Military and veteran spouses selected from nationwide search to represent their communities and provide a deeper understanding of what today’s military families need and value
One of MFAN’s greatest assets, the advisory board is a talented group of military and veteran spouses who are leaders, changemakers, and champions for military families in their community and around the world. Organized as a peer-influencer model, advisors utilize their unique perspectives and diverse networks to provide an authentic pulse on the most pressing issues facing the military community today. The work of the advisory board not only informs MFAN’s research, programming, and strategic priorities, but connects leaders in the public and private sectors – including the White House, U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Defense, corporate partners, and military and veteran service organizations – with the lived experiences of military families.
The 14 advisors were selected from over 260 total applicants, a program record. MFAN’s fifth cohort represents 10 states and includes spouses of active duty service members and veterans from all six branches of service and the National Guard.
“Our advisory board is the foundation for all we do – informing us on emerging trends that are starting to take root in military households and allowing MFAN to stay one step ahead on key issues like military housing and food insecurity,” said Shannon Razsadin, MFAN president and executive director. “We’re thrilled to welcome our new advisors. I look forward to learning from them and working together to serve our incredible community.”
Advisors apply for and are selected to serve two-year terms. Candidates are selected by the MFAN Board of Directors.
Through a rigorous application and interview process, the new advisors have offered insights into critical areas affecting the military community like food insecurity, access to affordable housing, financial readiness, education, health care, employment and entrepreneurship, military and veteran caregiving, the transition to civilian life, LGBTQIA+ rights, and more.
“Choosing from our largest applicant pool yet, we’re incredibly grateful for everyone’s interest and commitment to serving the military community with us,” said Rosemary Williams, chair of the MFAN board of directors. “In selecting our new advisors, we focused on building a diverse and unique team with the ability to represent the entire military community. We’re thrilled to work with this impressive group and support our most deserving families.”
2021-2023 advisory board members include:
Joanne Coddington (Army Veteran, Army Spouse – North Carolina)
Heidi Dindial (Navy Veteran, Navy Spouse – Virginia)
Jennifer Gibbs (Coast Guard Spouse – Minnesota)
Jennifer Goodale (Marine Corps Veteran, Marine Corps Spouse – Virginia)
Joanna Guldin-Noll (Navy Spouse – Pennsylvania)*
Lauren Hope (Army Spouse – Colorado)
Kyra Mailki (Air Force Spouse – Colorado)
Cindy Meili (Air National Guard Spouse – New York)
Mary Monrose (Navy Spouse – Hawaii)
Rachel Moyers (Air Force Spouse – Missouri)
Hana Romer (Marine Corps Veteran, Marine Corps Spouse – California)*
In June 1982, Israeli tanks rolled across their border into neighboring Lebanon. Their mission was to stop the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization from repeating further attacks on Israeli officials and civilians.
All this was in the middle of Lebanon’s Civil War, which raged from 1975 to 1990. When their tanks tried to roll through the U.S. Marines’ camp in Beirut, one Leatherneck told them they could do it “over his dead body.”
The Lebanese Civil War was in many ways like Syria’s civil war today. The country was a fractured group of religions, sects of those religions, political parties, refugees, and outright armed militias. The various factions vying for power were also aided by the patronage of other countries, like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, the Soviet Union, and their Cold War adversary, the United States.
It was a mess.
Israel Defense Forces began to surround Beirut within a week of the invasion. The siege was particularly brutal. Of the more than 6,000 Lebanese and Palestinians who died in the siege, 84 percent were civilians. It was so bad, then-President Ronald Reagan reportedly called an August artillery barrage on Beirut a “holocaust” in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
The brutality of the war as a whole is what prompted Reagan to send Marines to Lebanon’s capital as part of a multi-national force of peacekeepers. The MNF were there to protect foreigners and civilians while trying to protect the legally-recognized government and restore its sovereignty.
Later in 1982, Israel again drew worldwide condemnation for failing to stop the massacre of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians in refugee camps Sabra and Shatila. A militia allied with Israel began killing inhabitants of the camps as Israeli forces stood by. The PLO also blamed the United States for not living up to the MNF agreements to protect civilians.
So when three Israeli Centurion tanks rolled to the MNF perimeter manned by the Marines, Capt. Charles B. Johnson stood still as the tanks stopped only within one foot of his face. A full five minutes later, the IDF commander dismounted to talk to the captain. The Israeli told the Marine the tanks were on their way to nearby railroad tracks. He then demanded to speak to a Marine general.
