Call to Service: The American Red Cross

Call to Service: The American Red Cross

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso


The odds are good that you or someone you know has been assisted in some way by the American Red Cross.


Personally, I’ve been a blood and platelet donor for all of my adult life. While it was my practice to donate several times throughout the year, the need for whole blood donors was driven home when I became a whole blood transfusion recipient in 2011. Since that time, I have been on a mission to ensure everyone in my immediate world knows that giving up just six to ten hours each year will save countless lives.


Donating blood is an easy, painless, cost-effective (free!) way to help the American Red Cross help others – but there are so many other ways to help as well!


If you are interested in helping an organization that helps our military members, an easy and effective way to do that is to volunteer at your local chapter. There are countless volunteer opportunities at the local level – from assisting with blood drives to volunteering to work one-on-one with individuals in need.


The American Red Cross is also always looking for volunteers to take a lead in their communities and help recruit others. Additionally, you can donate your gently used home items and clothing and the American Red Cross can help repurpose those items to benefit those in need. If you have a specific skill that you want to use, the American Red Cross probably wants to know! Check out their Volunteer Page to see which options fit you the best.


According to their website, 91 cents out of every dollar that the American Red Cross spends goes to humanitarian efforts and helping those in need. There is no better time than now to help the American Red Cross realize their mission and vision statements (below):


Mission Statement

The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.​

Vision Statement

The American Red Cross, through its strong network of volunteers, donors and partners, is always there in times of need. We aspire to turn compassion into action so that…

…all people affected by disaster across the country and around the world receive care, shelter and hope;

…our communities are ready and prepared for disasters;

…everyone in our country has access to safe, lifesaving blood and blood products;

…all members of our armed services and their families find support and comfort whenever needed; and

…in an emergency, there are always trained individuals nearby, ready to use their Red Cross skills to save lives.




Staying Strong: Finding an Activity that works for you

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso


Beginning a new exercise or activity routine can seem daunting – especially if you were in the service where physical activity was part of your every day routine. Whether time has slipped away and a few years of inactivity have caught up with you or a fitness plan is completely new, you can approach this in such a way that makes the transition easy and effortless.


Make a Plan – take yourself to your local dollar store and buy yourself a notebook. A composition book works well. Why? Whenever you start a new endeavor, it is helpful to write down your goals – short term and long term – and track your progress.


Create Fitness Goals – what do you want to accomplish? Whether your goal is to walk around the block five consecutive days or run a marathon before you’re 70, these should be personal and specific to you. Don’t let anyone else determine your personal fitness goals! Up until about three years ago, I was an avid gym rat who loved to lift weights. Some significant all-day-sickness during my first and second trimesters of pregnancy #4 put a quick end to my daily gym-going activities. Since then, between work and children, my gym-going has been sporadic at best and it has been almost two years since my last real workout. My current goal: locate sneakers. My next goal: drive to gym. It’s ok to start small. Really small.


Make Note of Your Starting Point – this ties directly into your goals. Three years ago, I could walk in and easily jog a 5K on the treadmill. For my new starting point – I am going to walk for 15 minutes and see how far I get. For Day 2, I am going to add 2 minutes and try to walk just a little faster. Knowing your starting point (and writing it down) helps you to measure your progress. Strength isn’t always measurable on a scale and it is easy to take for granted that you have made progress.


Pick an Activity that Fits – for me, what I love the most is weight lifting. Weightlifting is not for everyone, though. I worked with a personal trainer who preferred resistance bands and body weight exercises. Here is a brief list of ideas to help get you started:


Swimming – the perfect exercise, being in the pool engages your muscles, is great for your heart and puts next to no stress on your joints. Whether you have arthritis from life or trauma to your joints (I have an arthritic ankle thanks to a break 13 years ago – I still have two pins left in my right ankle joint), the weightless water activity can take the pressure of those joints and bones. Water is naturally resistant, so activities like water aerobics help burn additional calories with minimal impact.


