The special event included behind the scenes footage that showed the magic behind moviemaking and the experience of working on such a riveting story.
“This was my first big roll on a big major film, so for me it was an amazing experience,” said Navy veteran-turned actor Ricky Ryba. “You’d actually be really surprised with the similarities in the military and how things are run on set. To me, that relates to the chain of command. I was used to that, and just the professionalism that you get in the military. You bring it over to the set and they love it.”
Most of the veterans who attended the screening loved the movie, and the QA that offered a behind-the-scenes view into the moviemaking process.
“The QA was amazing, for me as a veteran and how it relates to my experience, I got a lot out of it,” one veteran said.
The U.S. military has been talking about it for years, but now the stars may be aligning to force a closer look at replacing the standard military rifle issued to most American troops.
The Army is reportedly exploring how it might outfit all its front-line troops with a rifle chambered in a larger round than the 5.56mm M4 and M16 for the current fight in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, insiders claim. Service officials are increasingly worried that that soldiers are being targeted by insurgent fighters wielding rifles and machine guns that can kill U.S. troops at a distance, while staying out of the effective range of America’s current small arms.
“A Capability Gap exists for 80 percent of US and NATO riflemen who are armed with 5.56mm weapons,” weapons expert and former Heckler Koch official Jim Schatz stated in a recent small arms briefing. “The threat engages friendly forces with 7.62mmR weapons 300 meters beyond the effective range of 5.56mm NATO ammo.”
“These 5.56mm riflemen have no effective means to engage the enemy.”
So the service is considering options to outfit soldiers with a true “battle rifle” chambered in 7.62×51, a more powerful round with a greater range than the 5.56, analysts say. It’s unclear which system the Army will pick if it decides to go this route, with rifles like the Mk-17 SCAR-H, M-110 and now the M110A1 CSASS either getting set for fielding or already in the inventory.
But military planners aren’t stopping there.
Multiple sources confirm that the service is also looking at fielding a so-called “intermediate caliber” round that can be used in both machine guns and infantry rifles that deliver better range and lethality than the 5.56 but in a smaller, lighter package than the NATO M80 7.62×51 ammo.
Dubbed the .264 USA, the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Georgia, has been shooting a prototype intermediate caliber round for years. Similar to the 6.5 Grendel but with a case sized for use in a standard M4 magazine, the .264 USA has an 800 meter effective range and better terminal ballistics further out than a 5.56.
The round is also being developed with a polymer case instead of brass, which cuts down the weight significantly, experts claim.
“Stand-off shooters in Afghanistan employ the suppressive merits of 7.62x54R weapons by raining down .30 caliber projectiles onto troops armed mostly with 5.56mm rifles incapable of returning effective fire,” Schatz wrote. “A lightweight polymer-cased intermediate caliber cartridge and projectile would thus improve the probability of hit, incapacitation and suppression for all members of the squad without the weight and recoil penalties associated with 7.62mm NATO ammunition and weapons.”
The notion is to field one caliber that can work for a variety of missions — from close-in battle clearing houses to distant engagements using a rifle or a machine gun. In fact, there’s increased interest within the service to evaluate a new medium machine gun chambered in .338 Norma Magnum that would replace the M240 and potentially even the decades-old M2 .50 cal in some missions.
The Army has not taken an official position on the fielding of 7.62 battle rifles for its front-line troops or on the development of an intermediate caliber. The service did conduct a Small Arms Ammunition Configuration Study to look into the issue, but the results have not yet been publicly released.
And weapons experts within the military and in industry confirm to WATM that the debate is heating up.
Two experts who spoke to WATM questioned the wisdom of fielding a 7.62 battle rifle as an interim solution, arguing the current M4 could benefit from better constructed, longer length, free-floated barrels and top-notch ammunition to make up for some of the ballistic shortfalls.
Another veteran and firearms expert said the M4’s range problem is more a training issue than it is a caliber one, calling the Army’s marksmanship program “a joke” and arguing good ammo and a longer barrel could solve many of the engagement distance problems.
Additionally, one world champion competitive shooter and tactical trainer told WATM that top-tier special operators who’ve taken his classes are using 18-inch barrels on their carbines, moving away from shorter options geared for tight spaces in favor of the range advantages of a longer gun.
The military has been debating the wisdom of sticking with the 5.56 since operations in Somalia prompted discussions over the terminal ballistics of the “varmint” round, but despite multiple studies claiming there are better options out there, the Army and the rest of the services haven’t seen a compelling enough reason to make a change.
