National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans - We Are The Mighty
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National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

Like so much in 2020, Veterans Day celebrations will look different this year, but one national nonprofit is taking the opportunity in stride. 

The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) will be hosting the first-ever virtual Veterans Day recognition celebration, “Honoring Our Warriors”, to encourage Americans everywhere to celebrate Veterans Day from home. 

“Veterans Day is set aside for all of us as Americans to acknowledge those who have served in the military and sacrificed so greatly on our behalf,” Jennifer Silva, Chief Program Officer at Wounded Warrior Project, told We Are The Mighty. “Although many parades are cancelled, we can still show our appreciation and celebrate veterans who have made tremendous sacrifices for the liberty of this great nation.”

The event will take place on Wednesday, November 11 at 11:30 a.m. EST / 10:30 CST / 8:30 PST on the nonprofit’s Facebook Page and YouTube channel, and will be hosted by Jesse Palmer, former NFL quarterback and current football analyst for ESPN.

“Throughout my time as an NFL player and broadcaster, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many active servicemembers and veterans alike, whose integrity, valor and bravery continues to inspire me to this day,” Palmer said. “It is an honor to celebrate the brave men and women who have served our country, and I am looking forward to hosting this special program with Wounded Warrior Project that commends their service and sacrifice.”

The nationwide virtual celebration will bring to life stories of strength, courage and hope through personal anecdotes from generations of military veterans and touching reunions. Attendees can also anticipate musical performances by multi-platinum singer Sara Evans and male a cappella group Straight No Chaser – all to honor the United States armed forces and celebrate America’s heroes.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to honor our brave U.S. veterans and support the impactful work of Wounded Warrior Project,” Sara Evans said in a statement from the press release.

Throughout the broadcast, WWP will encourage participants to share their own stories and veteran tributes.

“At Wounded Warrior Project, we believe that every day is Veterans Day, and we work diligently throughout the year to fulfill our mission of honoring and empowering wounded warriors and their families,” Silva said. “We do this not only to help provide a better future for those living with the visible and invisible wounds of war, but in honor and respect of those military men and women who have gone before us.”

Through the generous support of donors and partners, Wounded Warrior Project serves more than 185,000 warriors and family support members by providing life-changing programs and services.

WWP CEO Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Linnington.

“Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project has been a tireless advocate for our nation’s finest, improving the lives of post-9/11 warriors and their families, and empowering veterans to live their best lives,” WWP CEO Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Linnington said. “While this Veterans Day looks different than years past, we are committed to honoring our nation’s heroes and hope you will tune in to our virtual celebration.”

Featured

Until 1989 turkeys came to the White House to be eaten, not pardoned

Since before the days of Harry Truman, it was a Presidential Thanksgiving tradition: a plump bird was presented to the President himself at the White House every year. Every year, the President happily accepted. From 1873 through 1913, these turkeys even came from the same Rhode Island farm. It became a national tradition in Truman’s days. Since then, each President, spanning more than 50 years, delighted at the annual photo op along with fans of the traditions of the nation’s highest office.

Until 1989, that is, when President George H.W. Bush decided Tom Turkey looked a little nervous.


National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

It was an honor for a Turkey farm to be the one to provide the White House with its annual turkey dinner. In the 1920s, the turkey presented to President Warren G. Harding traveled the country in a specially-constructed battleship turkey crate. Subsequent Presidents were sent turkeys from farms and civic groups from across the country. Places like the Minnesota Arrowhead Association, the Poultry and Egg National Board, and the National Turkey Federation were only too eager to send the Presidential mansion their best champion turkeys.

Only sporadically did Presidents pardon their turkeys before President Bush did in 1989, and it never became the tradition as we know it today. As the President received the annual gift, shouts from picketing animal rights activists could be heard nearby. Bush, acknowledging the turkey looked a little nervous gave a pardon so complete it is echoed every year since:

“Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy. He’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

Other Presidents have spared their turkeys. On Nov. 18, 1963, President Kennedy was the first to spare a turkey’s life. It was a spontaneous act. Nixon spared a few of his. Rosalyn Carter had all the Carter’s turkeys sent to a petting zoo, as did Ronald Reagan. But it was Reagan who first used the term “pardon” to spare the life of the turkey. At the time, the media was speculating over whether or not the President would issue a pardon for Col. Oliver North for his role in the Iran-Contra Affair. Reagan, with his trademark wit, used the term to deflect questions about the incident.

The turkeys set for President Trump to pardon in 2019 are named Bread and Butter. Fast-forward to 43:00 to watch the 2018 Presidential pardon.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How technical training can help veterans find careers they love

Mike Slagh is on a mission to help military members and veteran discover their full potential. Slagh is the founder of Shift.org, a career advancement company designed to help veterans and members of the U.S. military acquire the skills they need to advance and thrive in today’s information economy.

Leaving military service can be daunting. Finding a meaningful career makes the transition to civilian life so much easier. While each branch of the military makes a considerable effort to prepare troops for that jump, it can still be a difficult time. 

Slagh knows this; he went through a difficult transition period of his own. When he left the Navy in 2016 after six years of service, he wanted to find a career in tech. The possibilities in the industry seemed endless and Slaugh was excited to find one that fit his skills. The problem for a talented veteran like Slagh was that he couldn’t get his foot in the door. 

A career as a naval officer wasn’t the only qualification under Slagh’s belt. He also had a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy school and utilized his entrepreneurial  experience to co-found TroopSwap. 

