 – San Diego, California
• February 13, 2019 – Seattle, Washington

About PAVE:
PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment) provides vocational counseling and job placement assistance to veterans, spouses and caregivers across the country. Our unique, no-cost program offers assistance with a variety of customized job search strategies that position our clients for success. Through the generous support of both private and public partnerships, the PAVE program strives to place at least one veteran, caregiver or spouse every day.

PAVE also provides on-going support to employer partners who want to leverage the unique training and skills of our nation’s veteran workforce. By partnering with PAVE, employers will recognize why hiring veterans is good for their bottom line. PAVE strives to find the best jobs for veterans and the best veterans for jobs.

About Paralyzed Veterans of America:
Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For over 70 years, we have ensured that veterans have received the benefits earned through their service to our nation; monitored their care in VA spinal cord injury units; and funded research and education in the search for a cure and improved care for individuals with paralysis.

As a partner for life, Paralyzed Veterans also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces, provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation, and advocates for veterans and all people with disabilities. With more than 74 offices and 33 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans serves veterans, their families, and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

U.S. Air Force’s Heritage Flight to perform flyover for Super Bowl LII

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Heritage Flight

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight is scheduled to perform the flyover at the start of Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 4.

The Heritage Flight will consist of one F-16 Fighting Falcon, two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and one P-51 Mustang flying in formation over U.S. Bank Stadium. This is the first time the Heritage Flight team will conduct a flyover for a Super Bowl, and it will be broadcast live on NBC and in U.S. Bank Stadium from multiple vantage points, including an in-flight perspective from a camera mounted on the P-51 Mustang.

The United States Air Force Heritage Flight Program presents the evolution of United States Air Force air power by flying today’s state-of-the-art fighter aircraft in close formation with vintage aircraft, dramatically displays Air Force history, and proudly supports our Air Force’s recruiting and retention efforts. As part of the Heritage Flight program, the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation honors the sacrifices of those who have served or are currently serving in the Air Force through participation in these flight displays.

The teams representing the Air Force in the Heritage Flight for Super Bowl LII are the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, the A-10 Thunderbolt Demonstration Team from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona and a vintage P-51 Mustang flown by pilot Steve Hinton from the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation, California founded by chairman Dan Friedkin.

Academy of United States Veterans Awards tiag® Steve Vincent with 2018 Honorary VETTY

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WASHINGTON, D.C., January, 2018 – At the Third Annual VETTYS Awards on January 20, 2018, Steven (“Steve”) D. Vincent was awarded an Honorary VETTY by The Academy of United States Veterans (AUSV).

Celebrating the remarkable work of individuals and organizations who demonstrate consistent, extraordinary quality of public service, exemplary advocacy efforts and exceptional service to the veteran community, the VETTY Awards is an annual event celebrating awards conferred by the Academy’s voting members.

At this star-studded event emceed by CNN Anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper at The Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C., Vincent — who serves as senior business development manager at tiag® (The Informatics Applications Group, Inc.) — was recognized for his selfless service and relentless dedication to veterans.

Introduced by AUSV VETTYS award presenters actress Anne Heche and mixed martial artist Colton T. Smith, Vincent was celebrated as a stalwart advocate of veterans and lauded for his ongoing efforts to help active-duty military, veterans and employers overcome obstacles intrinsic in military-to-civilian workforce transitions.

Inspired by his prior 25-year U.S. Navy career and a personal sense of duty to empower the successful integration of veterans into the civilian workforce, Vincent reflected in his acceptance speech that, “Like any of my successes on active duty, this award is the result of a team rather than individual effort. I am privileged to work for an employer that values and supports veterans. And I would not be successful were it not for a great team of fellow veterans at a wide range of companies and government agencies working together to help those in transition.”

