I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career. - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

Picking up the pieces after a public tragedy is tough when you are self-employed. But it’s doable. 

In August 2007, my husband and I were living the dream — just four years earlier, I’d founded my own public relations practice just outside of Washington, DC. A few years after that, my husband joined me in the business and added his graphic and website design skills to our offerings. Our business prospered and we were busy taking care of our 3 kids from his first marriage, and dreaming about buying a home and getting pregnant or adopting. 

Life was looking up, and we headed to the beach in Georgia for a week of much needed rest with some friends. 

We spent one idyllic day at the beach with the kids swimming and all of us in the sun and having fun. I remember riding a beach coaster bike with fat tires and the basket full of sandy magazines, and feeling like all of my DC stress was peeling off with the ocean breeze. I still remember the sound of those wheezy pedals as I headed back to the beach house to get ready for a big meal with the gang. 

Then our lives – quite literally – blew up.

I realized on the way back that I’d missed a call from my mom, so I called her back and she didn’t pick up. I then called my aunt, who told me that my brother, US Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger, age 22, was killed in combat that day when a roadside bomb exploded. 

It felt like my life also exploded in that moment. I remember dropping the phone. I remember hearing someone screaming. Then I realized that the person screaming was me. It was the moment everything changed.

We hurried to my parents’ home in Florida. A news release was issued by the Army after our family was notified, and soon I was managing reporters not for my clients — but on behalf of my humble and grieving parents. 

Only 24 hours after I’d been carefree and pedaling on that beach bike, I sat down alongside my two surviving brothers to talk with our hometown newspaper and tried to sum up what the legacy of my little brother would be. 

Those days in Florida were busy — our friends and family wanted to be with us, and we were also meeting with the military, planning a funeral for our hometown, and organizing a burial service at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Before long, one of my clients called. 

I had turned in a magazine story just before going to the beach and she needed me to check my interview notes and fix something. I paused, told her what had happened, and said I would try to find time to fix it later that evening.

I sent the revised copy to her standing with the laptop at the end of the driveway using a neighbor’s WiFi signal, as my parents were still on dial up. I also sent an email to our clients updating them on our situation and extending our time away to two weeks. I looked up at the stars and wondered how the hell we were going to survive this. 

But survive it we did. His funeral was held in the church my husband and I had married in — and it drew hundreds of people — including demonstrators, counter demonstrators, TV crews, and hundreds of people who just wanted to show they cared. It was touching, overwhelming, and so much more all at the same time.

We flew home to DC the next day to get ready for the family to arrive for the burial service. I frantically vacuumed sand out of my living room carpet, bought towels because I had no time to do laundry, answered the door for floral arrangements and casseroles, and made a plan to get everyone to the cemetery on time in rush hour traffic with the army casualty officer. 

Ten days after Chris was killed in combat in Iraq, he was buried in section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery. 

The media covered the burial with our family’s permission, so there was footage on the news and in newspapers around the country.

I got up early the day after the burial service to say goodbye to my family and picked up the newspaper — there was a photo on the front page of the metro section of The Washington Post showing us getting our flag the day before at the cemetery. I made a mental note to pick up a few more copies and started to go back to bed — I was exhausted from the last 10 days.

My husband and I looked at each other and it was like a light bulb went off in both of our heads. It was our wedding anniversary. We agreed on cards and dinner. Then my husband said his stomach still hurt, and he thought he should see our doctor. I always think he’s a hypochondriac, since my dad is a doctor, so I joked, “I’ll even drive you to the appointment since it’s our anniversary.” It was such a normalizing moment — a reminder that we were “us” and life could somehow start again.

But even after all we’d just been through, life still had other plans. 

Our doctor told us to get back in the car and drive straight to the emergency room. Oh crap, I thought.

In the hospital, they called a doctor out of surgery on someone else to look at my husband. Now anxiety began churning my stomach into ugly knots. I knew they wouldn’t do that unless there was something really wrong.

And he had emergency surgery that night for a condition that could have killed him — an incarcerated hernia that, thankfully, didn’t go septic.

We never got the cards. Or dinner. An evil nurse threw me out of his hospital room.

I sat in the waiting room and wept into the same Washington Post I’d collected from my driveway that morning. In 11 days we went from being on vacation, to my brother dying, to that hospital waiting room. I was emotionally now at rock bottom. 

Hopefully nothing tragic ever happens to you. While my story might be unique to me, all of us face struggles in life. It’s challenging to figure out how to start again, after tragedy strikes. Here’s what I did to rebuild, and my advice:

1. Start slow and take time off.

My husband had a month long recovery, so we did not attend business meetings or networking events for a while — and thankfully much of DC shuts down in mid-August. Yet client emails kept coming in. I mowed the lawn and we ate some of the casseroles people had brought, and read our email. We took our time to ease back into the rhythm of business life.

2. Continue to communicate with your clients and contacts.

After a tragedy is when your clients and contacts need to hear from you. Some of them will legitimately care about you and want to know you are OK or how they can help. Others will be concerned about the ongoing work you do for them and how their work might be impacted by what you’ve gone through. 

3. Lean on people you trust.

This is where having a network is a huge bonus. I had a friend who typically helped cover press calls for my clients while I was out town on vacation each year. She helped me beyond that first week, and knowing she was there to help my clients gave me one less thing to worry about.

4. Keep your contact lists — not just your client lists — and communication systems up-to-date.

While I had a list of our active clients, I didn’t have a ready-made list of some of our other contacts, like the people we networked with or former clients. We didn’t have a business e-newsletter (like we do now) that I could easily send a message out to or a business Facebook page. Having those would have made letting people know we were taking time off, and letting them know when we reopened, a lot easier.

