Taya Kyle, Widow of Late U.S. Navy SEAL and “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, Announced as Keynote Speaker for Upcoming Brave B.A.S.H.

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Taya Kyle Keynote Speaker

TAMPA–ART International recently announced that Taya Kyle, widow of late United States Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, commonly known as the “American Sniper” after the title of his New York Times bestselling memoir of the same title, will be the keynote speaker at the organization’s upcoming Brave B.A.S.H. (Building Advocates for Successful Healing) gala.

The organization also announced an all-star musical lineup featuring country artists LOCASH, Billy Dean, Tim Rushlow, Monty Powell, along with jazz artist Anna Wilson. Sawyer Fredericks, winner of “The Voice,” will perform a private concert at an after-party in Ybor City. The Golf Channel’s Lauren Thompson will be emceeing the main event.

The Tampa event, scheduled for Friday, October 19th at The Gathering at Armature Works, is a fundraiser to support the work of ART International, a nonprofit formed by restauranteur and entrepreneur Chris T. Sullivan, with a mission of expanding the reach of Accelerated Resolution Therapy, or ART, and making it more widely accessible to individuals suffering from mental health issues.

Ms. Kyle published a New York Times bestselling memoir, American Wife, after her husband’s book was made into an Academy Award-winning film directed by Clint Eastwood starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. With humor and vulnerability, Kyle recounts the tremendous highs and lows in her unpredictable life as the wife and now widow of an American hero. She continues to be a contributor on television networks, is a passionate author with new books coming out later this year and next year, and is a public speaker inspiring others to find light in the midst of darkness.

Following the murder of her husband, Chris Kyle, Ms. Kyle founded the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation (CKFF) where she volunteers her time as executive director. The foundation continues Chris Kyle’s legacy of honoring God, country and family. With a team of people behind the mission and donations coming in from across the globe, CKFF is helping first responder and military families not only survive their life of service, but thrive.

ART is an evidenced-based psychotherapy that has demonstrated proven results in treating individuals with post-traumatic stress (PTSD). This treatment provides effective relief from strong physical and emotional reactions associated with PTSD in as few as one to five sessions, with the average being four sessions.

“What motivated me to get involved in connecting more patients and therapists to ART are the staggering number of military, active and retired, deeply and perhaps permanently damaged by PTSD; and the published data that speaks to the effectiveness of ART,” said Chris T. Sullivan, chairman of ART International. “One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is diagnosed with PTSD. Brave B.A.S.H. will look to inspire attendees to support our mission of helping those who have protected us. I’m thrilled that Taya Kyle, along with our musical acts, have joined in to be a part of this special evening.”

ART International is excited to create a memorable experience for their guests at the inaugural Brave B.A.S.H. A VIP reception for sponsors and patrons begins at 6:00 p.m. The gala and music jam, which will be emceed by Lauren Thompson, begins at 7:00 p.m. Guests will experience an electric musical evening featuring performances by award-winning artists LOCASH, Billy Dean, Tim Rushlow, Monty Powell and Anna Wilson during this one-of-a-kind music jam. The after-party, set for 11:00 p.m. at The Attic – Rock Brothers Brewing in Ybor City, will include a private concert by Sawyer Fredericks, winner of “The Voice”.

To purchase a sponsorship or tickets to Brave B.A.S.H or for more information on ART International, please visit artherapyinternational.org or call (813) 435-1374.

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About ART International Training and Research

ART International Training and Research Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was created and is supported by the Chris T. Sullivan Foundation and private funding sources. ART International offers training in Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) to licensed mental health clinicians to increase access of treatment worldwide; provides financial support of the most current, effective and innovative clinical research related to ART; and develops financial assistance opportunities for those in need of the therapy.

ART has been successful in treating individuals with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) by reprograming distressing memories and negative images that are stored in the brain so that they no longer trigger strong physical and emotional reactions — and establish a positive change for adverse psychological conditions. For more information, visit artherapyinternational.org.

Salute The Troops Music And Comedy Festival Announces Inaugural 2019 Lineup

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Salute-The-Troops-2019

The first annual Salute The Troops Music And Comedy Festival will take place on Friday, March 22nd and Saturday, March 23rd at the historic March Field Air Museum in Riverside, CA.

