3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

It’s particularly poignant when members of the military community share their own stories. Hollywood has a fascination with depicting battles, wars, and heroes, but there’s an intimacy and truth that comes from the minds of those who actually lived those experiences.

Who better to explore war than those that fought it? Than those that are haunted by it? Than those who lost someone on the battlefield?

In honor of Veteran’s Day, we are proud to amplify the stories of three members of our own community who are exploring the military experience from very different, and yet very universal, perspectives. From memoirs to war poems to coffee digital publications, these storytellers are contributing to the dialogue about what it means to serve.

You won’t want to miss their work:


Just got my copy of #TheKnockattheDoor. I’ve read #BrothersForever and am looking forward to reading this. @TMFoundation @rmanionpic.twitter.com/adIdbBkBs3

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Ryan Manion

Ryan Manion has devoted her life to carrying on the legacy of her brother, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed in the line of duty while serving in the United States Marine Corps. On April 29, 2007, Travis was ambushed in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, along with his fellow Marines and their Iraqi Army counterparts. “Leading the counterattack against the enemy forces, Travis was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper while aiding and drawing fire away from his wounded teammates,” reads his bio on the website of the Travis Manion Foundation, which empowers veterans and families of the fallen to thrive.

Ryan, who has served as the President of the foundation since 2012, is a well-respected member of the military community. On Nov. 5, 2019, Ryan joined Heather Kelly and Amy Looney Heffernan to release Knock at the Door, a book that shares their experiences about joining the Gold Star family and the inspiring and unlikely journey “that began on the worst day of their lives.”

BABGAB It’s time to caffeinate the troops! For every bag of BRCC coffee you buy through November, we’ll donate a bag to the deployed troops overseas spreading freedom on a daily basis. #brcc #americascoffee #babgabpic.twitter.com/vBANDYQnmL

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Logan Stark, U.S. Marine Corps

Logan Stark trained as an Infantry Assault Marine with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines before becoming a Scout/Sniper on multiple deployments, including one to Sangin, Afghanistan. After his military service, he earned a degree in Professional Writing from Michigan State University, where he directed For the 25, a film about his Afghanistan deployment.

As the film garnered attention, Stark went on to write for USA Today and the New York Times’ At War blog. Now, he’s the Producer of Content at Black Rifle Coffee Company, where he manages the creation and dissemination of caffeine and freedom social media content. BRCC recently launched Coffee or Die, their online magazine sharing military stories and humorous anecdotes from the vantage point of veterans.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

2019 Gannon Award Winner “The Art Of Warrior Poetry”

Justin Thomas Eggen, U.S. Marine Corps

Justin Thomas Eggen’s military career within 2nd Route Clearance Platoon, Mobility Assault Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division includes operating as a heavy machine gunner during Operation Moshtarak and clearing the IED threat for Operation Black Sand and Operation Eastern Storm in Sangin, Afghanistan. Like most veterans, Eggen struggled with many invisible wounds when he returned home from combat.

He decided to face the emotions straight on and became a writer, using pen and ink to explore his deployments through poetry. Since the release of his first book, Outside The Wire: A U.S. Marine’s Collection of Combat Poems Short Stories Volume 1, Eggen has released several volumes of work and connected with other veterans on speaking engagements, book tours, and a spoken word book tour with two other veteran poets they dubbed “The Verses Curses Tour.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘Twilight’ star is the next Batman

The city of Gotham has a new hero: and he comes in the form of Robert Pattinson. On May 16, 2019, Variety reported that the Twilight star will play the Dark Knight in Matt Reeves’ upcoming superhero film The Batman.

According to the media outlet, “while sources say it’s not yet a done deal, Pattinson is the top choice and it’s expected to close shortly.” With rumors that Nicholas Hoult may also still be in the running, Warner Bros has yet to confirm the casting.


At 33 years old, Pattinson will be the second-youngest Batman ever, behind Christian Bale who was 31 when he played the caped crusader in Batman Begins in 2005. And while some question whether Pattinson — who started his career in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire before becoming a teen heartthrob in Twilight — can handle such a dark role, others argue that his leading role in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming action film is proof that he can.

The debate over who would be the next to hold the Batman title has been going on ever since Matt Reeves, who’s best known for Planet of the Apes, took over as director for the new Batman flick following Ben Affleck’s departure from the franchise in 2017.

“I have loved the Batman story since I was a child,” Reeves told Polygon. “He is such an iconic and compelling character, and one that resonates with me deeply.” The director also explained to Gizmodo that his take on the comic will be a bit different: “It’s very much a point of view-driven, noir Batman tale… I hope it’s going to be a story that will be thrilling but also emotional. It’s more Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films.”

Unsurprisingly, Bat-fans have already started voicing their opinions, both for and against the all-but-confirmed casting of Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman. For longtime fans of Batman, this kind of backlash, defense, and general snarkiness is old hat.

The reality is, that every single time a new big-screen Batman is a cast, there will always be a vocal group of villains yelling about it. But, Michael Keaton was a great Batman in 1989, despite Warner Bros and DC Comics getting death threats over that casting. If anything, this role — not Cedric Diggory or Edward Cullen — could define Pattinson for years to come.

The Batman is set to be released in theaters nationwide on June 25, 2021.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only Marine Corps Commandant without a portrait

The house of the Commandant of the Marine Corps is one of the oldest continuously-occupied buildings in the capital of the United States. Steeped in American history, the house was spared the torch when the British captured and burned Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. All but the first two Commandants have lived in the 15,000 square-foot house and, since 1916, all the historical occupants of the house were honored with portraits by order of then-Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

All but one, that is. There have been 37 Commandants of the Marine Corps but the house holds just 36 portraits.


