America Salutes You Guitar Legends II: Happening Tomorrow!

America Salutes You Guitar Legends II: Happening Tomorrow!

Just hours away, excitement is building for a star-studded America Salutes You presents Guitar Legends II. Stephen Stills and Vernon Reid were the most recent additions and they joined an already stellar lineup anchored by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. Other performers include Joe Bonamassa, Don Felder, Sammy Hagar, Robby Krieger, Dave Navarro, Orianthi and Emily Estefan.

Over the past few weeks, the list of performers has grown and become increasingly more enticing.

America Salutes You presents Guitar Legends II is being executive produced by Bob Okun, produced by music director Martin Guigui, Debbie Gregory and Mark Linn, co-produced by David C. Traub and Tisha Fein, Associate Produced by NuNu Deng and Strategic Partnerships by Raji Kalra, Patrick Osuna, Casey Thomas (CMT Solutions) and Allen Vandever.

The concert, in its second year, is a benefit for brain and mental wellness charities. Held in downtown Los Angeles at the Novo Theater, the event sponsors include AT&T, Gibson Brands, K Love Radio Network, United Airlines, Walgreens, Tribune Media and AXS-TV. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Headstrong, G.I.F.T., Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health and the Entertainment Industries Council are all on the list of charities that will benefit from the concert proceeds.

For those not local to Los Angeles, Tribune Media-owned or operated stations will be broadcasting the concert. It will also be streamed internationally.

During the concert, which will begin at 6pm PDT, both Norman Lear and Joe Mantegna will be recognized and honored for their many contributions to media and culture in America. Norman Lear served in the Army during World War II and went on to produce many of the iconic American TV shows of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Joe Mantegna is a familiar face on both the big screen and in our living rooms, having appeared in classics such as Godfather III and Three Amigos as well as American favorites like The Simpsons and Criminal Minds.

Also part of the Guitar Legends II event is the roundtable panel on mental and brain wellness earlier on Sunday afternoon. This part of the day is open to the general public and will be held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel at LA Live. Panelists will discuss advances in treatments, challenges, solutions and the wide range of invisible problems that plague Veterans and first responders – from PTSD to Alzheimer’s.

Tickets for the event are $75 for general admission. They will be available through the America Salutes You website https://americasalutesyou.org, the AEG Novo box office and the attached AEG link http://axs.com/events/364623/guitar-legends-2-tickets?skin=thenovo 

Donations can be made and additional information can be found on the American Salutes You website.

Facebook:  @AmericaSalutesYou

Twitter:  @AmericaSalutesU

Instagram:  @AmericaSalutesYou

 

The Military Order of the Purple Heart: Paying it Forward

The Military Order of the Purple Heart: Paying it Forward

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

It’s that time of year in our household: the birthday and holiday season, which means an influx of items into our house which is already stuffed beyond what I find reasonable. There are seven of us in my family, and 5 of our birthdays fall between October 22 and January 4. Combine all of that with Christmas and you have loads of goodies coming through the front door and a desperate need for some gently used items to go out as well.

We do our best to reuse as much as possible and hand down clothes from child to child. Some of the outfits that are currently hanging in my youngest son’s closet have been worn by four other boys before him and we will be passing it along after his next growth spurt. While I love our little system, not everything can be easily handed down and not every family has a system quite like ours.

I happened upon the Military Order of the Purple Heart several years ago during a pre-Christmas purge. Like so many families with young children, I found our house inundated with more stuffed animals than we could reasonably handle. Our standard donation collection location did not accept stuffed animals. The thought of tossing these toys, which were in near perfect condition, prompted me to look for a donation place that would repurpose them into homes that could use them.

 

I did what any Xennial would do – I posted on Facebook and asked for a recommendation. There was one answer that resounded: The Military Order of the Purple Heart.

 

I had never heard of them before that point, but I was convinced within three clicks of a mouse. Since then, it is the only place I donate – and here is why:

 

  1. Members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart are combat wounded veterans. These men and women served their country and came home with battle scars. They take their experiences and “pay it forward” by using their energy and resources to help current active duty servicemembers, veterans and all military families.
  2. They pick up at my door. Does it get any easier than that? The Military Order of the Purple Heart has contracted with Green Drop, a charitable organization that both assists in raising funds for its partners and handles the pick up and delivery of donated items. Simply put, Green Drop converts your lightly used items into funds that are critical for the organization of your choosing – in my case, the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
  3. I can schedule my pick ups online. I just pull up GoGreenDrop.com, click on “schedule a pick up” and type in my zip code. They keep track of me by my last name and phone number. Not thrilled with having them come to your door? No problem! There are drop off locations as well (just click on the appropriate drop down).
  4. They email me. I get a confirmation AND a reminder. Let’s be real – I’m a busy mom with five active kids. I’m lucky I remember anything. I need the reminder. My reminder email comes through a day before my pick up and I put my bags by the front door. When I get up the next morning, I put them on my porch (you designate the pick-up location: porch, driveway, front of house, side of house; depending on your home style) and then I don’t think about it again. By the end of the day, the Green Drop folks have stopped by, collected my gently used items and left a receipt to say thank you.
  5. Receipts! Speaking of receipts – I’m married to an accountant so we account for every single item that gets donated. Green Drop/The Military Order of the Purple Heart keeps your donation receipt accessible. So – when tax time rolls around and you need proof of your monthly donations, simply hop on that website again and look up your history by your phone and zip code.
  6. Don’t forget the environmental impact! My donation might end up on a shelf at a second-hand store or be given directly to someone in need. Either way, it isn’t ended up unused (like it was in my house), collecting dust or worse – taking up space in the dump. We donated a bear that could sing and read stories. I love the idea of a little girl or boy listening to those stories and singing along, just like my kids used to do.
  7. Finally – and for me, most importantly – donating to The Military Order of the Purple Heart provides me a way to help when finances are a little tighter than we like them to be. (Remember the five kids? They aren’t cheap.) I don’t always have discretionary funds and sometimes I have to make sure the bills are paid before I can put my dollars towards helping others. Green Drop and the Military Order of the Purple Heart take my donations of goods and turn them into donations that help actual people. I love that.