A diverse, multi-genre lineup of musicians and comedians will perform at this series honoring troops and veterans. Snoop Dogg, Cold War Kids, Dashboard Confessional, Capital Cities, members of the Wu-Tang Clan (Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, Cappadonna, U-God), Redman, Cheat Codes, Yellowcard’s William Ryan Key and more musical guests will perform, as well as comedians Adam Carolla, Rob Riggle and more. The event is aimed at raising awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress and the epidemic suicide rates among returning soldiers and veterans. Two-day tickets are on sale now at www.SaluteTheTroops.com

 

“I’m looking forward to the show and putting on a great show for the troops. Thank you for all you do for our country,” Snoop Dogg said.

For each ticket sold, a free ticket will be provided to active service men and women. Veterans will receive discounted ticket prices. Veterans and active duty service members can claim tickets online at www.SaluteTheTroops.com

“We are truly humbled at the support we receive from our community. An event such as this, honoring the men and women of the armed forces, is greatly appreciated,” said Major Perry Covington, USAF.

“We are honored to produce events that bring significant entertainment options to our troops, veterans, as well as the general public, and hope to help heal silent wounds through music and comedy. I know for a fact through speaking with many veterans and active service members that music and comedy can provide a momentary release and a long term healing effect that we hope to offer to our men and women, active and veterans,” Nate Parienti said.

Salute The Troops Music And Comedy Festival was founded by Nate Parienti and co-founded with John Wertz (USMC 2001-2006) of Semper Fi Productions. Salute The Troops will take place at March Air Reserve Base on an annual basis with select artists interacting with troops and participating in military activities. Attendees can view and take photos with over 80 aircraft on display at the festival grounds. Other highlights include a Prince tribute from his former band, The New Power Generation, as well as DJs, craft beverages, meals and more.

Read more here: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/snoop-dogg-ghost-face-killah-salute-the-troops-festival-lineup-795033

Get tickets and all info: www.SaluteTheTroops.com

Salute The Troops on the web:

https://www.salutethetroops.com/

https://www.facebook.com/salutethetroops/

https://twitter.com/SaluteTroopFest

https://www.instagram.com/salutethetroopsfestival/

Forrest Gump Star Gary Sinise Opens Up About Raising $30 Million Annually for Veterans

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Although Gary Sinise didn’t initially set out for a career in service, after four decades of making a difference for military veterans and first responders, he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

Sinise, 63, who reflects on his journey from “self to service” in his new book Grateful American, details the major turning points in his life, which include learning the details of his family connections to the military, playing Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump and feeling “broken” after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

“I’ve found that service is the best way to heal,” he tells PEOPLE in the latest issue. Sinise’s foundation The Gary Sinise Foundation now raises now raises $30 million annually – 90% of which goes toward the organization’s programs, like building specially adapted smart homes for severely disabled vets and bringing military families to Disney World.

(Via Fox 5, Good Day DC)

“If every person in every neighborhood around the country took a little bit of responsibility for patting these folks on the back, all the problems that we hear about with regards to veterans not getting services or falling through the cracks would disappear,” he says. “If citizens would look at their freedom providers in a little bit different way.”

For the complete article, continue on to People.

Richard Rawlings: On A Mission For Vets

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Richard Rawlings On a Mission For Vets

By Brady Rhoades

Active duty service members and veterans alike are big fans of Richard Rawlings. From outposts around the world, they tune into Fast N’ Loud, a Discovery Channel TV show that features Rawlings and his crew restoring broken down, classic cars in the Gas Monkey Garage. Rawlings’ products—energy drinks, tequila, sweatshirts—are available at more than 200 military bases in the United States and abroad.

Our military men and women may be fans of Rawlings, but Rawlings is an even bigger fan of them. “I can never express enough gratitude to them for keeping us safe,” he said, in an interview with U.S. Veterans Magazine. “I hope they all come back safe and happy.”

In 2017, Rawlings spent Thanksgiving with the troops in South Korea. He wanted to serve dinner to the men and women stationed in Seoul, but military tradition calls for the brass to serve the front-liners, so he made the rounds, broke bread, and offered his personal thank-yous. “It was an amazing experience,” said Rawlings, who was a police officer, firefighter, and paramedic before becoming a businessman. “It really hit me in the gut how young some of these people are …. It was great. We talked about cars.”