Now imagine how difficult it could be for other separating veterans. Every year, 250,000 service members leave the U.S. military looking to get their foot in the door somewhere. Some 80 percent of that quarter million people leave the military without a job. 

Slagh set out to change all that and Shift.org was born.

Shift.org offers fellowship opportunities, career accelerators and direct hire potential to any military member, past or present, no matter where they are in their career path. Whether they’re just starting their transition, have been out for a while or are looking for a new career, Shift offers training and resources to prepare for it.

By 2018, Shift was working within the Department of Defense to help service members get fellowships at major tech companies while still in the military. This gives them valuable work experience and an expanded resume before their first day of civilian life. 

The fellowships send service members and soon-to-be separated veterans on an immersive, 8-week program with tech companies and venture capital firms. There, they gain experience working on the company’s real-world projects using the latest technologies in the field. 

Shift’s career accelerators offer participants the opportunity to learn from industry experts, through four weeks of intense networking and interviewing development. 

Programs like these are changing the way veterans transition and helping address many of the systemic issues that persist within the veteran community — it’s exactly what Slagh hoped to find.

Developing talent 

Real-world training courses are an important aspect of developing talent in the tech industry. 

The Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA) is the tech giant’s answer to helping veterans get into technical careers like those that Slagh sought out when he left the military. MSSA trains veterans to gain the critical skills needed for America’s digital economy. 

Like Shift.org, MSSA supports veterans through career training and retraining, soft skills support and hiring opportunities. Since MSSA’s inception in 2013, more than 600 companies have hired MSSA graduates and 96 percent of those graduates are either still employed or have gone on to higher education. 

While it’s true veterans can pursue a traditional four-year degree in technical study areas, training with companies like Microsoft provides real-world experiences within the kind of companies they want to work in, while learning the exact skills necessary to get their foot in that door. 

Microsoft and Slagh agree that once a veteran has their foot in the door, the sky’s the limit. 

Veterans are exactly the kind of talent the tech industry needs on a daily basis. They can bring more than just the technical skills necessary to do the job, they also bring soft skills needed to be productive, force-multiplying employees. Service members uniquely understand the importance of diversity in the workforce and how to create high performing teams. 

Service members are natural leaders and capable of being an effective member of a bigger team. They understand the importance of teamwork and are trained to quickly assess, analyze and fix a situation with the resources at hand – all incredibly applicable to the tech industry. 

“I had no idea how the skills learned in the military translated to something of value in my next career,” Slagh said. “That’s when I realized that many veterans thrive in high-growth, ambiguous environments and there was serious potential to unlock.”

Now’s the time to begin unlocking your potential. To learn more, visit the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy website. Their Tech Transition Toolkit offers some great tips on how you can get a head-start toward a fulfilling, rewarding career in tech.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How ‘upskilling’ with Microsoft can kickstart your new civilian life

‘Upskilling’ is the new corporate buzzword taking employers by storm. Never heard of it? Don’t be shocked; be prepared for a whole new mindset. 

Upskilling is when a corporation takes already-talented individuals and teaches them an entirely new skill set. It gives the company a new expert in a critical role and it gives an employee an entirely new career trajectory. 

While the word may be new, it’s something Microsoft has been doing with active duty military personnel for years.

Employers need skilled workers. But technology changes fast and the pace of that advancement changes the ways we live and work faster than we may realize. For job seekers, this can be an intimidating prospect. For veterans leaving the military and entering the civilian workforce for the first time, it can be overwhelming. 

Finding a career in tech as newly-separated veterans can be especially daunting if their military career wasn’t in a technical field. Those looking to go to college or technical training may not know what to study or be fearful of missing an emerging trend. 

Wouldn’t it be great if America’s leading tech companies just offered training in the most necessary fields and then offered career prospects for those trainees? That’s what “upskilling” is all about. And the company leading the way is one of the world’s most valuable: Microsoft.

Microsoft isn’t just recognizing veterans’ service to a higher calling, the company recognizes their near-limitless potential. Microsoft knows what the military community has known all along: separating veterans leave the military with highly desirable skills that uniquely position them for a career in tech. 

Veterans come with the technical skills of their military career, which can provide valuable problem-solving abilities. They also come with the soft skills employers in this industry so desperately need. These are skills like self-actualization, leadership, being a part of a team and – of course – the value of a good day’s work. Some of us even come with security clearances.

That’s why Microsoft started Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA). 

MSSA is a training academy for high-demand careers in cloud development and server and cloud administration. The course lasts 16 or 18 weeks and graduates are guaranteed an interview for a full-time job at Microsoft or one of its hiring partners. The program is open to honorably discharged veterans and active duty service members with authorization from their units or commands. 

The program is the result of Microsoft’s ambitious 2015 goal of establishing 14 MSSA programs throughout the country and eventually having the ability to graduate 1,000 veterans every year. In January 2020, it met that goal, graduating its 100th cohort. 

MSSA is overseen by the Microsoft Military Affairs team, whose chief concern is helping veterans realize the full potential their military service offers them as well as any potential employer. Best of all, the team is made up of military veterans who know just how daunting a task leaving the military can be. 

Numbers don’t lie. To date, MSSA has a graduation rate of 94 percent and more than 600 companies have hired MSSA graduates. It’s a program that really works for the veteran community. 