 

So as you dive into the holiday season, if you are looking to purge in your own household, please consider having Green Drop pick up your gently used items. If this holiday season brings you lots of joy – and lots of items that are brand new but won’t find a use in your home, please have Green Drop pick them up. The Military Order of the Purple Heart could use them and the financial resources that your items will bring.

Here is a comprehensive list of items accepted by Green Drop/The Military Order of the Purple Heart:

Clothing & Shoes

 

All men’s, women’s, children and infant clothing including outerwear, underwear, shoes and boots, jackets, ties, shirts, dresses, blouses, sweaters, pants, hats, gloves, handbags, purses, raincoats and overcoats, swimsuits, sandals, shorts, sleepwear, jeans, T-shirts and formal wear.

 

Household Items

 

Cosmetics and toiletries (unopened), eyeglasses and sunglasses, artificial flowers and trees, umbrellas, yarns and material, knick-knacks, antiques,  jewelry, luggage, buttons, musical instruments, towels, area rugs-6×9 or smaller, Christmas and seasonal decorations, novelties, framed pictures and paintings, yard tools, hardware tools, bedding, draperies, blankets, bedspreads, quilts, sheets, pillows and pillow cases.

 

Kitchenware

 

Cookware and bakeware, dishes, utensils, flatware, silverware, pots and pans, Tupperware, glasses and cups, serving plates and trays and canning jars.

 

Games/Toys

 

Fisher Price and Little Tikes items, bicycles, tricycles, board and other games, stuffed animals, software for Playstation, Xbox and Wii.

 

Small Appliances

 

Irons and ironing boards, sewing machines, microwaves, clocks, hair dryers, electric griddles, blenders, coffee makers and toasters.  

 

Electronics

 

Flat screen TV’s, computer items including towers, printers, flat screen monitors, hard drives, software and accessories, telephones, smart phones, answering machines, portable copiers, fax machines, calculators, stereos, DVD players, video cameras and equipment and radios.

 

Sporting Goods

 

Camping equipment, roller blades, ice skates, golf clubs, baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey, soccer, tennis, lacrosse equipment and accessories, skiing equipment and boots and fitness items.

 

Books, CDs & Videos

 

Hardback, paperback and children’s books, CDs, DVDs, Blue Ray movies, electronics, books and record albums.

 

Small Furniture

 

Furniture weighing less than 50 pounds such as end tables, coffee tables, lamps, night stands, wooden chairs, rocking chairs, stools and plant stands.

 

Do you work with an organization that provides assistance for Active Duty Military, Veterans, Spouses or families? We want to hear your story! Please email Kris@militaryconnection.com!

Swinging for Heroes: Golf Gives Veterans HOPE

Swinging For Heroes: Golf Gives Veterans HOPE

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

 

I am the product of a recreational golfer. While my father’s love of the game never truly encouraged me to enthusiastically strut onto the greens, I do own a full set of clubs and found myself marketing for a golf packager after grad school. As a result, I know my way around the industry a bit.

 

A few weeks ago, I received an email in response to one of our “send us your military stories” requests. One of our MilitaryConnection.com readers had taken the time to tell me about a friend of his who had played with a wounded war veteran in Florida. Below is an excerpt of his email to me:

 

“On Monday, a friend played the Disney Lake Buena Vista course. As usual the starters matched him with three other players. After a few holes they began to get to know each other a bit. This is the rest of what he reports…

 

We had a nice round and as we became a bit more familiar I asked him about the brand new set of Ping woods and irons he was playing. Some looked like they had never been hit. His response was simple. He said that this round was the first full round he had played with these clubs. Later in the round he told me the following.

As part of the discharge process from the rehabilitation hospital, Ping comes in and provides three days of golf instruction, followed by club fitting. Upon discharge from the hospital, Ping gives each of the discharged veterans, generally about 40 soldiers a year, a brand new set of custom fitted clubs along with the impressive golf bags.”

 

Naturally, given my general interest in past history with golf, I was gripped by the tale of my previous profession colliding with my current position. I was thrilled to confirm the contents of that email. Sure enough – Ping had given wounded war veterans their own set of golf clubs along with lessons. Unfortunately, most of the details were from 2011. The most current notation was from 2015, still over three years ago, nothing more current. The lack of current information led me to explore further. Why golf? Why wounded veterans? What is the benefit? The first stop was Ping, which has this posted on their website:

 

In addition to our rebate program, we continue to reach out to our troops in several other ways, including providing clubs to military personnel in various war zones around the world. We’re always honored by the numerous letters of appreciation we receive thanking us for helping take their minds off their situations. If you’re an Active, Active Reserve or Retiree of the United States Armed Forces, we hope you’ll participate in the PING Military Mail-In Rebate Program.”

 

In that little quote was a key answer to my questions – taking their minds off of their situations. My father spent his Saturdays on the links to keep his mind off of the rigors and pressures of investment banking on Wall Street. While his career was completely different, the need was the same: an outlet for stress relief.