That our troops are fans of his shows and his famous—or is it infamous?—”Gas Monkeys” and request that his merchandise get trucked, flown, and shipped to bases from Camp Pendleton to South Korea to Guam never ceases to amaze him. “It’s an absolute honor,” he said.

Gas Monkey Garage visited troops in Korea last Thanksgiving
Korea: Gas Monkey Garage visited troops in Korea last Thanksgiving

As for what servicemen and women do as professionals and as patriots, he said, “It’s just very noble.” Rawlings is nothing if not relatable. He’s Texan, folksy, funny, and a bit of a gearhead, and he drinks Miller Lite and razzes his pals. He’s the consummate guy next door. And he’s a family man.

Let’s face it: In the car and garage business, dudes are the demographic, right guys? But that’s not entirely so with Fast N’ Loud and his other show, Garage Rehab, on which he helps struggling shop owners. Garage Rehab debuted in 2017 and is now in its second season. And yes, men can’t get enough of watching the crew cherry out a Ferrari F40 or 1930 Ford L-29, but women love it, too, and families also watch the show together. That’s exactly how Rawlings planned it after watching hours and hours of machismo car shows.

“It’s family accessible,” he said. “Grandmas come up to me, and I’m proud of that.” He says the family feel of his shows reminds him of his home life. Here’s how he describes it: “Come on over, watch the Cowboys game, and tinker around in the garage.” He adds, “It’s not an act.”

In 2002, Rawlings launched Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas. The shop created automobiles for customers worldwide. Soon after, he got out of the printing business when he sold Lincoln Press. Now, it was all cars, all the time. Since 2012, the facility has been the focus of Fast N’ Loud.

In September 2013, Rawlings started Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill in Northwest Dallas, then set up a second location at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in March 2014. Rawlings is working to launch a third Texas grill outside the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.

In 2014, Gas Monkey Live, a venue dedicated predominantly to live music, was opened. In 2015, Rawlings published his first autobiography, Fast N’ Loud: Blood, Sweat and Beers, which includes such colorful lines as: “If we’re gonna have fun, it better have a motor,” and “We turn rust into gold. We make it fast and loud.”

NASCAR: Rawlings walks the red carpet prior to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR: Rawlings walks the red carpet prior to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

All the entertainment activity on top of multiple lines of merchandise? He’ll never admit it, but Richard Rawlings—the car kid, the self-admitted daydreamer, the maniac who broke the Cannonball Run record with a time of 32 hours, 51 minutes from New York City to Los Angeles—is a mogul.

Rawlings, born in Fort Worth in 1969, got his love of cars from his dad, who liked to fuss about in the garage and go to car shows. He learned the business of buying and selling cars in high school. His first car: a 1974 Mercury Comet. But back then, all he wanted to do was scrape together enough dough to buy his next cool ride.

After graduating from Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, he worked as a police officer, firefighter, and paramedic. Then he got bit by the entrepreneur bug and opened a printing business. But his first and abiding love has always been cars.

Rawlings learned early on that if you’ve got cash in your pocket, you can buy ramshackle rides on the cheap, then fix, shine, and sell them for a profit. But it wasn’t all about money; it was about taking a no-hope car and making her new again. He pitched a reality TV show built around that concept for eight years and heard, “sorry, no thanks” about a million times before landing Fast N’ Loud.

Even he couldn’t have dreamed that he’d meet the coolest car guy ever, the original Cannon

Garage Rehab helps out American Warrior Garage
Garage Rehab helps out American Warrior Garage-PHOTO: DISCOVERY CHANNEL

Ball Runner, the handsome man at the wheel of a Trans Am: Burt Reynolds. Reynolds passed away last September, but not before Rawlings got the chance to meet him and pay homage. Several years ago, in what’s become a classic episode of Fast N’ Loud, Rawlings rolled up to Reynold’s Florida home in a 1978 black bandit Trans Am and shook hands with the star. He was also trying to collect on a bet—a $25,000 roll of the dice—that he could get Reynolds to sign the Trans Am.