Transitioning out of the military is a challenging time. Deciding what and where to study or finding that first post-military career is central to a successful transition. For vets who want a career in tech, Microsoft Software and Systems Academy is the place to hit the ground running. Their Tech Transition Toolkit offers some great tips on how you can get a head-start toward a fulfilling, rewarding career in tech.

Featured

These 4th of July memes are real firecrackers

Nothing says America like a great sense of humor. We practically broke the internet with our COVID-19 memes, but since we’re all sick of coronavirus, we wanted to brighten your spirits with some good old fashioned 4th of July ones. Also, since most of the firework displays across the country have been cancelled, we thought you’d need something to look at today. Be safe and happy 4th of July!


National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

1. Freedom rings

Hahaha, you can use this ALL day today. You’re welcome! And yes, we know it should be “there.” We don’t make the memes folks, we just share them.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

2. Will Smith

If you don’t watch Independence Day this weekend, is it even 4th of July?

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

3. Call the doc

What do doctors know? Just kidding. We love you.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

4. ‘Merica!

That’s right, bro. Wear those jean shorts with pride!

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

5. They’re coming

At least it will be a nice break from politics on social media.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

6. Videos

It’s so true. And yet, we’re all guilty.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

7. BREXIT

We started it!

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

8. What else is there?

Add in a hot dog eating contest and you’re all set.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

9. War

Make sure you try to spell U.S.A. with them.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

10. Pick up line

You can use this at today’s bbq, too.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

11. Michael Scott

Obviously if it’s declared it’s true.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

12. Doggies

Poor things. Extra cuddles for you!

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

13. Brace yourself

(Insert your own inappropriate rocket between legs joke here).

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

14. You got this

Happy 4th of July! Here’s to ‘MERICA!

Featured

InDOGuration celebrates the first White House shelter dog, Major Biden

Dogs have long been known as “man’s best friend”. Studies have shown documented health benefits and increasing happiness hormones for those who spend time with their furry friends. When President Joseph Biden moves into the White House on January 20, 2021 he’ll be bringing his two German Shepherds along for the adventure. One of them, Major, is in for a special surprise. 

Major will be the first shelter dog to ever occupy the White House. This is a monumental and history making moment for all of his furry friends everywhere. To celebrate this occasion, an “InDOGuration” ran live on national television to commemorate the event. NBC’s Today Show host Jill Martin hosted the ceremony for Major on January 17.

Adopted by the Biden’s in 2018 by the DHA, Major joined brother Champ in the home. There were some rumblings when the Biden’s got Champ, since he was adopted from a breeder and not a shelter. When they were looking for another pup to join the pack, they had that in the forefront of their minds. It was actually their daughter Ashley who found Major through a Facebook posting about a litter of German Shepherd puppies at the Delaware Humane Association. 

Biden and his wife with their furry pooches Champ and Major Biden. ― Picture via Twitter/FirstDogsChamp&MajorBiden

In an interview with The Washington Post, Delaware dog trainer Mark Tobin said that the soon to be president is “passionate about dogs because he loves them. The soon to be president has shared in many interviews that he always had dogs growing up and even brough one with him to law school in the 1960s. The dog’s name? Senator. 

Tobin was responsible for training Champ and getting him ready for life as the second family’s dog. He also facilitated the meet and greet when Major came home as a puppy from DHA. “The meet and greet with Champ was funny, because you could tell Champ is like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this guy’s got way too much energy,’ ” Tobin shared in that same interview. 

A children’s book titled Champ and Major: First Dogs will publish on January 19, 2021. It will follow their friendship and newly anticipated adventures together in the White House. The description on Amazon reads: Champ and Major’s dad, Joe Biden, just got a really important job: He’s going to be the new president of the United States! Major is going to be one of the first rescue dogs to live in the White House, and Champ can’t wait to show his little brother around.

With Major having some big learning to do, hopefully Champ will show him the ropes since he’s a seasoned White House veteran having spent eight years there himself. Reports have also surfaced that the Bidens are considering adding a rescue cat to the mix too. 

One thing’s for sure, come January 20, 2021 – things are about to get a whole lot more lively in the White House. And its’ lawn too.

Featured

The first Native American woman to die in combat was also the first female military death of the Iraq War

American women risk their lives for their country every day. In fact, women have served alongside men in combat long before they were legally “allowed.” That being said, women didn’t have the option of joining the military in fields outside of nursing until after the Vietnam War. With such a history, it’s important to tell the stories of the women who served and lost their lives while defending our country.


National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans
Pfc. Lori Piestewa waiting for deployment at Fort Bliss, Tex., on Feb. 16, 2003. (U.S. Army photo)

Honoring our fallen warriors is a longstanding, sacred traditional in our military. It’s part of our DNA to recognize the sacrifice of those that die in combat.

Let’s take a moment to remember Pvt. Lori Ann Piestewa, who was not only the first woman in the U.S. military to lose her life in the Iraq War, she was also the first Native American woman to die in combat with the United States Armed Forces. Piestewa was a Native American of Hopi descent with Mexican-American heritage.

Her native name was White Bear Girl.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans
Piestewa is the first American Indian woman to die in combat on foreign soil. (U.S. Army photo)

Hailing from her hometown of Tuba City, Ariz., Piestewa was from a military family. She was the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the granddaughter of a World War II veteran. Her own interest in the military began in high school, where she participated in a junior ROTC program. Piestewa enlisted in the Army and was attached to the 507th Maintenance Company in Fort Bliss, Texas and deployed to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Her company, the 507th, was infamously ambushed near Nasiriyah, Iraq, on March 23, 2003.