Yet with the potential for increased defense budgets, a replacement for the M9 pistol coming on board and a Pentagon leadership that seems more in tune with the needs of troops fighting terrorists on the ground, the drive to rethink America’s arsenal could lead to major changes.
Dr. Justin Sanchez, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Biological Technologies Office, fist-bumps with one of the first two advanced “LUKE” arms to be delivered from a new production line during a ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 22, 2016 DoD photo
Dr. Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, delivered the first two advanced “LUKE” arms from a new production line Dec. 22 — evidence that the fast-track DARPA research effort has completed its transition into a commercial enterprise, DARPA officials said.
The ceremony took place at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“The commercial production and availability of these remarkable arms for patients marks a major milestone in the [DARPA] Revolutionizing Prosthetics program and most importantly an opportunity for our wounded warriors to enjoy a major enhancement in their quality of life,” Sanchez said, “and we are not stopping here.”
The RP program is supporting initial production of the bionic arms and is making progress restoring upper-arm control, he added.
“Ultimately we envision these limbs providing even greater dexterity and highly refined sensory experiences by connecting them directly to users’ peripheral and central nervous systems,” Sanchez said.
As part of the production transition process, DARPA is collaborating with Walter Reed to make the bionic arms available to service members and veterans who are rehabilitating after suffering upper-limb loss, DARPA says.
The first production versions of “LUKE” arms, a groundbreaking upper-limb prostheses, were on display during a ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 22, 2016 The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is collaborating with Walter Reed to make the bionic arms available to service members and veterans who are rehabilitating after suffering upper-limb loss. DoD photo
LUKE stands for “life under kinetic evolution” but is also a passing reference to the limb that Luke Skywalker wore in Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back.
The limbs are being manufactured by Mobius Bionics LLC, of Manchester, New Hampshire, a company created to market the technology developed by DEKA Integrated Solutions Corp., also of Manchester, under DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.
The prosthetic system allows very dexterous arm and hand movement with grip force feedback through a simple intuitive control system, DARPA says.
The modular battery-powered limb is near-natural size and weight. Its hand has six user-chosen grips and an arm that allows for simultaneous control of multiple joints using inputs that include wireless signals generated by innovative sensors worn on a user’s feet.
The technology that powers prosthetic legs has advanced steadily over the past two decades but prosthetic arms and hands are a tougher challenge, in part because of the need for greater degrees of dexterity, DARPA says.
When the LUKE arm first went into development, people who had lost upper limbs had to use a relatively primitive split-hook device that hadn’t changed much since it was introduced in 1912.
DARPA launched the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program with a goal of getting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for an advanced electromechanical prosthetic upper limb with near-natural control that enhances independence and improves quality of life for amputees. LUKE received FDA approval less than eight years after the effort began, DARPA says.
Under a recently finalized agreement between DARPA and Walter Reed, DARPA will transfer LUKE arms from an initial production run to the medical center for prescription to patients. Mobius Bionics will train the Walter Reed staff to fit, service and support the arms.
In 1972, the Agency started funding paranormal research in a program that would last more than 23 years. Called “remote viewing,” it was an ability some people supposedly posses enabling them to psychically “see” events, sites, or information from a great distance. The psychics were gathered to perform parapsychic intelligence and research operations.
A young airman named Rosemary Smith was given a map of Africa. She was told that sometime in the past a Soviet Tu-22 bomber outfitted as a spy plane crashed somewhere in Africa. U.S. intelligence services wanted to recover the top secret Russian codes and equipment the Tu-22 carried.
The plane went down in the Central African Republic. Despite orienting multiple satellites to locate the plane, the DoD kept coming up short. Using her remote viewing, the psychic pinpointed the wreckage, even though it was completely covered by the jungle canopy.
President Jimmy Carter admitted to U.S. media that that the CIA, without his knowledge, had consulted a psychic to find the missing plane. He told them the plane had been Russian, not American.
“The woman went into a trance and gave some latitude and longitude figures.” The former President said. “We focused our satellite cameras on that point and the plane was there.” When asked how he processed the news that a psychic located the plane, Carter replied: “With skepticism.”
The “Remote viewing” venture was part of the Stargate Project, a secret Army unit at Fort Meade, Maryland set up in 1978 in an effort to bridge the purported “psy gap.”
