One Warrior’s Illuminating Journey

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Michael Landry poses outside at sporting event

The future looks bright for this veteran entrepreneur, who miraculously regained his once lost eyesight.

By Annie Nelson

Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Michael J. Landry Jr. was returning from his 5th combat deployment as a Field Radio Operator when he received orders to Okinawa, Japan in August 2014. He underwent an eye exam and was told his vision had changed but not to worry.

However in Japan, Landry noticed his vision was getting worse—so much so that his optometrist thought he was exaggerating his condition. It was then he was told that both of his corneas were shattered and he was legally blind in both eyes.

I spoke with Landry about his amazing journey, from regaining his sight to competing in the Marine Corps Trials to starting his own lifestyle clothing and music businesses.

Tell me about your journey to being able to see again?

I was medically evacuated from Okinawa in March 2016 and sent to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Calif. In Japan, I was still able to make out the outlines of objects because of the cloudy weather, but in California, I wasn’t able to see anything because it was so much brighter. I was fitted for hard-lens contacts until I received a corneal transplant in my left eye. The crazy thing was the eye transplant I received was originally blue! But then genetics took over and the eye eventually turned brown.

Due to my amazing doctor, the day after the surgery for the first time in two years, I was able to see the eye chart. Over the next 20 months, the vision in my left eye improved to the point that I was able to get prescription glasses, but only for the left lens because I was still blind in my right eye. Last February, I received the transplant for the right eye and today, I still have 12 stitches inside that eye but my vision overall is constantly improving.

You recently competed in the Marine Corps Trials—what events did you compete in and how did you finish? Are you going to the Warrior Games?

Yes, I competed in several events including track, shot put, discus, 100m sprint and powerlifting. For the powerlifting event, my doctor recommended to limit the weight because the excessive eye pressure could still cause damage. I was scheduled to run the 200m and 400m, but I pulled my hamstring during the 100m sprint. I ended up finishing first place in all events except powerlifting. I competed in the visually impaired category for field events, however, I did out throw every other competitor overall. I was also selected to compete in the Warrior Games and I’m looking forward to it.

What did the Marine Corps Trials teach you?

It taught me that I’m able to do more than I think. I’ve never competed in any of those sports before and it felt as if it came naturally. It also taught me that I need to learn to stretch better so I don’t get hurt!

You are a new entrepreneur. Tell me about your businesses and how you started?

The birth of One Life Clothing started when I was going blind. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t true so I began sewing with the thought that in order to sew, you have to be able to see. Going blind at the age of 32 forces you to see life in a different perspective. Tomorrow isn’t promised and you never know what can happen so you should always enjoy the “One Life” you have.

My second business I actually credit with saving my life. I was going through a lot mentally and physically with the loss of my sight and was severely depressed. At one point I was contemplating suicide until one day my brother, who is a rap artist, called me to vent about his music career, or lack thereof due to bad business deals. To help him, I started One Life Entertainment Music Group, LLC. Thus far, we’ve released four solo albums and two compilation albums.

My non-profit organization, One Life At A Time Outreach, helps not only feed the homeless, but also provide necessities like clothes, toiletries and shoes.

Michael Landry portrait with children Makiya and Michael III
Michael with children Makiya and Michael III

What does the future look like for you?

Bright I would say. Losing your vision and gaining it back is a blessing on its own, no matter what life throws at me. I’ve already won because I can see again. I’m embracing the new me. Business-wise, I would love to get into government contract designing and making uniforms as well as getting my clothing line into stores.

What advice would you give other service members who are recovering from an injury or illness?

You have to embrace the new you. I know what it feels like to be completely alone and to be stuck in your own head, but you have to remember that you are here for a purpose. God will never give you a task that you can’t handle. We are all gifted—find your gift and get out of your comfort zone.

Continue to follow Landry’s journey at onelifeclothing.net and on onelifemuzik.com

Service Beyond the Battlefield

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Live to Give bottle of water sitting on a table with blurred image of people in the background

I knew I wanted to join the Army by the time I was 20 years old. In the months leading up to that birthday, I had taken some time to try to discover my career path and what I wanted to do with my life. After some self-reflection and looking inward, I realized that I wanted my life to serve a greater purpose than myself. I wanted my life to have meaning.

Two months after my 20th birthday, I arrived at basic training, ready to start my career and future with the United States Army. I served for 12 years, including seven years in the special forces.