“I’m almost at a loss for words,” he said. “I mean, here I am, standing there with Burt Reynolds, and I’m trying to get his signature so I can make twenty-five grand, yet I feel like I should just give him the twenty-five grand for even gracing me with his presence.”

Rawlings considers himself lucky and feels a responsibility to give back. He teamed up with Gary Sinise Foundation for a future two-part episode of Fast N’ Loud, which finds Richard and his team restoring a classic ’81 Jeep CJ7 that is being auctioned off at Barrett Jackson in Scottsdale—all proceeds go to the Foundation. Also, an upcoming episode of Garage Rehab focuses on American Warrior Garage, where veterans train to learn the automotive industry and land jobs. Of that, Rawlings says, “I think there could be one of those in every city.”

Who knows what his next big project will be? Even he doesn’t know. He’s certain of one thing, though: “I have a platform that I can use.”

View the Spring U.S. Veterans Magazine’s Digital Issue featuring Richard Rawlings coming soon!

What Are the Best Cities to Live In After Service?

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Financial Tips

If you’re a veteran or about to become one, you might want to consider moving to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s first on Navy Federal Credit Union’s recently released list of The Best Cities After Service, a “unique look at the places best suited for servicemembers to consider living in after leaving the military.”

According to data from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, approximately 250,000 military members transition out of the service each year.

To create the list, Navy Federal Credit Union, in partnership with Sperling’s Best Places, considered 11 metrics of veteran success and wellness—including income, unemployment rates, and proximity to VA hospitals and military bases—then coupled it with a suite of such quality-of-life measures as affordability, local economy, and access to health resources, colleges and the arts, and more.

The top 10 cities are:

  1. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  2. Omaha, Nebraska
  3. Colorado Springs, Colorado
  4. Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area
  5. Grand Forks, North Dakota
  6. Austin, Texas
  7. San Antonio, Texas
  8. Charlottesville, Virginia
  9. Rapid City, South Dakota
  10. Manhattan, Kansas

“Right now, a number of factors make certain areas of the country ideal for veterans who are moving into civilian life,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist for Navy Federal. “The key factors are where the economic expansion is still going full throttle, which is creating new job and business opportunities for millions of Americans. Personal success is much easier when the economy around you is healthy, and a healthy economy is also a major factor in a better quality of life. The Best Cities After Service list helps veterans find these pockets of prosperity.”

Oklahoma City earns its top ranking with some of the strongest scores for both veteran-specific metrics and for overall quality-of-life measures,” said Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling’s BestPlaces. “Oklahoma City scored particularly well in the categories of high incomes and income growth for veterans, low unemployment among veterans, and the number of veteran-owned businesses.”

In continuing with the effort to make its members’ goals its mission, Navy Federal launched Best Cities After Service to make one of life’s biggest decisions a little simpler.

Source: Navy Federal Credit Union

Apple announces Health Records feature coming to veterans

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Apple-iPhone veteran-health

Working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Apple announced that the Health Records on iPhone feature will be available soon to veterans.

For the first time, American veterans receiving care through the Veterans Health Administration will be able to securely view their aggregated health records directly in the Health app on their iPhone.

“We have great admiration for veterans, and we’re proud to bring a solution like Health Records on iPhone to the veteran community,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “It’s truly an honor to contribute to the improved healthcare of America’s heroes.”

With Health Records on iPhone, veterans across the US will be able to see medical information from participating institutions — including the VA — organized into one view all in the Health app. Health records data includes allergies,  conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals, and is displayed along with other information in the Health app like Apple Watch data.

This means VA patients will get a single, integrated snapshot of their health profile whenever they want quickly and privately. All Health Records data is encrypted and protected with the user’s iPhone passcode, Touch ID or Face ID.

“When patients have better access to their health information, they have more productive conversations with their physicians,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO. “By bringing Health Records on iPhone to VA patients, we hope veterans will experience improved healthcare that will enhance their lives.”

“Our goal is to empower people to better understand and improve their health, enabling them to view their medical information from multiple providers in one place easily and securely,” said Kevin Lynch, Apple’s vice president of Technology. “We’re excited to bring this feature to veterans across the US.”