Johnson replied by repeating he had orders not to allow the tanks to pass. The Israeli told him he would drive through anyway and began to mount his tank. That’s when the Marine drew his sidearm, climbed the lead tank and told the Israelis they could pass “over his dead body.”
One account in the Washington Post even recalls Johnson jumping on a tank as it raced toward his checkpoint, warning the Israelis that the likelihood of shooting each other was going to increase. A UPI report at the time says Johnson “grabbed the Israeli lieutenant colonel with his left hand and pointed his loaded pistol into the air.”
After a 50-minute stand-off, the tanks backed down and left the perimeter.
In response, the United States summoned then-charge d’affaires Benjamin Netanyahu to protest Israeli provocations against American forces in Beirut. The tank incident turned out to be one of many. The Israelis denied the incident occurred, saying tanks were in the area to investigate the death of an Israeli soldier.
Johnson was lauded for his “courageous action” by Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger.
The next month, a car bomb was detonated next to the Marine barracks at Beirut airport, killing 241 Marines (Johnson survived the attack) and 58 French paratroopers. By Feb. 26, 1984, the Marines withdrew to ships offshore and much of the MNF departed from Lebanon entirely.
Through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s supreme leader, announced his country is “ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation.” American and South Korean officials are dismissing the claim.
“The information that we have access to calls into serious question those claims, but we take very seriously the risk and the threat that is posed by the North Korean regime in their ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
Kim made the announcement while inspecting an historical military site in Pyongyang. The regime first became a confirmed nuclear power in 2006 under Kim’s predecessor and father Kim Jong-Il when North Korea detonated the first of three nuclear bombs.
North Korea’s regime detonates nukes at “secret” underground nuclear tests sites. The announcement comes on the heels of the discovery of new nuclear testing tunnels, uncovered by satellite photos, at Punggye-ri in the northeast area of the country.
North Korea has a history of acting out in response to Western actions it sees as provocative. When the U.S. and South Korea performed its yearly joint Foal Eagle exercise in 2015, the North launched two scud missiles into the sea outside of South Korea. When the South conducted a combined arms exercise near Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands near the maritime border with the North, North Korean artillery batteries shelled the island for an hour.
The North is not yet able to put a nuclear weapon on one of its rockets, but its nuclear capabilities do threaten U.S. allies in the region.
“We don’t have any information that North Korea has developed an H-bomb,” a South Korean intelligence official told the South’s Yonhap News Agency. “We do not believe that North Korea, which has not succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear bombs, has the technology to produce an H-bomb.”
Coalition air power had a busy Veterans’ Day Weekend while attacking the Islamic State of Iraqi and Syria, also known as ISIS.
Across Iraq and Syria, 84 airstrikes were carried out against the terrorist group, 27 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Iraqi forces have been trying to liberate from ISIS since October.
The attacks took place as Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the region. Iraqi forces are moving towards the city, in an offensive expected to take months, according to a DOD News article.
“In my judgment, what Mosul does is reduce ISIL inside of Iraq back to an insurgency with terrorist actions and get them to a level where Iraqi security forces with a minimum level of outside support will be able to manage the violence inside Iraq,” Dunford said. “It denies ISIL freedom of movement and sanctuary inside Iraq.”
The terrorist group was in retreat as their eastern defenses around Mosul collapsed, and the Iraqi Army claimed to have secured the Intisar district of the city, and was moving into the neighborhood of Salaam.
As Coalition forces move in, there have been reports of increasing atrocities carried out by ISIS. According to VOA news, one video released by the terrorist group showed four children — none older than 14 — being forced to execute alleged spies. ISIS had developed “hand grenade” drones and was using them around Mosul.
In other news about the fight against ISIS, the BBC reported that ISIS carried out a half-dozen bombings around Baghdad, and a tweet from CombatAir reported that a Russian MiG-29K Fulcrum operating from the Admiral Kuznetsov was lost.
According to a Nov. 11 release, 24 air strikes were carried out by coalition forces, seven of which took place near Mosul. The Mosul-area strikes destroyed or damaged seven mortar systems, an artillery system, three vehicles, and two weapon caches. Other targets hit that day included a command and control node, oil production facilities, three supply routes, fighting positions, heavy machine guns, a storage container, and a bulldozer.