The conspicuously missing spot belongs to Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, the fourth Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the only Commandant ever to be fired from the position and the one with the fewest surviving records. No one knows what he looked like or even knows the location of his final resting place.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

This is not Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, this is Archibald Henderson, his successor.

Luckily for us, it’s not so much of a mystery anymore. The Marine Corps Association and Foundation’s Robert T. Jordan did an exhaustive work on the life of Lt. Col. Gale. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, around 1782 and his tenure as Commandant lasted from March 1819 until October 1820. In the decades that followed, Gale fell off the map. He’s seldom-mentioned in the annals of USMC history because the events surrounding his dismissal were said to have brought “embarrassment” upon himself and the United States Marine Corps. And so, he was pretty much lost to history entirely.

Until 1966, that is. General Wallace M. Greene Jr., the 23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps set up an investigation into the history of the Marine who fell from grace.

What was learned, however, was still very little. Anthony Gale arrived in the nascent United States in 1793. When President John Adams rebooted the Marine Corps (which was disbanded after the American Revolution), Gale was among the first to sign up as an officer. He commanded Marines guarding French prisoners of the quasi-War in Philadelphia and took to sea aboard the USS Ganges, where he fought Barbary Pirates and British sailors alike.

Gale cared deeply for his Marines and when a Naval officer, Lieutenant Allan MacKensie, arrested one of them aboard ship, Gale slapped the officer and challenged him to a duel — the duel that killed MacKensie. That’s not what got him the boot from the Corps, though. Superiors in Washington believed the duel would force Navy officers to treat Marines with respect.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

This is also not Gale. This is Maj. Gen. Charles Heywood, 9th Commandant and Medal of Honor Recipient.

His career continued, and soon he was married and saw service aboard the USS President and USS Constitution. By 1804, Gale was brevet Major Anthony Gale and his duties became focused on the recruitment and training of Marines. But soon, there was a new sheriff in town: Commandant Lt. Col. Frank Wharton took over for Commandant William Ward Burrows and Burrows looked at Gale with a much sharper eye than his predecessors.

Gale’s once squeaky-clean reputation soon became tainted by notes of alcoholism, sloppy management of the Marine Corps Barracks, and allegations that Gale used Marine Corps funds to renovate his personal home. Wharton took Gale to trial, but Gale was cleared of any wrongdoing. Still, Wharton sent Gale to the then-backwater of New Orleans – perhaps not the best place for a potential alcoholic, even in the early 19th Century. Still, when Wharton died in 1818, Anthony Gale was the most senior Marine Corps officer.

That did not mean he was promoted instantly.

No one forgot the charges filed against Gale, whether he was cleared or not. Others tried to have him removed from consideration to become the next Commandant. Gale was less concerned with the succession crisis and more concerned with keeping his head down and retaining his command. Even though he was not trying to be Commandant, that’s exactly what happened. He was promoted to Lt. Col. Commandant of the Marine Corps on March 3, 1819.

Gale had trouble with the position immediately. The Marine Corps became disorganized and undisciplined in the six months since Wharton died and he found himself spending more time fighting to re-organize it while the Navy Secretary and President Monroe would frequently counter his orders whenever it suited them — at the request of Gale’s subordinates. Overwhelmed and frustrated, Gale turned again to booze.

His mental state deteriorated as he became a drunkard, a womanizer, and verbally abusive toward his subordinates. Eventually, he was accused of drunkenness, conduct unbecoming an officer, signing false documents, and leaving his quarters without permission and was placed under house arrest. He was court-martialed and plead mental instability during the inquisition.

The court still found Gale guilty and removed him as the Commandant on Oct. 16, 1820, less than two years into his tenure.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

This is Maj. Gen. Ben Hebard Fuller, the 15th Commandant, who is both not Gale and consolidated the Fleet Marine Force Concept.

After being helped out of the service, Gale moved to his home in Philadelphia, but found no peace there. He eventually moved his family to a log cabin in Kentucky where he found that being a farmer was not in his blood, either. He turned back to his old friend, alcohol. He fought to be granted a pension for his instability, earning one 15 years later in what might be one of the earliest veteran disability claim suits.

According to Kentucky records found by the Marine Corps, Gale died of Lung Cancer in 1843 in Kentucky. A number of his sons also joined the Marine Corps, some of whom served in the Civil War. They apparently had no idea he served as Commandant, believing he was a quartermaster in the Corps. But Gale’s sons are also lost to history, so even if a supposed burial site is ever found, there’s no way to definitively prove it.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why Polynesian tattoos are probably more intense than yours

Tattoos are, by their very essence, pretty badass. They’re statements to the entire world that you’re willing to go through a few hours of pain to showcase your dedication to a certain thing. They’re messages that you’ll carry on your body forever.

In the military, it’s not uncommon for troops to get a new bit of ink that celebrates their branch on the day they graduate from initial entry training. It’s a legitimately badass reason to permanently mark yourself — a symbol of transformation into a warrior — just as Polynesian warriors have done throughout history.

That tattoo of a unicorn that you drunkenly got inked onto your butt because it’ll totally be funny? Not quite as badass.


Tattooing predates civilization itself. Ötzi the Iceman, found in the Italian Alps, is Europe’s oldest known human mummy and his skin was inked with 61 different tattoos. But the art form, as we know it, followed early Austronesian settlers and arguably reached its apex with the Polynesian peoples.