5. Signal when you are ready to start working again.

Only you know when you are ready. Some of your contacts or current clients may want to offer new work or get started on a project, but be unsure of your availability and not want to bother you. So you have to signal that you are ready again for business — whether that means you write emails, or you make phone calls, or send out an e-newsletter and make a Facebook post.

6. Remain open to new things.

In those first couple of weeks back in the office, I was sent two proposals and invited to bid on them. I looked at them and thought, wow, these would be great. I wasn’t hopeful I’d win the work, but I thought writing responses to them would get me back into my groove. Just the act of writing them, would let me dream about doing new work and get my creativity flowing. Amazingly, we won both of those jobs, and a few months later, I took on a gig managing public relations for an organization that assists families of fallen troops.

7. Have good insurance and know your risk exposure.

Thanks to good health insurance, we didn’t face a huge bill from my husband’s emergency surgery. Because we are both self-employed, this event drove home how important it is to have good health insurance and to know what our risk exposure is financially if something happens. Every year, we use what my husband calls “the scariest spreadsheet ever” for open enrollment for work benefits during November and December, so we can evaluate the real financial impacts if a “major medical event” were to happen to one or both of us when we choose a health plan.

8. Keep a cash reserve in the bank that you can easily access.

We also had a cash reserve in the bank when our tragedy hit in 2007. We could afford to take some time off and not be stressed about paying our bills, but we also didn’t want to dip too heavily into the kitty either. A good rule of thumb is to keep at least three to six months of what you need to pay the bills in easily-accessible accounts (meaning your funds are not tied up in IRAs, or investments with withdrawal penalties). 

9. Seek help when you need it.

I began getting back “out there” at networking events and it wasn’t all good. At a women in business networking event, everyone attending had to get up in front of the entire group and talk about their business and family. I did fine on the business part, but when I got to the family part I cried and felt embarrassed. The reality was that I had spent so much time tending to everyone else and their needs in all of this — that somewhere deep inside I had forgotten to take care of myself. I found help with a therapist and the peer support of other gold star families.

Life can change in an instant and right now we may all feel like we are living in a state of perpetual crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Making some preparations — whether it involves getting your finances or insurance in order, keeping your records and contact lists straight, or being flexible and taking care of yourself — can give you stability and boost your peace of mind.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Shanahan extends US deployment to Mexican border

US troops deployed to the US-Mexico border will remain there until at least the end of September 2019, the Pentagon revealed in an emailed statement Jan. 14, 2019.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over for former Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the beginning of 2019 has approved Department of Defense assistance to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Sept. 30, 2019.


The decision was made in response to a DHS request submitted in late December 2018.

The initial deployment, which began in October 2018 as “Operation Faithful Patriot” (since renamed “border support”), was expected to end on Dec. 15, 2018. The mission had previously been extended until the end of January 2019.

I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

U.S. Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California, Nov.30, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Valetski)

Thousands of active-duty troops, nearly six thousand at the operation’s peak, were sent to positions in California, Texas, and Arizona to harden points of entry, laying miles and miles of concertina wire. The number of troops at the southern border, where thousands of Central American migrants wait in hopes of entering the US, has dropped significantly since the operation began.

The Department of Defense is transitioning the support provided from securing ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection activities, according to the Pentagon’s emailed statement. Troops will offer aviation support, among other services.

Shanahan has also given his approval for deployed troops to put up another 115 miles of razor wire between ports of entry to limit illegal crossings, according to ABC News.

I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

U.S. Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, secure concertina and barbed wire near the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Port of Entry in California, Nov. 29, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Asia J. Sorenson)

The extension of the border mission was expected after a recent Cabinet meeting. “We’re doing additional planning to strengthen the support that we’re providing to Kirstjen and her team,” Shanahan said, making a reference to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Military.com reported early January 2019.

“We’ve been very, very closely coupled with Kirstjen,” he added. “The collaboration has been seamless.”

The cost of the Trump administration’s border mission, condemned by critics as a political stunt, is expected to rise to 2 million by the end of this month, CNN reported recently.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Air Force Academy and the experiment of enlisted faculty

Enlisted airmen have been part of the Air Force Academy in both instructor and mentor positions. But now they have a chance to be considered full time accredited faculty teachers.

The Air Force Academy was established in April 1954 after several years of consideration. Long before the Air Force was its own branch of the military, senior leadership argued they needed a school that would be directly focused on the war in the air – they needed a place to train future airmen.


In 1948, a year after the formal establishment of the Air Force, the Stearns-Eisenhower Board was formed to study existing military academies. They concluded that the Air Force absolutely needed its own school and that at least 40 percent of all future officers should be service academy graduates.

It took seven years for leadership to reach a consensus on site location and to receive funding. In 1955, construction began on the Academy in Colorado Springs. That same year, the first class of 306 officers were sworn-in at a temporary site – Lowry Air Force Base in nearby Denver, Colorado. Lt. Gen. Hubert R. Harmon was recalled from retirement by President Eisenhower to become the Academy’s first superintendent.

Women were allowed to enter the Academy beginning in 1975, and the first women cadets graduated in 1980. That flagship-class included the Academy’s first woman, who would later be superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson. To date, the Air Force Academy has graduated more than 50,000 officers.

Since its inception, the Air Force Academy has provided a corps of officers dedicated to upholding the standards of their profession and of the Air Force. In turn, the Academy offers cadets the right kind of access to a diverse and varied faculty. Now that faculty is even more diverse than ever.

After its first year, the Air Force Academy says that having noncommissioned officers serve as faculty shows real promise, but there needs to be further evaluation to decide if it’s worth keeping. The Academy is the first service academy that features enlisted service members as official faculty.