A Department of Defense release on Nov. 12 reported that five out of 23 strikes that day took place near Mosul. Those five strikes hit a fighting position; five mortar systems; two tunnel entrances; two heavy machines guns; four vehicles; a vehicle bomb; and a weapons cache. The other 18 strikes blasted a number of other targets, including a headquarters building; six oil wellheads; five fighting positions; and six ISIS “tactical units.
Trust for Brian Williams, the most popular news anchor in America, has plummeted in one week after he admitted to embellishing a story from his war coverage.
Williams, who anchors “NBC Nightly News,” went from being the 23rd-most-trusted person in America a little over a week ago to falling to the 835th spot, The New York Times reports.
The list comes from the Marketing Arm, a research firm that creates a celebrity index for advertisers and media and marketing executives.
Before Williams admitted that he misrepresented an incident in which a helicopter ahead of his was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while he was in Iraq covering the invasion in 2003, his trustworthiness was on par with that of Denzel Washington, Warren Buffett, and Robin Roberts, according to The Times.
Williams has recounted the Iraq story several times over the past 12 years and has embellished his role in the incident over time. His coverage of Hurricane Katrina has also been called into question. In fact, NBC executives were reportedly warned that Williams was known to embellish stories.
Earlier this month, Williams said on NBC that the helicopter he was flying in was “was forced down after being hit by an RPG.” Crew members who were on the helicopter that was actually hit by a rocket-propelled grenade then came forward to say Williams was on another helicopter that arrived at the site later.
Whether Williams’ helicopter was hit with small-arms fire (as opposed to an RPG) is in some dispute.
Williams announced over the weekend that he would step down from anchoring “NBC Nightly News” for “several days” in light of the fallout over this story. NBC is now conducting an internal investigation into what happened.
In the early morning hours of June 2, 2021, a fire started aboard the Iranian fleet replenishment oiler IRIS Kharg, used to resupply Iranian ships at sea. An estimated 400 sailors were aboard but Iranian state media only reported 33 injuries from the blaze.
There has been no statement or speculation about the cause of the incident, but Iranian officials have told the Associated Press that an investigation is underway.
Kharg was the largest ship in the Iranian fleet until January 2021, when the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy launched the port ship IRIS Makran. Makran is the largest military vessel in the Middle East, but the loss of the Kharg is a tough blow for the IRIN. It was one of Iran’s three replenishment vessels, which extends the potential range of its fleet of smaller blue water warships.
Though not crippling to the Iranian Navy, the loss of the ship also hampers the Iranian Navy’s firepower in the region. The vessel carried significant armaments but was also capable of conducting helicopter-based operations in and around the region.
The fire aboard the Kharg is just one more event in a series of unexplained events in and around the Persian Gulf region, with much of the bad luck happening to Iranian assets. In 2020, the IRIN Konarak was struck by a friendly missile during a training exercise, killing 19 sailors. January 2018 saw the IRIN destroyer Damavand crash into a breakwater in the Capsian Sea, killing two.
The year 2021 has been far worse for the Iranian Navy. An anchored ship in the Red Sea, believed to be a base of operations for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was suddenly attacked by an unknown force. Although many assume the attackers were Israeli, the Israel Defence Forces never claimed responsibility.
The Iranian ship, called the MV Saviz, was thought to be a staging area for Iranian incursions on the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere. Iran claimed its continued presence in those waters was part of an international anti-piracy effort.
Iran’s activities in and around the Middle East are often conducted from its warships. In 2019 the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump accused the Iranian Navy of trying to hamper commercial shipping using mines attached to the hulls of ships by divers.
Iran has long threatened to mine the Strait of Hormuz, a major shipping lane through which much of the world’s oil passes. The U.S. Navy caught the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps red-handed removing one of these mines, known as “limpet mines,” from a ship’s hull in the strait.
Kharg was a British-built oiler that had been purchased by the government of the Shah of Iran. It has since been heavily modified with dry storage areas and Soviet-made anti-aircraft weapons. Though the Makran has many of the same capabilities as Kharg, American analysts believe Makran can’t completely replace the loss of the large oiler. Kharg was not only able to refuel ships at sea, but also handle heavy cargo containers and other stores.
The large replenishment oiler had a storied history, serving as a minesweeper for three years in the Iran-Iraq War, assisting foreign ships against Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and making port calls around the world – including the first-ever visit to Saudi Arabia by an Iranian ship.