In many Polynesian societies, tattoos are symbols of class, nobility, and family. While certain design elements may be similar and represent a specific trait exhibited by the wearer, no two tattoos, by their very nature, are identical. In Polynesian society, tattoos read like someone’s life story. If lines are filled with a dog-skin cloak, it may signify that someone is a warrior. Intricate designs on the forehead may mean they’re in a leadership position within their community.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war
People want to appropriate other cultures and take their tattoo designs, but none of them are willing to go the distance by getting a Ta Moko (face tattoo).
(Photo by Graham Crumb)

Some Polynesians still get their tattoos the same way their ancestors did — using tools of sharpened bone and ink made from the candle nut. This traditional process makes heavier use of scarification than modern techniques.

Instead of using a needle to inject ink beneath the epidermis (first layer of skin), the traditional method used by Pacific Islanders involves, at its most basic, digging into the flesh with a serrated bone, using a tapping mallet to drive the the bone further into the skin, and rubbing ink into the wound. It’s extremely painful and may take weeks, if not years, to complete.

This is made even more impressive by the fact that the most common place to get a tattoo is the face. Unlike western cultures, face tattoos aren’t vilified by the Maori. It’s simply a way of showing the world who you are.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war
Fun fact: It’s very common in Samoa to get the tattoo from the waist to the knee — the pe’a — which covers everything to include the booty and the private bits.

The act of getting a tattoo is sacred in that it’s a rite of passage for the wearer. You cannot eat with your hands while it’s being done nor can you talk to anyone during the tattoo process. But the biggest no-no is wincing from pain. Any sign of weakness means you are not worthy of the tatau and you’ll be told to leave with a half-finished tattoo. This forever marks you with shame.

The tradition continues to this day as a sign of heritage. While most of the younger generations opt for the modern-day needle gun (it’s faster and less painful), traditional artists are still around. While it’s not forbidden for outsiders to undergo the traditional process, you will (understandably) be shunned if you get something that you know nothing about just because you thought it looked cool.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy Coast Guard rescue of an Air Force pilot in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, some Coast Guard pilots were given the chance to volunteer for service on the front lines, relieving the pressure on over-tasked Air Force pilots. Some of those Coast Guard pilots who volunteered would go on to dramatically rescue a downed Air Force pilot and were later awarded Silver Stars for their actions.


3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

Pararescuemen leap out of a HH-3E during an exercise. The HH-3E, known as the “Jolly Green Giant,” was widely used in Vietnam.

(U.S. Air Force)

The 11 Coast Guard pilots selected for the program went through months of special training in survival, tactics, and the aircraft they would be flying, the HH-3E, before flying to Vietnam to start their tours.

In country, they were folded into flight crews, often with Air Force copilots, engineers, and pararescuemen. Their job was to pick up isolated personnel — usually downed aircrews — provide immediate medical care, and deliver them to field medical facilities.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

A U.S. Air Force F-105G, similar to the one lost on July 1, 1968, leading to a dramatic rescue by U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard personnel under fire.

(U.S. Air Force)

On July 1, 1968, an F-105 Thunderchief with the callsign “Scotch 3” was hit over the Vietnamese peninsula and made for the gulf, but fell too fast and the pilot was forced to eject into a jungle canyon. Lt. Col. Jack Modica was knocked out by the impact of his landing, and woke up two hours later.

He reported his condition to the forward air controller, and the HH-3Es attempted to get to him. The first attempts were unsuccessful due to ground fire, so the Air Force sent in another HH-3E with ground attack aircraft suppressing enemy air defenses.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

A Douglas A-1 Skyraider like the one shot down July 2, 1968, while trying to suppress ground fire in Vietnam.

(Clemens Vasters, CC BY 2.0)

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Lonnie Mixon flew the helicopter during these attempts, taking fire that damaged his fuel tank, a hydraulic line, and the electrical system. Shockingly, even after all that damage, he made one more attempt, but was again forced to break off due to anti-aircraft fire. This forced the pilot to spend the night in the jungle. Mixon later received the Silver Star for his brave attempts.

So, the rescue birds came back again in the morning, but it went even worse than the night before. One of the ground-attack aircraft, an A-1 Skyraider, was shot down, and the rescue chopper was forced back home after suffering heavy damage, including having an unexploded rocket lodged inside of it.

With this list of failures, dangers, and damage, the Air Force turned to Jolly 21 pilot U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Lance Eagan and asked him to fly in behind a B-52 bomber strike. Eagan and his Air Force crew accepted the mission and went to work.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

An Air Force crew lowers a jungle penetrator from a HH-3E helicopter during an exercise.

(U.S. Air Force)

Again, ground fire opened up, striking the rescue bird, but Eagan was able to get through the flak intact and spotted smoke thrown by Modica. He found a nearby open patch to lower the PJ into the jungle to go grab Modica. The PJ found that Modica had a pelvic break.

Eagan was forced to lower the helicopter down into the trees, striking some of the high branches, to get the jungle penetrator as close to the pilot as possible, but the PJs still had to carry the injured man a short distance. As the crew began raising the men from the jungle floor, the Vietnamese sprang their trap.

Automatic weapons fire thundered into the helicopter, shattering the windscreen and penetrating the thin metal skin, but Eagan kept the bird steady until the hoist cleared the trees and the HH-3E was able to tear away low and fast.

The injured pilot was successfully delivered to a hospital, and the rescue crew was later decorated for their bravery. Eagan was awarded the Silver Star by the Air Force for his actions.

He and Mixon weren’t the only Coast Guard pilots to receive that award. Lt. Jack Rittichier had been shot down the month before during a rescue attempt, and he was awarded the Silver Star along with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart.

The Coast Guard’s involvement in combat air rescue continued for another four years, ending in 1972.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Xbox is helping VA medical centers support veterans

For active duty military members, playing video games can help release stress, build camaraderie and offer comforting familiarity in foreign environments. For veterans returning from combat, gaming can reduce isolation, renew connections with fellow service members and provide therapeutic benefits.