A report issued this summer, written by Chief Master Sgt. Sean Milligan and Senior Master Sgts. Ecaterina Garcia and Gloria Kuzmicki was released a year after the test pilot began. The Air Force reports that it will need several more years to explore the sustainability of the program, but initial findings are very promising – both for cadets and for the current faculty on staff.

The four enlisted Academic instructors, including the Chief mentioned above MSgt. Milligan, Senior MSgt. Garcia and Kuznicki, along with Senior MSgt. William Baez. Milligan manages the enlisted instructors and teaches part-time in the management department. Garcia teaches military strategy studies, Kuzmicki teaches leadership and behavior science, and Baez teaches intro statistics.

In a statement to Air Force Times, Milligan said that the program proves that the Air Force can select and hire appropriately qualified enlisted instructors to help increase faculty diversity. He went on to say that it seems like having an enlisted faculty component helps to have a positive effect on the cadets. The diversified faculty might also help cadets have a more collaborative learning environment, leading to greater career growth – not to mention significant experience with enlisted airmen.

The Air Force Academy created three enlisted teaching positions for the senior noncommissioned officers, all of whom hold advanced degrees.

After being hired, each instructor receives their department assignment and teaches classes relevant to their subjects of expertise. This initiative’s main goal is to provide enlisted airmen who have advanced degrees with a chance to put their education to work while continuing to serve the Air Force.

The report concludes that cadets will ultimately be better served with a more diverse staff. It still remains to be seen how the program will continue to unfold, but it seems clear the Air Force is committed to providing the right proving ground for America’s next generation of Air Force officers.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

5 tips for preparing kids for your next PCS

Getting ready for a move can be rough at any age. But dealing with kids, especially those who are old enough to understand what changing duty station means, can be the roughest of all.


As adults within the military community, we are hardened by the experience of frequent moves — even if only as an idea. But kids are sensitive. They’re overwhelmed about leaving all they know and starting new, and understanding and catering to that mindset can help the experience be better for all involved.

I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

Put yourself in their shoes

Start by putting yourself in the kids’ situation. They are facing leaving their friends, their room, their school and teachers and their entire town. Depending on their age and how many times you’ve moved over the years, this may or may not be new. But either way, they are likely to be upset. Remember that just because they’ve done it before doesn’t mean it’s easier!

If you grew up in the military, you know first-hand how PCSing young feels. If you weren’t associated with frequent moving until later in life, you might have to try a little harder to understand kids’ priorities and why, to them, moving feels like the end of the world.

Tell them like it is

Kids are smarter than they often get credit for. Don’t beat around the bush or avoid a tough conversation. PCSing is part of the military lifestyle, and accepting that as a fact rather than trying to soften the blow can go a long way.

Once orders come in — or are about to — be honest. Tell your kids where you’re going, when, where the possibilities of new locations might be and more. Attacking this info head-on can give them the tools to better deal with a move.

I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

Use available resources

Each branch will have its own resources for helping kids through big changes. Use them. Search at schools, MWR offices and more. Ask other moms what they do or use your online community for the best tips. When first moving, attend newcomers’ briefs so you can get acquainted with what’s on post, and what you have access to. Then use it! Child and Youth Services, or your branch’s equivalent, can help provide you with better data for tough conversations.

Get excited with them!

Moving is an exciting event for the whole family, so be sure to talk about all the fun that’s ahead! New activities, restaurants and outside events and more can all be taken in. Discuss future family adventures, traveling or even who you might stop and see along the way. What are the nearest vacation hotspots? What foods will everyone get to try? Are you getting closer to the beach? What about winter snow skiing where you can spend the weekends? Whatever excitement lies ahead, play them up so kids can be pumped about a location change.

Kids are extremely adaptable, and when given the opportunity to excite vs. stress over a situation, they can better cope through the moving and planning-to-move process.

I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

Hide your parental stress

Even the most straightforward PCS to date comes with a level of stress. However, the better you hold it together for the kids, the less they will feel the need to stress on their own. Keep anxiety-ridden conversations between adults. While it’s important to be honest, there are also things that kids simply shouldn’t worry about. Do your best to shelter them from knowledge that is beyond their control to help with mental health through your next move.

Moving with kids can be a big change for all, but as a military family, it’s something that will take place often. Use these steps to the best of your ability for smoother moves in years to come.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Of course Jason Momoa fixes up old motorcycles with his kids

Jason Momoa is a bona fide action star, a buff, bearded (most of the time) beast of a dude best known for playing fierce warriors of the Dothraki and underwater varieties. Off-screen, it seems that he takes the strength and free-spiritedness of his characters and combines it with an unapologetic commitment to his family.

In a new video – presumably for Harley-Davidson, though that’s not ever made explicit — Momoa talks about his lifelong love of motorcycles. Over scenic desert landscapes, a well-worn motorcycle shop tells the story of the very special way he shared that love with his kids.

“Fierce and proud I put my hand on the throttle and with a twist it rumbled and howled like I held the power to control its breathing,” he says, sounding like a muscled, tattooed Bruce Springsteen as slowed-down footage of his kids touching a motorcycle with wonder in their eyes plays.


“It was the first time I really felt speed. It was the awakening.”

In what sounds apocryphal, Momoa talks about finding an old, broken-down Harley motor in a garage and being seized with a dream to fix it up and build a bike around it.

Where the Wild Stomped In – Happy Papa’s Day!

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“Reality sunk in, and that young man’s dream, it had to wait. For my life,” he says. Translation: he had kids and didn’t have time to spend fiddling around in the garage for hours on end. That part is definitely relatable.

But the video is about motorcycles, so Momoa finds the time — with what looks like a very able, affable motorcycle-fixing dude — to make his dream come true.