In a script flipped from previous elections, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton styled herself as the candidate defending American exceptionalism, international alliances and the military in a speech to thousands of veterans Wednesday.
Speaking here at the American Legion National Convention, Clinton highlighted her personal and professional military bona fides, describing her upbringing as the daughter of a Navy chief petty officer and invoking her role as an adviser in the May 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden.
“I was deeply honored to be part of that small group advising the president,” she said. “I brought to those discussions my experience as a senator from New York on 9/11 and my commitment to do whatever I could in whatever role I had to bring bin Laden to justice.”
She recalled watching the SEALs adapt and carry on with the mission as one of the Black Hawk helicopters clipped the wall of bin Laden’s compound and was disabled.
“I was holding my breath for the entire operation,” she said.
Although the SEALs were racing against the clock to destroy the damaged chopper and depart after taking out bin Laden, Clinton said, they took time to move women and children — bin Laden’s family members — to safety.
“That is what honor looks like,” she said. “Maybe the soldiers of other nations wouldn’t have bothered. Or maybe the’d have taken revenge on those family members of terrorists. But that is not who we are. And anyone who doesn’t understand that, doesn’t understand what makes our nation great.”
The statement was one of many pointed rebukes to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who is set to address the convention on Thursday.
Last December, Trump said on a Fox News talk show that U.S. leaders had to “take out [the] families” of terrorists to be effective against them. He later would walk the remark back.
Clinton also took Trump to task for comments disparaging Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who spoke in Clinton’s support at the Democratic National Convention in July, and former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain, whose heroism Trump has questioned, saying in 2015: “I like people who weren’t captured.”
“I will never disrespect Gold Star families or prisoners of war,” Clinton said. “To insult them is just so wrong, and it says a lot about the person doing the insulting.”
Clinton struck a centrist note, acknowledging she spoke to an audience that tended to lean conservative. And she emphasized her commitment to the ideas of American exceptionalism and military strength.
She called her father, Navy veteran Hugh Rodham, a “rock-ribbed” Republican with whom she had never agreed on politics but had learned to converse with civilly.
“I believe we are still Lincoln’s last best hope of Earth … Still Reagan’s shining city on a hill,” she said. “Part of what makes America an exceptional nation is that we are also an indispensable nation. In fact, we are the indispensable nation. My friends, we are so lucky to be American when so many people want to be Americans too.”
She promised to send troops into harm’s way only as a last resort — a statement that drew applause from the convention — and promised to support and develop U.S. alliances, saying they were unmatched by those of competing global powers Russia and China.
“You don’t build a coalition by insulting our friends and acting like a loose cannon,” she said, subtly rebuking Trump, who has been critical of U.S. allies and NATO for not paying their share of defense costs. “You do it by putting in the slow, hard work of building relationships.”
On veterans’ issues, Clinton emphasized her support for reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs, rather than privatizing the system, and pledged to fight to end the national “epidemic” of veterans’ suicide.
Clinton said she would support expanded tax credits for businesses that hire veterans and would promote policies that allow veterans to get credit for military job skills as they transition into the civilian workforce.
She also promised a crackdown on for-profit schools and organizations that prey on veterans and military families. “They should be ashamed of themselves, and we’re going to hold them accountable,” she said.
Clinton touted the endorsements she has received from retired military leaders and Republican national security experts, and promised to cross the aisle to work out a sustainable defense budget plan, denouncing the sequestration cuts, enacted through the bipartisan Budget Control Act, that placed arbitrary caps on defense spending.
“The last thing we need is a president who brings more name-calling and temper tantrums to Washington,” she said.
Remember when Somali pirates made headlines for seizing an oil tanker? That batch of Somali pirates was pretty smart. Others have managed to be very dumb. How dumb were they? Well, some pirates tried to hijack a pair of U.S. Navy warships.
According to a United States Navy release, on March 18, 2006, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) were patrolling off the coast of Somalia as part of Task Force 150 to deter piracy. During their patrol, they were approached by a vessel towing a number of skiffs.
A boarding party from the Gonzalez was sent to investigate, but noticed a number of people were brandishing rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
The pirates on board the skiffs then opened fire on the Cape St. George, inflicting minor damage.
The Cape St. George and the Gonzalez, as well as the boarding party, proceeded to return fire, using what a contemporary CNN.com report described as “small arms.” The main pirate vessel was set afire and sank. Two smaller skiffs were captured, along with 12 pirates and one body. A Somali pirate group would claim that 27 “coast guardsmen” had been sent out.
