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”.

Charity Ride Provides Healing For Veterans

Charity Ride Provides Healing For Veterans

Charity Ride Provides Healing For Veterans

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

In 2014, Army Airborne Paratrooper, “Indian” Dave Frey was riding solo to the Sturgis Bike Rally when his path crossed with a fellow Paratrooper from his unit, and they quickly became friends. They talked about fellow veterans that were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and how so many are having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life after their war experiences.

Frey and his business partner, Robert Manciero, conceived the idea for a ride that would include “Motorcycle Therapy” and create an adventure of a lifetime for wounded veterans. To get started they needed motorcycles, sidecars to accommodate amputees, and support. The duo contacted Indian Motorcycles and Champion Sidecars, who both jumped onboard, and the Veterans Charity Ride (VCR) to Sturgis hit the road.

In July, 18 wounded warriors departed from Las Vegas and traveled 1600 miles of gorgeous backroads on Indian motorcycles to take part in the 4th Annual VCR to Sturgis. Along the route, entire towns came out to welcome the veterans, treat them to lunch, and celebrate their service and sacrifice.

Frey and his wife Sue offer year-round support services for the veterans that join them on the ride.

Programs include:

WellVet- A nutritional program that helps veterans make healthier choices

VetFam- Gives previous veteran riders and mentors the opportunity to take their family on an all-expense paid four-day retreat at Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, UT.

MotoDono- A tax deductible motorcycle donation program for industry partners and the general public to donate new and used motorcycles and ATVs that are refurbished and modified (when needed) and given to veterans.

SafeVet- A motorcycle safety course that also offers assistance with maintenance, repairs and upgrades to keep riders safe.

TrustedVet- A mentoring program for previous riders to become mentors to the new veterans taking part in the Sturgis ride.

Riders also enjoyed zip-lining, river rafting, horseback riding, off-roading and other activities.

The 2016 ride was what got Army special forces veteran and VCR mentor Keith Helfrich back on a motorcycle. He found that riding relieved his anxiety away and helped him find calm and peace of mind.

“The ride is spectacular and the other veterans, our shared community, is really what this is all about,” said Helfrich. “We’re all in it together, and this ride creates lifelong bonds and friendships.”

To find out more about the Veterans Charity Ride or support their mission, visit .

States Join FTC to Target Fraudulent Military Charities

States Join FTC to Target Fraudulent Military Charities


States Join FTC to Target Fraudulent Military Charities

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Many charities do a great job supporting our nation’s military and veterans, but there are some charities that exploit donor generosity. Now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has joined forces with the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) to educate consumers so that they can make better choices with their donated funds.

Operation Donate with Honor is a nationwide law enforcement and education initiative to stop veteran-related charity fraud. Charity regulators from 70 offices, including every state, Washington D.C., Guam, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico, joined the FTC in this initiative, announcing more than 100 law enforcement actions targeting veteran-related charities and fundraisers. This unprecedented cooperative effort signals that charity scammers who prey on Americans’ patriotism and generosity should beware…law enforcement is watching – and taking action.

“Not only do fraudulent charities steal money from patriotic Americans, they also discourage contributors from donating to real Veterans’ charities,” said Peter O’Rourke, Acting Secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

To make sure you donate wisely, it’s a good idea to do your research, ask questions, be careful how you pay, and watch out for scammers and spoofers.

For more information on Operation Donate with Honor, along with details of two complaints filed against organizations as part of the initiative, visit


Captain John Rhoten to Receive TAPS’ 2018 Mentor of Year Award


By Debbie Gregory.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) Military Mentor of the Year Award recognizes outstanding support for the children of America’s fallen heroes. This year, the award goes to Army Capt. John Rhoten, who will be recognized at the annual TAPS Honor Guard Luncheon on March 6th at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C.

Rhoten, a native of Stafford, Virginia, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002. Since that time he has deployed twice to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rhoten started in the Infantry and is currently a Military Intelligence officer. He is married and has two daughters. Currently, he serves at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division.

TAPS provides immediate and long-term support to surviving children in part through Good Grief Camps and Campouts, bringing together military surviving adults and children across the area, encouraging them to share with others in a peer-based support network while learning about grief and trauma from some of our nation’s experts.

“As a TAPS volunteer and military mentor, John has given selflessly to honor our nation’s fallen heroes by bringing comfort and support to their surviving families,” said Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of TAPS.

As a way to honor his fallen comrades and connect with the families grieving their loss, Rhoten began serving as a TAPS mentor in 2011. He now serves as a group leader at TAPS camps, serving as a role model for other military mentors.

Mark Capra, who lost his father, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Capra in 2008, was paired with Rhoten when Mark attended a Good Grief Camp. The pairing lasted from 2012 to 2014. Capra is now a college student who is serving as a TAPS mentor to other children who have lost a loved one in the military.

“Countless mentors who have bonded with their mentee and kept their relationship for a decade,” said  Carroll. Many travel great distances throughout the year to attend graduations, birthdays, special events with the child.”

