All The Way Home

I am rarely at a loss for words. I just finished watching “All The Way Home – Bravery on the Homefront”, produced by Edward Nachtrieb and I am speechless. It is an incredible account of disabled veterans and their struggle to not only face their challenges but to beat them.

Three years ago, Montana fishing outfitter Mike Geary was inspired by news reports to organize fly fishing trips for disabled veterans down one of the American West’s most isolated rivers. In this film, we meet a group of veterans that reflects the diversity of challenges facing our returning soldiers. Some, on leave from Walter Reed Hospital, bear the obvious physical wounds of war while others cope with hidden traumas that are invisible, yet dangerous. With a backdrop of the breathtaking landscape of the American West, they share personal stories of war and the resulting challenges for them and their families after their return home. At the same time, a team of volunteers works tirelessly to make the trip an unforgettably positive experience.

The strength of character on display by both the veterans and the volunteers who serve them is a triumph of the human spirit.

The film takes you, along with a handful of veterans, down the Smith River in Montana. Throughout their time on the river – all put together by an incredible network of volunteers – they share their struggles, their experiences, and their emotions. The film allows you to catch a glimpse into the heart of these men and you find yourself, at the end of the movie, just wishing for a follow up to see that they have kicked their demons out the door and are succeeding beyond anyone’s imagination.

Their physical wounds are healed or are healing. But the emotional toll of war takes much longer to heal. And sometimes never does. The volunteers that have put on this trip have given these veterans a chance to just relax and let their cares – their worries, their stresses, their pain – disappear.

We’re sitting around the campfire and one of the guys – he, uh, he flat out said it. He’s like, ‘You know what? Sitting around talking to you vets…this is the best thing in the world. You know. This is the best therapy in the world. Is just sittin around talking with guys – you don’t even know them. We’ve know each other for maybe 2 or 3 days. And just sittin’ around talking with people that understand. You know. What you’ve been through. Because they’ve been there and they’ve done that as well. It, you know, it’s really good therapy. For all of us.

Plus it’s relaxing and you get to catch a few fish.
– Matt Kemp – Montana National Guard, Iraq Veteran

We wanted to be able to acknowledge their sacrifice, pay tribute to their valor, and respect their service. To acknowledge what they did. This is our way of doing it.
– Mike Geary – Lewis and Clark Expeditions

It’s amazing in how something this easy can relieve so much pressure in a person. Here you’re just sitting on the water, just floatin’ and you don’t have nothin’ to think about except for the next fish you’re going to catch – and how big. And to me that’s the best thing you can ever think of. That’s therapy right there.
– Brian Knowles – Montana National Guard, Iraq Veteran

The movie is a study of contrasts. Contrast the darkness that these men faced and that many of them are still facing with the beauty of the Smith River. Contrast the overwhelming brutalness of their experiences with the laid-back, easygoing nature of a fly-fishing trip. Contrast the stark world of Walter Reed and rehab with the pristine beauty of Montana. Most documentaries about PTSD and war wounds are cold, detached, and distant.

This one is not. “All The Way Home” is an incredible look into the heart of these men who have been through more than most of us can comprehend and you find yourself hoping and praying that they all make it out to the other side.

A big part of me wonders if a large-scale implementation of fishing trips such as the one featured in “All the Way Home” would do more to help those with PTSD than all of the psychoanalyzation and therapy that we have in place now. How incredible would it be to try?

Ed Nachtrieb, the producer, has agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of “All the Way Home” to Soldiers Angels. You can pick up a copy of “All The Way Home” by going HERE. I would strongly encourage you to do so. Right now.

Travel Regulation Changes

We rent our house. When we arrived at our current duty station, the wait for on-post housing (for MacGyver’s pay grade) was 2+ years.

Yep, TWO YEARS. They weren’t kidding either. This was at the height of the housing market.

So we looked off post and found that, especially here, buying was not an option for us. Even if we had no debt – no student loans, no car payment, no credit card debt, we would have been hard-pressed to have been able to afford a house here. Two bedroom houses were going for upwards of $550,000! It was insane.
But we found a place to rent pretty easily and we’ve been happy with our house. And when I said that housing wasn’t kidding when they told us “two years”, I meant it. Housing called us while MacGyver was home on R&R – almost two years to the DAY that we arrived here.

Given the current housing market and economic situation of many homeowners throughout the country, the possibility that the owner of our house could default on their mortgage does exist. And if they did, WE would be the ones to be homeless. Thankfully, there has been a change in travel regulation that protects (somewhat) renters whose landlords default.

A new change to the Joint Federal Travel Regulations authorizes the military to pay to move servicemembers and their families whose landlords default on property the military members are renting.