Overall, the project never gave the CIA any other real, meaningful information but was still funded until 1995 when the American public found out about the project from an episode of ABC’s news magazine show “Nightline.”
The finding of the Tu-22 is the only instance of a successful remote viewing. The project was the subject of the 2004 book and 2009 movie The Men Who Stare At Goats.
When “6 Certified” was launched in 2015 by veteran advocacy group Got Your 6, the idea was to recognize six entertainment projects that responsibly portray veteran characters.
But a year later, the number they actually recognized was more than twice that.
“Some veterans are true heroes, and some are truly continuing to suffer the consequences of war long after they return home,” said Seth Smith, director of campaigns and programming for Participant Media. “But between those two extremes are a wide variety of experiences and emotions – stories that need to be told in order for the full range of the military-veteran experience to be realized in media. That is the purpose of Got Your 6 and the ‘6 Certified’ committee. I commend the 2016 honorees for their honest, accurate, and full portrayals of veterans and members of the military.”
Those honorees are listed below. As veterans, we should try to reward their dedication to shape public perceptions of our small but important community by checking out the work they’ve done.
Set in 1945, Bandstand tells the story of musician Donny Novitski who is about to lead his band of fellow veterans into competition for America’s next swing band sensation. Opening on Broadway April 26, 2107, the writers and producers of “Bandstand” reached out to the Got Your 6 campaign for scripting feedback in order to portray veterans accurately and responsibly.
2. “Cast Me!”
“Cast Me!” reveals the day-to-day work at LA-based agency DK Casting, owned by U.S. Marine Corps veteran David Kang. As an official partner of the Got Your 6 campaign, Myx TV ensured “Cast Me!” was crafted at every stage of production with positive veteran messaging. In addition to one of the four casting directors on the show being a veteran, this reality series also makes it a point to look to the veteran population for their casting needs. Myx TV
3. “Citizen Soldier”
“Citizen Soldier” is a film told from the point of view of a group of soldiers from the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Thunderbirds Brigade. The project tells the true story about their life-changing tour of duty in Afghanistan, offering a personal look into modern warfare, brotherhood, and patriotism. Using real footage from multiple cameras, including helmet cams, these citizen soldiers endeavor to extend their ideals of service into their reintegration at home. Strong Eagle Media
4. “Hacksaw Ridge”
This is the true story of Private First Class Desmond T. Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor during WWII despite refusing to bear arms on religious grounds. Doss was ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifism, but went on to earn respect and accolades for his bravery, selflessness, and compassion after he risked his life to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa. Doss’ father, played by Hugo Weaving, is a WWI veteran who provides a sobering speech on his personal motivation to serve. Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment
5. “Hap and Leonard”
Set in the late 1980s, “Hap and Leonard” is a darkly comic swamp noir story of two best friends, one femme fatale, a crew of washed-up revolutionaries, a pair of murderous psycho-killers, some lost loot, and the fuzz. The series follows Hap Collins (James Purefoy), an East Texas white boy with a weakness for Southern women, and his best friend Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams), a gay, black Vietnam vet. When Hap’s seductive ex-wife Trudy (Christina Hendricks) resurfaces with a deal they can’t refuse, a simple get-rich-quick scheme snowballs into bloody mayhem. Leonard is portrayed as a skilled and resourceful problem solver in this dark comedy. SundanceTV
6. “Invictus Games Orlando 2016”
The Invictus Games is an international sporting event, created by Britain’s Prince Harry, for wounded, injured, or sick armed services personnel and veterans. The Invictus Games harness the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation, and generate a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country. Following the inaugural event in London in 2014, the Invictus Games came to Orlando, Florida where 500 competitors from 14 nations inspired the world with their Invictus spirit. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the Opening Ceremony.