Recognizing the unique value of gaming for the military community, Microsoft is partnering with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide Xbox Adaptive Controller units to 22 initial VA rehab centers across the U.S.

Launched in 2018, the Xbox Adaptive Controller was created to make gaming accessible to players with limited mobility by enabling them to customize their setups and connect with external devices like buttons, switches and joysticks that accommodate their playing. The controller, which can be used to play Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games, was developed after extensive consultation with gamers, accessibility advocates and nonprofits that work with gamers with limited mobility, including veterans.


Ken Jones, the founder of Warfighter Engaged, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that provides gaming devices to wounded vets, says the Xbox Adaptive Controller makes gaming accessible to a broader range of veterans.

“People just want to participate, and it’s going to allow them to do that,” he says. “It allows for a much bigger population of people to be included in gaming.”

Microsoft and VA partner to bring Xbox Adaptive Controller to Veterans with limited mobility

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Gaming is a popular activity among the military community, but navigating a traditional controller can be difficult or impossible for injured veterans. The inability to game can mean the loss of connection to veterans’ military communities and to an activity that was a significant part of their lives during service.

The partnership with Microsoft aims to give veterans with limited mobility the opportunity to game again, get them more involved with their rehabilitation and increase social interaction, says Dr. Leif Nelson, director of National Veterans Sports Programs Special Events for the VA.

“We’re looking for platforms for veterans to interact with each other, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller can be that access point to get involved in this world and in the gaming community,” Nelson says. “Gaming is now everywhere in the world, and while people tend to think of it as isolating, we’re finding that it actually has the opposite effect and can increase interactions with other veterans and folks who are non-veterans. I think this can be a tool in the rehabilitation process to achieve a lot of different goals.”

For Jeff Holguin, gaming was a way to cope with the depression and post-traumatic stress disorder he experienced after being discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2003 following an injury. He’d planned on a career in the military, but that identity was suddenly gone. Facing a series of surgeries and feeling adrift in the civilian world, Holguin isolated himself. He turned to gaming, an activity he’d enjoyed since childhood, and found the sense of inclusion he was craving.

“It gave me an outlet, a virtual efficacy within a world that I didn’t feel like I had a place in anymore,” says Holguin. “I made a lot of social connections and friends through that virtual space.”

Holguin went back to school, studying clinical psychology with a focus on trauma and PTSD. He has designed research for Microsoft around mixed-reality devices and learning outcomes and is also a clinical psychology doctoral intern at the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System in Prescott, Arizona. For Holguin, gaming provided a space where he could gradually reintegrate into post-military life.

“It was a sense of belonging and a sense of safety,” he says. “When you have trauma and you’re depressed, sometimes even just a little bit of stimulation is too much and you just don’t have the cognitive or emotional resources to deal with other people’s well-meaning interactivity.

“Gaming gives you what we might call exposure therapy, meaning you get a little bit of socialization, but when you’re ready to turn it off you can turn it off,” Holguin says. “Gaming provided some significant therapeutic value for me.”

Jamie Kaplan, a recreation therapist at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, has been using gaming as therapy with his patients — about 25 percent of whom have had traumatic spinal injuries — for seven years.

Kaplan, himself an avid gamer, says gaming provides a range of therapeutic benefits. Manipulating a controller and pressing buttons, for example, can help with motor skills. Decisions made throughout a game, from choosing which character to play to which moves to make, requires cognitive processing and visual processing, he says.

“It’s fine motor skills, gross motor skills, decision-making ability, information processing, cognitive processing,” Kaplan says. “We can assign a number of therapeutic values to gaming.”

Introducing the Xbox Adaptive Controller

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Kaplan used various gaming systems and consoles with patients before getting an Xbox Adaptive Controller last fall. He particularly likes the Copilot feature, which was developed for Xbox One and links two controllers as if they were one, allowing players to team up on a game and share controls. The feature quickly became one of Xbox’s most popular ones and was built into the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

One of his patients, Kaplan says, was able to play with his brother for the first time in three years by using Copilot. “It’s amazing,” Kaplan says. “It allows me as the therapist to make up for whatever deficit the patient has in utilizing a regular controller or the adaptive controller.”

Kaplan uses games ranging from sports and racing games to virtual reality games and programs that allow veterans with limited mobility to try activities such as scuba diving, fishing or hiking. VR is useful for helping amputees work on balance, Kaplan says, and VR guided relaxation and meditation programs can help veterans reduce stress and anxiety — and potentially reduce reliance on pain medications such as opioids.

“I see chronic pain patients every day and tell them, ‘I’m not going to cure your pain; we’re just hoping to trick it for a little while,'” he says. “You’re distracting them from the pain by engaging them in gaming.”

Gaming has been part of Mike Monthervil’s life since his childhood growing up in Carrefour, Haiti, a suburban area southwest of Port-au-Prince. Monthervil’s family was one of the only ones in the neighborhood with a gaming system, but electricity was only available for part of each day. When the lights would come back on, Monthervil recalls, “every kid would be banging on our door to come and play a game.”

For Monthervil, gaming was a passion that also provided an escape from a challenging environment. “It was a very tough place to live. Kids don’t have a lot to do there,” he says. “Gaming made my childhood better. It took a lot of stress out for me.

“To this day, I still talk to the guys who are over there that I grew up with, that are still going through the hardship of being there,” he says.