 

The assorted fact checking websites all referenced a partnership between Ping and The Wounded Warrior Project. Wounded Warrior Project focuses on the overall wellness of Veterans, regardless of their injuries. A big piece of that wellness is mental and mental health is the cornerstone to healing.  

 

The Wounded Warrior Project led me to PGA HOPE. PGA HOPE, a joint effort of the PGA and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The program provides a clinic, introductory in nature and a day in duration, at local VA hospitals, service organizations and warrior transition units. After the clinic, interested veterans are paired up with local professionals and begin a 6-8 week program, complete with equipment – adaptive if needed.

 

At the end of their program, Veterans are given a graduation ceremony – complete with a handful of golf-related benefits to help them along with their newfound hobby. The PGA HOPE program is provided at absolutely no cost for all participants. It is completely funded by PGA Professionals and local courses often donate their time and resources to help make this program successful.

 

Not all of our warrior’s wounds are visible. While there is often a story to be told behind a prosthetic or missing limb, the invisible scars are often more difficult to diagnose, treat and talk about.

 

Lest we forget, during the holidays…

Lest we forget, during the holidays…

By Guest Contributor Renee Nickell

The holidays are approaching, so you know what that means…the black plague of shopping is upon us.  No, I don’t really think this way. I love shopping during the holidays, albeit mostly online. Enter Thanksgiving-the day we feast with family, watch football, and discuss all those blessings we are so thankful for.  Then, just when everyone is getting settled down for the night after gorging on pumpkin pie and spiced eggnog, the avid Black Friday shoppers are reading their flyers, marking their maps and strategizing as if they are preparing for combat, ready to trample anyone in their path that would prevent them from purchasing their child the latest, most popular, deeply discounted item…the must-have item that will be played with for about 10 minutes and placed on a shelf until next year.

Yes, it’s the holidays. It brings out the best or worst in all of us.  I for one, have been the best and the worst to those around me at times I’m sure.  Let me explain, Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been so special to our family, being that we don’t always get to see a lot of our family during the year.  We are “the military family.” We see family when we can and in the past, that has always depended on where we were in the country and whether we could afford to travel long distances (raise your hand if you’re a military family on a tiny budget, yet are expected to travel to see everyone else during the holidays).

I’d say being around those I love always brings out the best side of me.  The side that loves to laugh and cook, play practical jokes, and watch Christmas movies.  In recent years past, it’s been difficult celebrating Christmas when my brother Sam made his last phone call to us on Thanksgiving 2011, and then was killed in action just three weeks later on December 14th   in Afghanistan.  I am thankful for my husband and children who are so patient with me during those “bad days.” While most families were preparing their Christmas plans and wrapping gifts, we were planning a funeral.  The reality is, if we hadn’t been planning a funeral, Sam would have still been in war, separated from his family like so many other deployed members are each and every year.

Many military families daydream of running through an airport with their balloons and signs, imagining their little toddlers stumbling over their own feet because they haven’t seen mommy or daddy in nine months.  It becomes hard to fathom the scenario of holiday shopping madness of people pushing and shoving each other that has now begun on Thanksgiving Day in recent years, instead of waiting until Black Friday. How has our beloved Thanksgiving now become Black Thursday?  Who agreed to this?

You get a whole new perspective when you’re sitting around a Christmas tree wondering what you’re to do, since there was no time for Christmas shopping because your brother of 36 years of age was recently killed.  We had three young children at the time, and he had two young sons. That was the Christmas when Black Friday or any other shopping day didn’t really seem to matter anymore. We just wondered how we would survive each year without him.  

Being a military spouse and a military family, we have an understanding that so many people do not.  0.4 percent of Americans are currently serving on active duty. The scope of understanding what military life is like is getting smaller and smaller for Americans as fewer people are serving.  For the majority of my life I have lived or have been part of a military community. It is hard to fathom that so many American’s do not understand or cannot comprehend the magnitude of sacrifice our military men and woman face each day.  “Since 2001, 2.77 million service members have served on 5.4 million deployments across the world with soldiers from the Army accounting for the bulk of them. Deployed personnel were under 30 years old on average, over half were married and about half had children” (McCarthy, 2018).

Understand this-In the past 17 years, there have been 5.4 MILLION deployments.  This means that statically, every service member since 2001 have deployed twice.  Now, we all know that there are some that never deployed and there are those that have deployed nine times.  Let us not forget about Retired Navy Seal, Dan Crenshaw, who got blown up in Afghanistan in 2012, lost an eye, and signed up to be deployed two more times.  Let that sink in during your hair pulling and Samsung TV trampling shopping event after telling cousin June how much you hate grandma’s lumpy gravy.

But I digress.  You see, Christmas will never be the same for our family.  As if it weren’t bad enough that military families have to miss anniversaries, birthdays, and births, some of us will forever have the empty chair at the table.  Christmas of 2011 was our families first experience with the proverbial empty chair. Not only was there going to be an empty chair, but also an empty Christmas Tree on Christmas morning.

Cue the sad, melodic, music which begins to increase as the doorbell rings on Christmas morning.  Just when you think life couldn’t get any sadder…it’s as if I could hear the sound of angels singing and thunder erupt from the heavens shouting “SEND IN THE MARINES!”  And that was the day the Marines were sent in to save the day for our family. That Christmas, the one with all the small children, and not a present in sight, was the Christmas that restored my hope in well…everything good.  You see, two young, sharply dressed Marines showed up with Christmas present after Christmas present for our families just five days after my brother’s memorial service. I don’t recall any child that morning wishing for something else or complaining they didn’t receive a new puppy or a $500 iPad.  What I heard was grateful children, happy to have experienced a little joy that morning, long enough to get a short break from the tears.