The Virginian-Pilot reported that the wounded were first taken to the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4) for treatment. The pirates who survived this near-catastrophic failure in their victim-selection process were eventually released and repatriated back to Somalia.
Four years later, the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) also came under attack, according to a CBS News report. The BBC reported that five captured pirates were given life sentences for piracy.
A new data-driven video produced by Neil Halloran illustrates the massive number of fatalities of Second World War like never before.
The video, which was released on Memorial Day, “uses cinematic data visualization techniques to explore the human cost of the second World War, and it sizes up the numbers to other wars in history, including recent conflicts,” according to a press release. “Although it paints a harrowing picture of the war, the documentary highlights encouraging trends in post-war battle statistics.”
The video features a number of eye-opening insights, such as the relatively small number of German losses during the initial invasions, or the huge numbers lost — both civilian and military — by the Soviet Union during the war. At one point, the chart showing Soviet deaths continues to grow higher, leaving the viewer to wonder when it will ever stop.
“As the Soviet losses climbed, I thought my browser had frozen. Surely the top of the column must have been reached by now, I thought,” a commenter wrote on Halloran’s fallen.io website.
The Fallen of World War II is an interactive documentary that examines the human cost of the second World War and the decline in battle deaths in the years since the war. The 15-minute data visualization uses cinematic storytelling techniques to provide viewers with a fresh and dramatic perspective of a pivotal moment in history.
The film follows a linear narration, but it allows viewers to pause during key moments to interact with the charts and dig deeper into the numbers.
The country’s 72 living Medal of Honor recipients could see a huge bump in their pensions should legislation proposed by a bipartisan group of Senators pass.
According to a report by MilitaryTimes.com, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a retired Air Force Reserve colonel who made multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, introduced the legislation in order to not only more than double the pensions, but to also provide a travel stipend to allow recipients to tell their stories. Congress.gov notes that the legislation, S. 1209, was introduced on May 23, 2017, but no text was available.
In a May 25, 2017 release, Senator Graham noted that his legislation would increase the pension from $1,303.15 per month to $3,000 per month. These pensions are in addition to other military benefits that these servicemen have earned.
“Medal of Honor recipients represent the best among us. These heroes have served our country with distinction, and this modest increase is the least we can do to convey our gratitude for their sacrifices. I urge my colleagues to support this bill so that we can do right by our Medal of Honor recipients,” Graham said in the statement.
Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an Iraq War veteran and an original co-sponsor of S.1209, added, “We can never repay our Medal of Honor recipients for everything they’ve done for our country. But we can and should support them on behalf of a grateful nation.”
Many of the Medal of Honor recipients have often traveled to tell their stories at their own expense. The last stipend increase was passed in 2002, according to the release issued by Senator Graham’s office.
S. 1209 is expected to cost about $1.5 million per year over the next ten years, according to Senator Graham’s office, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
The military has its own language of insider phrases and slang terms, and if you use these unique phrases when you are out, civilians around you are probably not going to know what you are talking about.
It can be challenging to transition from the military to civilian life, but you should probably leave these phrases behind when you leave the military. Otherwise, you’re going to get some crazy looks and eye rolls.
1. “Drug Deal” — You can acquire a new piece of gear from a buddy at supply through a “drug deal,” but if you get an awesome new red Swingline stapler like this, Milton may look at you funny.
2. “Make a hole!” — When people are in your way, it’s no longer acceptable to yell out “make a hole,” “gangway!” or “look out.” Just try “excuse me” from now on.
3. “High speed, low drag” — This term sums up a really great piece of equipment that you use while in uniform, but civilians are going to be like:
4. “No impact, No idea” — You may not have any clue how to answer a question, but no one outside of the military is going to have any clue what you mean with this phrase.
5. “Nut to butt” — Let’s just not use this one, mmkay?
6. “Pop smoke” — Now that you are no longer a ninja, you gotta drop this one.
7. “Roger that” — This one is sort of on the fence, and you may be able to say it and not confuse people. But then again, you’re probably not talking on a radio anymore.
8. “Oohrah/Hooah/Hooyah” — Just don’t.
9. “Kill” — Troops can use “kill” for its literal meaning or just as a way of saying “got it,” or “hello.” But if you say this in civilian life, they are only going to hear the literal version and you are going to scare the crap out of people.