“It has taken three decades in the making. The longest dream I have ever held onto. And now, the best part is that I get to share that dream with my children and the people that I love.”

More beautiful shots of sparks flying, dirt getting kicked up, scenic vistas, and Momoa and his crew drinking beers follow. The motorcycle is fixed up and taken all over the desert.

“We built our family heirloom. We’re the Momoas. We’re the knuckleheads. And with every ride, whether it’s me, my daughter, my son, or even a grandchild I don’t know yet. They will share in the miles and memories we were creating.”

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Borne the Battle: Curtez Riggs – Army veteran, entrepreneur

School. Streets. Military. In 1996, Curtez Riggs graduated high school and those were his options in Flint, Michigan. By that time, the auto industry that built “Buick City” had moved away. As a kid, Curtez picked up bottles, turned in cans and always had a side gig to bring in extra money. When it came time to make the decision, Curtez figured the Army was the best way to start his future.


His entrepreneurship did not stop when he joined the Army. Curtez continuously started businesses outside of his day job as a career recruiter. In this episode, you will hear how Curtez prepared for his military transition – years before he ended his active service.

Flint MI Then and Now

www.youtube.com

Currently, Curtez is the CEO of the Military Influencer Conference (MIC). Started in 2016, the conference is a community of entrepreneurs, influencers, creatives, executives, and leaders who are connected to the military community. Curtez said he sees the conference as a mentorship and connection hub for future and current military veterans looking to make the military transition with an entrepreneurial mindset. This year’s conference is in Washington, D.C., Sept. 8-10, 2019. Starting in 2020, the conference will be placed in a different region each year.

The conference has certain tracks attendees can follow:

  • “Going Live” – Podcasters and Video
  • Real Estate
  • Founders and Innovators
  • Social Impact
  • Content Creators
  • Empower – Milspouse Track
  • Workshops
  • Mighty Talks

#BtBattle Veteran of the Week: Air Force and Army veteran Erin McLyman.

    Enjoy the episode.

    This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

    MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

    Everything you need to know about startup accelerators for vet-owned businesses

    If someone told you the only way for you to survive the coming recession unscathed would be to start your own business, would you even know where to begin? Would you be able to afford the startup costs on your own? Can you handle the workload that might come with such a venture? For most people, especially veterans, that answer is no. That’s what startup accelerators are for – access to knowledge, access to capital, mentorship, connections, talent – all these things can be acquired through these programs.


    Vets have some unique skills and traits that make them natural entrepreneurs. And that’s why a startup accelerator like Bunker Labs has big plans for those who are ready to take the first steps toward entrepreneurship.

    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    When some of the most powerful brands get together for vets, big things happen.

    Veterans are an interesting slice of Americans, especially where entrepreneurship is concerned. Time and again, veterans show they have the work ethic and drive it takes to start their own enterprises. Of the 200,000 separating veterans every year, 25 percent of those are interested in starting their own businesses but only 4.5 percent of those 50,000 vets are actually able to pursue their own entrepreneurial vision. The reason is because starting your own business takes knowledge veterans may not have and capital most definitely do not have.

    That’s where a veteran-owned business accelerator can come into play. If you don’t know where to begin but you have a great idea, an accelerator like Bunker Labs is a great place to start. Starting a business isn’t obvious – there’s a lot that goes into it that you will just not know. Bunker Labs is a non-profit startup accelerator for the military-veteran community comprised of veteran volunteers with the tools and resources to help their fellow vetrepreneurs start their business.

    Bunker Labs has helped create more than 1,000 veteran jobs in the United States and helped raise some million in startup capital. This accelerator captures the ambition and innovation veterans bring to startups and equips them with knowledge, mentorship, and opportunities they might otherwise not have had access to. There are labs online, labs in-residency for vets, and when the ball really gets rolling, a cadre of CEO vetrepreneurs who are taking their work to the next level. Bunker Labs is even a partner with the 2019 Military Influencer Conference, a three-day entrepreneurial workshop which brings together the brightest and most inspiring veteran entrepreneurs to teach and share their lessons learned and best practices.

    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    To get started with Bunker Labs, vets simply have to start with registering for their Launch Labs Online, fill out some quick demographic information and from there you can connect with other new members, find a mentor, engage the Facebook group, and more. After activating your account, you can start taking classes with Bunker Labs right away. The core classes include knowing yourself, knowing your customers, and how to make money. From there, the sky could be the limit.

    If you’re interested in starting your own business and don’t know where to begin, the Military Influencer Conferences are the perfect place to start. There, you can network with other veteran entrepreneurs while listening to the best speakers and panels the military-veteran community of entrepreneurs can muster. Visit the Military Influencer Conference website for more information.

    MIGHTY CULTURE

    This Green Beret’s kid wrote a book on coping with deployments

    When his father deploys, 9-year-old Davidson considers himself “man of the house” — it’s a role he’s filled eight times.

    Davidson’s father, Dave Whetstone — the surname is a pseudonym for security reasons — is a Green Beret currently on his tenth deployment. Dave has deployed nearly every year of Davidson’s life, and each time, Davidson “puts on a brave face,” he said.

    To help other military families also be brave, the father and son duo recently published a children’s book, “Brave for my Family,” written by Davidson and illustrated by Dave, with some proceeds going to military charities.


    The book was released on Veteran’s Day under pen names to protect their identities, and recounts the family’s experience with one of Dave’s deployments after a life-threatening battlefield injury, recovery, and Dave’s return to war — all through Davidson’s eyes.

    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    “Brave For My Family”

    While deployed, Dave tries to stay in touch with his family, he said. In the past, he’s recorded videos of himself — reading bedtime stories, praying, etc. — for his wife, Elizabeth, to replay for their children.