Health Records on iPhone will be the first record-sharing platform of its kind available to the VA, which is the largest medical system in the United States providing service to more than 9 million veterans across 1,243 facilities.

Source: Apple

Yoga and Veterans: A Different Kind of Warrior

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To casual observers of either military service or the practice of yoga, the path from Oorah to Om may not seem obvious. But the intersection of yogi and veteran is natural if unexpected, beginning with the five classic yoga poses known as warriors.

While veterans make up a small percentage of yoga instructors, their ranks are growing. Many members of the military now often include yoga — sometimes taught by veterans — as an element of their workout routine, and veterans turn to the practice for therapeutic applications. The Department of Veterans Affairs has successfully used yoga to help treat opioid addiction and post-traumatic stress.

(via CBS News)

“A lot of vets have post-traumatic stress,” said Thierry Chiapello, who served in the Marines and now teaches yoga at the National Defense University in Washington. “By lengthening the exhalation of breath, this gets people out of those fight-or-flight instincts that drain you,” he continued, putting them in a mode of “rest and recovery that definitely is associated with less aggressive behaviors.”

Veterans, long schooled in discipline and concentration, also make excellent yoga teachers, both to other veterans, whose experiences they understand, and to active-duty military members, whose trust they often gain. They are becoming a welcome addition in civilian yoga studios, where students are usually attracted to their compassionate yet frequently no-nonsense approach.

For the complete article, continue on to New York Times.

Paralyzed Veterans of America Receives Over $1 Million through Penske Automotive Group’s “Service Matters” Campaign

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PVA

Paralyzed Veterans of America received over $1 million through Penske Automotive Group’s 2018 “Service Matters” campaign.

Since the beginning of this partnership in 2015, Penske Automotive Group has raised more than $4 million to support PVA.

Throughout 2018, Penske Automotive Group’s dealerships encouraged customers to donate toward its “Service Matters” campaign. To maximize the donation, Penske Automotive Group matched each donation up to $500,000. All funds raised go toward supporting PVA’s programs and services, including: veterans’ benefits assistance; legislative and advocacy efforts; employment counseling; medical services and health policy guidance; investment in spinal cord injury and disease research and education; adaptive sports programs; and architectural support—all of which are provided free of charge to veterans and their families.

“Through our great partnership with Penske Automotive Group, we have been able to continue providing veterans with disabilities the programs and services they need to help them live full and productive lives,” said David Zurfluh , national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “We thank Penske Automotive Group for its enduring commitment to our nation’s veterans, and for the wonderful support of the company’s employees and customers, all of which helps veterans with disabilities access the care, jobs and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

About Paralyzed Veterans of America

For more than 70 years, Paralyzed Veterans of America has ensured that veterans receive the benefits earned through 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 life-long partner and advocate for veterans and all people with disabilities, Paralyzed Veterans of America also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces, and provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation. With more than 70 offices and 33 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans of America serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Learn more at pva.org .

About Penske Automotive

Penske Automotive Group, Inc., headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is an international transportation services company that operates automotive and commercial truck dealerships principally in the United States, Canada and Western Europe, and distributes commercial vehicles, diesel engines, gas engines, power systems and related parts and services principally in Australia and New Zealand. PAG employs nearly 27,000 people worldwide and is a member of the Fortune 500 and Russell 2000, and is ranked among the World’s Most Admired Companies by Fortune Magazine.

Continue on to YahooNews to read the complete article.

Thousands apply to join new Army esports team

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Over 6,500 Soldiers are already hoping to be part of a new Army esports team that will compete in video game tournaments nationwide in an effort to attract potential recruits.
“It’s essentially connecting America to its Army through the passion of the gaming community,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, NCO-in-charge of the budding team.

About 30 Soldiers are expected to be picked for the team and some of the first positions could be filled this summer. Only active-duty and Reserve Soldiers are currently allowed to apply.

Those chosen will be assigned to the Marketing and Engagement Brigade for three years at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where the Army Recruiting Command is headquartered.

While they will not become recruiters, team members will receive a crash course on Army enlistment programs to answer questions from those interested in learning about the service.

Once built up, the team will fall under an outreach company that will also include an Army rock band and a functional fitness team.