“Justified” is an American crime drama based on Elmore Leonard’s novella “Fire in the Hole.” For all six seasons, series regular Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts), a former U.S. Army Ranger Sniper, displayed his wry understanding of Deputy U. S Marshal Raylan Givens’ (Timothy Olyphant) unconventional law enforcement methods. FX
8. “Marvel’s Luke Cage”
Mike Colter stars as former U.S. Marine Carl Lucas/Luke Cage. When a sabotaged experiment gives him super strength and unbreakable skin, Luke Cage becomes a fugitive attempting to rebuild his life in Harlem and must soon confront his past and fight a battle for the heart of his city. Luke is portrayed as a tough, resourceful character whose heart is in the right place despite his flaws. Netflix
9. “No Greater Love”
This documentary explores a combat deployment through the eyes of a U.S. Army chaplain who carried a camera in Afghanistan, capturing the gritty reality of war as well as the bond that is made among troops. The film depicts the experience of war and, more importantly, helps viewers understand the personal struggles of reintegrating soldiers. The chaplain discusses his own depression after his service and reunites his battalion to examine the reintegration process with the men he served alongside. Atlas House Productions
10. “Power Triumph Games”
The “Power Triumph Games” is a multi-round sports competition that challenges world-class military veteran athletes who have overcome catastrophic injury to step outside their comfort zones. Their goal is to showcase veteran’s unique ability to adapt, overcome and thrive. With the United States Military Academy as a backdrop, athletes face eight challenges that are required of cadets to graduate. The games challenge all who see it to raise their own bar of gratitude and achievement. The 2016 games are a three-hour miniseries on CBS Sports Network and a one-hour sports special broadcast on CBS Sports, featuring personal stories of service, character, and
triumph. OurVetSuccess and ITN Productions
Winner of 11 film festival awards, “Reparation” is a psychological thriller that centers around Bob Stevens (Marc Menchaca), a small-town farmer with a three year hole in his memory. When Jerome (played by real life veteran Jon Huertas), his best friend from the U.S. Air Force shows up, Bob’s peaceful existence begins to unravel from the outside in. Co-written by an Air Force veteran, the film takes the audience on a thrilling ride through the mind of a veteran confronting psychological issues, while avoiding the stereotype of the combat-damaged veteran, and echoing the call of duty to watch your buddy’s back. Red Dirt Pictures
12. “Roadtrip Nation: The Next Mission”
“The Next Mission” showcases the trials and triumphs of post-military transition through the stories of Helen, Sam, and Bernard – three transitioning service members who set off on a road trip across the country to discover their purpose in the civilian world. As they interview fellow veterans who have found fulfilling work beyond service, the team learns that the skills cultivated in the military aren’t limited to the battlefield; they can be applied to any number of exciting careers. Roadtrip Nation, American Public Television
Directed by Clint Eastwood, “Sully” tells the real story of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when commercial pilot and U.S. armed forces veteran Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger became a hero after performing an unprecedented forced water landing on New York’s Hudson River. Played in the film by Tom Hanks, Sully puts his military training and experience to good use, saving 155 lives by gliding the commercial plane to safety, but even as he was being praised by the public and the media, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy both his reputation and career. Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures
Just four days into September, a story out of Iraq caught the attention of Western media. Burqas, the traditional, full-body covering on Muslim women living under some Islamic traditions, were reportedly banned by Islamic State commanders.
Katie Zavadski at the Daily Beast tracked exactly how the story came to the West. Women in ISIS-controlled territory are routinely forced to wear the niqab, a gown-like garment that covers the head and includes a veil for covering the face. They are also forced to wear gloves and other accessories – but never a burqa.
There is also the question of an Iranian news source in the reporting.
“I’m thinking, why would anyone in Mosul contact an Iranian [news] agency,” Rasha al-Aqeedi, a Mosul native and research fellow at the al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center in Dubai, told The Daily Beast.
These planned campaigns of “covert influence” are more common than one might think.
During the Cold War, the United States had its own foreign influence machine. The CIA program dubbed “Mockingbird” placed reports from the agency to unwitting reporters in over 25 major newspapers and wire agencies, including the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, and Time magazine.
The Guatemalan military never fully trusted Guzmán. So when a shipment of arms bound from Soviet-dominated Poland arrived in the country, it was outed by The New York Times, who quoted “Guatemalan Army officers” saying “some of the arms … were duds, worn out, or entirely wrong for use there.” It was the first anyone in the Guatemalan military knew of the secret shipment and created even more mistrust in the government.
In addition, the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency wrote hundreds of articles based on CIA reports, distributing them throughout Latin America.
Even though agencies in the U.S. are prevented by law from influencing American media, this doesn’t mean wire stories don’t end up there. And some misinformation campaigns can become real in the minds of people, regardless of how true the stories are.
In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, the KGB planted a story in an Indian newspaper, The Patriot, that AIDS was a product of a U.S. biological warfare program. That story has since shifted to include other diseases and has even traveled to the United States itself. Similar stories evolved about Sickle Cell Anemia and even crack-cocaine.