For years, our families have been donors to Marine Toys for Tots.  Did you ever wonder who was the recipient of those toys?  I did. I wondered about the “less fortunate” children that would have Christmas from the Marines because people were generous enough to donate in stores and businesses across the United States. Christmas morning of 2011, I realized where those toys go.  I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined our family would be the recipient of such an amazing organization. But that day, well, it brought us hope.

The following year, I made this observation:  Christmas morning came, children awoke out of their beds, and not a single one asked about opening presents.  There were presents under the tree, but it wasn’t the focus of the day. These children knew and understood, at such a young age, the level of sacrifice no family should have to endure.  There were giggles and smiles, hugs and pancakes…and then we got to the presents.

It’s 2018, and there is still a war.  There are many wars still happening that we never hear about in mainstream media.  There are men and women still sacrificing their lives for our opportunity to shop until we drop.  They do it willingly. They don’t begrudge our opportunities to bless our kids. They do it with willing hearts because they love America. I know they would much rather be with their families during the holidays, as they do not get to choose when they will go or when they will return home.

There are military families all over this country who will be separated from their hero, either by ocean or by death, that are not focused on the “buy now” or the “add to cart” button.  They just desire their family together. Don’t get me wrong. Shopping is not evil. Black Friday or Thursday or any other day to spend time shopping for your family is not evil. Get all your girlfriends together and have a great time doing it, while the men are at home watching football (or sleeping).  I love shopping and I love shopping especially for my children and family. We now try to do extra special things at Christmas to make new memories, which usually entails a special trip, and less presents.

I always believe the best way to combat the materialism at Christmas is to give-and give generously.  While you’re out shopping or enjoying your feasts with your families, let me suggest that you take the time to remember those that are deployed.  Pick up an extra gift and donate it to Toys for Tots. There are donation boxes everywhere. You can also go online and donate money. Say a prayer for our deployed and their families.  You never know when they’ll receive the dreaded knock on the door. You know that military family down the street in their twenties with two young children? Perhaps give them a card with some cash in it to help pay for their travels home to see grandma and grandpa. The ones they haven’t seen since before the last two deployments.

In addition to Toys for Tots, an organization that provides a beautifully wrapped gift for Gold Star children is Believe With Me.  It’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization who helps support Gold Star families throughout the year. At Christmastime, this group of selfless volunteers prepares months in advance to purchase, wrap, and ship gifts to hundreds of Gold Star children.  They call it an American Gold Star Christmas and it’s spectacular! It is a wonderful gift to be remembered at such a difficult time of year and I know these families are grateful that their heroes sacrifice have not been forgotten, nor have their children. Believe With Me allows donors to purchase the gifts themselves or provide cash or gift cards and the organization will shop for the sponsored children.

Believe With Me currently has 300 Gold Star children signed up for gifts.  They are expecting over 1000 children this year. The non-profit continues to grow each year in its provision for fatherless or motherless children.  Sadly, this means that there are thousands of children who are missing a parent, not only at Christmas, but forever. Believe With Me depends solely on the donations of others and they depend on the volunteers who help package and ship these beautiful gifts.  I spoke with the Founder of Believe With Me, Lyette Reback, about the upcoming American Gold Star Christmas. She explains,

An American Gold Star Christmas is your opportunity to give back to the families of our fallen soldiers. Your donation will allow high school and university students the opportunity to shop for Gold Star kids’ wish lists and the students will be impacted by the up close and personal cost of their freedoms. This year, Believe With Me will have more than 1000 children to serve and the cost of the project will total more than $150,000. FedEx has graciously stepped in to underwrite the shipping costs, but our needs for gifts are still at an all-time high.”

Being a Gold Star family member myself and understanding firsthand the cost of freedom, our family is incredibly grateful for families like the Rebacks’ and organizations who honor our fallen and the families left behind, year after year.  You can never replace what is lost, but love sure does go a long way. Christmas is the time of year when people all over the world express their love in the form of gifts and giving. I hope you will show your gratitude this Christmas and support Toys for Tots and Believe With Me.

If you are a Gold Star family, you can go to www.BelieveWithMe.com/sponsor to register your child. Organizations like these need your help to make a difference in the lives of these children who have already sacrificed so much.

 

Renee Nickell is the Author of “Always My Hero: The Road to Hope & Healing Following My Brother’s Death in Afghanistan” For more about Renee, go to www.reneenickell.com.

Soldiers’ Angels

May no soldier go unloved,

May no soldier walk alone,

May no soldier be forgotten,

Until they all come home.

 

Soldiers’ Angels

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

 

It is the time of year for giving – and so many families are looking for opportunities to give back or “pay it forward” within their communities. There are so many wonderful opportunities, from adopting a family to toy and coat drives. However, there is a group out there who dedicates their time and energy to helping deployed servicemen and women.

 

Soldiers’ Angels was founded in 2003 by Patti Patton-Bader. The Pasadena, CA native is the daughter of war Veteran LTC (ret) David Patton, so supporting the troops was a way of life. It was during her oldest son’s deployment in Iraq, however, that Patti identified a need to help. Staff Sergeant Brandon Varn was happily receiving his mom’s care packages when he commented that he was one of the few soldiers to enjoy such a treat. Patti gathered neighborhood friends and worked together to send care packages to the entire platoon. As word traveled, Patti and her group received requests from across the globe.

 

More could be done to help. Patton-Bader recognized that Americans were ready and willing to help, just lacked the channels to get their kindness into the hands of the soldiers who needed it most. Using technology, determination and the heart of a military mother and daughter, Patton-Bader built an online community of Angels who work diligently to fulfill the needs of deployed soldiers.