    “While Americans are grateful for the sacrifices service members make for our country, it’s the sacrifices they don’t see that are the hardest,” Dave wrote in an email.

    Story behind the story

    While deployed to Afghanistan in late 2013 — four days shy of Christmas — Dave was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

    During the explosion, shrapnel pierced the Green Beret’s face and tore through the right side of his body. It missed his carotid artery by a few millimeters.

    Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, the Whetstones were with family over the holidays and carried on with their lives, unaware the patriarch of their family was fighting for his.

    After the blast, the Special Forces officer suffered life-threatening injuries. He was triaged on the battlefield, and subsequently airlifted to Germany and briefly hospitalized there.

    From Germany, Dave returned to the United States and underwent multiple surgeries at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he eventually stayed for three-weeks.

    Once the Whetstones received the terrible news, they also flew to Washington, D.C., and were reunited with their soldier on Christmas, Davidson said.

    Davidson — who was 3 years old at the time — writes about this moment in the book.

    “My mom cried, and I was pretty scared my dad was going to die,” he wrote.

    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    An illustration from “Brave for My Family.”

    In the book, Dave’s illustration depicts this moment, too. The wounded soldier is in the hospital — he’s battered, with multiple wounds and bandages — but embraced his son.

    To this day, the illustration is hard for Elizabeth to see without reliving the memory, she said, because the artwork looks so real.

    Also on Christmas day that year, Dave and his family were greeted by then-Vice President Joe Biden. The former VP, who visited wounded troops and their families at the hospital, invited the Whetstones to his home for lunch — an offer they took him up on the following year.

    As he recovered, Dave learned his close friend — while also deployed in Afghanistan — was killed in combat. Although he was on convalescent leave, Dave requested special permission to return to Afghanistan and complete his deployment.

    The blast claimed the peripheral vision from his right eye, and left parts of the shrapnel lodged in his body. However, Dave doesn’t believe the scars of war are the most painful thing a soldier can experience.

    “I have been wounded in combat, I have lost close friends,” Dave wrote. “But, for me some of the toughest pills to swallow are not being there for first words, first steps, first Christmases, first birthdays, and all of the moments that I’ll never see again. The hardest thing is watching my kids grow up in pictures.”

    Father and son share their story

    Years later — during the summer before Davidson started school — the father and son duo started the foundation for their book. Together, they decided to produce something “that could help kids not be scared if their parents deploy,” Davidson said.

    “I know what it’s like to have your dad deployed to a scary place,” Davidson added.

    For nearly two years, and in-between deployments, the pair would spend the Sunday afternoons they had, usually after church, being creative together, Elizabeth said.

    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    An illustration from “Brave for My Family.”

    “Creating the book was therapeutic for them both,” she added.

    For Dave, drawing is a way to organize his thoughts, and a passion that dates back to childhood, he said.

    “Illustrating Davidson’s story gave me a strong motivation to create meaningful representation of our family’s sacrifice and courage,” Dave wrote. “It also allowed me to spend time recalling and appreciating the details of our family’s experience, and come to terms with some things.”

    Part of the proceeds from the book will go toward charities like the Green Beret Foundation and help support military families and wounded warriors.

    “I can’t express how proud I am of my family, and how immeasurably blessed I am to have each of them in my life,” Dave wrote. “I am so proud of Davidson for writing this book. But, if I’m being honest, this is only a snapshot of his talents and passion as a good young man.”

    This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

    MIGHTY HISTORY

    FDR wrote a letter to the future President for America’s first WWII hero

    Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Colin Kelly, Jr. was set to fly over Taiwan in his B-17 Flying Fortress in one of the first American counter attacks of World War II. Kelly was stationed on Luzon, in the Philippines and survived the massive Japanese attack on that island nation as well. Kelly died after attacking a Japanese heavy cruiser, one of the first casualties of the Pacific War and the first graduate of the United States Military Academy to die in combat.

    He was also one of the first heroes of the Army Air Corps in World War II – and President Roosevelt would not forget him.


    Instead of Taiwan, the 26-year-old pilot dropped a bomb load on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Ashigara as it supported the landing invasion forces on Luzon. He was immediately swarmed by Japanese Zeros. The B-17 pilot never had a chance. Before he could bail out, the plane exploded with Kelly inside. He stayed at the controls so his crew could bail out.

    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    This painting of Colin Kelly, Jr. hangs in the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

    “Out of ammunition, I flew alongside the B-17 and saw the pilot trying to save the burning aircraft after allowing his crew to escape,” a Japanese pilot who was over Luzon that day remembered. “I have tremendous respect for him.” Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross

    Americans responded to the news of Colin Kelly’s death by setting up a fund for his son’s education, once he reached college age. But one person in particular wanted to make sure the son of America’s first World War II hero had the chance to do whatever he wanted in life.

    That person was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    When watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan for the first time, I scoffed at the idea that someone so high up in the government would be able to watch a situation like World War II from the ivory tower of the White House and have such a granular effect on the individuals affected by the war. And maybe President Roosevelt didn’t have time for everyone, but for Colin Kelly III, Capt. Kelly’s son, he sure did.

    Roosevelt penned a letter to the future, specifically, to the future President of the United States in 1956. That would be the year Colin Kelly III would start looking for a university and Roosevelt want to ensure he did everything he could for the boy.

    Roosevelt wrote,

    To the President of the United States in 1956:

    I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.

    My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.

    In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.
    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    1956 just so happened to be Ike’s re-election year.

    “Most people in my parents’ generation or a bit older or younger seem readily to remember being deeply touched by what President Roosevelt did for the infant son of the young pilot killed in the Pacific,” Colin Kelly III later wrote for the New York Times. “It was one of the first actions of F.D.R. as the wartime President, a special White House ceremony in which he personally signed the papers appointing me to the Academy.”