Not everyone on the team will compete. Those who will may train up to six hours per day on video games, Jones said, adding that gameplay sessions would be live streamed or recorded for spectators to watch.

Esports has ballooned in popularity in recent years with millions of followers.

In August, the Washington Post reported that esports could generate about $345 million in revenue this year in North America. In 2017, a major esports tournament in China also drew a peak of more than 106 million viewers — roughly the same number of those who watched last year’s Super Bowl.

“It’s something really new and it’s been gaining a lot of steam,” Jones said.

While on the team, Soldiers will still conduct physical training, weapons qualifications and other responsibilities that come with being a Soldier. They will also have to maintain certifications in their military occupational specialty.

“Outside of that, there will be esports training,” Jones said. “So whatever game they’re playing in, they’ll not only be playing it, but be coached in it to get better.”

The team, he said, shares a similar concept to that of other Army competitive teams that continually train, such as the Golden Knights parachute team, World Class Athlete Program and Army Marksmanship Unit.

“Esports is like traditional sports,” he said. “Nobody can just walk in and expect to play at a competitive level.”

The Army, he said, already has talented gamers out there who can compete in events.

Last weekend, a few Soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community.

In one of the events, a Street Fighter V tournament, two Soldiers placed first and second.

“This is the perfect opportunity to showcase not only to the Army, but to the civilian populace and the esports industry that we also have what it takes,” Jones said of the events.

Continue onto the Army Newsroom to read the complete article.

Career Advice for Military Spouses and Other Accompanying Partners

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Dual-career couples have unique relocation challenges.

Couples career-planning can be challenging under the best of circumstances. When one partner’s occupation requires relocation, it may be difficult to ensure both people can build fulfilling careers. “I do think it’s incumbent on couples to be strategic and have conversations about who is willing to do what,” says Lisa Wolf-Wendel, professor of higher education administration at the University of Kansas and co-author of “The Two-Body Problem: Dual-Career-Couple Hiring Practices in Higher Education.” “It’s quite miserable to move somewhere for one person’s job and the other person isn’t doing something that is satisfying.”

Several professions require relocation.

Moving is the norm in several professions. Military spouses have it particularly rough, since active-duty service members typically move every two to three years, sometimes without much notice. Members of the foreign service also relocate fairly frequently, to countries throughout the world, exposing their families to many unique cultures and labor markets. And when academics snag rare opportunities to research and teach at universities, their partners may find themselves having to pick up and move to far-flung college towns.
Who are accompanying partners?

In active-duty military families, 93 percent of spouses are women, according to the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families. Their average age is 33, just a few years away from when women tend to reach their peak earning potential. More than a third of professors are partnered to other professors, according to Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. These couples may find it especially difficult to build mutually satisfying careers, since it’s rare for a university to offer two perfect-match jobs simultaneously. Women who work in academia are more likely than men to be partnered with other people who work in academia; 83 percent of women in the natural sciences are partnered with scientists compared to 54 percent of men.

Continue onto U.S. News & World Report to read the complete article.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

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By Gary Sheftick

The buzz of the crowd had Sgt. 1st Class Michael Vaccaro on edge. Then a loud bang made him look around nervously.

He knew the noise came from a Zamboni machine, yet its exhaust made him think of the aftermath of a roadside bomb.

All his stress melted away immediately, however, as soon as he stepped out onto the ice.

“When I’m on the ice, no matter what happened before, everything dissipates,” he said. “It’s like a fresh start.”

Vaccaro is one of the co-founders of the Capital Beltway Warriors, a hockey team of veterans with disabilities founded two years ago.

Veterans on the team open up to each other and talk about how they cope with injuries, stress and other issues, said retired Maj. David Dixon, another co-founder of the team.

“It’s like a giant support group,” he said, “or therapy on ice, as we like to call it.”

Many of the players have some level of post-traumatic stress disorder from service in Iraq, Afghanistan or other hot spots, Dixon said. He personally survived four deployments to Iraq, where he was shot in the back and shaken up by three different improvised explosive devices.

GIVING BACK

Dixon and a number of the other veterans also coach youth hockey teams and a few of them help with a local blind hockey team, the Washington Wheelers.