We have been proud to work with this outstanding non-profit organization for more than seven years, and look forward to that continued relationship for many years to come.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.


army 10 miler

Recognized as one of the nation’s premier running events and—with 35,000 registered runners—the third largest 10-mile race in the world, the Army Ten-Miler (ATM) returns to Washington, D.C. for its 33rd year on Sunday, Oct. 8. Conducted by The U.S. Army Military District of Washington (MDW), the Army’s race is the third largest 10-mile road race in the world. The ATM starts and finishes at the Pentagon with a course that winds through Washington, D.C.

The ATM provides inspiration to both military and civilian competitors, many of whom run in honor of a family member or colleague who served, or who simply enjoy demonstrating their patriotic spirit and support for the Army. The All-Army Team—comprised of several Army World Class Athlete Program participants and past Olympians—is a top draw to the race and will compete against other international military teams for the coveted International Cup. All race proceeds benefit U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs.

Race Weekend officially kicks off at the D.C. Armory Oct. 6-7 with the ATM Expo presented by Navy Federal Credit Union, offering products and services for U.S. Service Members, runners, health enthusiasts and homeowners. The expo is free and open to the public.

On race day—Sunday, Oct. 8—waves of runners, starting with Wheelchair Athletes and Wounded Warriors, begin the ten-miler at 7:50 a.m. from the Pentagon South Lot, traverse a scenic course through the nation’s capital and finish in the Pentagon North Lot. Immediately following the race, the Commanding General of the Military District of Washington presents top runners with individual and team awards for their achievements. There also is a post-race Youth Run for young children and a Hooah Tent Zone presented by KBRwyle, where commands and installations compete for the top Hooah Tent honor and “Hank” the Hooah Bird trophy, while providing food, camaraderie and giveaways for visitors.

ATM Race Weekend leads right up to the opening of the Association of the U.S. Army’s (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C., Oct. 9-11 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. AUSA and KBRwyle are 2017 Lead Sponsors of the 33rd Annual ATM.

For more information on the ATM, visit

Calling All Corporate Sponsors for Nationally Broadcast Benefit Concert

american salutes you logo

The second annual America Salutes You benefit concert is gearing up for the November live show in New York City, with the national broadcast scheduled for December. A number of corporations have already secured their sponsorships, but there are still a few limited opportunities available.

The theme of this year’s event will be “Guitar Legends for Heroes” and music fans are urged to stay tuned for the big announcement, which could very well include the talent lineup. America Salutes You, ‘17 is partnered with Wall Street Rocks, and both are 501 (c) 3 organizations assisting military families.

Money raised by the concert nationally will be granted to several top non-profits, with an emphasis on mental health organizations that serve military, veterans and their families.

Bob Okun, concert creator, said “Over 200,000 service members re-enter civilian life each year, joining over 22 million existing veterans. Many continue to need assistance to reintegrate into their communities with proper healthcare, including mental health resources, as well as with employment training, education, and housing opportunities. This concert provides much needed assistance.” is once again honored to be joining forces with America Salutes You and Wall Street Rocks.”

“We ask a lot of those who serve,” said Debbie Gregory, CEO of “Our servicemembers, past and present, have put the protection of our freedoms above all else. The least we can do to show our appreciation for their sacrifices, and the sacrifices made by their families, is to support the non-profits that provide support for them. ”

Corporations interested in corporate sponsorship opportunities should contact debbieg(at)

We invite you to look forward to more news about America Salutes You,’17: Guitar Legends for Heroes.

Fisher House Comes to the Aid of Our Military Kids


By Debbie Gregory

When Ken Fisher, Chairman and CEO of Fisher House Foundation, recently heard on the news that Our Military Kids had to cut its grants to military children due to lack of funding, he knew he had to help.

And help he did! Fisher House Foundation presented Our Military Kids with a check for $250,000, and challenged Americans across the country to step up and help, too.

Our Military Kids’ supports the children of National Guard and Reserve service members, as well as children of active, wounded and fallen warriors, by paying fees associated with athletic, fine arts and tutoring programs.

Gabby Douglas, the Gold Medal Olympic gymnast was a past grant recipient.

Since April 2005, the organization has delivered more than 54,000 grants totaling $22 million.

Unfortunately, in 2014, all of Our Military Kids’ federal funding was cut. That left the non-profit reliant upon private funds.

“Our Military Kids does incredible work to support military families when they need it most,” said Fisher. “We feel that supporting them is a natural extension of our mission at Fisher House, and believe that we have to work together to wrap our arms around military families – especially young people – in times of need. We both understand that not only the service member serves, but the entire family sacrifices.”

“We’re so grateful to Fisher House,” said Linda Davidson, executive director of Our Military Kids. “Not only does their donation come at a time when our funds are not keeping pace with the need, but their generous act signals a door opening to better collaboration among military support organizations.”

“Taking care of our military, veterans and their families is everyone’s responsibility,” said Fisher. “I challenge Americans everywhere to reach into your hearts and pockets and help Our Military Kids sustain the wonderful support they have given military children since 2004—these children deserve this and so much more.”