    In 1956, that future President was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike received FDR’s letter, read it, and honored the request of his Presidential predecessor – but Colin Kelly III didn’t accept the appointment, he decided to earn his place at West Point, competing with the other potential plebes and graduating in the class of 1963.

    The younger Kelly spent his time in the Army as a tank commander in West Germany. After his time in the service was up, he left and went to divinity school, only to return to the U.S. Army as a chaplain, saying

    “The Lord called me when I was 14, but I believed I was called to complete my West Point opportunity first.”
    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    Like father, like son. West Point graduates and U.S. Army Captains Colin P. Kelly.

    Kelly was too young to remember his heroic father, but his memory lived on through the people that knew him best: neighbors, relatives, and close friends. Over the years, Colin Kelly got to know his father through their eyes while making his own way through life, still following in his father’s footsteps.

    MIGHTY CULTURE

    This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

    September 11, 2001 means different things for different Americans. For some, the events of that date will forever be seared in their memories. For others, they were too young to know what was going on, yet they sensed something big had happened. For a younger generation, 9/11 is history. They read about it in textbooks that are absent the feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress that plagued so many Americans on that morning and the days following.

    But, it’s an important date. It’s a date that represents sacrifice. Many people died, putting the lives of others before theirs. It’s a date that represents unity. Americans came together to offer up support to the families of the fallen. It also represents mistakes. Following the events of 9/11, Muslims and Middle-Eastern Americans had to weather the racial blowback that came from 19 men flying planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.


    What’s important is that we remember. And that our kids know what happened that day, so the sacrifices, the story of Americans coming together, as well as the mistakes we made are not forgotten. And a great way to share memories is through stories. In her debut middle-school novel, Caroline Brooks DuBois gives us The Places We Sleep. It’s a story about a young girl navigating a new school (because her dad is in the Army) during the events of September 11, 2001. I recently interviewed Caroline to learn more about her book.

    WATM: This novel touches on so many different themes: 9/11, racism, being a military kid, being a middle schooler, and being a young girl in middle school. Could you talk a little bit about the story you tell in The Places We Sleep?

    Caroline: With Abbey, I attempted to create a middle school character who is as multifaceted as the pre-teens and teens I know and teach (and adore). Middle schoolers currently are living through very complex times, yet they are still concerned about their complexion, their hair, what to wear, who said what to whom, getting embarrassed in front of their peers, and so much more. In the story, Abbey navigates challenging world events along with the struggles of middle school and adolescence. Currently, teens and children are facing their own difficult world events, so I hope readers will see how Abbey perseveres and strives to be a good friend, to be kind, and to express empathy and tolerance to others.

    Although I did not grow up in a military family, both of my grandfathers served in the military, as well as both of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. In the years that followed 9/11, my brothers and my brother-in-law were all called into active duty and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. These events were the seed for Abbey’s story. I knew I wanted to write about how world events have rippling effects on individuals and families in unexpected ways. But I also wanted to tell a story about a girl with whom readers could relate. Abbey’s story is about being a military child, but it’s also about identity, loss and grief, creating art in the face of tragedy, and friendship.

    WATM: Who should pick this book up? Is this a book a parent could read with their middle schooler to talk about 9/11?

    Caroline: Middle grade students I’ve taught have had only a fuzzy understanding of the events of 9/11 and are curious and want to know more. There are several great books for young readers on 9/11 that I’ve incorporated into my teaching over the years, as I’ve found reading stories offers an opening to difficult subjects. I hope The Places We Sleep will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy.

    Although the story is written for middle-school age kids, adults have told me the story resonates with them as well. It allows readers to visit, or revisit, 9/11 in the safe space of a story. The current national trauma of the Coronavirus pandemic may have a similar traumatic impact on youth and adults. Reading with a child about a dark time in our history is one way to open up conversation on important topics such as resiliency, strength, attitude, and hope. My hope is that the book will leave readers with a memorable story about a girl who may not be all that different from themselves. If they see Abbey journey through difficult times and come out stronger, they too may be inspired and optimistic in the face of their generation’s own difficult times.

    WATM: You chose to tell the story in Verse. Could you talk about that decision and why you think it will appeal to readers?

    Caroline: As a teacher and parent, I’ve noticed the appeal of shorter and/or alternative forms of story-telling (e.g., books in verse, flash fiction, graphic novels, epistolaries, etc.), undoubtedly influenced by technology and reading online. Even though I have a love for long form and traditional novels, I’ve noticed how books in verse can create more white space between scenes as well as playful or dramatic visual messages with syntax, punctuation, and form, which can motivate or hook adolescent readers.

    Abbey’s story came to me naturally in poetry, perhaps as a lyrical way to process 9/11 and my brothers’ deployment, but also likely because I’d recently completed my MFA in poetry. The snapshots or scenes that poems allow you to write provided me with the perfect medium for Abbey’s story.

    Books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. You’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else. Where you may not have time to read an entire chapter with someone, there’s always time for a poem or two.

    WATM: On top of all the other crazy events in the book, Abbey also deals with the struggle of puberty. A lot of middle school books gloss over this. But, it’s a main part of Abbey’s story. Could you discuss why you chose to address it in your novel?