During my time serving, I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and it was there that I lost my leg to sniper fire. The weeks and months that followed the injury were some of the most difficult that I had ever experienced. It was a devastating injury that would impact my life forever, but I was not ready to let it define my life. Following my recovery and rehabilitation, I attended Special Forces Sniper School and became the first amputee to graduate.

I often think about my decision to serve my country, even re-enlisting after losing my leg. The impact that my experiences have had on me is hard to describe, but it is an impact that I feel every single day.

While joining the Army taught me so many lessons, the biggest lesson I learned was how to live a life of selfless service, a life for others. The mentality of focusing on myself was not an option anymore. Instead, it was all about the team and serving a greater good.

I learned so much while in the Army, and leaving it was not easy. Once my time in the Army had come to its conclusion, the transition into civilian life was difficult to say the least. Not only was I transitioning from my career, I was also transitioning with my health. I was not only having to learn how to live my life as an amputee, but now also as a civilian. Throughout this transition, I would consistently question myself with what I was going to do next and how I was going to provide for my family. And for a while, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew that I had to keep moving.

A phrase that I always say is to “lean forward and fight hard” and that is what pushed me through this difficult time.

This mission remains true with the work that I do today. As a veteran and an amputee, I know how important it is to honor those who have put their lives on the line, thank them for their service and of course, give back to them, so that they too can experience the American dream that they fought so selflessly to protect.

Last year, I co-founded a bottled water brand called Live to Give. With every purchase, we donate 50% of our net profits to organizations that support military, first responders and their families.

While I can no longer physically serve my country as I did in the Army, building Live to Give and a team of people who want to give back is my new way of serving my country.

About the Author
John Wayne Walding spent 12 years in the United States Army, including seven years in the Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. After losing his leg in battle in 2008, John went on to become the first amputee to graduate Special Forces Sniper School. Today, John serves as co-founder of Live to Give, a beverage company that donates half of its net profits to first responders, military members and their families.

U.S. Air Force starts effort to buy a ‘flying car’

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Helicopter like flying car is pictured on a runway

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has officially started its search for a “flying car” able to speedily shuttle troops and equipment into war zones.

On Feb. 25, the service released a solicitation for Agility Prime, its effort to explore commercial advances in electronic vertical-takeoff-and-landing technologies, otherwise known as eVTOL.

“Now’s the perfect time to make ‘Jetsons’ cars real,” Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper told reporters during a briefing last Friday.

But Agility Prime won’t be a typical program where companies compete for funds for development, he said. Instead, it will be structured as a challenge where companies race toward getting airworthiness certifications that can benefit companies in the commercial market.

“We see numerous companies that are pushing really cool technology that has a chance to really change the world, but their challenge is getting certification,” Roper said. “The value proposition we have with those companies isn’t our R&D money. They’re flush with cash from private investors. Our value proposition is our test ranges, our safety and airworthiness certifications.”

The Air Force isn’t dictating strict requirements for proposed Agility Prime aircraft. According to the solicitation, the service is interested in eVTOL and urban/advanced air mobility aircraft that could incorporate electric or hybrid propulsion and be controlled by an onboard pilot, a remote pilot or autonomously. However, it also notes that the service is open to alternative technologies.

The Air Force is especially interested in air vehicles that can carry three to eight troops more than 100 miles at a speed of greater than 100 mph for periods of an hour or more, the solicitation said. Companies also have to fly their aircraft prior to Dec. 17, 2020, in order to move on to later phases of the program.

Pictured:The U.S. Air Force is interested in nontraditional electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing technologies, like this Joby Aviation aircraft, that are being pioneered by commercial companies. (Joby Aviation)

According to the solicitations, companies must first submit data about their eVTOL technologies in the hopes of scoring a contract from the Air Force to produce a “prototype test report.” Those reports will include test data for verifying aircraft performance, outline a plan for certification of the aircraft, and show the technology’s utility and cost-effectiveness — paving the way for initial procurement.

The hope is to buy a “handful-plus” vehicles by fiscal 2023 for an initial operating capability, said Col. Nathan Diller, Agility Prime integrated product team lead, according to Aviation Week.

The air vehicles tested throughout the program could be used for a variety of operations, including quickly shuttling security forces across missile fields as well as search-and-rescue and logistics missions, Roper said.