While it’s not a perfect solution, it is helpful to know that the military will pay to move our HHGs (household goods) should we find ourselves homeless.

More on the 9/11 Freedom Walk

I want to provide some information about the 9/11 America Supports You Freedom Walk.

MilitaryConnection.com is honored to partner with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for the third year to produce the 9/11 Simi Valley Freedom Walk. Last year we had thousands and it was a wonderful event. This year we have an incredible program including:

Brad Burlingame – the brother of the Captain of American Airlines Flight #77 that was crashed into the Pentagon.

Neil Duncan – an inspired Wounded Warrior. Neil lost both his legs in an IED attack but has not allowed it to stop him. Neil is an ace skier and last month jogged with the President.

Colonel James Seaton – Commander of Marine Base Camp Pendleton. Colonel Seaton is highly respected and cares passionately about the men and women in his command.

We will also have a few surprises. Please join us on Thursday, September 11th at 5:00 p.m. in the Courtyard at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. After the program we will begin our walk to Ranch Madera Park. There will be refreshments and the opportunity to mingle with those who serve and your neighbors.

Military Connection will have shuttles to bring everyone back to the Reagan Library and their vehicles.

Please register on our web site.
https://militaryconnection.com

We are providing t-shirts and flags and due to the overwhelming turnout – it will be on a first come basis.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Debbie Gregory, CEO
MilitaryConnection.com

2008 Freedom Walk

Are you in the Southern California area?

Please join Military Connection as we remember the victims of September 11th
and honor our troops and Veterans on our third annual
AMERICA SUPPORTS YOU 9/11 FREEDOM WALK.

When: Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 5:00pm
Where: The Courtyard of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,  40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, California 93065 (805)522-2977 or (800)410-8354

Please pre-register and join us for the 9/11 Freedom Walk. Due to the overwhelming response, we cannot guarantee T-shirts and flags for all participants.

What is the America Supports You Freedom Walk?

The America Supports You Freedom Walk is a national tradition that calls on people to reflect on the lives lost on September 11, 2001, remember those who responded, honor our veterans past and present, and renew our commitment to freedom and the values of our country. Each year the number of walks held throughout the nation grows, as more people are moved to participate.

The tradition was born when Pentagon employees, seeking a way to honor the victims of the attack on the Pentagon and their families, and pay tribute to those who responded to that attack as well as those who serve, organized a walk from the Pentagon to the National Mall. Nearly 15,000 people took part. Now, America Supports You Freedom Walks are taking place in communities across the nation. Last year 255 communities participated, and every state was represented, along with eight nations overseas.

If you are not in the Southern California/Simi Valley area but still want to participate, click HERE to go to the America Supports You website for information on local and national ASY Freedom Walk events!

Armed and Curious – Q&A

After featuring Fred and his blog, Armed and Curious, last week he was kind enough to answer some questions for us!

1. Are there any blogs in particular that inspire you? Are there any particular authors that inspire you?

I have a number of blogs that I check out but honestly I have approached mine a little differently than lot. I haven’t posted a lot of links or daily updates (like I should do more often) and approached it more as a way of telling a little bit longer stories. Each post sort of comes from inspiration at a moment and I just write furiously for 15 or 20 minutes and throw it out there for the world.

2. What is the single biggest change you have noticed between your time in Iraq on your previous deployment and your current one?

I left Iraq last time in February of 2006 and things were truly coming apart at the seems. The Golden Dome was bombed a month later and things just exploded. This trip it was a litte crazy with the daily rocket shots from Sadr City at first but then that came to a screaching halt as the Iraqi Army took over that section of Baghdad. Now things are incredibly quiet and calm. People are out on the streets enjoying the parks and shopping. Its like a different planet…not just a different city sometimes. We hear more complaints about jobs and economics than we do about security now than in the first five years so its truly an astonishing turn about that the surge, the change in strategy, the Awakening movement and the Jaesh Al Mahdi ceasefire have created. All of those actions are intertwined where there couldn’t have been one without the other and they created a perfect storm for positive change.

3. What is your favorite part of Iraq?

My favorite part of Iraq is still southern Ninewa province in northern Iraq to live there cause the people remind me a lot of my home state of Missouri. Farmers and merchants trying to make a living. For shear beauty the Kurdish mountain areas are breathtaking with massive cliffs and waterfalls.

4. If you could see in to the future, what would Iraq look like in 10 years?

Clearly I can’t see the future although I have had a pretty good run prognosticating how things would go over there. I feel very good that the country is on the right track. It is not necessarily going to look like anything we could predict. Iraqis have a way of doing things how they want in defiance of what we think is right and thats alright. An Iraqi solution is the way forward. In a perfect world I will be able to take my wife in ten years and fly into Baghdad and drive up to Ninewa to visit my old friends in their villages before visiting the many historic sites on our way to a resort near Erbil.