In his endeavors to help active-duty military, veterans and Steve Vincent militaryemployers overcome obstacles intrinsic in military-to-civilian workforce transitions, Vincent mentors veterans, teaching them effective, successful ways to articulate their value proposition to potential civilian employers. Likewise, Vincent educates employers and organizations on effective ways to improve their approach and ability to attract, hire and retain veterans.
“Ever since Steve joined us directly from his own military transition in 2012, we have wholeheartedly supported his tireless efforts to improve the lives of veterans,” says tiag President and Chief Operating Officer Neil Lampton, noting that one in every four employees is a veteran at tiag. “We applaud Steve’s immense contributions to veterans, evidenced by this prestigious award.”

About tiag®
Headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area and on the West Coast, tiag (The Informatics Applications Group, Inc.), is an innovative management consulting and technology services firm esteemed for providing superior technology solutions that transform business and advance critical missions. tiag takes pride in its people, achievements, processes and successes in leading initiatives to support our government and commercial clients. tiag’s extensive services portfolio delivers focused expertise and support ranging from complex, enterprise-wide solutions to stand-alone custom projects. Please explore our service offerings at tiag.net and connect with us to discover how we provide tremendous value beyond the scope of work.

Calling all women veterans!

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Women Vets On Point is an organization that focuses on supporting women who have served and their health after service.

If you, or if you know a woman who has served, in any branch, in any capacity, for any length of time, the organization is interested to hear from you/her.

The process involves the women taking a less than 5-minute online survey to tell us a bit about her background.

This will help us identify a diverse group of women veterans across Los Angeles County.

If selected to participate, we will work together to schedule the women for a two-hour interview with our partners at the Frameworks Institute.

Interviews will be held the week of January 29 in and around Los Angeles County.

Click here to view the online survey.

Click  here for more information about this event.

The World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route

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The following story is told by Steven C. Barber.

I left Los Angeles International Airport bound for Frankfurt, Germany on a Sunday afternoon, equipped with two 4K cameras, a laptop,  iPhone and one cameraman—the mission was to head down the training range (combat zone) to track the men and women of Stars and Stripes (“Stripes”), the oldest and most prestigious military newspaper the United States has ever produced.  The history is Stripes goes all the way back to the civil war, yet most Americans have never heard of Stars and Stripes and the ones who do know about it are the ones that have seen the fictional film Full Metal Jacket by legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.

As we touch down in Frankfurt some eleven hours later and the jet lag hits like a ton of bricks, we attempt to stay up for a few hours just to catch up with the local time zone and prepare for two days of filming and interviews at the Stripes office in Kleinneuhausen, a small hamlet about an hour out of Frankfurt.   The filming schedule will be fast-paced and lean as I prepare to interview the Stripes commander and several support staff in a brief two-day period.

The theme of the interview(s) is Patriotism.

In interviewing Stripes Director of Advertising, David Smith, he was moved to tears as he recounts a story of a Vietnam Veteran getting emotional as he approaches Stripes for the first time in 50 years.  “This is not just a paper he says; this is a paper with a mission and no agenda. No political slant left or right, but just news and information for the troops down range!  This is the very least we can do for our young men and women in harm’s way.”

We were so fortunate to have sixty minutes with Iraq War four-star General David Patatrus as he explained with observable passion, the history and the importance of Stripes down range to get important information to our troops.

The two days in Germany went by quickly and we were off to Kuwait on Kuwait Air- A five hour flight at 33,000 feet over Serbia.   We finally hit the tarmac in Kuwait City at around 10 o’clock in the evening.  This is where reality sets in and we realize we are on a very dangerous mission—my fearlessness started to kick in.

The Lieutenant Commander Michael Bailey informs us right before we land that we must go directly to the print plant and film the paper coming off the presses.  We breeze through customs and our ride is waiting from a crusty Boston Stripes veteran named Bob Riesman.  Bob is from the heart of Quincy (Boston) and every other word and his mouth is “hod” (hard) or “pock” (park) the car!  I was guessing he was around 70 years of age, but quickly learned he was my age (50-something) and just apparently lived one hell of a lot harder than I ever thought about.