Yoga – I keep telling myself that I’m going to get into yoga, but the more I try it, the less I think it is for me! However, it is a wonderful activity for my children, so we have started doing some Yoga poses before school and before bed as a way of calming and centering our thoughts. Yoga is low-impact and very gentle on the body. Movements tend to be slow and deliberate, poses held for extended periods to allow for a maximum stretch.


Pilates – if you are anything like me, you didn’t know that there was a difference between Yoga and Pilates. Pilates focuses on core strength and stability and is low-impact.


Bodyweight exercises – you have everything you need to start this workout. Climb the stairs – push up off of a wall. Slow-sit into a chair (squats). Try a plank – or slow crunches. Engage those abdominals!


Resistance Band Training – You don’t need a gym to take advantage of resistance bands. Most big-box stores have a fitness section and you are likely to find a variety of resistance bands to help get you started. They are a great way to add a degree of difficulty to an exercise that might start to feel easy.


Cycling – whether you want to dust off the bike in your garage or find a cycling studio, biking can be a great way to get the heart pumping without stressing out your joints. A slow starting pace can keep your exercise low-impact and you can build as you feel ready.


Walking – get a FitBit, lace up your sneakers and hit the sidewalk. Walk for 10 minutes and see how many steps that gets you, then add to it the next day. The best part – walking is free!


If you are still struggling on how to get started, you might benefit from purchasing a few sessions with a personal trainer. A personal trainer will be knowledgeable in what exercise and activity program might best fit your likes and lifestyle.


Activity is so important – and finding something that suits you is a big key to your success!


Have you had success in implementing a workout routine? We would love to hear what worked for you! Are you a personal trainer who would like to share some tips of your trade? Submit your story and send your ideas to


Healthy and Fit: Getting and Staying in Shape over 60

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

There is no doubt about it – the more you do in your 20s, 30s and 40s, the stronger you will be in your Golden years. However, it is never too late to get and stay in shape! The physical benefits of even a small amount of exercise will amaze you!

According to the CDC, daily physical activity will help maintain the ability to live independently. As we age, falling and breaking bones is a real fear. Strengthening muscles will absolutely help increase stability, which will, in turndecrease the chance of falling. Do you take blood pressure medication to regulate hypertension? According to, more than 46% of American adults are on medication to manage blood pressure. The recently revised guidelines recommend that blood pressure should be less than 150/90. If you are over that number or on medication, the benefits of weekly exercise would outweigh the possible inconvenience of driving to the gym!

While diet is critical for managing weight and diabetes, just a little bit of exercise in your routine may increase your ability to stay off of medication. More than 100 million Americans have Type 2 Diabetes, so the disease is running rampant and exercise and a healthy kitchen are the two best defenses. Regular physical activity can also slash your coronary heart disease risk. Moving your body is good for all of your body! Healthy bones are important – but so are healthy joints! Incorporating movement, activity, and exercise into your daily routine can greatly increase your overall mobility and diminish signs and symptoms of arthritis.

So many of us need to keep up with kids or grandkids. We want to be able to tour the ruins of Pompeii or walk along the beach. Whether we are 35 or 65, we want to be able to hang with the younger crowd and keep up. Implementing a regular activity – even if it is just walking around the block to start – will help make all of those activities easier on your bones, muscles, and joints.

The benefits don’t end with the physical – the emotional and mental benefits start to stack up quickly. People new to a physical routine will rapidly feel better, from head to toe, as the body releases endorphins.

ALL Adults can benefit from physical activity. If you are looking to add physical activity to your daily routine, here are some things to remember:

  • Find an activity that works well for you. Swimming is great for your entire body, but if you don’t like the water, then it isn’t the right activity for you!
  • Activity doesn’t need to be strenuous or high impact. A daily walk around the block is a great way to start.
  • Daily activity is key. Sporadic activity is better than none, but true health benefits are achieved when your schedule is regular.
  • Start slow! Walk around the block every day this week. Next week – make it two blocks.
  • Implementing a physical activity routine doesn’t have to be expensive. Not everyone can afford a gym membership. Use soup cans as weights to get your arms moving. Time your walk around the block to determine your “personal best” time. If you are ready for something a little more strenuous, go up and down the steps! Your home is full of items that you can use on your personal fitness journey.
  • The more you do, the better you will feel.
  • Star small and set achievable goals. Something is better than nothing!
  • Write things down and keep track!
  • Be safe, be smart and don’t forget to make sure your doctor is on board with your new plan!