Monthervil continued gaming after moving to the United States and later enlisting in the U.S. Army. Stationed in Afghanistan, he passed time playing games with his fellow soldiers between missions. But in July 2014, Monthervil sustained a serious spinal cord injury after falling backward into a ditch during a training session, leaving him unable to use his legs. He underwent surgery and spent nine months at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida. There he met Kaplan, who helped him adapt his gaming to accommodate the dexterity limitations caused by his accident.

Kaplan gave Monthervil an adaptive controller to try several years ago, but it was cumbersome and difficult for him to use. After getting an Xbox Adaptive Controller, Kaplan created a custom set-up for Monthervil by adding a few additional buttons. Monthervil recently got one of the controllers at home and says it works better for him than any device he’s tried since his injury.

“Of all the adaptive stuff I’ve tried, it’s by far the best one,” says Monthervil, who’s 26.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

Photo of Mike Monthervil gaming with the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

(Microsoft)

The Xbox collaboration is part of a strategic partnership between Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs dating back more than 20 years. Recent efforts under the partnership have focused on equipping VA employees with productivity and collaboration technologies, migrating VA legacy systems to the cloud and using advanced analytics in VA call centers to give veterans better information to make decisions about their benefits and medical care.

Toni Townes-Whitley, president of U.S. Regulated Industries at Microsoft, says the Xbox Adaptive Controller collaboration is part of a broader effort to improve therapeutic and clinical care for veterans. But its fundamental goal is to harness technology to improve veterans’ lives, she says.

“It’s an example of using technology as a means to a much more significant end, which is a sense of belonging, being part of a team, a sense of reconnection, a sense of family,” she says.

Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft, sees the collaboration as an ideal pairing of Microsoft’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in gaming with the vast reach of the VA, which serves more than 9 million veterans nationwide in its health care system.

“Everyone can play games, and we really focus on that as an organization,” he says. “With the VA being the largest integrated health care provider in the U.S., we thought it was a perfect opportunity to bring our focus on gaming and the great work that the VA is doing together.”

Microsoft will use feedback and data collected by the VA centers to determine how effective the Xbox Adaptive Controller is in serving veterans and how the device might be improved going forward, Townes-Whitley says. Nelson believes the initiative will serve not just existing gamers, but also veterans who weren’t previously into gaming.

“If we do our job well and we’re able to expose veterans to (the Xbox Adaptive Controller) as a possible tool or intervention in their rehab process, I expect to find successes even in those folks who have never gamed before in their lives,” he says.

A 2018 study found that gaming can relieve stress for veterans, help them cope with moods and provide a way to connect. Kaplan also sees the Xbox Adaptive Controller as an equalizer for veterans and others with disabilities.

“One of the biggest things kids and adults with disabilities face is the stigma of being different. Online, we’re all the same,” he says. “I could be missing my arms or my legs and you wouldn’t know it. Gaming really helps to promote that feeling of normalcy and feeling of belonging.

“I have a lot of respect for Xbox seeing and filling a need for making something that allows military members and anyone who has a disability to be able to game,” Kaplan says.

“I think it’s great for a mainstream company like Microsoft to be the one to take the first step. I hope it encourages other companies to do that.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Even before the pandemic, domestic violence was a problem in the military community

Military family members have whispered for decades about Intimate Partner Violence in our community. We’ve heard stories about friends and neighbors. We’ve been confidants for friends who needed help. Some of us have been in an abusive relationship ourselves.

“It’s really common. We’ve had multiple cases of domestic violence just in our neighborhood this year,” said the spouse of an Air Force active duty member.


According to the latest survey data release from the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), 81% of military community survey respondents are aware of intimate partner violence in their neighborhoods and social circles, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to quarantine together.

Intimate Partner Violence is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as …abuse or aggression that occurs in a close relationship. According to the CDC, an intimate partner can be a current and former spouse or dating partner, and Intimate Partner Violence includes four types of behavior: physical violence; sexual violence; stalking; and psychological aggression. This is the first year MFAN’s support programming survey, presented by Cerner Government Services, has explored the issue

The data is even more disturbing against the backdrop of the pandemic. Since the nation began quarantining to limit the spread of COVID-19, mental health experts nationwide have sounded the alarm that quarantining forces abused people to spend even more time with their abusers.

“Reporting the abuse jeopardizes the service member’s career, therefore jeopardizing the woman and her family’s livelihood. A difficult choice to make: report abuse knowing your husband will lose his job or suffer to keep food on the table? There is no easy solution. That is awful,” the spouse of a Navy active duty service member said.

Among other findings, MFAN’s data showed that those who sought assistance were more likely to:

  • Range in rank from E4 to E6, if they were active duty family members
  • Carry more debt
  • Be concerned with their own or a family member’s alcohol use
  • Rate as more lonely on the UCLA Loneliness scale
  • Have considered suicide in the past two years

“For years now, we have heard anecdotes from our Advisors and others in the community about Intimate Partner Violence,” said MFAN’s Executive Director Shannon Razsadin. “We felt it was critical that we collect data on this issue, so that leaders and policy makers will be able to make decisions that honor and protect the health and safety of everyone in the community.”

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

MFAN recommends that policy makers look for ways to increase communication with military and veteran families about online and virtual resources available; encourage connections with others, especially virtually, as isolation is a tactic of abusers; and reduce barriers for military spouses to seek financial or health care benefits if they or their children are experiencing abuse.

“I’m not by any means a violent person, but I have wanted to strike [my wife] after I came back from tours because I was so angry at the world,” a National Guard and Reserve member said. “I never did, but it was really disturbing how much I wanted to. That’s what made me start counseling.”


More information about MFAN’s survey methods and demographics can be found here: https://militaryfamilyadvisorynetwork.org/survey-methods/
MIGHTY TRENDING

At the Navajo Nation, an injection of hope

One month ago, RN Terri Whitson was mucking out hurricane-damaged houses in Lake Charles, LA. On Tuesday, she was at the Navajo Nation vaccinating frontline workers against COVID-19.