We head to the print site where we meet Fadi, who heads up the IT organization.   We spend the next 90 minutes shooting the hell out of paper as it is coming off the press and over forty-five (45) local national Indians Muslims and Arabs as they prepare the paper for the trucks out to the different bases throughout Arabia.

After a long day of travel and filming, we head back to our hotel and completely pass out, only to wake up in the morning and find out that we are on worldwide Arab news about our new film “World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route”. This was a great start!

Morning Prayer comes early here; at about 4:20 in the morning in Kuwait at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Still whacked out from lack of sleep and jetlagged, I get up to get in a two hour work out and swim and for the first time in the five days we have been on the road, I am completely rested and refreshed.

We are now on our way to see John at the Air Force Base about 80 miles south of Kuwait and to finish our interviews of several commanding officers and several enlisted men and women to talk with them about the power of Stars and Stripes. There’s a contingent of several thousand men and women in uniform in the middle of the desert and it’s certainly not an oasis, but America certainly has a strong presence in this region.

Spending time in the chow hall interviewing the enlisted men and women was amazing. Their passion for the Stars and Stripes and for America is palpable and the sacrifice these men and women make is off the charts!

We are now headed straight to Kuwait International Airport to jump the “clipper” to Dubai, with a 5 hour layover in the early am.  Suddenly, at 5 am, as we’re heading through security, calls to morning prayer bellows through the airport—there is no separation of church and state here. As I head to the men’s room before we board the aircraft to Afghanistan, I experience something I had never seen before…there are 50 Muslim men cleaning their feet in the sink, and praying on the bathroom floor with prayer rugs.   Now boarding the aircraft, we are met by two young attractive Russian flight attendants, and every passenger on board was either a contractor or military. There were large buys heavily bearded, that no one would want in their fox hole!  The 2 hour flight took us over some of the most beautiful and unique earth scape I have ever seen—Rugged, jagged and desolate terrain.

Landing in Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base was routine as we loaded onto buses and were taken to a large outside depot where our bags were waiting for us. We were then given a twenty minute lecture by two twenty something army corporals.  This lecture was downright hard, mean and tough.  The 200 people on the compound were told no pornography, no sex and no alcohol.  Anyone caught for any of these infractions would be arrested and sent back home with immediate termination.

A series of other rules were read to us and then we were told “welcome to Afghanistan”. We were then shuffled through a security check point for processing and it reminded me of high school.  I later learned that sixty-eight people have been kicked out this year as a result of this very necessary process.

Military intelligence is often known as a contradiction, and this was no exception. Our legal paper work was a disaster, and there was no room or passes for us. After several hours, this extraordinary inconvenience was taken care of and we were accommodated—Game On.

Day one, we jumped on a Shinnok helicopter and travelled with Special Forces to Camp Arifjan and another undisclosed camp 100 miles deep into the Afghan mountains.  Special Forces got off and then Special Forces got on. We flew for another 45 minutes and landed in Kabul dropping the Special Forces while yet another group of  them got on to head back to Bagram.   Everyone was loaded with every weapon conceivable from M-16s to hand guns to grenades and several clips. We are at war, there is no denying this. I had never been in a war zone, but you know it when you are in it.

We landed in Bagram and walked quickly off the flight line back into the building to interview several young soldiers about the Stars and Stripes newspapers and much to my delight, the paper is well read and respected.  As we were leaving the building to call it a day, the General Manager of Stars and Stripes, Frank Baldwin asked us if we were ready for a Black Hawk Training Mission. Assuming he was joking, we said sure, and within thirty minutes we were back in our flak jackets and helmets with video cameras locked and loaded. We were going hunting for the Taliban.  Back out to the flight line, we hop on board the back of the Black Hawk, strap in and we are airborne in thirty seconds.  The sensation and power of this incredible Helicopter is like nothing I had ever felt. Within seconds, the gunner has his finger on the trigger and we are skimming the Afghanistan dirt at 180 MPH just one-hundred yards off the deck.  I can see roosters and mud huts as far as the eye can see and children waving at us at just about every house.