Continue on to Defense News to read the complete article.

Okinawa Marine saves drowning pregnant woman by fighting up to 10-foot swells for nearly 1 hour

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Marine Maj. William Easter stands in front of the color guard flags at his award ceremony

On the morning of Dec. 8, 2018, Marine Maj. William Easter was getting ready for a physical fitness run along the Sunabe Seawall and the East China Sea in Okinawa, Japan, when he suddenly heard calls for help.

A local man had swam to shore and desperately was looking for someone to rescue his pregnant wife, stranded in the ocean where the waves started to break.

Easter quickly directed two other service members to call for help and a flotation device. With a life ring, he rushed 300 meters into the water, first attempting to bring the woman to shore, and then fighting up to 35 mph winds and 10-foot high swells for nearly an hour waiting for rescue boats to arrive.

For his swift action and disregard for personal safety, Easter, the theater security cooperation officer for the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan, received a letter of appreciation from the Chatan, Okinawa, Japan, mayor in January 2019. He was then bestowed the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the Corps’ highest award for noncombat heroism, on Feb. 14.

Cpl. Timothy Watson (right) is presented the Navy and Marine Corps Medal by Maj. Gen. Karsten Heckl (left), commanding general, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, January 28, 2020. (Staff Sgt. William L. Holdaway/Marine Corps)

Easter’s first reaction to the desperate calls from the exhausted husband ― separated from his wife by a rip current after bad weather quickly approached ― was to help the husband search for help, he told Marine Corps Times in an email Thursday.

But the Marine quickly realized he was the only one capable and willing to rescue the pregnant woman from drowning, he said.

“I didn’t know what the victim’s state was, but I felt like I had a moral obligation to do something,” Easter said in the email. “The water was dangerous, but I was confident in my skills and training.”

The Marine first attempted to get ashore, but when the woman was overcome by exhaustion and could no longer help him swim Easter focused on keeping her afloat until rescuers arrived, according to the Navy and Marine Corps Medal citation.

After staying afloat for almost an hour, the first rescue craft arrived. Because of the choppy sea and the size of the craft the boat capsized, sending Easter and the pregnant woman back in the water until a larger boat finally arrived and rescued them.

“By his courageous and prompt actions in the face of great personal risk, Major Easter reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps,” his award citation said.

Easter said he does not see himself as a hero ― just an ordinary Marine who did what was needed.

“I am just a conduit for the training that my parents and my nation have invested in me,” he said in the email to Marine Corps Times. “Any member of the military or public safety service would have done the same.”

Continue on to the Marine Times to read the complete article.

The National WWII Museum Commemorates the 75th Anniversary of the End of World War II with a Year of Events

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World War II Museum

On May 8, 1945, World War II in Europe came to an end. As the news of Germany’s surrender reached the rest of the world, joyous crowds gathered to celebrate in the streets, clutching newspapers that declared Victory in Europe (V-E Day). Later that year, U.S. President Harry S. Truman announced Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II. The news spread quickly and celebrations erupted across the United States. On September 2, 1945, formal surrender documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri, designating the day as the official Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day).

V-J Day was especially momentous—the gruesome and exhausting war was officially over—but the day was also bittersweet for the many Americans whose loved ones would not be returning home. “More than 400,000 Americans gave their lives to secure our nation’s freedom, and in the midst of exultation, there was recognition that the true meaning of the day was best represented by those who were not present to celebrate,” said Robert Citino, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at The National WWII Museum.

Seventy five years later, The National WWII Museum will pay tribute to the historic anniversaries, as well as the myriad servicemembers and Home Front workers who helped preserve freedom and democracy. Through a number of events throughout the year—including educational travel tours taking place throughout Europe and the Pacific, distance-learning programs that will broadcast live from the Museum’s new Hall of Democracy, conferences and symposia examining the war’s lasting impact on the world, and a special exhibit that will travel to institutions across the nation—the Museum will reflect on the legacy and meaning of the end of World War II.

See below for a list of The National WWII Museum’s 2020 commemorative initiatives: 

January 31, 2020: 

The Museum’s traveling exhibit So Ready for Laughter: The Legacy of Bob Hope launches a national tour at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio. So Ready for Laughter tells the story of Hope’s unique place in the history of World War II and beyond, and the contributions he made that still reverberate 75 years later.