Propaganda stories like these work for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they represent a fear that is logical. They also play to the core values of the target country; people want to believe these stories.
The West wanted to believe that women under ISIS domination would use the tools of their oppression to strike back at their oppressors. Some would like to believe they would do the same in similar situations.
Iran’s goal with stories like these is to limit the scope of our discussion in Iraq and Syria, to remind us that ISIS is evil and any action in support of ending their reign of terror should generally be seen as a good thing, some experts claim.
It is also to remind the West that secular and Shia-dominated countries like Iran, Iraq, and Syria are not as oppressive of women as Sunni areas of the Middle East. Where ISIS and Saudi Arabia (Iran’s chief foes in a greater ideological war) force women to wear full-body coverings, face veils, and even gloves, Syrian and Iraqi women are not forced to do these things. In Iran, a simple head scarf and loose coverings are sufficient.
The important thing to remember – for all of us to remember – is the old adage that sometimes what seems “too good to be true” probably isn’t.
Did friendly fire really kill Confederate Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, or is this just a myth of the Civil War?
We all know the story (or should).
On May 2, 1863, Jackson was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the last stages of the Battle of Chancellorsville when he was accidentally shot by Confederate troops. He would die eight days later, after an operation to amputate his left arm.
Today, were someone to be wounded in the left arm and right hand, combat medics would rapidly be working on him to stabilize his condition. Once that was done, a MEDEVAC flight would get him to a combat hospital for further evaluation. Surgery on the arm might not even take place in a combat hospital – Jackson would likely have been transported to a place like Walter Reed for the actual surgery.
He might not lose the arm. He probably would not have died.
But this was 1863, and Jackson died. Why? According to one coroner in a History Channel video, the wounds Jackson received when he was accidentally shot by Confederate sentries while on a reconnaissance mission during the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863, were not the direct cause of his death.
Instead, the blame may very well fall on the poor medical treatment he received after his wounds. The methods used to keep General Jackson under while his arm was amputated using the techniques of the time triggered the pneumonia that killed him, the coroner claims.
Is he right? Watch the video for yourself and let us know what you think!
Remember those days in the military where early morning briefings forced several attendees to stand up and walk to the back of the room to keep from dozing off? Maybe some did push-ups during intermission to stave off sleepiness.
In North Korea, that struggle can be a matter of life and death.
Just the other day, a few push-ups might have saved Ri Yong Jin, a North Korean education minister, from a horrible fate. He was arrested for dozing off during a meeting with DPRK dictator Kim Jong Un, according to Jane Onyanga-Omara of USA Today.
He was accused of corruption and sentenced to die. The method?
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report in 2015 detailing satellite imagery that shows what they believe to be a special military facility for such executions. Located just outside of the DPRK capital of Pyongyang, the Kanggon Military Facility contains a 100-meter firing range, complete with viewing area that’s big enough to accommodate anti-aircraft guns.
In October 2014, the regular firing lanes were replaced with six ZPU-4 anti-aircraft guns, using fearsome 14.5mm caliber rounds – a total of 24 heavy guns. Many believe an execution was performed at the Kanggon site just after a satellite grabbed an image of the guns.
Since taking power in 2012, Kim Jong Un spent much of his time consolidating his power base, executing the “old guard” of his father’s regime and keeping only Kim Jong Un stalwarts to prevent a coup. This isn’t even the first time he used anti-aircraft guns to execute a high-level official.
This time around, Kim Jong Un also executed an official in the agriculture ministry with AA fire because his policy efforts contradicted the young dictator’s directives. In 2015, the DPRK’s defense minister was reportedly killed by ZPU-4 guns. The regime has been known to use mortars and flamethrowers to execute dissidents and officials. Kim Jong Un even reportedly fed his uncle to a pack of hungry dogs.
A recent spat of high-profile defections to South Korea aren’t helping things settle down in the North. A public relations official for North Korea, based in London defected to the South with his family in August. Voice of America’s Youmi Kim quoted South Korean President Park-Geun Hye as saying the defections are a mark of the North’s current instability.
“Recently, even North Korea’s elite group is collapsing, followed by key North Korean figures defecting to foreign countries, showing a sign of serious cracks with chances of shaking the regime higher,” Park told VOA.
Godzilla may be king of the monsters, but during the Cold War, he’d find the Caspian Sea a little crowded.