Making that vaccine delivery was very emotional for Whitson, who retired from the Navy in 2016 and has spent much of the past year volunteering on feeding operations and assisting with hurricane relief with Team Rubicon.

“What I heard more times than not, is ‘it’s the beginning of the end.’ We’re just hopeful that things are going to get back to normal and people are not going to be sick anymore. People are not going to be dying,” said Whitson of her first day providing vaccines. “And, to think that I had a small, itty bitty part in that is pretty amazing.”

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war
Greyshirt Terri Whitson vaccinates a fellow nurse at Gallup Indian Medical Center.

Whitson, who served in the Navy Nurse Corps, deployed as a volunteer nurse with Team Rubicon at the Gallup Indian Medical Center on December 6 having no idea she’d be there when the vaccine arrived. When she heard it was coming she asked to extend her deployment by another week so that she could help get the vaccine into the arms of people who need it most.

“I feel pretty fortunate to have been involved in this, and to be involved in something that I think is so huge—so huge that it could possibly bring everybody’s lives back to normal again and provide protection for these frontline workers in the hospitals who are just so overwhelmed,” Whitson says, before stopping to dry some tears. She gets a little emotional thinking about the losses Americans, and medical workers, have experienced over the past nine months.

Before the vaccine arrived at the Navajo Nation, Whitson had spent weekdays at the Medical Center working with employee health services, where she would talk with people about their test results—hard, emotional work in itself given the number of positives and knowing how short-staffed the system already was. On the weekends, when health services was closed, she swabbed noses at the drive-through coronavirus testing site, which is open to the public.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war
COVID-19 vaccine on ice at Gallup Indian Medical Center.

When the vaccine arrived at the Navajo Nation at 10 a.m. on Monday, Whitson was on the team that began setting up a vaccination space. It’s a place, Whitson says, that people might receive a bit of hope. On Tuesday, she delivered her first COVID-19 vaccination there.

For now, IHS and the team are focusing on vaccinating those frontline workers who have the most exposure to COVID-19 patients, such as people working in the emergency department, anesthesiologists, and hospitalists. The hospital, which has more than 1,300 employees, has received 640 doses of the vaccine.

By the end of the day Tuesday, the team had vaccinated 80 of their fellow doctors and nurses; on Wednesday, they expect to vaccinate another 95 more.

“You can feel an excitement, and people were joking and laughing,” says Whitson of her time administering the first shots. Everyone also wanted to either have a picture taken or be videotaped making history. “It was joyous. It was such a good feeling.”

That joy was a lift for Whitson, too. She’d spent the prior week hearing codes called in the hospital and hearing ambulances come and go, and knowing for herself just how devastating the pandemic has been in this community.

“It was a good day. It was a really good day, and it felt really good to give people … to hear them say, ‘you know, this is the beginning of the end’,” Whitson says, stopping to clear her throat. “You know, we were giving them an injection of hope.”

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war
Greyshirt Terri Whitson prepares for a day of vaccinating frontline medical workers at Gallup Indian Medical Center.

This article originally appeared on TEAM RUBICON. Follow TEAM RUBICON on Twitter @TEAM RUBICON.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force just posted a $4.5 billion black ops project

The Air Force’s Special Access Programs is the highest level of top secret USAF funding – and it just put out a juicy new request for proposals. The service wants to spend $4.5 billion and hire 1,000 employees to develop a program that would “provide physical security and cybersecurity services to safeguard its most sensitive information.”


3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

Billions spent just to counter all the Chinese people who have computers. Probably.

Sure, the price tag doesn’t really compare to some of the other Air Force programs out there. The F-35 program cost a whopping id=”listicle-2638759949″.5 trillion over more than a decade. The penetrating counter air program, the F-35 successor, would cost more than three times that. So the Air Force is no stranger to spending tons of cash on secret weapons. This time, the secret is much less public than ever before.

Air Force Special Access Programs were once referred to as the USAF’s “black programs,” clandestine development budgets that few in government were totally informed about and had little Congressional oversight due to the classified nature of their work. This latest program, Security Support Services, falls within that budget.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

There is so much money flying around in this photo.

For those who know what working in government programs entails, the job descriptions for the potential hires alone can tell us a lot about the sensitive nature of their impending work. Employees for the new program would have to have an active TS/SCI security clearance (one of the highest in government) with a polygraph examination. Taking a lie detector test is just one of many added security measures that not every Federal employee with a clearance has to do.

But they’ll have to take it to work on USAF Security Support Services. Other duties will include: implement comprehensive security protocols to protect advanced technology programs throughout their life cycles, counterintelligence analysis, training, and investigations, and network monitoring and incident detection, response and remediation.

The Air Force’s final request for proposals will be released on Aug. 8, 2019, – and that’s all anyone needs to know.

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Marines look to ease strain on special operators in Middle East

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Spencer Knudson and Sgt. Mark Herd survey the landscape during a Combined Anti-Armor Team patrol at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Oct. 23, 2015. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Owen Kimbrel


The commander of Marine units across the Middle East sees opportunities for the Corps to take on more missions in the region that would typically be tasks for special operations forces.

In a recent interview with Military.com, Lt. Gen. William Beydler, commander of Marine Corps Central Command, said there were multiple traditional special operations mission sets that competent Marines could take on, freeing up the forces for more specialized undertakings.

“I’m not for a moment suggesting that Marine capabilities and SOF capabilities are the same, that’s not my point, but I do think, and I think that SOF would agree, that some of the missions they’re executing now could be executed by well-trained and disciplined general purpose forces like U.S. Marines,” Beydler said.