February 4, 2020:  

The Manhattan Project Electronic Field Trip, produced by the Museum’s WWII Media and Education Center, will take students nationwide on a virtual, interactive journey to discover the science, sites and stories of the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb, which ultimately brought about the end of the war.

February 8, 2020:  

Museum symposium Yalta at 75: From World War to Cold War will feature leading scholars in a daylong discussion about the Yalta Conference—a series of extended strategy sessions between Soviet Union Dictator Josef Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The symposium will examine this crucial moment of World War II in detail: the days leading to the conference, the proceedings themselves and the legacies of Yalta for the postwar world, for the Cold War and for today.

February 19, 2020:

The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima Commemoration Ceremony will take place in the Museum’s US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The short ceremony will feature the Marine Band Quintet and Marine Color Guard, as well as a special guest speaker.
March 20-30, 2020:

The Museum is honored to offer the Victory in the Pacific travel program, which provides guests with the unique opportunity to explore Pacific island battlefields and landing beaches in the company of expert historians and WWII veterans. From March 20 through March 30, Victory in the Pacific journeys from Pearl Harbor—where it all started for the Americans—to the islands of Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima and Tinian, from where the Enola Gay departed to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

May 2020: 

May 8, 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of V-E Day. The Museum will commemorate the milestone anniversary by hosting a series of public events at its campus in New Orleans, as well as five educational travel programs throughout Europe, including England, France and Germany. So Ready for Laughter will also open at the New-York Historical Society.

September 2020: 

On September 2, 2020, the Museum will commemorate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day with a number of celebratory events in New Orleans, including a panel discussion featuring WWII veterans, as well as a featured presentation by Clifton Truman Daniel, the oldest grandson of former US President Harry Truman.

September 10-12, 2020:

The Museum’s global conference Memory Wars: World War II at 75 will explore the war’s place in public memory through a global prism, examining how museums, filmmakers, media, memorials and historians (both academic and public) help shape memories of the conflict.

November 2020: 

The Museum’s year of commemorative events will culminate with a celebration in New Orleans featuring 40 WWII veterans and 40 students who will visit the Museum as part of Gary Sinise Foundation’s Soaring Valor program. Museum staff will host the group along with an annual Veterans Day public programming event and Victory Ball, a lavish reception that salutes the men and women who dedicate their lives to freedom.

In addition to commemorating historical anniversaries, the Museum is on the cusp of a major institutional milestone: the 20th anniversary of opening its doors as The National D-Day Museum on June 6, 2000. This coming June, the institution will host a weeklong celebration that will include the annual Dr. Hal Baumgarten D-Day Commemoration Ceremony and will culminate with the Museum’s annual American Spirit Awards gala. WWII veterans and longtime Museum champions and volunteers will also be present.

For ongoing historical content related to the 75th anniversaries and additional information on Museum programs, please visit http://www.nationalww2museum.org

The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that future generations will know the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. The 2018 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards ranks the Museum No. 3 in the nation and No. 8 in the world. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org.

Sailor Spotlight! San Antonio Native Serves with Helicopter Squadron in San Diego

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US Navy sailor standing in front of helicopter

Airman Shunia Barnett-Johnson, a native of San Antonio, TX., joined the Navy to seek better opportunities and to do something different with her life. Now, three years later, Barnett-Johnson serves with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, working with one of the Navy’s most advanced helicopters at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego.

Barnett-Johnson is an aviation ordnanceman who is responsible for handling and maintaining bombs and missiles to ensure they’re ready for the mission.

“I enjoy meeting different people from many different backgrounds and the pride we take in our job,” said Barnett-Johnson.

Barnett-Johnson is a 2015 George Gervin Academy graduate.

According to Barnett-Johnson, the values required to succeed in the Navy are similar to those found in San Antonio.

“I learned to make better decisions and to accomplish more than what I thought was possible,” said Barnett-Johnson.

With more than 90 percent of all trade traveling by sea, and 95 percent of the world’s international phone and internet traffic carried through fiber optic cables lying on the ocean floor, Navy officials continue to emphasize that the prosperity and security of the United States is directly linked to a strong and ready Navy.

Pilots and aircrew are trained in the squadron to fly MH-60S “Seahawk” helicopters to ensure they are prepared for peacetime and warfighting missions.

Helicopters are equipped with the ability to conduct replenishments at sea, search and rescue missions and support other operations as needed.