It is never too late to start making your life and health better! Why not start today?

Aging Gracefully in the VA: Collecting Disability Benefits in Your Golden Years

Aging Gracefully in the VA: Collecting Disability Benefits in Your Golden Years

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

There are over 76 million baby boomers in the United States. Over 10 million of those baby boomers are Veterans. When you include the Silent and Greatest Generations, you are looking at nearly 15 million Veterans who have reached retirement age and may be in need of senior services beyond just a customary discount.

Senior Veterans have an increased likelihood to not utilize their VA benefits to their full extent. In many cases, seniors might not actually even be aware of the benefits for which they are eligible. The underutilized benefits begin with compensation. Most elderly veterans are entitled to receive compensation above and beyond the service-related compensation. In fact, there are a variety of health care programs that are actually common benefits for those who might need them.

Did you know that Elderly Veterans are entitled to Aid and Attendance? This is a program available for veterans who need help with basic daily functions. Bed-ridden, blind, nursing home Veterans can all enlist the help of an attendant to assist with their daily needs. Housebound Veterans who are unable to leave their home as a result of their disability are also eligible for similar services. Adult Day Health Care can also be life changing to elderly Veterans in need. As we age, our needs change, and Adult Day Health Care helps address and fulfill many of those needs. From companionship to recreational activity and care from therapists to nurses, the care provided might literally be life changing.

When health care needs go beyond the scope of companionship, Home Based Primary Care might be the route a family would want to take. This program brings a VA doctor into the home of the Veteran. That VA doctor will supervise an entire team that will meet and perform services within the home. This option is for veterans with health issues that are beyond the scope of care that can be provided by a clinic. Homemaker and Home Health Aides are available as well to help with daily care. This service would be customized for a Veteran who requires daily living assistance.

As age and illnesses progress, more intense services may be required to fully assist in the patient’s care. Palliative Care tends to those needs with the goal of managing pain, suffering, and symptoms. Palliative Care comes into work with the veteran and their families to evaluate the needs of the patient and put a plan into place that will best control a patient’s symptoms. When a patient is given less than six months to live, Veterans are eligible to receive Hospice Care.

Veterans that are confined to their home or live too great of a distance from their local VA are eligible for Skilled Home Health Care. The VA contracts with a local provider to ensure the needs of the Veteran are appropriately met. The care doesn’t end with the Veteran. The VA understands that the family of a Veteran can get worn out as well. Respite Care comes in to give the family of the elderly or infirmed Veteran a break from their day-to-day responsibilities and work.

The VA is aware that different cases require different solutions. Telehealth gives nurses and doctors access to monitoring equipment so that a veteran can stay in their own home while still receiving care. Veteran Directed Care provides case management and allows a Veteran and family to completely customize a health care plan to ensure their needs are being met. This might include skilled in-home services, daily assistance or medical needs.

Our Veterans are aging with every passing day. As their need for care increases, it is likely that the types of care provided will increase as well. For now, however, the list of care options is fairly comprehensive and many of the options will help address those needs.

End of Semester GI Bill Update

End of Semester GI Bill Update


We reported a few weeks ago in GI Benefits in Limbo that GI Bill housing and tuition payments have been delayed as a result of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017. The sections of the law, which were implemented in 2017, required a complete overhaul and upgrade of the Veterans Benefits Administration technology infrastructure. While those upgrades were to be completed by this previous August, as of November, the majority of the upgrades had yet to be made and therefore payments were delayed across the country.

Fortunately for GI Bill recipients, the VBA has made progress and was able to update the thousands of students who have been waiting on payments.

Effective last week, the VBA had put in place a plan to be able to process the Spring 2020 semester by December 2019. This includes addition staffing and support as well as the solicitation of contractor bits.