One by one, the veterans made their inaugural trip up the steep mountainside armed with harnesses and ropes. For most of them, rock climbing was a brand new experience, yet they were scrambling up and repelling down the cliff face at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, Colorado, with barely a semblance of a beginner’s nerves. Amid shouts of encouragement and good-humored banter, the Airmen were bonding. While they’d been strangers just the day before, they’d already become a team.
Traveling from different areas of the U.S., the eight Air Force wounded warriors, sponsored by Team Racing for Veterans’ (R4V), arrived at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colorado, to participate in three unfamiliar sports: rock climbing, fly fishing and mountain biking. The biannual camps give wounded veterans a chance to prove to themselves they can adapt to and overcome any current limitations, from amputations to post-traumatic stress.
For those attending the camp, it was a chance to network with other wounded warriors who wanted to get out of their comfort zones, take on new challenges, and pursue a sense of normalcy.
In addition to sharing their common goals and adaptive sports experiences at the camp, the wounded warriors had a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed setting during their down time. Instead of staying in a hotel where they would be scattered throughout the building, the Airmen stayed in a large ranch-style home that was donated for the camp’s use. During some of their meals and at the close of each day, the wounded warriors could gather in a common area and talk.
Military veterans share their individual stories during dinner at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. Each night of the camp ended with reflection and therapeutic conversations. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.
While engaging in one such casual conversation in the living room with four other veterans, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly, a 175th Wing chaplain assistant with the Maryland National Guard, found himself smiling and feeling at ease. The openness he displayed was something new, because Connelly had grown up building walls around himself that no one could get through.
As a child, his experiences in the foster care system left him unwilling to depend on others. Though he was eventually taken in by his aunt and uncle, Connelly still found himself disappointed after witnessing his relatives getting robbed by other children they had adopted.
“Watching those kids grow up, how cruel and jagged they could be, it just pushed my trust in people away a lot more,” Connelly said.
“Before these guys,” he indicated the other wounded warriors, “you had no shot for me to trust you.”
Unexpectedly, the injuries that brought Connelly into the wounded warrior family were causing him to change for the better, he said.
On July 5, 2011, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly’s life took an abrupt turn after a motorcycle accident on the streets of Baltimore. As a result of the crash, Connelly lost his left leg below the knee, his right knee required a partial replacement, and his right arm had to be artificially restructured.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard W. Rose Jr. (Ret.) and Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly celebrate after climbing a 50-foot mountain. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.
“The first couple years were hard,” he said. “It was like gut-wrenching pain in my arm when I was lifting weights, curling, or anything like that, just because there wasn’t much muscle around the metal.”
Eventually he was able to build his strength back up, but by the time the doctors could take out the hardware in his arm, bone had grown over it and become fused to the metal. Because of this, Connelly opted not to have it removed.
“I’ve adapted to it,” he said. “I’ve adapted with my leg, my knee, and the arm was another thing. I just had to get over it. Cold affects it, but you move your wrist around a little bit and keep going. I’m all about adapting and overcoming everything. I’m not going to let anything stop me from doing what I want to do.”
Three years after his injury, Connelly became involved in the world of adaptive sports and attended an AFW2 camp. Striving for more, he was also selected to represent the Air Force during the 2014 Warrior Games in shot put, discus, and the 100- and 200-meter sprints. It was at this competition that he met a group of wounded warriors and began to finally let down his guard.
Two years later, his wounded warrior family remains important to him – it is a group of people he keeps in touch with nearly every single day.
Although Connelly is busy training in pursuit of his dream of running track at the Paralympic Games, he leapt at the opportunity to try new sports at a Team R4V mountain adventure.
“Mountain biking: that was the sport that brought everybody together today,” Connelly said. He found it inspiring to watch the guys zooming down the mountain tracks on hand cycles.
“The trails are probably 20 inches wide – the same as their wheel base – and they are just flying,” he added. “Watching them struggle, but still make it up and down the hills, it was awesome! It was definitely team building and it brought us that much closer together.”
Ricky Rose Jr. knew that the sports therapy aspect of Team R4V’s camps would help him physically, but he hesitated to participate.
After being medically discharged from the Air Force as a staff sergeant, Rose thought about attending a wounded warrior camp. It was an idea that had run though his mind many times before but what always stopped him were questions: Did he deserve to go? Would he even fit into the group?
When Team R4V invited him to their fall camp, Rose decided to set those doubts aside and give it a go.