According to Admiral Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, the focus of today’s Navy is squarely on warfighting, warfighters and the capabilities needed for the Navy of the future.

“I am confident we will maximize the Navy we have today while delivering the Navy that our nation will rely upon tomorrow,” said Gilday. “And we will do so with urgency. Our fleet will be a potent, formidable force that competes around the world every day, deterring those who would challenge us while reassuring our allies and partners.”

There are many opportunities for sailors to earn recognition in their command, community and careers. Barnett-Johnson is most proud of earning her air warfare qualification.

“It required a lot of studying and applying myself,” said Barnett-Johnson. “It was important to not give up or get discouraged.”

As a member of the U.S. Navy, Barnett-Johnson, as well as other sailors, know they are a part of a service tradition providing unforgettable experiences through leadership development, world affairs and humanitarian assistance. Their efforts will have a lasting effect around the globe and for generations of sailors who will follow.

“I love the opportunities to travel and the educational benefits that are available while I am serving my country,” said Barnett-Johnson.

Source: Navy Office Of Community Outreach

Gary Sinise awarded Congressional Medal of Honor Society award for supporting veterans

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Gary Sinise Cover of U.S. Veterans Magazine

The Patriot Award was awarded to the veteran advocate and Forrest Gump actor recently at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA. It’s the highest honor given out by the organization, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Sinise is known for several memorable roles. These include George Milton in Of Mice and Men, Lieutenant Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Harry S. Truman in Truman (for which he won a Golden Globe), Ken Mattingly in Apollo 13, Detective Jimmy Shaker in Ransom, and Detective Mac Taylor in the CBS series CSI: NY(2004–13).

Sinise started off as a rebel and a musician. His parents bought him a guitar when he was a boy, but he noticed everyone was playing guitar, so he switched to bass, which he still plays today.

The hugely popular Lt. Dan Band, which plays mostly rock’n’ roll and country covers that are favorites among troops, has played for service members all over the world. He has spent countless hours raising money to support veterans.

He stresses that veterans are everywhere. You don’t have to put on concerts for thousands; you can support one veteran, and that’s a big deal. “Look within your own neighborhood, your town, your state.”

Read his story here!

100-year-old Tuskegee Airman from Bethesda flips the coin at Super Bowl LIV

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Veteran Charles McGee speaking in to Fox News microphone during Superbowl interview

Col. Charles McGee is still living large at 100 years old. The retired Tuskegee Airman, of Bethesda, helped to flip the coin at Super Bowl LIV on Sunday.

McGee joined three other 100-year-old veterans in the ceremony, which was part of the NFL’s centennial celebration.

McGee is believed to be the oldest living Tuskegee Airman, and also flew two private jets the week of his 100th birthday.

McGee was 22 when he became a part of history in the making.

“I took the exams and passed and all I can say was when I got a call after that first flight I was hooked,” McGee recalled back on his 100th birthday in December. “Back then we didn’t realize what was taking place. We were doing something supporting the country.”

McGee went on to command a squadron and set a record after completing a total of 409 combat missions during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He said his squads all had one goal.

“Our role moving into bomber escort was to save American lives,” he said. “I don’t see myself as a hero. I see myself as one little American that did accomplish something that was helpful.”

McGee’s home in Bethesda is filled with awards, including a Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush and another honor waits in the wings. In July, the Senate passed a bill pushed by Sen. Chris Van Hollen to give McGee an honorary promotion to brigadier general. It now sits before the House for approval for the president’s signature.

His recognition instills pride in his three children, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

Continue on to Fox News to read the complete article.

Paralyzed Veterans of America to host Wheelchair Rugby Tournament for wounded heroes and adaptive athletes

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Paralyzed Veterans of America logo

Paralyzed Veterans of America will host 12 wheelchair rugby teams from across the country to compete in its 3rd Annual Code of Honor Quad Rugby Invitational.

The tournament brings together national league wheelchair rugby teams made up of disabled military veterans and civilian adaptive athletes, to compete in a 3-day round-robin style tournament. A wheelchair rugby skills clinic will be held prior to the start of the tournament to introduce novice players to the sport.

The clinic is free and individuals with disabilities as well as rehab health professionals who are interested in learning more about the sport are invited to attend.

The Quad Rugby Invitational is one of many year-round adaptive sports opportunities Paralyzed Veterans of America provides for disabled veterans and other individuals with disabilities.