 

As word spread of Patton-Bader’s efforts, so did the number of businesses wanting to participate. So many businesses were looking to donate time, money, goods and services that Patton-Bader’s band of helpers needed to formerly reorganize as a 501(c)(3) in 2004. Over the past fifteen years, Soldiers’ Angels has grown and changed to adapt to the current military needs. As always, they match the availability of their volunteers with the needs of a solder.

 

While they have continued helping the deployed soldiers, Soldiers’ Angels have also spread their wings to include Veterans, wounded soldiers, families and more. The group, who was led by Patti Patton-Bader until 2013, has won several awards and been recognized many times over. Some of their recognitions include:

 

  • Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service from the Department of the Army
  • George Washington Spirit Award from the Military Order of the Purple Heart
  • Microsoft Above and Beyond Extra Effort Award
  • James C. Van Zandt Citizenship Award from the VFW
  • The Spirit of Hope Award from the Secretary of Defense

 

 

The Red Cross Message

The Red Cross Message

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

The first time I heard the words “Red Cross Message”, I was in the middle of Army Boot Camp. Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri…summer of 1986. In that time before cell phones, that time before social media, it seems like it was easier to focus on our military jobs because we had fewer distractions. Without the technology that, these days, keeps us all up-to-date on the status of friends and family, it was easy to get caught off-guard with a bit of unexpected bad news. And bad news came on a regular basis, like the time when a drill sergeant broke it to one of my battle buddies that there was a death in his family and he needed to call home.

I know many of you are familiar with that message, from personal experience. The Red Cross message is basically the end product of one of the services that the American Red Cross provides to the United States military. When one of our service members has an emergency that may require leaving his or her duty station, whether stateside or deployed downrange, the Red Cross can be requested to independently verify the emergency. While the Red Cross does not authorize emergency leave, that independent verification enables the service member’s commander to make an educated decision regarding emergency leave and if transportation and/or financial assistance is needed.

One of the country’s oldest Congressionally-chartered Veterans Service Organizations, today’s American Red Cross serves as a critical line of communication between the U.S Armed Forces and their families. The iconic symbol of the organization, founded by Clara Barton in 1881, makes many of us recall the classic images of Red Cross nurses helping American soldiers and civilian war victims during World War I…but it does so much more. Still tasked by the federal government with providing services to members of the American Armed Forces and their families and disaster relief in the United States and around the world, Red Cross workers proudly carry on the tradition of serving those in the military community with the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program. That program helps members of the military, veterans, and their families prepare for, cope with, and respond to, the challenges of military service.

The Red Cross manages its ‘force structure’ by Chapters & Regions, and each Service to the Armed Forces program offers up different events to its constituents. Here in the St. Louis area, the Service to the Armed Forces committee on which I volunteer prides itself on its outreach & how we hope to make a difference to those we serve. We provide Reconnection workshops, which are free and confidential events that help with reintegration; an annual Women Warriors Baby Shower, for expectant mothers from our military community; and a Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign every holiday season, an effort that provides our community with the opportunity to send messages of thanks and holiday cheer to military members, veterans, and their families.

When I was a young Field Artilleryman in the 1st Infantry Division, I was busy preparing for deployment, for combat. In those times when I was headed to the field or downrange – not really sure how long it would be until I spoke with one of my loved ones again – I remember making sure that my family knew how to contact the Red Cross for assistance, should something tragic happen.

In those days, it was a landline phone call to the nearest Red Cross chapter. These days, the American Red Cross Hero Care Center is available 7/24/365 days a year, and you can request assistance online or by phone. To initiate a request by phone for Red Cross emergency assistance for members of the military currently serving on active duty, call 1-877-272-7337 to speak to an Emergency Communications Specialist.

You can also start a request for services with a computer, smartphone, or tablet and track its progress from anywhere in the world using the Red Cross’ online self-service tool. To request assistance online, visit: http://www.redcross.org/get-help/military-families/emergency-communication, download the free Hero Care App, or text “GETHEROCARE” to 90999.

Every day, more than 300 military families request assistance through the Hero Care Network by either using the online self-service tool via computer, tablet, or cell phone, or by calling a Communication Specialist.

Whichever way you initiate that request for emergency assistance, please be prepared to provide information about the service member and the emergency (the Red Cross says to use the phone option if you don’t have all of the required information below):

Service member information

  •         Full legal name
  •         Rank/rating
  •         Branch of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard)
  •         Social Security number or Date of Birth
  •         Military unit address
  •         Information about the deployed unit and home base unit (for deployed service members only)

Information about the emergency

  •         Name and contact for the immediate family member experiencing the emergency (could be spouse, parent, child/grandchild, or grandparent)
  •         Nature of the emergency
  •         Where the emergency can be verified (hospital, doctors office, funeral home)

There are certain eligibility requirements to consider. Service members eligible to receive emergency communications regarding an immediate family member include: those on active duty in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard; activated members of the Guard and Reserve of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces; civilians employed by or under contract to the Department of Defense and stationed outside the Continental United States; cadets or midshipmen at a service academy; ROTC cadets on orders for training; or Merchant Marines aboard a U.S. Naval Ship.

It bears repeating that the American Red Cross does not authorize emergency leave for members of the United States military. Again, the role of the Red Cross is to independently verify the emergency, enabling the service member’s commander to make an educated decision regarding the granting of emergency leave. If transportation and/or financial assistance is needed, the Red Cross can help expedite access to emergency financial assistance via Military Aid Societies. These Aid Societies determine the financial assistance package that will be offered, and whether it will be in the form of a grant or a loan.