5. What do you see as being the next big hurdle in Iraq’s future?

The next big hurdle is a political system that actually represents the people as opposed to the parties. The Iraqi constitutional system is truly the weak point in their democracy and the local and provincial elections will truly be the first time the people have elected true representatives who answer to constituents. They have got to pull this off and its got to be implemented without meddling from Baghdad. From there the government is going to have to be much more responsive to the needs of the people than they are now

6. What do you like to do in your “free time” (if you get any)?

Free time in Baghdad is a rare thing…and usually involves sleeping or chatting with my wife online. Here at home my free time is spent with my kids doing outdoors stuff like hiking or mountain biking. I am a bit of an explorer so we tend to get in the car and go get “lost” to see what’s out there. Virginia and DC is a great area to do that with mountains or ocean not far away.

7. Do you have any hidden talents or special powers?

No hidden talents or special powers whatsoever….sadly.

8. What’s next on the horizon for you? Any upcoming events?

Next on the horizon for me is finding out what I will be doing here in DC now that I have returned from Baghdad. Right now I am taking a few weeks of leave at home with my family before tackling the beltway once again in September.

9. If you could take out a full-sized front page ad in every newspaper and magazine across the nation, what would it say?

Man…that is a tough question… “US Forces Continue to Serve Proudly Fighting the Nations Wars….”

Veteran Treatment Court

It is estimated – and some would say UNDERestimated – that 30 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The studies are out there:

Thousand of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines returning from war suffer from the effects of PTSD and turn to drugs and/or alcohol to help numb the pain and keep the flashbacks at bay. A study conducted in 2005 by the Pentagon shows approximately one quarter (24.5%) of soldiers (in the Army) considered themselves to be regular heavy drinkers – consuming five or more drinks at a time at least once a week. In 1998, that figure was only 17.2 percent.

Thousands of those servicemembers find themselves in court, facing the legal consequences of their behavior. In Buffalo, New York, Judge Robert Russell has implemented the Veteran Treatment Court after counting more than 300 veterans in the local courts the year prior.

“The reality is, we knew we had to do something now … because soon we’re going to have 400,000 coming home,” says Hank Pirowski, who heads Judge Russell’s staff. He says a lot of the veterans they’ve seen got into trouble because they were dealing with the aftermath of combat. (Court Aims to Help Vets With Legal Troubles, NPR)

The Veterans Treatment Court does not let offenders off lightly. According to Russell the court handles primarily non-violent offenses. Veterans required to get mental health or addiction counseling, find jobs, stay clean and sober and get their lives back on track. They are required to report back on a monthly basis to update the court on their progress. The judge says that the typical veteran will remain in the treatment court for a year or more before their progress is deemed sufficient and their charges reduced or cases dismissed.

Each defendant in the Veteran Treatment Court is assigned a mentor who is also a veteran. Currently, there is a waiting list for those positions. The mentors are primarily made up of Vietnam vets who are more than willing to do for current veterans what was never done for them. Each defendant is also assigned a public defender that expects them to be actively involved in their own case.

In addition, the courtroom also has present a substance abuse treatment specialist from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA specialist has a laptop that allows instant access to defendants’ records, appointment tracking, and access to government benefits and services that the defendant may not know exist.

The program has been so successful that Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have introduced the Services, Education, and Rehabilitation for Veterans (SERV) Act to create veteran drug treatment courts to support veterans combat the cycle of alcohol or drug addiction. The SERV Act is modeled on the Veterans Treatment Court in Buffalo.

“For those who have given so much for our country, we should address the serious issues of drug and alcohol addiction in an appropriate forum that recognizes that some veterans fall victim to substance abuse as a way to handle post-traumatic stress. It’s well past time we offered our veterans services worthy of their sacrifice.”

“War exacts a tremendous psychological toll on the warrior and unfortunately some veterans turn to drugs and alcohol for solace,” said Patrick Campbell, Chief Legislative Counsel for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “As a grateful nation, we must honor the service of our fighting men and women by providing them alternatives when they run afoul of the law. The SERV act will offer struggling veterans a lifeline through the darkness. Veterans will still be held accountable for their actions, but will be given an opportunity to heal and find their way home.”

It is the least we can do.

VA Adding Clinics

My father receives treatment at the VA facility closest to his home. Unfortunately the closest VA facility is about 2 hours away. My father has bladder cancer and the treatment for his cancer has caused him to be painfully incontinent. A two hour car ride to the doctor’s office is torture. But so is not being able to eat and afford health care at the same time so he endures the ride.

Thankfully, what MilitaryConnection reported on back in June – that the VA was expanding the number of clinics in certain locations – is now becoming a reality in 21 different states.