WHEN:    Friday, February 7, 2020
Wheelchair Rugby Skills Clinic         10:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Opening Ceremony                          11:45 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Competition begins                          12:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

                 Saturday, February 8, 2020
Competition                                      8:45 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

                 Sunday, February 9, 2020
Competition                                      9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
                 Championship Game                        10:30 a.m.
Closing Ceremony and Awards        11:45 a.m. (approx.)

  

WHERE:   The St. James
6805 Industrial Road
Springfield, VA 22151

The St. James is a 450,000 square foot sports, wellness and active entertainment destination in the Washington, DC metro area. Paralyzed Veterans of America hosted its 2019 Code of Honor tournament at The St. James, making it the first adaptive sports event to be held at the facility.

WHO:      Paralyzed Veterans of America (host)

Eleven Division II teams from the U.S. Quad Rugby Association (USQRA) and PVA’s at-large team comprised of military veterans:

Northern Virginia Mutiny
Maryland Mayhem
MedStar DC NRH Punishers
PVA at-large team
Brooks Bandits
Philadelphia Magee Eagles
NEP Wildcats
New York Warriors
Oscar Mike Militia
Raleigh Sidewinders
Richmond Sportable Possums
Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch

For more information or to view the full tournament schedule, please visit pva.org/codeofhonor.

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 more than 70 years, the organization 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 The St. James
The St. James is the premier sports, wellness and entertainment destination in the country. Our mission is to maximize human potential by designing, developing and operating sports, wellness, entertainment and hospitality programs, services and experiences that engage, inspire and empower people to pursue their passions and be their best at play, at work and in life. The St. James aims to serve as the center of the universe in every community where it is located by delivering the most comprehensive combination of best-in-class sports and wellness venues, developmental and elite coaching, training and competition, five-star lifestyle experiences and family centered active fun all in an environment that engages, inspires and delights everyone that comes through our doors. The St. James, which opened its first location just outside of Washington, DC in the fall of 2018, plans to open its second complex in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire in the fall of 2021. For more information, please visit thestjames.com.

New virtual employment service provides support for disabled veterans anywhere, anytime

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disabled veteran in wheelchair looking online for employment

Paralyzed Veterans of America announces a new virtual engagement initiative from its employment program, PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment), that specializes in helping veterans with disabilities find meaningful employment. PAVE Connect bridges a critical gap, reaching those who do not have the time, means, or ability to attend traditional employment or educational events.

In recent years, PVA has observed that traditional hiring and employment fairs are ineffective for many PAVE clients — the overlooked and undervalued veteran workforce. Veterans with disabilities, especially those who are significantly injured or ill, are less likely to attend large public events with crowds or in locations that are not easily accessible.

Through PAVE Connect, members of the veteran community can:

  • Interact with PAVE employment experts through virtual meetings.
  • Meet employers eager to hire from the military and veteran community.
  • Access an online library of timely, relevant career information — on their schedule and from any device.
  • View recorded presentations and access other tools and resources on demand.
  • Discover a wide range of meaningful education, volunteer, and employment opportunities.

“I am thrilled to add PAVE Connect to our list of services,” said Lauren Lobrano, PVA’s director of PAVE. “Virtual technology provides yet another meaningful way to reach and serve our clients. If a veteran is underemployed, they can’t take the time away from their current job to pursue a better one. If a veteran has a significant disability, yet is capable and employable, big events can be a deterrent. PAVE Connect helps level that playing field and maintains our proven one-on-one, high-touch approach.”

PAVE employment analysts and vocational rehabilitation counselors work with clients to overcome barriers to employment at all stages of their life. The unique, no-cost program offers assistance not only to veterans across the country, but also to transitioning service members, spouses, and caregivers and specializes in assisting those with barriers to employment.

“Employment is a vital part of feeling independent, especially if you’ve been injured or have a disability,” said Hack Albertson, national vice president of PVA and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “I was introduced to Paralyzed Veterans of America through the PAVE program. The support I received made such an impact, I committed my career to giving back and helping other veterans like myself. Now with PAVE Connect, our reach extends further to meet those who need us most.”