These days, I look in the mirror and realize that I’ve become the old man in the room. It’s been over 30 years since I first learned about the Red Cross & its “message” as a young Private in Boot Camp. It’s been over 20 years since I was a young(ish) Battery Commander on a long field exercise, a commander tasked with the authority to grant that emergency leave that my troops needed so. It’s been just over 10 years since I last received my own Red Cross message, one that I knew was coming due to the advent of technology and the constant contact I had with my wife during that deployment.

I’ve seen the tremendous positive impact that the American Red Cross has on our military community and now, as a retired Soldier, I get to ‘give back’ a little by volunteering with the local chapter’s Service to the Armed Forces committee. And, if you’re able, I encourage you to see how you can give back in your neck of the woods.

Military Families Month and the ASYMCA

Military Families Month and the ASYMCA

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

The name says it all – Family Military Month, observed throughout the month of November, is a time for us to remember, honor and applaud Military families. The observation was set in motion in 1996 by the Armed Services YMCA and has become a tradition, complete with a signed Presidential Proclamation, ever since.

Common sense helps us to understand the sacrifices that our soldiers made when they joined the armed forces or make military a career. These sacrifices don’t end with the completion of a mission or tour. Many men and women hug their families goodbye and set off to live a whole life apart from the people they treasure most. While these men and women protect and defend our country, many of the people they love are left at home to maintain “home business as usual.” Additionally, there are many families who move from state to state and even country to country to support their loved one who is active duty.

The sacrifices of the active duty military servicemen and women go far beyond the Soldier. There are spouses who keep a household running. Parents missing their child. Children missing a parent. There are countless events missed completely or captured in videos and pictures to be watched and enjoyed during a brief stay at home. The impact on the families of military should never be overlooked or ignored.

Children, particularly ages 6 to 12, often feel a good deal of stress regarding their military parent. Moving can be incredibly stressful to adults. Children have this same stress, but in a different way. They also are burdened with the realities of deployment and, unfortunately, trauma should their parent be lost or wounded as a result of that deployment. These kids are just part of the reason why military families need and deserve a month’s worth of recognition.

In an effort to show these military families how appreciated they are, several groups, service centers, public affairs offices and the ASYMCA have all combined efforts to celebrate and honor the military family. In addition, these groups are all looking to increase awareness of both the need for celebration as well as any events throughout the month.

Military families benefit daily from the ASYMCA, the Armed Services YMCA, an organization that has been providing support and services to the military and their families since 1861. The first recorded call to military assistance was performed by over 5,000 YMCA volunteers during the Civil War. These volunteers, who did not have significant military training, stood by the soldiers in the field to provide support as needed. As a result, President Abraham Lincoln commended the organization. The Civil War set a standard for the ASYMCA – they have been present to support our soldiers in military conflict since.

ASYMCA is part of the global YMCA, but the focus is specifically on providing support for military and military families. Volunteers and the ASYMCA organization invest a good amount of time, energy and resources in supporting the men and women on the front lines. The ASYMCA provides these services without requiring membership fees or dues. All of the services provided are offered at no- or low-cost at all 80+ branches and affiliates and over 200 program centers.

The ASYMCA relies on volunteers to make all of these services available. Over 10,000 volunteers dedicate more than 112,000 hours of their time every year to a variety of programs. With only 500 employees, the ASYMCA staff is resourceful at establishing relationships with other nonprofits like Operation Homefront, USO and, of course, the YMCA. These relationships, as well as working with locations who are willing to donate space and other materials, help to keep costs low. Minimizing overhead and staffing costs allow the ASYMCA to save nearly over $2 million in fixed expenditures each year so that the majority of funds raised by the organization can go directly to the troops and their families.

The ASYMCA works diligently to close the gaps in programs and services available to enlisted men and women and their families. There are many services, like family support for wounded soldiers, wounded warrior support and hospital assistance and care, that are more obvious to the non-military family. However, the ASYMCA uses their staff, knowledge and resources to address the lesser-recognized needs of the military. Childcare, for example, is just one of the many gaps that the ASYMCA fills. Food services for those in need, spouse and deployment support, emergency needs and bringing holiday joy are just a few examples of programming available at the local level to those in need. The ASYMCA also has programming in place for recently discharged Soldiers or those on medical leave. Health and wellness services, counseling, computer training classes and more all help a soldier to acclimate to civilian life and live with the many physical and mental wounds that war can bring.

So many children would be lost without the benefit of the ASYMCA. Military kids so often end up with “less” than their traditional family counterparts. For starters, these children don’t have access to a parent for long periods of time. Operation Hero is just one of the programs that is tailored to helping these military kids. This after school program is designed to assist military kids in grades 2-8 and the unique and sometimes significant struggles they face every day. This 10-week course allows each child to work with a trained professional and openly discuss and solve problems faced at school and home. The goal of the professional, facilitator and all of the volunteers is to help a child that is identified as being “in need” by their parents or school by providing counselling, homework assistance and guidance on how to manage conflict. Through Operation Hero, which is at no-cost to the family, children will get the resources to learn how to get back on track – and stay on that track!

Operation Hero is a prime example of the work that the ASYMCA does to change the lives of military children, families and servicemen and women. Clearly, the ASYMCA is working throughout the year to improve the lives of so many Americans. It is during this month of awareness of the military family that we can do our own part to support their efforts. If you are looking for a way to assist someone in the military or a military family, there are many ways to help. If you are interesting in donating to this cause or volunteering your time, please visit https://www.asymca.org/donate or https://www.asymca.org/volunteer.