Now, Russia is building a new Caspian Sea Monster.
According to a tweet by the Russian embassy in South Africa, the Chaika A-050 is slated to enter service by 2020. The A-050 is what is known as an “ekranoplan,” or ground-effect vehicle. The Soviet Union pushed these airplane hybrids during the Cold War, largely because they offered a unique mix of the capabilities of ships and aircraft.
According to militaryfactory.com, the Lun-class ekranoplan is one such example. It had a top speed of 342 miles per hour — slightly slower than the B-29 Superfortress — which could go 358 miles per hour. However, the Lun carried six SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missiles, which are limited for use on surface combatants like the Sovremenny-class destroyer and Tarantul-class missile boat. The Lun could climb to as high as 24,000 feet.
According to a 2015 report by Valuewalk.com, the Chaika A-050 will travel at speeds of up to 300 miles per hour, with a range of 3,000 miles. It will be able to carry at least nine tons of cargo or 100 passengers. However, a Sputnik News report indicated that the Russians could install the BrahMos missile on the new ekranoplan.
The BrahMos is a version of the SS-N-26 Oniks surface-to-surface missile that has been installed on a number of Indian Navy vessels. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the BrahMos has a top speed of Mach 2.8 and a range of 500 kilometers. The missile carries a 300-kilogram warhead, and can hit surface ships or land targets. The missile can be used by submarines and surface ships.
The general of the Columbian Army reached out to an advertising executive who helped produce a pop song that contained a hidden Morse code message, which played on the radio, alerting the hostages to their upcoming rescue.
“What Hath God Wrought?” was the first message sent by Morse code in 1844 and some of these songs live up to it:
Morse code is actually still being used by the military. The last code classes were taught by the Army at Fort Huachuca in 2015. The Air Force is currently teaching this vital form of communication at Goodfellow AFB, Texas.
Okay, maybe not entirely. But the first written use of the acronym “OMG” — meaning Oh My God, for those not hip with the kids’ lingo — came from an admiral in the Royal Navy.
In 1917, Lord John Fisher, who resigned his commission in 1915 over Churchill’s Gallipoli Campaign during the First World War, wrote to Churchill who was then Minister of Munitions about his concerns regarding the Navy’s ability to conduct a major campaign to keep the Germans from flanking the Russians via the Baltic Sea.
Also, a tapis was a kind of tablecloth, and the phrase on the tapis meant the idea was under consideration. As for Shower it on the Admiralty, I think we can all figure out what that means.
When you think about it, it makes sense an acronym would come from the military, because no one produces TLAs like the armed forces.
A specialized VA lender, a military-friendly real estate agent and a national homebuilder joined forces to help a disabled veteran use his VA loan benefits with a government grant to build the home he’d dreamed of for almost 2 decades.
John Swanson comes from a long line of military members. He was born at Southern California’s Fort MacArthur. His grandfather was in WWII and retired as a full bird Colonel. His father was an Army Sergeant in the Korean War, and his Uncle was an Army Captain. John was determined to carry on the family tradition. The Vietnam War was in full swing in 1971, and while he was more than ready to join, he was too young. Just before his seventeenth birthday, John enlisted in the U.S. Army Delayed Entry Program (DEP) to ensure an active duty slot when he came of age.
During an infantry training exercise, John fell 50 feet repelling from a helicopter. The medics found nothing broken, so John was ordered to keep training under advisement. He was ordered on a 10-mile compass run in shower shoes, during which John’s ankles collapsed underneath him. This time, the doctors determined he could not continue training. He was released under the discharge category “undesirable conditions. ”
“My whole purpose was to serve my country, but it wasn’t meant to be,” John shares. The Vietnam Era veteran had to fight for his honorable discharge, which he eventually received. Meanwhile, he had darting pain and decreased mobility in his arms and legs. Upon further medical examination, he was diagnosed with a chronic neurological syndrome called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Now confined to a wheelchair, John was upgraded from 60 percent to 100 percent disability.
“It was hard not to notice the wheelchair,” says John’s finance Terry Kaut, whom he met at a singles club 13 years ago. “But John was so full of life and joy. Later I found out how much pain he was in, which made his outlook even more amazing,” she added. After 10 years of dating, John and Terry decided to live together in a two-bedroom apartment near Sacramento. The only room suited for John’s disability was the bathroom.