At first he was nervous, but after realizing many people in the house shared the same medical conditions he did, Rose began to feel more comfortable. He found there was relief in being surrounded by people who’d gone through tough situations — from battling cancer to being shot in Afghanistan – because they could all relate to one another.
“While each individual’s circumstances are different in the grand scheme, we’re all fighting the same demons,” Rose said. “That’s been the most beneficial part of this camp; you feel comfortable talking to somebody that you know has been there and done that.”
At the camp, much of the conversation and bonding begins over food.
With a focus on overall wellness, Team R4V cooks healthy meals for the wounded warriors each day, and encourages them to eat breakfast and dinner together. At the kitchen table, sharing a meal and talking about the day’s events, the Airmen got to know each other better. As they talked, Rose felt a sense of camaraderie return, one that he’d missed since the last day he’d hung up his Air Force uniform.
“I wasn’t expecting us to come together as a family as quickly as we did,” he said. “We all realized pretty quickly that we’re all Airmen and we’re all in this together.”
Surrounded by people who could empathize with his journey, Rose spoke about his experiences in the Air Force and the daily challenges he continues to face as a wounded warrior.
During his time in service, Rose deployed three times, once to Kuwait and twice to Iraq. Employed as a combat photographer, his objective was to document the war through the experiences of the troops with whom he was embedded – the good times, the bad times, and everything in between.
“They didn’t send us on missions where we would just sit on base all day,” he said. “They’d send us on missions where crap was going to hit the fan, or there was a really good chance of it. More times than not, we were attacked … we got blown up what seemed like almost every mission. It felt like almost every day could have been the day you died because we lost a lot of people too. War is just nasty, and I got to help show that as honestly as I could to people.”
While deployed, Rose captured thousands of images, braving firefights and mortar attacks to accomplish his job. In 2007, Rose was named one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, in part for his dedication in the combat zone – a place seared into his memory by the very tool he used to perform his mission.
“The hardest thing, and I didn’t know this until after a lot of therapy and a lot of different doctors, but I didn’t realize, as a photographer, how many of those images I took were just going to stay in my brain,” Rose said. “I just kind of thought I’d take a picture and then they’d go away, but they don’t.”
Even at home, he was unable to turn his mind away from the combat zone. Feeling unstable, Rose asked for help. He went to see a doctor and was ultimately diagnosed with a TBI and PTSD.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that presents a variety of negative effects, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts and memories. Military members with PTSD can become hyper-vigilant, angry and depressed. Sights and sounds, such as large crowds, random crazy noises, and sudden flashes of light – can mentally bring them back to the combat zone and trigger an unconscious response.
“PTSD is horrible,” Rose said. “Imagine never being able to feel comfortable or like everything is alright. Every day is a challenge because I don’t know how my body and mind will react to whatever happens that day. Will I see, touch, or smell something that will give me an instant flashback and turn me into a different person? Will my conversations lead to nightmares? Do I feel like killing myself today? That’s what it’s like.”
The temporary home in Colorado is quiet and isolated from outside stimuli. The intensity and focus needed to learn new sports is designed to wear the Airmen out and give them the ability to be calm.
“I haven’t really had a bad thought since I’ve been here, other than being exhausted and tired (from the day’s activity),” he laughed, adding, “I haven’t really had a trigger or nightmare or anything since I’ve been here. It’s been peaceful, very peaceful.”
The physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular exercise have been proven time and time again, which is why Team R4V staff said they provide support to veterans through a wide variety of physical activities. Rehabilitation though adaptive sports has been an idea at the forefront of the organization since its conception.
Inspired by a friend who coached the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program’s team for the Warrior Games, a Defense Department competitive adaptive sports event for injured, ill and wounded service members, Bethany Pribila, Team R4V’s founder and CEO, decided to start a non-profit organization that would enable veterans from every branch of the military to benefit through participation in sports.
Team R4V provides wounded warrior athletes with funding for races and events, but it is their own sports camps, which they host in partnership with the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center, that holds a special place in the heart of the organization.
At the camp’s end, Pribila reflected that everything had gone as envisioned. She had witnessed the wounded warriors supporting one another, cheering each other on, and forming lasting bonds. Though the Airmen had arrived as strangers, when they left, it was as friends and as family.
The Air Force announced new policies on dress and appearance with regard to tattoos, as well as changes to service medical accession policy Jan. 9.
These changes result from a review of Air Force accessions policies directed by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in 2016.