Piestewa was driving the lead vehicle in a convoy when one of their vehicles broke down. They stopped to make a repair, then continued north to catch up to the rest of the convoy. Along the way, they made a wrong turn and were ambushed by Iraqi troops.

The missing numbered 15 total.

A few days later, Pfc. Jessica Lynch was rescued from an Iraqi hospital. Nine members of the 507th were killed in action, including Piestewa. A rocket-propelled grenade hit the Humvee she was driving.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans
Piestewa with her best friend, Pfc. Jessica Lynch. Lynch was also in the convoy ambushed by Iraqi forces in March 2003. (Piestewa Family photo)

Piestewa left behind a son, a daughter, and a mother and father, Terry and Percy Piestewa, who toured the country attending memorial services held in her honor.

She was posthumously promoted to Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa and Arizona’s offensively-named “Squaw Peak” was renamed Piestewa Peak. It was “given the name of hero,” as her tribe described it.

Lori Piestewa will live forever in our memory and in the memory of her fellow soldiers as the Hopi woman warrior that gave her life for her country: White Bear Girl.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 Reasons the Turkey Should Have Been the US National Bird

This article was sponsored by ButcherBox.

Every year, the United States goes through some 46 million turkeys, many of them going toward Thanksgiving dinners around the country. Meanwhile, no one sits down to eat American Bald Eagles. 

There are many reasons for this; the most important is that it’s illegal because it’s the United States’ official bird. But it didn’t have to be that way. Founding Father and First American Benjamin Franklin thought the Bald Eagle had a “low moral character.” Instead, he believed it should have been the wild turkey, which he called a “bird of courage.”

Before we get into why Franklin was right, you need to know about ButcherBox. ButcherBox delivers 100% grass-fed, grass finished beef, free-range poultry, heritage-breed pork, and wild-caught seafood directly to your doorstep for less than $6.00 per meal. For a limited time, new members will receive a FREE turkey (10-14 lbs) in their first box. This offer expires November 15, so run (don’t walk), because if you don’t get the turkeys, they might get you.

1. The turkey is a stone cold killer

Wild turkeys have a very rigid social structure. The term “pecking order” likely originated with turkeys – and turkeys don’t care what species you are. If you’re lower on the pecking order, they will let you know. 

And that’s no joke. A turkey has 270 degree vision and can see better in the daytime than most other animals. To top it off, we’re talking about a 20 lb+ bird that can fly up to 60 miles per hour.

So, get some turkey before they get you.

2. They’re delicious and plentiful

As far as a food bird goes, you can’t get better than a turkey. The same 20-pound frame that makes a turkey a formidable adversary also makes it a rich prize. 

Simply put, a turkey yields a lot of food. And like the Bald Eagle, its conservation status is of “least concern” to environmentalists. It wasn’t always this way. By the early 20th century, the American wild turkey was almost extinct. It bounced back in a big way, though.

Unlike the Bald Eagle, they are still legal to eat. By the 1950s, turkey was one of America’s favorite foods.

3. They were probably velociraptors 

Disclaimer: We are not zoologists. Please do not use this for your science paper. (Original Source: Matt Martyniuk)

Despite what some incredibly popular movies would have you believe, the Velociraptor was likely not any bigger than a wild turkey. 65 million years ago, the raptor was a bizarre, bird-looking creature, even back then. With feathers and its signature longclaw, it would have been a fearsome creature.

Given the temperament of today’s wild turkeys, they can’t be too far removed from their dinosaur ancestors, can they?

4. Turkeys are meat-eaters

The wild turkey isn’t going around pecking at corn and feed like a chicken. When it comes to eating, turkeys don’t really hold back. Sure, they will indulge in what’s provided like any other bird, but turkeys won’t stop there. They will even eat small reptiles.

Awesome.  

5. Mayans worshipped turkeys as gods

Even if the rest of America didn’t share Benjamin Franklin’s vision of the turkey, Franklin wasn’t alone. Centuries before Franklin started going around inventing stoves and bifocals, the Mayans of Central America were domesticating turkeys for religious reasons.

Mayans believed the bird had special powers, and could only be owned by the rich and powerful among them. 

Beat that, eagle. 

6. The tryptophan thing is a myth

Every Thanksgiving, without fail, someone perpetuates the myth that turkey contains an abundance of the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is the reason we fall asleep so fast after eating it. This is fake news. In fact, it sounds like something someone over at Big Chicken made up to muscle in on turkey’s Thanksgiving monopoly. 

While turkey has a lot of the amino acid, it’s not what’s putting us to sleep. We fall asleep because we just stuffed our faces with butter, sugar and carbohydrates. 

7. The eggs are even more delicious

Look at these beauts.

Why don’t humans eat more turkey eggs? Because turkeys require more food and space to lay eggs, and when they do, they don’t lay quite as many as chickens. So acquiring eggs from turkeys can be much more expensive than the chicken. A turkey egg can cost twice as much as a dozen chicken eggs. 

But when you taste the difference between chicken and turkey eggs, you’ll understand why it’s worth $3.00 per egg.

BONUS — 8. Without turkeys, Thanksgiving gets weird

While no one ever thought to go around eating bald eagles for Thanksgiving (yet), the Thanksgiving dinner table in America was a very different place before we accepted turkey as our bird and savior. 