“I’ve bruised my knee caps and broken several toes,” shares John, referring to the narrow halls and doorways in typical rentals. “I chased the American Dream for a long time, but accessible homes just don’t come up that often,” John explains. “So I lived in what was available.”
John’s housing frustrations turned to hope when he heard of a grant administered under the VA Loan Guaranty Division. Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants help veterans with certain service-connected disabilities build or modify homes to best suit their needs. He applied for the grant in 2012 and searched for a VA-approved mortgage lender to help him use his VA benefits.
John applied for a loan with iFreedom Direct®, a nationwide lender that specializes in home loans for veterans. Later John was connected to Sherry Dolan, a Sacramento-based Keller Williams® real estate agent familiar with the VA loan process. Sherry says, “I’ve sold a lot of homes to a lot of veterans, but this was the most challenging and most rewarding.”
The first issue was the grant. It had been months and John still hadn’t heard back from the VA. Debbie had a connection at the Department of Veterans Affairs that reported the paperwork had either been lost or never received. Together, Sherry and Debbie helped John reapply. Sherry enlisted the help of Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui’s office to expedite the second application to make up for lost time. Within just a few months, John was awarded the fully-allotted $67,555.
Meanwhile, Sherry set out with the couple to look for a house. She saw John struggling. “Terry and I lugged a heavy ramp around just so he could get up the front steps,” she explained. “He couldn’t access back rooms or step-down garages.” Sherry also saw that sunken living rooms, common in California, were a problem.
Then another issue surfaced regarding renovation. John’s respiratory problems required that they live in their apartment until any construction dust settled. With John’s fixed disability income and Terri ‘s modest income as a middle school registrar, they could afford rent or a mortgage payment. Not both.
Sherry thought to seek help from a builder. She approached several, but only one took an active interest in helping John. Lennar Homes had a new subdivision in Rancho Cordova with six model homes. The company agreed to adapt a single-story floor plan under SAH guidelines to suit John’s disability. Lennar® also financed the construction phase so John and Terri could keep renting until the home was finished.
The original blueprint was modified with John and Terry in mind. The specially-adapted model resulted in a 1,794 square-foot, three-bedroom home with 42-inch doorways, wheelchair-friendly flooring, an accessible master bathroom with roll-in shower, a ramped garage, flat front and back entrances, left-handed light switches, and many more customized details.
“The home represents a unique situation for us, but the project has definitely increased our awareness and the need for adaptable homes,” says Division President Gordon Jones. “We were honored to be able to serve a veteran in this way.”
Given the venture’s success, the builder welcomes the opportunity to serve other veterans. According to Lennar®, John’s house was the first-ever specially adapted home built by the Northern California division with money from an SAH grant.
“Thanks to this dedicated team of professionals who worked together, Mr. Swanson was finally able to get into a home,” shares iFreedom Direct’s Customer Experience Director Tim Lewis, a Retired U.S. Army Major.
John may have never gotten the opportunity to serve on foreign soil, but, as fiancé Terry relays, he has served for years from his wheelchair. “He counseled GIs and other individuals with RSD and answered a hot line for years,” says Terry. “And, now because of John, the way is paved for other disabled veterans to build a Lennar® home to fit their needs.”
A housewarming party took place shortly after John and Terry moved into their new home. The entire team came together to celebrate, along with many of the couple’s new neighbors and some local veterans. To honor the special occasion, iFreedom Direct had installed a 20′ flagpole in the front yard and Tim Lewis presented John with an American flag during an emotional dedication ceremony.
(Left to Right: In front of the specially-adapted Lennar home after flag raising ceremony are iFreedom Direct loan officer Debbie Losser, Keller Williams real estate agent Sherry Dolan, homeowner John Swanson and fiancé Terry Haut and Dolan’s real estate partner Belinda Mills)
When asked what this house meant to him, John fought his emotions to get these words out, “It means the world. It’s hard holding back the tears when I think how everybody came together to make it happen for us.”
Veterans with permanent and total service-connected disabilities may be eligible for SAH grants. To apply, submit VA form 26-4555 to your VA Regional Loan Center. For information about VA loans, contact iFreedom Direct®.
iFreedom Direct®, a top VA-approved lender, has served America’s brave men and women by providing quality VA loans since 1996. These zero-to-low down payment mortgages, backed in part by the Department of Veteran Affairs, help eligible borrowers purchase and refinance homes at competitive interest rates. Pre-qualify at www.ifreedomdirect.com or 800-230-2986.