Marines maintain a constant presence in the Middle East between Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command, a roughly 2,300-man unit that operates across six Middle Eastern countries with an emphasis on supporting the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

They also operate consistently in the region off amphibious ships attached to Marine Expeditionary Units, or MEUs, that routinely provide presence in the Persian Gulf.

Beydler, who assumed the command in October 2015, said these Marines could take on quick-response force operations, security missions, maritime and land raids, and ship visit-board-search-seizure operations, all of which Marines train to do as part of the MEU pre-deployment workup.

“There’s a range of things Marines are especially well trained to do — they can offer up capabilities that might free SOF forces to do other things,” Beydler said. “We’re not trying to encroach on what they do, but we think that we can be better utilized at times and free them up to do even more than SOF does right now.”

Beydler said the Marine Corps was already stepping into some of these roles, though he demurred from specifics.

In one instance that may illustrate this utilization of conventional troops, Reuters reported in May that “a very small number” of U.S. forces were deployed into Yemen to provide intelligence support in response to a United Arab Emirates request for aid in the country’s fight against Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

While the Defense Department did not identify the service to which these troops belonged, officials told Reuters that the amphibious assault ship Boxer — part of the deployed 13th MEU — had been positioned off the coast of Yemen to provide medical facilities as needed.

In a January fragmentary order, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller emphasized his desire to see Marines operate more closely with SOF troops and develop a deeply collaborative working relationship.

To this end, six-man special operations forces liaison elements, or SOFLEs, began to deploy with MEUs in 2015 to improve communication between Marines and SOF forces downrange and coordinate efforts. Beydler said professional rapport had increased as a result of these small liaison teams.

“A part of this is again developing professional relationships, developing professional respect and having SOF appreciate that which Marines can do,” he said.

Currently, he said, the Marine Corps is considering creating SOFLEs for the Marines’ land-based Middle East task force. While there is no timeline to test out the creation of new liaison elements, Beydler said the unit informally looks for opportunities to coordinate with special ops in this fashion.

“I think that we’ve valued the SOFLEs at the MEU level,” he said. “We’ll continue to work with SOF to see if we can’t have more of these liaisons, more of those touch points.”

Lists

5 reasons why the Volunteer Service Medal is the most ridiculous medal

The awards that decorate a troop’s dress uniform have meaning. If a troop does something extraordinary, there are plenty of awards they might earn, depending on the specific heroics. There are medals for more mundane actions, as well. If they serve at a specific location, like going overseas or even to Antarctica, in support of a military campaign, they’re likely to earn a medal. Enlisting at a certain time during conflict adds the National Defense Service Medal to your ribbons rack. However, there’s one award that sticks out as ridiculous — the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (MOVSM).


All that’s required by this medal is that a troop (active duty, reserve, or national guard) performs a substantial volunteer service to the local community. The idea behind establishing the award in 1993 was to incentivize troops to do great deeds that would reflect highly on military service. In reality, it’s often seen as just another box to check.

We’re not disparaging charitable action, especially when it shines a good light on military service, but here’s why the award itself is silly.

5. The Humanitarian Service Medal already exists

The Humanitarian Service Medal is given to troops who participate in acts like disaster relief or the evacuation of refugees from a hostile area. The difference between this medal and the MOVSM is that this one is earned while on duty.

The HSM goes to the troops who were sent, let’s say, to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The MOVSM, however, might go to the troop who helped put together a few potluck dinners. Both are the reward for doing a good deed but, according to the military, both nearly as prestigious as the other…



…which leads troops to not care about helping. (Image via GIPHY)

4. The criteria for earning one is vague

Every other award has clean-cut requirements. Have you been to this location or not? How does this act of heroism compare to other selfless acts? Were you able to be a good troop for three years or at least not get caught? This medal is an exception.

If a troop spends every weekend for a decade helping train the Boy Scouts, that’s a Volunteer Service Medal. If a troop says, “yeah, I got time. I can help you with that.” That act might be just as worthy, according to the nebulous criteria.



Basically… (Image via GIPHY)

3. Standards range from impossible to non-existent

Many units see this award as ridiculous and put unreasonable restrictions on it. According to Army Regulation 600-8-22, to earn the MOVSM, one must exceed 3 years and/or 500 hours of service. Many times, a unit will ask for a proof-of-hours sheet that highlights how each of those hours was spent.

On the other side of the coin, the only definitive requirement — as outlined by the DoD — is that the good deed has tangible results and is not a single act. Many troops can tell you that they’ve earned this act simply by preparing and then attending a charity event. Boom. Instant award. Meanwhile, the Soldier who became his son’s Scout Leader has two years, 11 months, and three weeks to go to earn the same accolade.



Chances are that it’ll still get denied. (Image via GIPHY)

2. There’s no citation

The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal is still a service medal. The award gets put in and, if it’s approved, the troop receives it. A commendation medal, on the other hand, is reflective of a specific, heroic action.

Technically speaking, there doesn’t need to be a formation and award ceremony for a MOVSM. The troop should just add it to their record and move on.

No need to waste everyone’s time with a BS award. (Image via GIPHY)

1. You can do the paperwork yourself and not need proof

By now, you’re probably already thinking about this point. If all that’s required is an hours sheet, how can you make sure a troop actually did what they claim? You can’t, really.

Troops who make a habit of volunteering, time and time again, over the course of three years are clearly not doing it for a single award worth five promotion points. They genuinely care. The guy who put on a couple of community potlucks doesn’t care about the volunteer service — they’re in it for the pat on the back.

Without a uniform standard on how to earn one, the award means almost nothing.