For example, the pilgrims likely ate seals for the first Thanksgiving, which shows why England was right to persecute them. Just drawing on presidential Thanksgiving menus, things didn’t exactly get better from there. President William Howard Taft had a possum for Thanksgiving one year and Calvin Coolidge ate a raccoon.  

We can thank the turkey for not having to have Thanksgiving dinners we likely hunted with our cars. 

That being said, don’t forget to head over to ButcherBox and get your FREE turkey when you sign up as a new member! ButcherBox turkeys are free-range, all natural (no antibiotics or added hormones*), and humanely raised by trusted farmers who believe in better. Box options and delivery frequencies are flexible to fit your needs, or cancel anytime with no penalty. 

* Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones or steroids in poultry.

This article was sponsored by ButcherBox.

Featured

This Memorial Day, honor through action. Here’s how.

There’s a reverence that surrounds Memorial Day in the military community. A day that’s typically associated with summer barbecues and mattress sales has a very different meaning to those of us who understand that “the fallen” we’re all asked to honor are our brothers and sisters in arms, husbands, wives, mommies, daddies, friends.

It’s a day that feels heavy, weighted with nostalgia and fraught, wanting to honor their sacrifice by living, but wanting the rest of the world to pause alongside us, to bear some of the burden of the grief and to mourn our collective, irreplaceable loss.

This year, we’re asking you not just to pause, but to act.


In 2018, USAA, in partnership with The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, created the USAA Poppy Wall of Honor to ensure the sacrifice of our military men and women is always remembered, never forgotten. The wall contains more than 645,000 artificial poppies – one for each life lost in the line of duty since World War I. Red flowers fill one side while historic facts about U.S. conflicts cover the opposite.

The exhibit was installed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., over the Memorial Day weekend in 2018 and again in 2019. This year, USAA is making it available to more people by presenting the educational panels of the wall digitally. We encourage you to take the time to look at the wall, to teach your children and grandchildren about service and sacrifice. But more than that, we’re asking you to dedicate a poppy.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

WATM had the opportunity to sit down with Wes Laird, Chief Marketing Officer at USAA, to talk about why this event matters, not just to the company, but to him.

“I tell people I grew up in a Ranger Battalion,” Laird said. “A long, long time ago in a land far, far away. Just eight and a half months after I enlisted, I was in combat on a tiny island called Grenada. I lost five people from my company, including a young man named Marlin Maynard, who was a PFC. When I got back, I was asked to eulogize PFC Maynard. I just turned 19 and I had to talk about the sacrifice he’d given. It was a very formative, impactful moment in my life.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

Wes Laird in his Army days. Photo courtesy of Wes Laird.

“Every Memorial Day since, every 4th of July, every time I hear the National Anthem, I think about PFC Marlin Maynard. I think about how I went to college with my veteran benefits. I think about how I went on to have a family, to raise two boys — one who is in the Air Force — how I had a career and a whole life, and how he, and 645,000 other soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsman, how they didn’t. But that’s why this – why Memorial Day, and what we’re doing at USAA – is so important. I want Marlin’s family to know that he is remembered and honored. That his sacrifice, all these years later, has never been forgotten.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans

PFC Marlin Maynard, Grenada Company A, 1st Battalion (Ranger)

75th Infantry, kia October 25, 1983. Photo via Sua Sponte Foundation.

“This Memorial Day and every Memorial Day, I dedicate a poppy to him and the four others we lost in Grenada that day. What we’re doing at USAA with the USAA Poppy Wall is giving others an opportunity not just to honor, but to act. This year especially, with the COVID crisis, we are providing people the ability to come together, to unify around something we can all agree on — the importance of remembering the ultimate sacrifices of so many men and women.

“We are proud to partner with the incredible team at the Tragedy Assistance Survivors Program (TAPS) to provide meaningful opportunities for Gold Star families. You see these kids come in who have lost a parent, and the fact that we’re able to assist in their journey is so humbling. These kids need to know that their moms and dads are remembered and honored by all of us. Yes, it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also part of our DNA. We were formed by the military for the military. We say we know what it means to serve and we do know what it means to serve. It’s part of who we are, why we exist — to honor the great sacrifices of so many thousands of men and women who have served before us, alongside us and will continue to serve after us. Memorial Day is the most important day of the year for us. We hope you’ll join us this year by honoring through action.”

For more information about the USAA Poppy Wall, click here.

Articles

Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

American hero Michael Collins passed away on April 28, 2021 at the age of 90 after a battle with cancer. Along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Collins was one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who made the legendary trip to the moon in 1969. He also served as an Air Force test pilot and reached the rank of Major General in the Air Force Reserves.

Collins was born on October 31, 1930 in Rome, Italy. He was the son of a U.S. Army officer serving as the U.S. military attaché. As a military child, Collins spent his youth in a number of locations including New York, Texas and Puerto Rico. It was in Puerto Rico that Collins first flew a plane. During a flight aboard a Grumman Widgeon, the pilot allowed Collins to take the controls. Though this ignited Collins’ passion for flight, the start of WWII prevented him from pursuing it.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans
West Point Cadet Michael Collins (U.S. Army)

When the U.S. entered WWII, Collins’ family moved to Washington, D.C. where he attended St. Albans School and graduated in 1948. He decided to follow his father and older brother into the service and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. His father and brother were also West Point graduates. Collins graduated in 1952. In his graduating class was fellow future astronaut Ed White who tragically perished in the Apollo 1 disaster.