PAVE Connect sessions, led by employment experts, cover topics such as transitioning from military to civilian employment, interview preparation, requesting accommodations in the workplace, effective resume tips, and more. PVA’s employment and educational partners will also participate in select sessions, offering exceptional networking opportunities and insight into the opportunities available within their organizations. The first several PAVE Connect pilot sessions provided clients with informative dialogue and useful resources as they work toward finding meaningful employment.

Watch past PAVE Connect sessions, view the upcoming schedule, and register to participate in a session for free at pva.org/pave.

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 more than 70 years, the organization 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.

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Married couple originally from Brazil graduates U.S. Navy Bootcamp with honors

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Silvia and Rafael Gonclaves pose in U.S. Navy Uniforms

Silvia Ribeiro anxiously waited at the finish line of the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Her hand grasped a ring. Her thoughts held a marriage proposal.

“Você quer se casar comigo?’ she asked in her native Portuguese, moments after Rafael Ribeiro Goncalves completed the race.

With post-race fatigue briefly giving way to the realization of spending a lifetime with the woman he loved, Ribeiro Goncalves replied yes, between a few exhausted breaths. Their wedding ceremony was presided over by a judge, who also was a runner. Wedding guests, some of whom had just a day’s notice of the hastily arranged ceremony, showed up wearing swim parkas and cycling gear during a break in their tight training schedules.

The Brazilian couple, who moved to the United States in 2015 and resided in Los Angeles, have seldom done things in a conventional way and never have they done them halfway. That, in part, explains their decision to enlist in the U.S. Navy.

Ribeiro Goncalves and Ribeiro were among 1,073 graduates participating in the Jan. 24, 2020 Pass-In-Review graduation ceremony at Recruit Training Command. Graduating was never going to be enough for these two motivated, high-achieving, former professional athletes who were recognized as honor graduates.

As the top graduate in his training group, Ribeiro Goncalves, 39, was awarded the Navy Club of the United States Military Excellence Award (MEA). The MEA is awarded to the recruit that best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, devotion to duty, military bearing and teamwork. Ribeiro, 40, earned the United Service Organization Shipmate Award for best exemplifying the spirit and intent of the word ‘shipmate.’

“Seaman Recruit Ribeiro had given her E-2 collar device to another recruit that advanced, but did not have one,” said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Jenise Collier, one of Ribeiro’s Recruit Division Commanders. “I had brought her out to the middle of the compartment and presented her with new collar devices. She continuously exemplifies the highest standard of honor courage and commitment. She is well on her way to being a superb Sailor in the fleet.”

Joining the Navy is the latest example of how the couple took an idea and, as they had with so much of their civilian lives, ran with it

“I spent my whole life competing or being part of projects that require really high performance, but it was always for myself,” Ribeiro Goncalves said. “I figured late in life what really gets me going is when I’m part of something bigger than myself. Once I realized that, the military was the obvious choice.”

When the couple began entertaining the idea of enlisting in the military, they believed they did not qualify, as they were not U.S. citizens. However, a close friend, U.S. Air Force Maj. Linda Mansolillo, informed them that they could indeed join and apply for naturalization after six months of service.

“A story like ours just goes to show how representative and inclusive the Navy is of the values that created the United States,” Ribeiro Goncalves said. “I want to give back to the U.S. and what it represents.”

Both husband and wife were born in Rio de Janeiro, but they didn’t meet until much later in life.

He became a member of the Brazilian national swim team for 10 years, earning Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) 400-meter individual medley World Cup medals in 1998 and 2000. FINA is the sport’s international governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee. He also was a member of the bid committee that brought the Summer Olympics to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

She became a professional volleyball player, and later a professional triathlete who moved to the United States in 2010. Two years later, she was offered a job opportunity for a one-year contract back in Brazil.

“I started training with the same team Rafael was a part of and we became super good friends as we were both dating others at the time,” said Ribeiro. “We both eventually became single and because we spent long periods training on the bike, and running and swimming, we started getting closer.”

As their budding friendship soon blossomed into a loving relationship, Ribeiro’s contract was about to expire. Seeking better training and sponsorship opportunities in the United States, they agreed to leave Brazil and moved to Boulder, Colorado.

“It was so hard in the beginning as we literally arrived with two boxes of belongings, our bikes, a couple of suitcases and only $3,000-$4,000,” she said. “It was rough in the beginning but we went for it and competed professionally in triathlons.”