    Caroline: When I was a pre-teen, one of the few sources for making sense of puberty was Judy Blume novels, which we passed covertly between friends (Think: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). Changing bodies were cringe-worthy and carried heavy feelings of shame. Not enough has changed since then. I should know: I taught 7th grade for three years recently, and I saw it when girls cornered me at my desk to signal with their eyes they needed an emergency bathroom break, or when boys shut down in class conversations, avoiding branding themselves as not part of the pack. Novels that talk about puberty openly and other difficult issues are lifesavers for youth. Now more than ever, young readers need to be able to see themselves in books. Sometimes it takes a character in a book to show a reader they are not alone. Forewarning, my second reason is a little cerebral and a slight spoiler regarding Abbey’s character arc. Through her journey, Abbey makes a connection between coming of age (a.k.a, getting her period) and possessing the power to create life. She contemplates how the terrorists on 9/11 chose to destroy life. Coming of age brings with it many choices about how to act, and sometimes acting with integrity and authenticity means not following your peers—and that’s a true test of character.

    WATM: Outside of classical literature, this is the first time I’ve ever read a novel in verse. Since you got your MFA in poetry, what are some of the must-reads in this genre?

    Caroline: In this space, I’ll mainly mention notable middle-grade novelists who write in verse, but there are also numerous young adult novelists who write in verse as well. Disclaimer: These are a few of my own personal favorites and there are many others not included: Kwame Alexander (sports-themed Crossover and Booked), Sharon Creech (Love that Dog and Hate that Cat), Thanhha Lai (Inside Out Back Again), and Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming). Additionally, Ellen Hopkins is a must-read author of books in verse for young adults; she tackles challenging topics such as drug addiction and mental illness in her unapologetic, in-your-face verse. One of my all-time favorite novels in verse is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which tells the story of 14-year-old Billie Jo, who struggles to help her family survive the Dust Bowl.

    The Places We Sleep is available on Amazon.

    MIGHTY CULTURE

    The right way to tell your partner you want a divorce

    The messiness of divorce has been well documented. The attorneys, the custody battles, dividing everything up. But how does one initiate the process? When you are sure you want to go through with one, how do you tell your spouse you want a divorce? In movies, it’s often blurted out in the midst of a heated argument, with one partner or the other dramatically shouting, “I want a divorce!” But in life, things tend to go a bit differently. And, if you want the ensuing legal battle to be civil, it’s in one’s best interest to take pause and really determine how to tell the person they vowed to spend the rest of their life with that it’s over. So how does one deliver this particularly life-altering bit of news? There’s no one way to do it. But there are some guidelines to keep in mind. Here’s what you need to know.


    1. Timing is everything

    To say that telling your partner you want a divorce is delicate is an understatement. It is an enormous decision, one that, when broached, will alter both of your lives forever. As such, you want to make sure that you choose to have the conversation at a time when your partner is emotionally capable of receiving the news. In other words, don’t tell your partner you want a divorce when when they’re stressed or emotional. “You know your partner better than anyone, so don’t make the disastrous mistake of bringing up divorce in the middle of an important life event,” advises relationship coach Alice Wood. “Be patient and remember that the announcement can wait until a moment when its impact will be the least damaging.” Is this obvious? Yes. But it’s essential.

    2. Find the right location

    Ideally, you want to break this news in a private, quiet space. Don’t have the conversation in a crowded restaurant or even at home when the kids are in the next room. Benjamin Valencia II, a partner and certified family law specialist at Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers suggests that, if the couple is in therapy, the therapist’s office might be a good location. “In this way, both parties can feel safe and free to ask questions and/or gain an understanding of what the other party is thinking without erupting into an argument,” he says. “Further, the therapist can help create healthy boundaries moving forward which can prove invaluable when the going gets tough.”

    I run a PR firm for small businesses. After my brother died in Iraq, it felt like my world exploded — here are the 9 steps I took to rebuild my life and career.

    (Photo by Guian Bolisay)

    3. Avoid details

    When the time is right to bring up the topic of divorce, Kelly A. Frawley and Emily S. Pollock, partners at the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres and specialists in matrimonial and family law, suggest not getting into details or specifics of how the divorce will work, custody arrangements or anything other specifics, as they will only overwhelm your partner further. “If he or she is just hearing about the possibility of divorce for the first time,” they say, “don’t go in details about how you are going to divide the brokerage account, who should have the kids for Christmas this year, or how you are already looking for a new apartment.” The key is to give the person time to digest the concept, show emotion, and ask questions.

    4. Choose your words

    Telling your partner you want a divorce is difficult. There’s no need to make it worse by blaming your spouse for their shortcomings or using phrases like, “You should have,” “You don’t,” or “You didn’t.” You also need to be honest about what you’re feeling and why you believe this decision is the right one. So, when talking about divorce, you have to be specific in your language — this isn’t the time to be vague. “If your words are ambiguous, you may leave your spouse/partner with a glimmer of hope that the marriage can be saved, when that is not your intention,” says Craig S. Pedersen, a partner at Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers. “That can only create further problems down the line.”

    5. Acknowledge your mutual unhappiness

    Even if a divorce is more one-sided, chances are that neither party in the marriage is particularly thrilled about the way things have been going. With this in mind, it’s wise to open the conversation by laying the cards on the tabled. “I usually will suggest that they start the conversation with a statement such as ‘As you know, I have not been happy in the marriage for a long time. I also think you have not been happy either,” says New York divorce lawyer Jacqueline Newman, author of the Soon to be Ex series of books. “If the other person can acknowledge that he or she is also unhappy, it makes it an easier conversation to have as it is not so one-sided.”

    6. Consider a team approach

    Rather than focusing on the fact that you and your partner are separating, it’s essential to shift the perspective a bit and talk about how you both will work together to make this while process as easy as possible. “Divorce does not have to be a battle,” reminds Valencia. “Especially if you have children, your common goal should be what is in their best interests. Approaching a divorce by listing the common goals will help both parties realize they are in this together and cooperating behooves both of them.”

    This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

    MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

    Sorry Marines, these apps are banned from your government phones

    Bitcoin, gaming and dating apps are now officially banned from government-issued Marine Corps phones. The ruling came down in mid-August that Marines are now no longer allowed to use gambling and dating apps, along with cryptocurrency applications or anything that attempts to override and bypass tools or download rules.