While this is something to look forward to for many students, the VBA is also making adjustments to assist the students with immediate needs. The month housing allowance rates will be set to the Department of Defence Basic Housing Allowance rates. In many cases, this rate is equal to or higher than the payments that have been received previously. Additionally, the VBA will be correcting the underpayments retroactively.

Even better news for those who happened to be fortunate enough to have received an overpayment this year, the VBA will not be collecting those overpayments. Housing payments will be paid out according to the location of the academic institution’s main campus and will be independent of the student’s actual physical address.

All of these changes will come to a close on December 1, 2019. It is expected that VBA will have developed and implemented a satisfactory IT solution for sections 107 and 501 of the “Forever GI Bill” law. Many of the changes are an attempt to make the process easier for all participants. Changes such as more easily defining training sites as school campuses when will reduce burden and work for both students and schools. VBA is expected to remain in constant contact with Veterans, service organizations and Congress on the status of the implementations and expectations throughout the process. The call for increased communication  is in response to claim levels being triple that of normal in September of this year. While VBA claims levels are back to normal, they are encouraging schools and students to get Spring submissions in early to ensure timely payment.

Secretary Wilkie said “Redesigning the way VBA calculates Post 9/11 GI Bill housing rates during a busy academic season was like flying a plane while building it, and that was unfair and frustrated to Veterans and taxpayers. That’s why we are resetting our implementation of the law for the next year to ensure we get the technology and formula right to put Veterans first. In the meantime, beneficiaries receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowances will be paid at the DoD BAH rate, which in many cases will be equal to or higher than their current payment.”

Some other important details to remember:

  • VBA timeline standards are 28 days for new enrollments, 14 days for re-enrollments
  • Spring submissions can be sent in now
  • The Education Call Center number is 888-442-4551 and is open 8am to 7pm, EST, Monday-Friday
  • If you are experiencing a financial hardship due to the fall semester delays or need other assistance, please contact the Education Call Center

Remembering George H. W. Bush

Remembering George H. W. Bush

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

He has returned to Washington, DC for one last visit before his final resting place. He has been visited by many, including his faithful service dog, Sully, who has sat in empathetic mourning in front of his flag-draped casket. Flags across our country fly at half-mast and our social media feeds are flooding with stories of his greatness. Whether you loved him during his career or opposed him, George HW Bush’s legacy surpasses the politics for which he is known.


Born June 12, 1924 in Milton, MA, George H.W. Bush was one of five children for Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush. A young man headed for collegiate life, Bush was extremely impacted by the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor. Six months later, on his 18th birthday, George Bush enlisted in the US Navy and subsequently became one of the youngest aviators in naval history. His three years in the military was only the beginning of his lifetime of service to the American people.


By 1948, George Bush was out of the Navy and a graduate of Yale. Upon his graduation, he moved with his family to Texas and began his career as an investor in the oil industry. He founded his own oil company and was a millionaire by the age of 40. From there, he launched himself into the field of politics. His initial run for US Senate resulted in a defeat in 1964. However, that loss was followed up with a win for the 7th District for the US House of Representatives just two years later. He won re-election in 1968 but suffered another defeat in the US Senate election of 1970. He had already garnered the attention he needed, however, as President Richard Nixon took the opportunity to appoint Bush as Ambassador to the United Nations in 1971. By 1973, he was Chairman of the Republican National Committee.  


Bush’s run for the Oval Office began in 1980, but he was defeated in the Republican Primary by Ronald Reagan. Reagan subsequently selected Bush as his running mate and this Republican ticket was elected in 1980. Bush used his eight years as Vice President to head the war on drugs, which became a popular slogan of the decade. He also headed the task force on deregulation.


After two terms as Vice President, Bush became the first incumbent VP to win the Presidential election. He defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis and began what would be a foreign-policy presidency.


In those four years, Bush’s presidency saw a series of military operations and historical events. From Panama and the Persian Gulf to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, foreign events helped to make Bush’s term memorable. These events also led to a variety of issues in this new, post-cold war environment. A domestic economic recession, foreign wars, and foreign policy issues combined to give Bill Clinton the edge in the 1992 election.