And at a moment’s turn, the Black Hawk pilot banks this miracle of machinery at 90° and I can see the ground coming at us faster than my eyes and brain  can conceive what’s happening.  What an incredible rush as I am instantly placing myself in the movie Black Hawk Down by Michael Bay, except it is Blackhawk Up!  We fly about forty-five minutes into the countryside and turn around and make a landing back at Bagram and touch the earth like the gentleness of touching a baby’s face.  One of the crew gets out and unstraps us; he has a black visor on that looks like Darth Vader and gives us the thumbs up as we make our way along the flight line back to the military terminal—Mission Accomplished.  When we get back to the terminal, I put down my flak jacket and my helmet and just sit there looking at military personnel everywhere, armed to the teeth with M-16s and 45s; it was at that precise moment that I realized we are at war.

The next two days we tour the base and do several more interviews with soldiers and one of the Vice Commanders of the Air Force wing and spent several more hours filming for our new movie The World’s Most Dangerous Paper—a documentary about the men and women of Stars and Stripes.

As we are packing our things on our last morning at Bagram Air Base, we come under rocket attack—the military air raid siren goes off and then the C-RAM Technology intercepts the mortar in midair and disintegrates it. The all clear message is loud distinct and a godsend to hear.

America has been at war for sixteen years in Afghanistan and there is no end in sight.   I had an opinion about this war before coming here thinking it was unnecessary, and this experience proved I was very wrong.  The Taliban are an evil force that needs to be eradicated and erased from the history of the earth very much like that of the Nazis.

The men and women of Stars & Stripes keep the newspapers coming every single day seven days a week to keep the troops informed and give that connection to their homeland America.

We are not just the greatest country in the history of mankind; we are the kindest and most decent country that man has ever known.   If it were not for the power of the strength and the ambition of the American military, the world will be thrust into darkness.   Thank you men and women of Stars and Stripes and thank you to the young men and women of our armed services.

United We Stand: Recognizing Black History Month

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henry johnson

In the early pre-dawn hours of May 14, 1918, Army Pvt. Henry Johnson, part of the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment, took part in a five-man patrol to defend against enemy ambushes in the Argonne Forest in France.

At 2:30 a.m., 24 German soldiers attacked the patrol’s position. Johnson defended his comrades by throwing all the grenades he could find at the enemy and then fired his own weapon until it jammed. When the enemy soldiers swarmed the trench Johnson was defending, he fought them off with the butt of his rifle and then his bare hands.

Johnson, wounded 21 times, sent the Germans into retreat. This encounter became known as “The Battle of Henry Johnson” and was reported in national newspapers in the United States later in the year.

France subsequently awarded Johnson the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (War Cross with Palm), France’s highest award for valor. And in a memo later that same month, Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, called Johnson’s actions “a notable instance of bravery,” and Johnson was promoted to sergeant.

But after the war, Johnson was nearly completely disabled due to his wounds. Despite his noted heroics, he and other black soldiers were denied medical care and disability pay. He would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama on June 2, 2015, but the recognition came far too late. Johnson died in poverty at 32 years old, according to the Smithsonian and a study released by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

As we celebrate Black History Month, the EJI offers a historical and detailed account of the injustices black veterans like Johnson endured in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including instances of violence and abuse, inequality of military pay and denial of earned veterans benefits.

During World War I, more than 350,000 African Americans served in segregated units. When World War II erupted, more than a million were drafted or volunteered to serve. The Korean War saw the decommissioning of some, though not all, segregated units, despite a 1948 executive order to integrate the military. And after entering the Vietnam War, America saw the highest proportion of black service members—but also casualty rates as high as 25 percent.

In spite of African Americans’ proud military heritage predating the Revolutionary War, the EJI study sheds light on the treatment of black veterans after service.

“It’s important that, as individuals and veterans, we show that the history of how our country treated minority veterans in the past is not a pleasant one,” said DAV (Disabled American Veterans) National Commander Delphine Metcalf-Foster, whose father was a Buffalo Soldier. “We should never forget the painful lessons this teaches. DAV knows the veteran community is made stronger by diversity, and we will continue our mission of advocacy for all veterans.”