“As part of our effort to attract and retain as many qualified Airmen as possible we periodically review our accessions policies,” she said. “In this instance, we identified specific changes we can make to allow more members of our nation to serve without compromising quality. As a next step in this evolution, we are opening the aperture on certain medical accession criteria and tattoos while taking into account our needs for worldwide deployability and our commitment to the profession of arms.”
Authorized tattoos on the chest, back, arms and legs will no longer be restricted by the “25 percent” rule, while tattoos, brands or body markings on the head, neck, face, tongue, lips and/or scalp remain prohibited. Hand tattoos will be limited to one single-band ring tattoo, on one finger, on one hand. The hand tattoo change ensures the ability to present a more formal military image when required at certain events and/or with dress uniforms. Current Airmen with existing hand tattoos that were authorized under the previous policy will be grandfathered in under the old policy standards.
A recent review of Air Force field recruiters revealed almost half of contacts, applicants and recruits had tattoos. Of these, one of every five were found to have tattoos requiring review or that may be considered disqualifying; the top disqualifier was the 25 percent rule on “excessive” tattoos. The new policy lifts the 25 percent restriction on authorized tattoos to the chest, back, arms and legs, opening up this population for recruitment into the Air Force.
Tattoos, brands and body markings anywhere on the body that are obscene, commonly associated with gangs, extremist and/or supremacist organizations, or that advocate sexual, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination remain prohibited in and out of uniform. To maintain uniformity and good order and consistent with Air Force Instruction 36-2903, “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel,” commanders will retain the authority to be more restrictive for tattoos, body ornaments and/or personal grooming based on legal, moral, safety, sanitary, and/or foreign country cultural reasons.
The new tattoo policy is effective Feb. 1, 2017. Further implementation guidance will be released in an addendum to the policy guidance.
The Air Force’s periodic review of medical accession standards and advancement of medical capabilities prompted policy changes with respect to waivers concerning common conditions that have routinely disqualified prospective Airmen from service: eczema, asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Waivers for eczema, asthma and ADHD currently constitute the highest volume of requests from Air Force recruiters. Additionally, current Air Force accession policy with respect to pre-service marijuana use is not reflective of the continuing legalization of marijuana in numerous states throughout the nation.
“We are always looking at our policies and, when appropriate, adjusting them to ensure a broad scope of individuals are eligible to serve. These changes allow the Air Force to aggressively recruit talented and capable Americans who until now might not have been able to serve our country in uniform,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody.
While medical accession standards are standardized across the Services, the Air Force has modified some of its more restrictive service policy, or established specific criteria to streamline and standardize waiver processes to increase the number of qualified candidates entering service. These changes include:
• Eczema: Select candidates medically classified as having mild forms of eczema will be processed for a waiver. Certain occupational restrictions may be applied to secure personal and mission safety.
• ADHD: Candidates who do not meet the standard of never having taken more than a single daily dosage of medication or not having been prescribed medication for their condition for more than 24 cumulative months after the age of 14 will be processed for a waiver if they have demonstrated at least 15 months of performance stability (academic or vocational) off medication immediately preceding enlistment or enrollment and they continue to meet remaining criteria as outlined in Defense Department Instruction 6130.03.
• Asthma: The Air Force will use the Methacholine Challenge Test to provide an objective measure of candidates with an ambiguous or uncertain history of asthma. Candidates who successfully pass this test will be processed for a waiver.
• Pre-accession marijuana usage: The revised policy will remove the service prescribed numerical limitations on prior use of marijuana when determining accession qualifications. In accordance with DOD standards, a medical diagnosis of substance-related disorders or addiction remains medically disqualifying for service. Additionally, any legal proceedings associated with pre-service use will continue to be reviewed and adjudicated separately and may be disqualifying depending on the nature of the offense(s). The Air Force will maintain a strict “no use” policy. An applicant or enlistee will be disqualified for service if they use drugs after the initial entrance interview.
The waiver process changes are effective immediately. The Air Force continues to work with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the other services to review existing medical accession standards to allow the highest number of qualified individuals possible to serve.
“Among the fundamental qualities required of our Airmen is being ready to fight and win our nation’s wars. These accession standards ensure we maintain our high standards while bringing more consistency to our policies,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “As medical capabilities have improved and laws have changed, the Air Force is evolving so we are able to access more worldwide deployable Airmen to conduct the business of our nation.”