In 2017, they moved to Los Angeles and Ribeiro Goncalves became employed as an ocean lifeguard for the Los Angeles Fire Department. He was assigned to Zuma Beach, where lifeguards rescue swimmers at an average rate of one every 10 minutes, according to a story published in the Los Angeles Times.

With their athletic careers nearly finished, they sought fresh challenges and a way to honor their new homeland. Their journey to becoming Navy Seaman Recruits began exactly one year before they stood before friends, family, and several thousand guests as honor graduates.

At a birthday party for their close friend Jim Garfield, who was Ribeiro’s sports agent, Maj. Mansolillo first talked to them about joining the military.

“Those two, particularly, are really great examples of the kind of citizens we want,” said Garfield, who attended their boot camp graduation ceremony. “We want people who are engaged, who recognize the blessing of being an American, who are proactively American — not by birth — but by actual action in what they do, what they believe, and how they act and conduct themselves. That, to me, says a lot. We should all be so lucky to have folks like that protecting us.”

Assigned to separate divisions, the couple did not see each other for nearly two months though their recruit barracks are located less than 1,000 yards apart. Unlike other recruits who can update loved ones with letters and phone calls home, they could not write to or call each other, which would have violated recruit interaction directives.

“The toughest part was to be away from him and not knowing how he was doing,” Ribeiro said. “We’re married and we love to be together all the time. We were training together and doing everything together, so it was very hard not having him by my side doing things together. He is everything for me.”

Fortunately, they found a way to indirectly communicate through Garfield. During their infrequent phone calls home, each would update their friend, who in turn, would pass on the information to the recruit’s spouse.

Though the couple arrived to boot camp about a week apart, they wound up having the same graduation date. For those close to the couple, the news about their success in boot camp was expected.

“Myself, Linda and other people that know them are not surprised,” Garfield said. “For them, it’s go hard or go home. It’s 110 percent for them and they are also so appreciative of the opportunity to be here, to be citizens, and to be together. They are a good example of people who have created their own hope, and they are definitely people who are appreciative of the blessing of the place where they are at.”

The couple’s vast experience as professional athletes seemed to give them a leg up in boot camp as they applied it to their training.

“The main thing they teach us in boot camp is how to work under stress,” Ribeiro said. “Even when you’re tired, you’re still under stress. I had no problems dealing with this because being professional athletes, we’re always under stress and we’re always tired. There was no single day where we were both not moaning about how tired we were when we used to train for the triathlons, so that helped us a lot.”

Ribeiro unexpectedly spotted her husband for the first time in a hallway as they both prepared to go before the award board. Having just completed a 3-mile pride run with her division, she was instructed by her RDCs to quickly shower, dress and head to the board.

“They told me my uniform would be inspected too, so when I turned the corner into the hallway, I was busy looking over my uniform and when I looked up — he was in front of me! I almost had a heart attack!” Ribeiro said. “I looked at him, he looked at me, I was thinking what should I say, what should I do? So, I kind of winked to him and he winked back. We talked with our eyes, ‘I’m so proud of you. I love you so much.’ It was so hard not to cry.”

The following day their RDCs arranged a brief meeting at Captain’s Cup.

“We first found out at the awards board; we didn’t even know his wife was here,” said Aviation Machinist’s Mate Cody Kasian, one of Ribeiro Goncalves’ Recruit Division Commanders. “The fact that she is an award winner as well is truly amazing. They were able to interact at Captain’s Cup, as Sailors, and that was a good thing to see.”

Ribeiro Goncalves, who was assigned the rate of Damage Controlman, will remain at Great Lakes Naval Station for approximately 10 weeks to attend his “A” School. His wife will be in San Antonio, Texas to begin approximately 19 weeks of “A” School training as a reservist Hospital Corpsman. They plan to reunite at Ribeiro Goncalves’ first duty station once their training is complete.

What advice do they have for future couples headed to Navy boot camp?

“A strong relationship makes everything better,” Ribeiro Goncalves said. “I was looking forward to the day I would see her again. I had full confidence that she would be doing well and I’m sure she felt the same. We know each other’s potential.”

“Trust in each other, because it’s hard,” Ribeiro said. “It’s really hard not knowing what’s going on outside of your barracks. Respect each other and realize it’s only temporary; it’s only eight weeks and that’s nothing compared to your whole life.”

Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 35,000 recruits are trained annually at RTC and begin their Navy careers.

Source: Navyoutreach.com