The entire EJI report can be found at eji.org/reports/online.

Source:  Dav.org

SongwritingWith:Soldiers celebrates five years, plans to double growth in 2018

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SWS

SongwritingWith:Soldiers, a program that builds community by pairing veterans and active duty service members with professional songwriters to create songs about their military experiences and returning home, will double its programming during its sixth year In 2018. Continuing to build community and resiliency through song, SW:S has directly served more than 400 veterans, active-duty and military family members since 2012, helping to tell stories through the creation of more than 350 original songs. A collection of those songs will be featured on singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier’s latest album Rifles and Rosary Beads, set for release January 26, 2018, with a portion of proceeds benefitting SW:S.

“What began with three songwriters, a positive psychology coach and program development specialist, a handful of volunteers and 10 soldiers created the ingredients for a powerful weekend during our first retreat in October 2012,” said singer-songwriter and SW:S Co-founder and Creative Director Darden Smith. “By the end of 2018, more than 75 SW:S events will have been held across the country. To give voice to those who might not otherwise be able to describe their experiences, to help them connect to others again, through their song, is more gratifying than anything we as songwriters have ever done.”

SW:S announced an expanded partnership in 2017 with Boulder Crest Retreats (BCR) in Bluemont, Va., and their new location in Sonoita, Ariz., providing the opportunity to further increase the annual number of veterans reached by nearly 150. “Boulder Crest Retreats’ life-changing PATHH (Progressive Alternative Therapies for Healing Heroes) program draws veterans from around the country, and through this continued partnership we are able to not only work with far more veterans, but help them stay better connected as a group through their signature PATHH program songs,” said SW:S Co-founder and Program Director Mary Judd.

Another new partner, Heart J Center at Sylvan Dale Ranch in Colorado, allows SW:S to increase the number of their signature weekend retreats. “Our emphasis is on using collaborative songwriting as an initial powerful spark for building creativity, connections, and awareness of strengths,” said Judd. “Creativity reveals possibility. Connections build community. Strengths build resilience. A retreat setting is ideal to clear out some life clutter and open participants to a more positive future ahead, with lasting connections to support them. Our media team of recording engineers, videographers and photographers helps keep the memories fresh soon after the retreat with CDs, DVDs and a book of the weekend. Our workshop leaders keep everyone connected with ongoing group learning and coaching calls and our community forum gives all — from veterans to songwriters to staff and volunteers — a place to discuss questions, ideas and share creations. It’s a thriving community.”

Rifles and Rosary Beads

HIGHLIGHTS IN 2017
In 2017, SW:S further increased the number of veterans, active-duty service members and military families served, and increased the number of program alumni serving as staff and peer support. The year’s successes were made possible through:

  • 6 retreats, including retreats for couples and all females
  • 12 songwriting workshops and group songwriting sessions
  • 4 SW:S events and concerts open to the public
  • Fundraising support through the 422For22 initiative to raise awareness of veteran suicides, spearheaded by past SW:S participant and U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Geartz, with support of several other SW:S veterans from different retreats. True connections with lasting impact.
  • The upcoming release of Rifles and Rosary Beads, the latest album from SW:S singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier featuring 12 songs co-written with veterans and families from SW:S. A portion of proceeds will benefit SW:S. The album is now available for pre-order at marygauthier.com, and will be released January 26, 2018.
  • The addition of new Board President Gary Leopold, Executive Director Kristin Starling and new songwriters Maia Sharp and Will Kimbrough
  • SW:S was a featured presenter at the International Trauma Conference (May), Boston MA and Arts in Healing Conference, (Sept.) Austin, Texas

UPCOMING EVENTS
SW:S looks forward to a full calendar of nine upcoming retreats, 22 workshops, special events and concerts as part of their 2018 calendar. More details will be announced soon.