Despite leaving office in 1993, George Bush remained active in the public eye. It was just eight years later that he would officially become George H. W. Bush, as his son, George W. Bush, became the 43rd President of this great country.


It is no doubt that our 41st President was a great man, a good leader and a wonderful husband, father, grandfather. While his son was in office, he was called into service yet again. This time to work side-by-side with former political adversary, Bill Clinton. The two were thrust into humanitarian projects and through working together, became friends. In fact, his son, George W. Bush, once joked that during Clinton’s surgical recovery, he likely “woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea…my Dad.”


It was those humanitarian lessons that taught us some of George H. W. Bush’s greatest lessons. We learned that there is always more we can do – more ways we can help. His time to be in the limelight was technically over and he would have been within his rights to want to enjoy his retirement with his wonderful wife, Barbara, by his side. Instead, he spent much of his golden years trotting the globe, helping those in need.


Through his relationship with Bill Clinton, he taught us that the past is the past and we can overcome personal differences to truly make the world a better place. What they demonstrated is something this country is sorely lacking.


Even Clinton has made this observation:

“I think people see George and me and they say, ‘that is the way our country ought to work.’”


President Trump has declared today, December 5, 2018, a national day of mourning in honor of our 41st President, George H.W. Bush. He has been lying in state in Washington DC in the Capitol Rotunda since Monday. He will make his way to the National Cathedral for his State Funeral Service. After the State Service today, “Special Mission 41” will take George H. W. Bush home to Texas where he will ultimately find his final resting place on the grounds of the library that bears his name.


Advancements in Technology Making Soldiers’ Load Easier to Carry

Advancements in Technology Making Soldiers’ Load Easier to Carry


It takes a lot of power to keep a unit charged up. Before now, that amount of energy required generators which were substantial in size and weight. That all might change, however, thanks to two MIT graduates.


Veronika Stelmakh and Walker Chan are co-founders of a small portable generator – roughly the size of a soda can. The “soldier-borne generator for reduced battery load” would run on fuel, likely butane or propane, then convert that fuel into electricity using infrared radiation. While the device will use photovoltaic cells (cells that create an electric current when exposed to light), no sunlight will be necessary to power the device. The photovoltaic cells will be a byproduct of the infrared radiation.


Lightening the load has been a goal for the Army and Marine Corps. This small unit would essentially turn one soldier into a portable charging station for the rest of his or her unit. It will weigh about one pound and reduce battery load by up to 75%. Currently, soldiers carry 15-20 pounds of load for the batteries that power up their required devices. As their packs are often more than 100 pounds, shedding any of that weight would be helpful.  


Stelmakh and Chan developed the device through MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.


AI May Enhance Tradecraft, Prevent Geopolitical Surprises

AI May Enhance Tradecraft, Prevent Geopolitical Surprises Says Military’s Top Spy

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., the Pentagon’s “top spy,” hopes advances in artificial intelligence (AI) can get a jump on global conflicts when they ignite overnight.

“My core mission is to make sure that the secretary of defense is never surprised,” said Ashley.

Ashley became the 21st Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency on October 3, 2017. He formerly served as the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2, where he was the senior advisor to the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff for all aspects of intelligence, counterintelligence and security.

“AI and machine learning will be a huge enhancement” to tradecraft and other skills defense analysts use to avoid blind spots,” he said.

Using algorithms to sort through massive amounts of information can take some of the burden off defense analysts, but it doesn’t come without challenges, Ashley said.

“We look very closely at the technology development. Obviously, there’s some breakout things — we watch the AI side of the house, the hypersonics, counter-space, [and] what they’re doing with regard to subs, if you’re following the maritime piece of that as well,” he said. “They’re in the trials for their first carrier. They got an old one from the Russians; now they’re building their own.”