An excerpt from the ASYMCA’s website (https://www.asymca.org/who-we-are) tells us more about the organization:

Mission.  The Armed Services YMCA enhances the lives of military members and their families in spirit, mind and body through programs relevant to the unique challenges of military life.

Guiding Principles. The Armed Services YMCA will:

  1. Be guided by Christian principles with a holistic approach to develop and promote healthy spirit, mind and body;
  2. Be inclusive and treat everyone with compassion and respect;
  3. Collaborate with military commands and community organizations;
  4. Honor the service members’ and their families’ commitment to defend our Nation; and
  5. Strive for excellence in all we do.

Mission Focus.  Priority shall be given to providing needed programs and services for junior enlisted personnel, both single and married, and their family members.  The focus of work shall be in three areas – youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Services may be provided to military personnel other than junior enlisted where resources are available. Programs and services shall be designed to complement and supplement those provided by the Armed Forces, either on or off military installations as appropriate.

Finally, here is the text from this year’s ‘Presidential Proclamation on National Veterans and Military Families Month, 2018, issued on October 31 and found in full at https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-national-veterans-military-families-month-2018/

During National Veterans and Military Families Month, we salute the brave and dedicated patriots who have worn the uniform of the United States, and we celebrate the extraordinary military families whose selfless service and sacrifice make our military the finest in the world.

Our Nation’s veterans represent the best of America.  Generation after generation, men and women have answered the call to defend our country and our freedom, facing danger and uncertainty with uncommon courage.  They make tremendous sacrifices by leaving their families to serve throughout the homeland and in combat, contingency, and humanitarian operations worldwide.

Our heroes have always relied on their families for strength and support.  Serving alongside our men and women in uniform are spouses, siblings, parents, and children who personify the ideals of patriotism, pride, resilience, service above self, and honor.  They endure the hardships and uncertainty of multiple relocations, extended trainings, and deployments because of their admirable devotion to our country and a loved one in uniform.

President Ronald Reagan said, “America’s debt to those who would fight for her defense doesn’t end the day the uniform comes off.”  Our Nation’s veterans fulfilled their duty to this country with brave and loyal service; it is our moral and solemn obligation to demonstrate to them our continuing gratitude, unwavering support, and meaningful encouragement.

I am steadfastly committed to ensuring our veterans and their families receive the care and support they deserve.  I was pleased to sign into law the landmark VA MISSION Act of 2018, which revolutionizes the way veterans receive healthcare and other services vital to their lives.  The Department of Veterans Affairs is continuing to raise its standard of service, including through the establishment of the first national center of excellence for veteran and caregiver research, which will improve services and outcomes for patients and their families.  I have also mandated greater collaboration across the Government to support veterans transitioning to civilian life. Additionally, Second Lady Karen Pence and I have collaborated on ways to elevate the career and educational opportunities for military spouses and children in partnership with State, local, and tribal officials.

It is most appropriate that in this season of gratitude we stop to recognize veterans, military families, and those who gave their lives in service to this great Nation.  We are indebted to these heroes for the freedoms we enjoy every day. I ask all Americans to join me in offering our sincere thanks to our veterans and the families who love and support them.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2018 as National Veterans and Military Families Month.  I encourage all communities, all sectors of society, and all Americans to acknowledge and honor the service, sacrifices, and contributions of veterans and military families for what they have done and for what they do every day to support our great Nation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand eighteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-third.

DONALD J. TRUMP

The Healing Power of Art

The Healing Power of Art

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

Art as therapy. If you’ve seen it in action, you know the life-changing effects it can have on our Brothers & Sisters that struggle. For years, art has been shown to improve interpersonal skills, increase self-awareness, and boost self-esteem. Clinically speaking, this helps reduce tension and anxiety, which can relieve pain and set a strong foundation for the process of healing or coping with lifelong disabilities. It can also mean relief for PTS and other issues stemming from military service.

For at least one Veteran, the visual arts have long been a format for creative expression, often providing emotional healing, strength, and a sense of purpose. Scott Beaty, a 20-year Navy Submarine Veteran and the founder of Visions for Vets, a small non-profit in St. Louis, Missouri, discovered a way to provide Veteran assistance through teaching and creating art and building strong Veteran camaraderie. As his organization grew, he witnessed his Veteran art students find release from their burdens, express themselves emotionally through creativity, and realize freedom from society’s label of being “disabled.”

“We’ve found that once Veterans have gained confidence in their newly-found, rekindled, or enhanced art skills, they’re ready to serve all over again. Service is at the heart of Visions for Vets and we seek to help Veterans continue the mission through art, building important relationships in their communities and engaging in outreach to bring the power of the healing arts to those in need of peace and joy,” Beaty said.

There’s an emphasis on the power of the visual arts at the national level, as well. As part of the current Presidential Administration, Second Lady Karen Pence uses her national and international platform to shine the light on art therapy. The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) have their own platforms in the Creative Forces Network and the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

The Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network serves the special needs of military patients and veterans who have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and psychological health conditions, as well as their families and caregivers, placing creative arts therapies at the core of patient-centered care at 11 military medical facilities across the country.

Made possible by a unique collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, DoD, the VA, and state arts agencies, Creative Forces is a network of caring people who believe in the transformative and restorative powers of art. The network is made up of creative arts therapists, artists, doctors, military service members, veterans, community leaders and policymakers, helping make a difference on military bases, in hospitals, and at community art centers.