Collins’ family was famous in the Army. His older brother was already a Colonel, his father had reached the rank of Major General, and his uncle was the Chief of Staff of the Army. To avoid accusations of nepotism, he opted to commission into the newly formed Air Force instead.

National nonprofit to host virtual parade to honor veterans
Michael Collins as an Air Force pilot (U.S. Air Force)

Collins received flight training in Mississippi and Texas and learned to fly jets. He was a natural pilot with little fear of failure. After earning his wings in 1953, he was selected for day-fighter training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where he learned to fly the F-86 Sabre. Although 11 pilots were killed in accidents during the 22-week course, Collins was unfazed.

After training, Collins was stationed at George Air Force Base, California until 1954. He moved to Chambley-Bussières Air Base in France where he won first place in a 1956 gunnery competition. He met his future wife, Patricia Mary Finnegan, in an officer’s club. A trained social worker, Finnegan joined the Air Force service club to see more of the world. Their wedding was delayed by Collins’ redeployment to West Germany during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. However, they were married the next year in 1957. Their first daughter, future All My Children actress Kate Collins, was born in 1959. The Collins’ had a second daughter, Ann, in 1961 and a son, Michael, in 1963.

In 1957, Collins returned to the states to attend the aircraft maintenance officer course at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. In his autobiography, Collins described the course as “dismal” and boring. He preferred to fly planes rather than maintain them. Afterward, he commanded a Mobile Training Detachment and a Field Training Detachment training mechanics on servicing new aircraft and teaching students to fly them.

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ARPS Class III graduates (L-R) Front row: Ed Givens, Tommie Benefield, Charlie Bassett, Greg Neubeck & Mike Collins. Back row: Al Atwell, Neil Garland, Jim Roman, Al Uhalt and Joe Engle. Missing: Ernst Volgenau (U.S. Air Force)

Eager to get back into the cockpit, Collins applied to the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School. He was accepted to Class 60C in 1960. His classmates included fellow future Apollo astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Irwinn and Tom Stafford. The test pilot school put Collins at the controls of the T-28 Trojan, F-86 Sabre, B-57 Canberra, T-33 Shooting Star and F-104 Starfighter. Notably, Collins quit smoking in 1962 after a suffering bad hangover. The next day, he flew four hours as the co-pilot of a B-52 Stratofortess. Going through the initial stages of nicotine withdrawal, Collins described the flight as the worst four hours of his life.

Following the historic Mercury Atlas 6 flight of John Glenn in 1962, Collins was inspired to become an astronaut. However, NASA rejected his first application. Undeterred, Collins flew for the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School. He later applied and was accepted to the Air Force’s postgraduate course on the basics of spaceflight. He was joined by future astronauts Charles Bassett, Edward Givens, and Joe Engle.

In June 1963, Collins applied to the astronaut program again and was accepted. After basic training, Collins received his first choice in specialization: pressure suits and extravehicular activities. In June 1965, he was received his first crew assignment as the backup pilot on Gemini 7. Following the system of NASA crew rotation, this slated Collins as the primary pilot for Gemini 10.

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Gemini 10 prime crew portrait (NASA)

Along with John Young, Collins lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 0520 on July 18, 1966. Gemini 10 took them to a new altitude record of 475 miles above the Earth. Collins later said that he felt like a Roman god riding the skies in his chariot. On Gemini 10, Collins also became the first person to perform two spacewalks on the same mission. At 0406 on July 21, Young and Collins splashed into the Atlantic and were safely recovered by the USS Guadalcanal.

After Gemini 10, Collins was reassigned to the Apollo program. He was slated as the backup pilot on Apollo 2 along with Frank Borman and Tom Stafford. However, Collins’ future in Apollo was put on hold when he began experiencing leg problems in 1968. He was diagnosed with cervical disc herniation and had to have two vertebrae surgically fused. Originally slotted as the primary pilot for Apollo 9, Collins was replaced by Jim Lovell while he recovered.

Following the success of Apollo 8, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were announced as the crew of Apollo 11. While training for the mission, Collins compiled a book of different scenarios and schemes during the lunar module rendezvous. The book ended up being 117 pages.

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Collins goes through the checklist in the command module simulator (NASA)

Collins also created the mission patch for Apollo 11. Backup commander Jim Lovell mentioned the idea of eagles which inspired Collins. He found a painting in a National Geographic book, traced it, and added the lunar surface and the Earth. The idea of the olive branch was pitched by a computer expert at the simulators.

At 0932 on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off. Collins docked the Command Module Columbia with the Lunar Module Eagle without issue and the combined spacecraft continued on to the Moon. Apollo 11 orbited the Moon thirty times before Aldrin and Armstrong entered the Eagle and prepared for their descent to the lunar surface. At 1744 UTC, Eagle separated from Columbia, leaving Collins alone in the command module.

While Aldrin and Armstrong performed their mission on the Moon, Collins orbited solo. During each orbit, he was out of radio contact with the Earth for 48 minutes. During that time, he became the most solitary human being alive. Despite that, Collins did not feel scared or alone. He later recalled that he felt, “awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation.”

The Apollo 11 mission patch designed by Collins (NASA)

Collins orbited the Moon a further 30 times in the command module. After spending so much time in the spacecraft, he decided to leave his mark in the lower equipment bay. There, he wrote, “Spacecraft 107 – alias Apollo 11 – alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP.”