    One of the reasons for the ban is because, like all things tech-related, the possibility of these phones become targets is very real. Smartphones are part of most Marines’ professional life, which means they’re full of compromising information. In turn, that makes them a very real target.


    This order extends beyond unit issued phones to include personal cell phones. Marines are cautioned not to use any apps that the government has already deemed a risk, like TikTok and WeChat, which has already been banned by the Pentagon.

    TikTok and WeChat

    TikTok is a popular social media platform that allows users to upload short videos. Pentagon officials worry that the app could be used to spread misinformation and propaganda. The moderators of the platform are censoring content to appease the app’s owners in China.

    TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. There are fears that the company might share user data with the Chinese government, either intentionally through data requests or unintentionally through surveillance software.

    Like TikTok, WeChat is a Chinese owned company that’s considered a ‘super-app’ because it combines the functions of financial services, travel, food delivery, ride-sharing, social media, messaging, and more. Its popularity is due in part to the fact that the Chinese government shuts out other foreign tech companies and penalizes people who try to override the laws. WeChat is known to censor and surveil their users on behalf of the government and turn over the government’s information when “sensitive information” is discovered.

    This concern over American military members using Chinese-owned apps is nothing new. In fact, concerns about these two applications have been brewing for over a year. Both Microsoft and Twitter are currently in talks to acquire TikTok, but a sale could be far off and incredibly messy. Microsoft wants to buy TikTok in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, but so far in the history of social media, no company has ever split up a social network along regional lines.

    Mobile apps like WeChat, which have so obviously been created to be the third arm of government surveillance, pose immediate risks to military members. OPSEC becomes harder and harder to control and maintain in the digital world, and users can inadvertently give away too much information.

    A Lance Corporal Learns the Ultimate Lesson

    Last year, during a mock training exercise in California, a Maine lance corporal took a selfie that gave up his location, which resulted in his entire artillery unit being taken out by the mock enemy force. More than ten thousand Marines were at Twentynine Palms for an air-ground combat training mission, which was the biggest training event of its kind in decades. IN addition to Marines being present, sailors and NATO forces participated in the event.

    The selfie allowed the mock enemy to geo-locate the lance corporal and his unit, which resulted in his ‘death’ and the ‘death’ of the rest of his unit. While the lance corporal learned this lesson without loss of life, others might not be so fortunate, which is one of the many reasons military leaders consistently stress the need for digital OPSEC.

    The Marine Corps won’t issue numbers that show just how many Marines have tried to put dating apps, games and cryptocurrency apps on their government phones. Now, any app that can be classified into these categories is blocked from the Apple Store and Google Play. The only applications Marines can access are those that the Marine Corps has determined necessary to conduct authorized activities.

    As with other branches of the military, the Marine Corps has the final say in which apps can be installed on official mobile devices.

    MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

    6 common VA interview questions and how to prepare for them

    Landing a job interview is one of the most exciting and potentially nerve-wracking parts of job hunting. While it’s thrilling to move on in the selection process, it can also feel like a lot is riding on one conversation.

    Preparation is key to soothing those pre-interview jitters. When you’re prepared, you’ll feel relaxed and confident so the conversation can flow naturally.


    Too bad you can’t get a sneak peek inside the interviewer’s head and learn the questions ahead of time!

    Or… can you?

    No mind-reading abilities required! We asked two of VA’s national recruiters, Hillary Garcia and Timothy Blakney, for information on VA’s interview process. Here are the six most common VA interview questions and tips on how to prepare for them.

    Question: How have you developed and maintained productive working relations with others, even though you may have had differing points of view?

    Tip: Come armed with an example or three. In this case, you’ll want to discuss how you worked as a member of a team, including the role you played and how the group interacted.

    Question: Tell us about a time where you worked independently without close supervision or support.

    Tip: At VA, you’ll sometimes need to make a decision on the fly, so an independent streak is a good thing. Play up your self-directedness. Also, when you describe past examples, don’t forget to mention the result and how your efforts made it possible.

    Question: Describe a time when you went above and beyond your job requirements. What motivated you to put forth the extra effort? What was the result of your effort?

    Tip: Many interview questions at VA have several parts, like this one. Consider bringing a notebook to jot down notes as questions are being asked so you answer them in full.

    Question: Describe a situation where you have not communicated well with a co-worker, supervisor, management official or union official. What was the situation? How did you correct it? What was the outcome?

    Tip: Communication abilities are often front and center in a VA interview, so be sure to think about your skills in this area ahead of time. You’ll probably be asked about a professional area of improvement or a time you could have changed how you responded. Answering this type of question thoughtfully demonstrates that you can reflect on and work to perfect your professional roles.

    Question: Compare what you know about the job you are interviewing for with your own knowledge and skill. In what areas do you feel you already excel? What areas do you feel you will need to develop?

    Tip: Make sure you read over the job announcement closely, especially the duties and specialized experience sections. Then review your own resume and previous experiences, paying particularly close attention to anything that makes you unique.

    Question: Tell us about a time you briefed a supervisor or senior management official about bad news and/or results they did not like, along with recommending a different course of action. How did you persuade them to move in a new direction? What were the results?

    Tip: Interviewers often ask questions about how you handled a difficult situation, and this can be a tricky one to navigate. You’ll want to think of a tactful example that demonstrates those vital communication abilities, as well as problem-solving and strategic thinking skills. If this was a negative experience, try to give it a positive spin by treating it as a learning opportunity.

    Work at VA

    Now that you’re feeling ready for a potential interview, a rewarding VA career is just a few steps away!

    This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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