Can Changes at the Wounded Warrior Projects Save the Non-Profit?


By Debbie Gregory.

On the heels of a lot of bad press, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is making a number of changes, including firing former executives, closing offices, and redirecting funds to counter the previous spending scandal.

After an internal investigation, the foundation’s board of directors fired CEO Stephen Nardizzi, who often made flamboyant entrances at staff parties, for focusing too much on fundraising rather than veterans’ programs.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington, who took over as CEO earlier this year, said that changes are being made in order to provide the best resources possible to veterans.

The moves come months after the 13-year-old organization came under attack for accusations of reckless spending: exorbitant staff salaries, lavish staff parties and corporate retreats, expensive dinners and alcohol.

Linnington acknowledged that the recent scandals have hurt fundraising totals this year, but change is on the way.
The non-profit is boosting support for programs such as the Long-Term Support Trust initiative, and ending others such as the Transition Training Academy.

“We had to look at the programs that are the most essential to who we serve, and make sure we’re providing the greatest assistance to those in the greatest need,” Linnington said.

While trimming the fat from the payroll, the non-profit is planning to add staff  to mental health programs, long-term home-based support services, and helping veterans engage with each other in community activities.
Linnington said the group is planning to continue its support of veterans’ charities. In fiscal 2015, Wounded Warrior Project handed out about $11 million in grants to outside groups.

Hopefully, the changes made at the WWP will be able to change public perception of the organization.  Linnington is confident they will.

“We are strengthening our programs to better serve our warriors and their families, and will strengthen relationships with community partners in caring for our military community, as well as facilitating partnerships with organizations and businesses doing great work in the civilian sector,” he said in a statement.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Reuniting MWDs and their Battle Buddies


By Debbie Gregory.

Molli Oliver has worked more than 40 years as a flight attendant. The 5-foot-2 United Airlines employee has worked many military charters in the past, serving both military K9 handlers and their Military Working Dogs (MWDs.)

Oliver is on a mission of her own: working to reunite retired MWDs with their former handlers.

It all started when she struck up a conversation with a soldier, who was still brokenhearted five years after parting ways with his military canine.

She asked him, “Well, where is the dog? I’ll get him for you.”

The 65 year old Los Angeles resident combines her deep bond with the military and her love for dogs. She has absorbed the costs associated with these reunions.

She was deeply touched by Sgt. Andrew Mulherron’s story as she flew with Marines heading for deployment overseas in April 2015. Mulherron was the first handler for another black lab, Boone, starting in 2009. Boone was a decorated MWD, receiving a medal for detecting 11 confirmed explosive devices in Afghanistan.

Mulherron settled in California and Boone went to another handler. Oliver tracked down Boone and was able to secure permission to fly him to California.

On October 22, 2015, Mulherron was reunited with Boone in 29 Palms, CA.

Another success story, Oliver’s fifth, is Taylor, a yellow lab who served her country in Afghanistan, with her handler, Sgt. Tom Hansen. Oliver flew to St. Louis to pick up Taylor, then to Boise to meet Sgt. Hansen.

Over the course of a dog’s working life, the animal typically goes through several handlers. When the dog is retired, the final handler usually gets first dibs. Other times, a past handler has made it clear he or she wants to adopt. If multiple handlers want the dog, the commander chooses “based on the best interest of the dog,” according to Doug Miller, working dog manager for the Department of Defense.

Oliver has created a nonprofit called MUMS DOGS (Molli’s Uniting Military Service Dogs) to help bring more retired military working dogs together with their former handlers.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Pets for Vets- Making Matches, Saving Lives


By Debbie Gregory.

Dogs have always been called “man’s best friend” as they are known for their loyalty and companionship. Dogs seem to be able to understand human emotions and respond appropriately, sensing happiness, sadness and fear.

Voltaire wrote, “It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defense and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful: it is the best friend man can have.”

As an animal trainer with a master’s in anthrozoology, Clarissa Black’s trip to a local VA Hospital with her dog, Bear, changed her life. After seeing how the veterans responded to Bear, Black decided to use her skills and resources to train rescue dogs for America’s veterans, especially those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, anxiety and depression. And so, Pets for Vets was born.

In addition to helping the veterans, the program rescues shelter dogs from around the country, a win-win for all.

The non-profit organization utilizes an extensive matchmaking process in order to make sure that the veteran and dog are a good fit. Once the pet has been selected, it receives obedience training and learns the skills that will benefit its new owner’s condition.

Dogs trained to assist people with PTSD learn a range of tasks. Some dogs can be taught to recognize early signs of anxiety in their partners and to give an alert, thereby re-focusing their partner, who can then use strategies they have been taught to cope with the situation.

Pets for Vets is not only helping shelter dogs find the love they deserve, but also it’s a way to say thank you to our country’s veterans for their service and dedication, because sometimes the best medicine is a cold nose and a warm, furry friend.

 For more information on Pets for Vets or to make a donation, please visit

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.