At 1754 UTC on July 21, Eagle lifted off from the Moon and rejoined Columbia for the trip back to Earth. Columbia splashed into the Pacific at 1650 UTC on July 24. The crew was safely recovered by USS Hornet. As the first humans to go to the Moon, Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong became worldwide celebrities. They embarked on a 38-day world tour of 22 foreign countries.

Satisfied with his legendary space flight, Collins retired from NASA after Apollo 11. He was urged by President Nixon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. However, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, and the Kent State shootings, sent waves of protests and unrest across the country. Collins did not enjoy the job and requested to become the Director of the National Air and Space Museum. Nixon approved and Collins changed jobs in 1971.

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The Apollo 11 crew (L-R) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin (NASA)

Along with Senator and former Air Force Major General Barry Goldwater, Collins lobbied Congress to fund the building of the National Air and Space Museum. In 1972, Congress approved a budget of $40 million. With a smaller budget than what Collins had hoped for, he also had a short suspense to meet. The museum was scheduled to open on July 4, 1976 for the country’s bicentennial. Not one to back away from a challenge, Collins got to work hiring staff, overseeing the creation of exhibits, and monitoring construction. Not only was the museum completed under budget, but it opened three days ahead of schedule on July 1, 1976.

Still a member of the Air Force Reserve, Collins reached the rank of Major General in 1976 and retired in 1982. He served as the museum’s director until 1978 when he became undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1985, he started his own consulting firm. He has also wrote books on spaceflight, including a children’s book on his experiences. Collins enjoyed painting watercolors of the Florida Evergreens or aircraft that he flew. He lived with his wife in Marco Island, Florida and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.

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Collins’ Command Module Columbia at the National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian Institute)

Following Collins’ passing, NASA released a statement. “NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the envelope of human potential,” the release said. “Whether his work was behind the scenes or on full view, his legacy will always be as one of the leaders who took America’s first steps into the cosmos. And his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons.” Michael Collins will forever be remembered as an American hero and a champion for humanity on its quest into space.

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Collins meets with President Trump in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing (The White House)
Featured

One of the Navy’s newest warship is named after this Marine hero

One of America’s newest warships, the USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115) was commissioned during the last week of July 2017— it’s the 65th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to have been built for the US Navy.


Brimming with the latest in naval warfare technology, DDG-115 is named after Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a US Marine whose story continues to inspire long after his passing in Iraq in 2004.

Born in Mexico City, Rafael Peralta immigrated with his family to the United States where he would attend high school in San Diego in 1993, and be awarded a green card in 2000. Upon receiving his green card, the young Peralta immediately walked into a recruiting station, enlisting with the Marine Corps.

 

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The future USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115) successfully completed acceptance trials after spending two days underway off the coast of Maine. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

According to family and friends, it was no surprise that Peralta would join up — the 21-year old was fiercely patriotic, just as his father was before him. Peralta received his citizenship after finishing basic training, placing his boot camp graduation certificate on the walls of his childhood bedroom next to a copy of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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Rafael Peralta’s boot camp graduation picture (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

In 2004, Peralta would be deployed with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment to Iraq, seeing combat during Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. It was during Phantom Fury that the young Marine would give his life for his comrades in arms, etching his name in Marine Corps and Navy history forever.

After clearing three houses during a patrol, Peralta was hit multiple times with enemy fire in a fourth house. Alive, though critically injured, Peralta dropped to the floor in order to clear the way for other Marines to engage hostiles inside the building.

Shortly after, a grenade bounced near Peralta and the Marines returning fire, about to detonate in just a matter of seconds. Without hesitation, Peralta yanked the grenade underneath him, allowing his body and gear to absorb the brunt of the grenade’s deadly detonation.

Though Peralta was killed immediately, the lives of the other Marines in that house were spared.

Then-commander of 1st Marine Division Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski recommended the fallen Marine for a Medal of Honor, basing his request in no small part on the accounts of Marines who were there when Peralta sacrificed his life by falling on the grenade. However, it was announced that Peralta would instead receive the Navy Cross, second to in precedence to the Medal of Honor.

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Sgt. Peralta’s family with then-SecNav Ray Mabus during his Navy Cross ceremony in 2015 (Photo US Navy)

An upgrade for Peralta’s award was not considered between 2008 and the present day due to conflicting perspectives on whether or not Peralta was already clinically deceased when the grenade was thrown, or was fully conscious and deliberate in his actions. New evidence recently brought to light might be what finally proves Peralta worthy of the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.

Fellow Marine and current congressman Duncan Hunter has been championing Peralta’s Medal of Honor cause for years, having introduced legislation to have Peralta’s award upgraded in 2012, and filing a petition with Secretary of Defense James Mattis in February of this year for the same.

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The Rafael Peralta, prior to commissioning (Photo US Navy)

Hunter was, however, successful in helping cement Peralta’s legacy of service with the naming of a destroyer, officially announced in 2012 by then-SecNav Ray Mabus. The destroyer will carry his Navy Cross in a display case.

Peralta is the second Marine killed in action during the Iraq War to have a ship named after him. Corporal Jason Dunham, an infantryman with 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, was killed after shielding his comrades from a grenade blast by smothering it with his helmet and body. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor, and in 2010, the USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109) was commissioned and remains in active service today.