RESEARCH UPDATE
SW:S staff is in discussions with researchers and clinical staff about conducting a pilot study on the effects of collaborative songwriting sessions on PTSD and other TBI, trauma related conditions. These initial studies will focus on the effects of individual songwriting sessions. Ideally, a second phase of the study will conduct the same research on participants within a retreat setting. Comparisons will be made on the effects of the solo sessions vs. immersion in a retreat setting. This potentially groundbreaking research could provide SW:S with scientific data surrounding the core of their work, which could then provide insight into the effects of all other related aspects of the program (i.e., impact on resilience, loneliness / social connections, health and well-being, post-traumatic growth, etc. – several major areas of study today.) SW:S basic impact surveys are being conducted at retreats with pre- and post-retreat surveys among participants, and feedback is currently being compiled.

ABOUT SONGWRITINGWITH:SOLDIERS
SongwritingWith:Soldiers was founded by Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter Darden Smith, who performed at a U.S. military hospital in Germany and returned determined to use the art of songwriting in the service of our brothers and sisters in arms. Smith partnered with Program Director Mary Judd to build the innovative program, which holds multiple retreats each year in various regions of the country.

  • Locations are chosen based on proximity to veteran populations and private retreat centers with peaceful settings, ample meeting and workshop space to allow for intimate events that foster connections, inspire creativity and develop strengths.
  • In addition to songwriting sessions, participants attend creativity workshops in other areas taught by experts in the fields, such as photography, videography, journaling, and more. Relaxation classes such as yoga and breathing meditation are offered, as well. All are optional, always well attended.
  • Each day ends with a group dinner and special performance of all songs written that day.
  • The retreats end with a final performance of all songs, recorded for DVD for each participant.
  • Post retreat follow-up includes a CD and photo lyric book sent to all participants along with numerous opportunities to stay connected with each other and the organization to continue the building of a strong, supportive community.
  • All participants are co-writers of the songs and registered as such with ASCAP.
  • To date, more than 400 veterans and their family members have attended the retreats.
  • More than 350 songs have been written and are available to listen to for free, or can be downloaded for a donation to support the program, at songwritingwithsoldiers.org/music

THE SONGWRITERS
Songwriters who have participated in SW:S retreats include: Mary Gauthier, Jay Clementi, James House, Marshall Crenshaw, Gary Nicholson, Radney Foster, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Darrell Scott, Georgia Middleman, Gary Burr, Greg Trooper, JD Martin, Ashley Cleveland, Amy Speace, Monte Warden and Brad Parker. They have written hundreds of hits (“This Kiss,” “I’m In,” “One More Last Chance,” and more), many recorded by Willie Nelson, Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Vince Gill, Delbert McClinton, Trisha Yearwood, Luke Bryan, Garth Brooks and many other top musicians.

HOW TO HELP
The program covers all primary expenses for participants. Donations to support the program and its mission to positively impact the lives of our soldiers and veterans can be made at songwritingwithsoldiers.org/donate.

For more information and to listen to the music, visit songwritingwithsoldiers.org.

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Working Wardrobes VetNet Presents: Orange County premiere of the documentary Apache Warrior

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This groundbreaking film puts the viewer in the cockpit of an Apache helicopter during one of the most intense missions in modern aviation history. Telling the story of an elite U.S. Army Aviation Squadron, this film highlights the adaptability, courage and selflessness of Apache pilots and their crews as they launch an attack during the initial surge into Iraq in March, 2003.

Apache Warrior is a feature film made with 100% unprecedented real footage, actual attack pilot gun tapes, multiple cameras and interviews and shows how these pilots fought “Above the Best”!

WHERE:
The Lido Theatre
3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach, CA 92663
949-673-8350

WHEN:
Monday, January 29th at 5:30 pm
5:30pm FREE tacos courtesy of Taco Bell
6:00pm Doors open
6:45pm Registration closes
7:00pm Film begins promptly

Discussion to immediately follow film with director/ producers David Salzberg & Christian Tureaud and Apache pilot CPT (R) Carrie Bruhl

Click here to reserve your tickets now!