According to the VA, the planned sites for the new outpatient clinics are:

  • Alabama (2) — Marshall County, Wiregrass
  • Alaska — Matanuska-Susitna Borough area
  • Arkansas (2) — Ozark, White County
  • California — East Bay-Alameda County area
  • Florida — Summerfield
  • Georgia (4) — Baldwin County, Coweta County, Glynn County, Liberty County
  • Indiana (2) — Miami County, Morgan County
  • Iowa — Wapello County
  • Louisiana (5) — Lake Charles, Leesville, Natchitoches, St. Mary Parish, Washington Parish
  • Maine — Lewiston-Auburn area
  • Minnesota (2) — Douglas County, Northwest Metro
  • Missouri — Franklin County
  • New Mexico — Rio Rancho
  • North Carolina (2) — Robeson County, Rutherford County
  • North Dakota — Grand Forks County
  • Ohio — Gallia County
  • Oklahoma (4) — Altus, Craig County, Enid, Jay
  • Tennessee (3) — Giles County, Maury County, McMinn County
  • Texas (5) — Katy, Lake Jackson, Richmond, Tomball, El Paso County
  • Virginia (3) — Augusta County, Emporia, Wytheville
  • West Virginia — Greenbrier County

The expansion is scheduled to take place over the next 15 months with the goal being to increase to 98 percent the number of veterans seen within 30 days in all types of VA primary care facilities throughout the country.

Will the expansion help you or someone you know? Are you being passed over by the expansion? Do you think that the addition of these new clinics will truly alleviate the backlog of patients?

Armed and Curious

Welcome to the first installment of our bi-monthly spotlight on military blogs. Each month we will take a look at two military-related blogs and spotlight some of their more interesting posts. We encourage you not only to read them but head over to MilitaryConnection’s forum and tell us what you think! Feel free to also recommend other blogs for the spotlight.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Meet Fred, author of Armed and Curious: Home of the Heavily Armed Tourist. According to his profile,

A 42 year old career Army officer on his fourth combat tour. Left an extremely gorgeous, yet tired, wife and 4 great kids behind in Virginia for another year without Dad. I am spending this third OIF tour again working with the Iraqi security ministries, military and police forces.

From Fred’s first post, we learn that he

“decided to give myself a little word outlet and start my own blog figuring its less intrusive than the spams I have sent during my previous two tours of Iraq. Not sure what sorts of things will find their way here but I hope to share some of the things I witness as I return to Iraq again. Being a victim of a mixture of procrastination and hyperactive laziness I imagine I will riff on whatever bright ideas pop into my head as well my thoughts on my mission and life in Baghdad.”

Armed and Curious paints a much different picture of Iraq than Fred would have painted during has last tour two years ago and the transformation of Iraq leads to some incredible posts.  In a post titled “The Biggest Change“, Fred takes us back to meet an old friend of his, MG Qassim Atta who is now the spokesman for the Baghdad Security Plan.

“We had a poll come in and he is believed my more Iraqis to tell the truth than all of the US leaders combined! He is like a rock star here! He actually has women who write and tell him which uniform he should wear for press conferences! Its hilarious cause he is the most humble guy.”

The change that he discusses is that of the Iraqi Army and its transformation in to a heroic fighting force with the willpower and knowledge to back themselves up. In May, 10,000 of the IA went marching in to Sadr City to enforce a recently-agreed-upon cease fire. They went with no US military advisors and flooded the city with good guys.

Fred also takes us on a behind-the-scenes look at the training the Iraqi National Police are receiving from our NATO allies, specifically Italy in his post titled “Sunday With the National Police“. NATO and Italy have brought in the famed Italian national police, the Caribinieri. to begin training the forces a unit at a time. Fred tells us,

Any soldier will tell you that you sort of develop a sixth sense for sizing people up in this line of work. I have learned after 25 years in a military uniform how to look a man in the eyes, watch his movements and see how he carries himself and from that observation get a pretty good measure of the professional within.

What I saw was some real pros parade by us and execute some interesting demos from pulling over a vehicle and searching it, to dignitary protection, hostage rescue and riot control. I honestly don’t think I saw a “show” at all. I saw young men who want to serve their country with pride and their chins held high.

The post that truly stood out for me was one that was not as “rah-rah” but most definitely a look into the soul of both an emerging nation and a man highly invested in that nation’s success. Death Threats and Bad Memories is a poignant look at one piece of an incredible fabric that makes Iraq not only what it is but what we hope it can be. Fred tells us the story of his intrepreter, Bassam. Rather than give it away, I would highly encourage you to head over and read the whole story.

It’s well worth your time.

Thank you, Fred, for your service, your insights, and your blog. Stay safe.