“When an analyst sits in front of a senior leader, they always say, ‘Based on reporting, based on sources, based on what I have seen I have a moderate [degree of confidence]’ or if you see a national assessment that says ‘I have a high-degree of confidence,’ it goes back to sourcing and analytic tradecraft,” he said.

“You never want to be in a position where you say, ‘Well, the computer told me so,'” he continued. “Part of the challenge we have now, and I think really the opportunity is, as we look at algorithms, as we look at machine learning and AI, is developing a degree of confidence within the AI, a degree of confidence within the algorithm.”

DIA will have to test these algorithms “to be able to prove that it can in fact come back with a high-degree of confidence that the analysis that it’s doing is correct,” Ashley added.

Ashley wants to ensure that the Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, or MARS, is at initial operating capability before he leaves office in two years. MARS will take advantage of modern technologies in storage, cloud computing and machine learning to allow analysts to interact with data and information in a more dynamic fashion, rather than static.


Military Memoirs: Vietnam

MilitaryMemoirs Vietnam

Military Memoirs: Vietnam

Contributed by Jerry Van Boxtel

I was stationed at Travis AFB, California from 1959 to 1968.

In 1964, I started flying missions as a flight engineer on C-124 aircraft making a trip every month to different bases in Vietnam. The trips were long, as the airplane was very slow. Each one took around 14 days and we logged about 112 hours of flying time. I remember picking up my first deceased Army person that first year. There was a flag-draped aluminum casket and a ceremony with pallbearers – it was a pretty sad occasion. We delivered the remains to the military mortuary in Hawaii where all human remains were to be delivered during the entire war.

Noteworthy was the way that ceremony was to change over the years. It wasn’t too many years and the body count would go up to the point that, not only was there no ceremony or pallbearers or flags, but the human remains were loaded on pallets and raised up into C-124 on an elevator. In 1965, I changed to the C-141 jet cargo airplane. I would continue these missions for a total of 10 years, taking a break from 1968/69 when I got orders to fly C-121R recon aircraft out of Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, flying missions over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. After this tour, I was assigned to McGuire AFB, NJ flying C-141s again, but going to Vietnam by way of Alaska. There were a lot of Air evac, cargo, and troop missions, also. I ended my 20-year Air Force career flying my final mission to Saigon in April 1975, helping with evacuations as the base was being overrun. But that is another story…


Socks of the Brave

socks of the brave

Socks of the Brave

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

When you see the words “Made in the USA,” the co-founders of Socks of the Brave want you to not only think of superior American-made quality, they want you to think of remember the service men and women who sacrifice their personal lives to protect this great country.

Socks have become increasingly more bold, funky and colorful; department stores sporting racks of “fun and fashionable” foot coverings and minimal packages of the standard black and white tube socks of yesteryear. Socks of the Brave capitalized on the change in footwear fashion and combined a love of spirited sock with a pay-it-forward mentality to help our troops. To kick off their sock company, Socks for the Brave sent 150 pairs of their USA-manufactured socks to the Ironhorse Brigade from Fort Hood, TX, a unit preparing for a nine month deployment.

Why socks? Deployed servicemembers spend more hours in their boots than many civilians can even imagine. Have you ever had an uncomfortable sock wedged in your shoe? Now imagine walking on that uncomfortable sock for 18 straight hours. Or possibly even sleeping with that sock! Socks of the Brave makes sure that this often overlooked necessity is of the highest quality.

The Socks of the Brave sales model allows a sock donation for every pair that is purchased. The “buy one-give one” model sends the socks to active military across the globe through third-party charitable groups.

In addition to being American designed and manufactured (by a company in North Carolina), Socks of the Brave works to keep their fixed costs down with “no frills” packaging. As per their website, “with each penny saved, Socks of the Brave is able to spend more on our US Military.”

The Socks of the Brave are currently available in five different camouflage print styles. From ankle socks to knee socks, there are styles available for all feet – both men and women! Right now, the focus is on the camo print design, but they are taking suggestions for future styles and prints and plan to roll out more as popularity increases.

If you should find yourself in need of some new socks, go shopping at and buy some socks for yourself – and a soldier!