Nationally, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities use the creative arts as an effective rehabilitative therapy to help veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities by encouraging expression in a non-threatening way. Across the country each year, Veterans enrolled at VA health care facilities compete in local creative arts competitions, culminating in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

The competition includes 51 categories in the visual arts division this year that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits. In addition, there are 100 categories in the performing arts pertaining to all aspects of music, dance, drama and creative writing. Through a national judging process, first, second and third place entries in each category are determined. The Festival is co-sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. In addition to raising funds for the event, Auxiliary departments provide volunteers who assist with everything from punching meal tickets to stuffing programs to ironing costumes for the stage show.

 

Manes and Reins: A Gold Star Sister’s Journey to Healing

Manes and Reins:  A Gold Star Sister’s Journey to Healing

By guest contributor Renee Nickell

I had heard the term PTSD as it related to war heroes, but I did not know much about its impacts on civilians. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental affliction that can cause one to be hyper-vigilant, aggressive, easily angered, subjected to nightmares, depression, anxiety and more. After my brother, Major Samuel Griffith, was suddenly and tragically killed in Afghanistan, I did not even realize I, personally, had PTSD.

After several years of traditional therapy without much improvement, I decided to pursue equine therapy. With the assistance of trained therapists who help military and combat veterans and their families heal from the effects of PTSD, I was able to face my own level of PTSD after years of struggling.

Horses are capable of mirroring human emotion, allowing the patient to become more self-aware when feelings cannot easily be put into words. While I was skeptical in the beginning of therapy, the connection with the horse quickly brought comfort I hadn’t found anywhere else.  I must admit: I was absolutely terrified at the start of my journey. I did not know what to expect from the horses or the sessions, and for me, that was scary. Over time, the bond that is formed with your gentle giant increases your confidence and ability to face painful circumstances in far less time than traditional therapy.

Equine therapy is now being used to treat various forms of illness, disabilities and medical conditions to include diabetes, autism, blindness, epilepsy, addictions and more.  Horses do not have the ability to lie, therefore, the patient cannot manipulate the horse beyond its true feelings. This is extremely beneficial when building trust between the patient and the horse.

Gold Star siblings, in general, tend to place our grief on the back burner so that we may help support the surviving spouse or our parents through the grieving process.  While each member of the family deals with their own grief separately, a sibling often postpones their grief, sometimes for years. This delay is to the detriment of the sibling and the family unit around them.  PTSD can last for years, even decades. I have spoken to siblings whose brothers were killed in Vietnam and there is still a level of PTSD.

Not only did I suffer from PTSD, but my teenage daughter did as well.  The day my brother was killed, she stepped into my role. The trauma was debilitating for me and it was my daughter that helped take care of everything that day, including protecting her younger siblings from the impact of the news.  The weeks after, from retrieving his body at Dover to the funeral and then trying to resume somewhat of a normal life, was incredibly traumatic for all of us.

Our family is fortunate that we were able to find the necessary help to move us forward in our grief journey. Not only myself, but my veteran husband and my daughter benefited from equine therapy. We were able to heal as a family and face issues from the past that otherwise weren’t being addressed. We are not talking about playing with horses here! Equine therapy is a lot of hard work and deep soul searching. It can be quite painful to face the things we long to forget, even childhood traumas.  This is why it is so important to find a reputable equine therapist who is skilled in treating PTSD and other mental health disorders.

There are many organizations that are non-profit and will assist a veteran and family for free or low-cost.  Many even take Tricare insurance. If you or a loved one struggle with PTSD and feel you can benefit from equine therapy, I would recommend searching your area for licensed equine therapists.  We are now in a 17-year war with countless veterans suffering from PTSD, and there are many organizations that are ready and willing to help them recover to live as best a normal and peaceful life as possible.

Sam cockpit

(Major Samuel Griffith, USMC, was an F/A-18 aviator and Forward Air Controller.  

He was killed December 14, 2011, in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of OEF.)

Author Headshot

Renee Nickell is the author of “Always My Hero: The Road to Hope & Healing Following 

Her Brother’s Death in Afghanistan.” For more about Renee, go to www.reneenickell.com.

Marine Will Serve Almost 3 Years for Stealing From Toys for Tots

Marine Will Serve Almost 3 Years for Stealing From Toys for Tots

Marine Will Serve Almost 3 Years for Stealing From Toys for Tots

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

A 33-month prison sentence and restitution to the tune of $534,044 is the immediate future of former Staff Sgt. Christopher Aragon.

Aragon used his position as a Toys for Tots program coordinator to make payments to himself and defraud the Marine Corps. Toys for Tots is a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas.

The program was founded in 1947 by reservist Major Bill Hendricks.

Aragon, 32, served as a supply chief for 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company and was the unit’s coordinator for its Toys for Tots program. Aragon will also have to pay $20,044.70 in restitution to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.

According to court documents, between December 2013 and August 2016, Aragon conspired with his wife, Teneshia Aragon, and Dana Davis, owner of the Runway Café in Mobile, Alabama, to defraud the Marine Corps by using an issued credit card to make unauthorized payments to himself as well as submitting false documents, invoices and unit rosters.

But the Corps picked up on the bogus charges during an audit and found serious discrepancies.

An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Defense Criminal Investigative Service ultimately resulted in Aragon’s prosecution.

In May, all three defendants plead guilty to trying to defraud the Marine Corps.

Dana Davis was sentenced to six-months in prison in August and Teneshia Aragon was sentenced to five years of probation with six months of that as home confinement on September 10th.

Christopher Aragon was ordered to undergo “three years of supervised release after finishing his term of imprisonment, pay a $100 mandatory special assessment, receive mental health treatment, and undergo credit restrictions following his release”.