Featured

From Annapolis to Miami: Navy midshipman drafted by the Dolphins

Last night, the Miami Dolphins drafted one of the most dynamic players to ever take the field for the United States Naval Academy. If you have seen Malcolm Perry play, it should be no surprise that he is being given a chance to play in the NFL.


From Annapolis to Miami! Malcolm Perry selected by the @MiamiDolphins. #NavyFB | #BuiltDifferentpic.twitter.com/pkrOIOUwD2

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From Annapolis to Miami! Malcolm Perry selected by the Miami Dolphins!

The Navy quarterback is being drafted as a wide receiver as Dolphin scouts were deeply impressed with Perry’s athleticism which was on full display at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. Perry was only the second midshipman to be ever invited to the Combine and showed off his versatility as both a passer and receiver. Listed at 5’9″ and weighing 186 pounds, Perry ran a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash.

As Navy football fans probably know, Perry switched back and forth from quarterback and slot back while at the Naval Academy. The Dolphins hope that he will be able to develop into a route runner and be used in the slot. His senior year, he set numerous Naval Academy records as he led Navy’s triple option offense to an 11-2 record and another win over Army. Perry rushed for over 2,000 yards and scored 21 rushing touchdowns while also throwing for seven.

Malcolm Perry 2019 Navy Highlights

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Malcolm Perry 2019 Navy Highlights

For those of you wondering about his service commitment, the rules are different than what they used to be. Defense Secretary Donald Esper announced in November 2019 that service academy cadets and midshipmen could either defer their military service or pay pack the cost of tuition if they were drafted in a professional sports draft.

Perry comes from a military family. Both his parents served in the 101st Airborne division and are Gulf War veterans. Perry grew up an Army brat and always thought about enlisting but never gave thought to going to a service academy, especially the one in Annapolis.

“Growing up, I thought being in the military was the coolest thing,” he said. “I just always figured I would enlist, though I didn’t know much about the academies themselves.” But Perry’s athleticism in high school bought him the attention of both the Navy and Air Force Academies and he ended up going Navy.

ESPN had cameras in Perry’s house (as with most notable draft prospects) because of the virtual nature of the 2020 NFL Draft due to the coronavirus outbreak. It is awesome they did because, we can see Perry and his family’s reaction to him being taken. Those Army parents look really nice in Navy gear, don’t they?

Here it is! Congrats #malcolmperry and family – and @MiamiDolphins!!pic.twitter.com/QzKRYssuUp

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MIGHTY TRENDING

This poignant speech on CBS’ military comedy brought millions of viewers to tears

Every once in a while, a tv show hits on something that resonates so deeply, we can’t help but find tears in our eyes. Last night, CBS’ military comedy “United States of Al” delivered such a scene.

As the show explores the relationship between an Afghan interpreter (Al) and the US Marine (Riley) who sponsored his immigration to the United States, viewers have been treated to laughs every Thursday night. We’ve cracked up watching Al fumble through the nuances of American life, giggled at the things quite literally lost in translation and felt the many pulls at our heartstrings as the complexity of life off the battlefield unfolds.

We’ve grieved with Riley’s sister over the loss of her fiance who was killed in action, we’ve struggled alongside Riley at the deterioration of his marriage during deployment and we’ve so deeply empathized with these characters as they find their “new normal” on the home front, away from the bizarre comfort a warzone offers when you’re side by side with your brothers and sisters in arms. 

We’ve seen glimpses of Al and Riley “over there,” but we haven’t truly understood the relationship between the two – representative of the relationships between thousands of interpreters and service members – until a speech by Al at the local veteran’s hall, where Riley’s dad is a member.

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Throughout the episode, we’re given flashes into Riley’s discomfort at being honored at a ceremony at the post. In his dress uniform, Riley arrives at the ceremony, immediately lauded for his bravery, and asked the questions so many veterans face returning from war. Things like, “What was it like over there?” “Did you throw a grenade?” “I heard you’re a hero!” Riley is visibly uncomfortable and walks out before he is supposed to give his speech. While Al has prepped for his “big moment” by reading a speech giving book, his vulnerability and the harrowing truth about the “eyes” steals the show: 

“I read a book on giving speeches and it suggested opening with a joke. But I’m not going to. Because there is nothing funny about the 17,000 Afghan interpreters still waiting for visas which were promised them. When we decided to join the US forces, we were not only risking our lives, we were putting the lives of our families in danger. We were the eyes and ears of American troops and that is what the Taliban called us – the eyes. On missions I would hear them over the radio say, ‘Shoot the eyes first.’  And a lot of times, they did. 

But not me. 

My friend Riley saved my life on three separate occasions. Twice from gunfire, once from red tape. He got my visa application out from whatever pile it was buried under and brought me to America. I know he doesn’t like to be called a hero, but the interpreters who don’t have a friend like him are probably not going to make it here. So if he won’t let me call him a hero, I will call him my brother.”

Al’s speech is all too familiar to interpreters and veterans here at home. An estimated 18,864 Afghans are still waiting for approval in a process that has significantly slowed in the past few years. With violence against civilians and targeted killings increasing in Afghanistan, and with a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan looming in the near future, many SIV applicants worry that their visas will come too late, if at all.

They were our eyes and our ears over there. They gave us everything to aid our fight to advance freedoms across the world – they risked their lives, their families, their stability. We gave them our word we’d bring them home with us. The least we can do is to keep it.

Check out The United States of Al on CBS Thursday nights at 8:30pm EST/PST or stream on Paramount Plus.

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