“Giving back to the community often gives them a sense of purpose,” Dixon said of the veterans, adding that it helps minimize depression and PTSD.

Dixon puts in more than 20 volunteer hours a week managing the Capital Beltway Warriors as president and executive director of the team. He helps solicit sponsors, run meetings, apply for grants, recruit players and schedule games.

His time on the ice as a player-coach is extra.

“In a sick kind of way, I enjoy all the hard work,” he said. “You go from commanding troops to working in a cubicle,” he said about retiring from the Army and beginning a civilian job.

He explained that managing the hockey team gives him a renewed sense of purpose.

“You find that niche in life that gives you purpose and whether it has a monetary award or not, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said.

He helps make the games special for the warriors with lights, music, an announcer and filling the stands with veterans. Local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion in northern Virginia help bring veterans from retirement homes to the games, Dixon said.

Vaccaro also spends several hours per week helping the Capital Beltway Warriors and other veteran hockey teams. He spends a week every year helping run the USA Hockey camp in Buffalo, New York, where they select the national sled hockey team.

He serves as a referee for blind hockey and sled hockey. He helps stand up other Warrior division hockey teams. In November, he spent a few days in Philadelphia helping the Flyers start a warrior team.

“This is my therapy,” he said of the volunteer work. “This is what keeps me going.”

SPREADING THE WORD

Just over two years ago, Vaccaro met up with Dixon who was interested in starting a Warrior hockey team in Virginia.

They met in the Pentagon food court in December 2016. “We sat down and started sketching stuff out on napkins,” Dixon said.

They laid out plans for a team that would play in rinks across Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland.

They found players by word of mouth. They showed up at “stick and shoot” sessions and asked if anyone was a military veteran with a disability rating.

Now they have 76 veterans with disabilities on the team and they play other warrior clubs. A game in Ashburn Dec. 22 pitted the USA Warriors from Maryland against the Capital Beltway Warriors. The teams also play in annual tournaments.

There are now 16 warrior teams across the United States. The minimum requirement to play on one of the teams is a 10 percent VA disability. Some of the players are 100 percent disabled and play with prosthetics.

Some of the veterans, like Vaccaro, have been playing hockey since they were 3 years old. Dixon, however, did not pick up the sport until he was 40.

RAMADI RPG

In 2006 and 2007, Vaccaro was an advisor to an Iraqi Army unit in Ramadi. He and two Marines were on patrol when they were pinned down by machine-gun fire. Then an insurgent fired a rocket-propelled grenade.

“It hit the wall in front of me and knocked me back. Next thing I remember, I heard this really loud ringing in my ears and there was a Marine dragging me back into the courtyard. They were calling for air support.

“We finished the patrol,” Vaccaro said, explaining aerial medical evacuation was not available. A doctor patched him up, and a couple of days later, he was back out on patrol.

After his tour in Iraq, he came back to Virginia, where he had been a reservist with the 80th Training Division. But he had PTSD issues. He decided to go to Liberia in western Africa as a contractor to help put about 2,000 Liberian soldiers through basic training.

“I thought that would help, but I just ended up coming back with the same issues,” he said. “That’s another thing: You can’t hide from this.

“Everybody handles PTSD in a different way. I tried the group therapy stuff and it just didn’t work.”

He received treatment and medication from Veterans Affairs, but the issues persisted. When he smelled fresh bread, for instance, it reminded him of the flatbread Iraqi soldiers baked every morning.

“That’s a good smell,” he said. But then his mind would continue to remember until he imagined the smell of an IED.

“You’ve got to face your fears. You’ve got to face your issues,” he said. “I was trying to hide from it and hockey has helped me open up and talk about it.”

About 10 years ago, he became involved in the first-of-its-kind USA Warrior hockey team stood up by a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland.

“When I’m on the ice, things slow down; things are different,” Vaccaro said.

Both he and his family noticed the difference in him after playing hockey.

“It really helped me,” he said. “The first thing I said to myself when I started realizing that is, ‘I’ve got to get other veterans involved in this.'”

So he became the national representative for USA Hockey in its Warrior division to help stand up teams. He does that in his spare time when he is not working as a civilian employee for the Army Corps of Engineers or on duty as an Army Reserve NCO.

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