You don’t need to confess. Just know if you lied to get one, you suck. (Image via GIPHY)

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Senate committee renews medical marijuana provision in VA Bill

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war


Senate lawmakers on Thursday once again signaled to the Veterans Affairs Department they want VA doctors able to talk to patients about use of medical marijuana.

By a 20-10 bipartisan vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the military construction and veterans legislation allowing agency doctors to make recommendations to vets on the use of medical marijuana — something they can’t do now even in states where cannabis prescriptions are legal.

“We should be doing everything we can to make life easier for our veterans,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, said in a statement. “Prohibiting VA doctors from talking to their patients about medical marijuana just doesn’t make sense. The VA shouldn’t be taking legal treatment options off the table for veterans.”

Medical marijuana is being prescribed in some states for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, even though its effectiveness remains questionable.

The legislative amendment was sponsored by Merkley and Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, who successfully got the same amendment through the committee in November, only to see it stripped from the bill by House lawmakers a month later.

The latest language still has to be considered by the full Senate and then be sent once more to the House for approval.

The VA won’t comment on the lawmakers’ actions on medical marijuana, but its website quotes a report by Marcel Bonn-Miller of the National Center for PTSD at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, and Glenna Rousseau of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, dismissing marijuana as useful in treating veterans.

“Controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD,” the report states. “Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”

The federal government in 2014 approved a study on medical marijuana to be conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a California-based nonprofit research center. But the research hasn’t yet been completed.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Pendleton will honor Marines and Sailors who died in Vietnam

A memorial honoring Marines and sailors who died during the Vietnam War and were part of the “Fighting Fifth” Marine Regiment is getting closer to being set in stone.


The groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial, a work of passion for Vietnam veterans Steve Colwell and Nick Warr, was held Friday, Oct. 27 in the memorial garden at Camp San Mateo. Participants included members of the 5th Marine Regiment, representatives from the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group, and active-duty Marines.

“The construction of this new memorial at the 5th Marine Regiment command post symbolizes the respect, gratitude, and honor today’s generation of Marines hold for Vietnam veterans,” said Lt. Col. John Gianopoulos, Executive Officer, 5th Marine Regiment. “This memorial will remind today’s Marines of the tenacity, courage, and character of the Vietnam Marines at Khe Sanh, Da Nang, An Hoa, and many more battles. It will provide us with a powerful reminder of what we owe to our nation and how we must represent the Marine Corps.”

The $400,000 to fund the memorial is coming from private and public sources. Four South Orange County cities have stepped up so far to help: Dana Point, with $10,000; San Clemente, $5,000; Rancho Santa Margarita, $2,500; and Irvine, $10,000. Colwell said he will ask the Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel city councils for help in the next few weeks.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war
Concept of the planned monument honoring Marines and sailors lost in the Vietnam War. Image from 5th Marine Regiment Support Group.

“After four years of fundraising, this is finally becoming a reality,” said Colwell, who was severely wounded in a bomb blast Dec. 16, 1967, in Vietnam. “It’s exciting to honor the 2,706 Marines and sailors. It will validate for the families the bravery and service of those lost in Vietnam.”

The garden was created and is funded by the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group. It is home to Marines who have died in action and is a place of reflection for those who remember them. Two monuments there honor Marines and sailors who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Purple Heart Monument was installed in the garden in February.

Also Read: 18 of the greatest photos of Marines fighting America’s wars

“Our Vietnam veterans suffered untold injures by our nation not acknowledging them,” said Terry Rifkin, executive director of the Dana Point group. “Vietnam veterans are as great a generation as any our country has ever produced. This monument of epic proportions, and unlike anything else at Camp Pendleton, will be a remarkable way to say thank you to those who served by recognizing those who did not make it home.”

The 50-ton black granite memorial is being crafted by Vermont’s Rock of Ages. It will have six panels honoring the 2,706 Marines, Navy corpsmen, and a chaplain who died in Vietnam while serving in the 5th Marine Regiment. Their names will be etched on the panels surrounding a 14-foot-tall black granite spire. It also will include the names of Marines and sailors who died as part of the 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marines.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war
A battle cross sits on display during sunrise, April 15, 2016, at Avon Park Air Force Range, Fla. USAF Photo by Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan.

The image of the iconic battle cross — helmet, rifle, bayonet, and boots — will be etched on all four sides of the granite. The monument also will have a combat chronology of the 5th Marines during the Vietnam War.

The 5th Marines, the most highly decorated regiment in the Marine Corps, deployed March 5, 1966, to Vietnam. They remained there for five years, until April 1971.

Colwell and Warr — who also was wounded in Vietnam — came up with the idea for the monument in 2014 after returning to Camp Pendleton for a 1st Marine Division reunion.

Colwell, 73, who served as an officer with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and Warr, 72, who fought as an infantry officer with Charlie Company in the 5th Marines, noted during the visit that there was nothing in the garden recognizing those who lost their lives in Vietnam.

3 military storytellers who know the real cost of war

“I feel strongly there should be a representation for the Marines and sailors who were killed in Vietnam,” said Colwell. “These young men raised their hands and enlisted in the Marine Corps for an unpopular war.”

The hardest job, they said, was finding the names of those who served with the 5th Marine Regiment and died in Vietnam. That fell to Brian Coty, a board member of the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group, who has worked more than two years with the Coffelt Database of Vietnam casualties to make sure no name is left out.

Among the names are 13 Marines awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor for personal acts of valor.

The monument is set to arrive at Camp Pendleton on March 29, declared National Vietnam Veteran’s Day by President Donald Trump. It will be installed in the garden during a ceremony on Memorial Day, May 28, 2018.

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