On September 22nd, thousands of fans poured into Lance Corporal Torrey Gray Field at Twentynine Palms, California for the final stop on USAA’s months-long BaseFEST tour. The all-day festivals brought together the military community at the country’s largest bases and offered free food, fun, and some great, live music — featuring larger-than-life bands, like The Offspring.
But veterans got in on the entertaining, too. Marines, troops, and their families were warmed up by Twentynine Palms’ own Matt Monaco, better known by his stage name, Modest Monaco.
Not a bad side-hustle if I do say so myself.
Monaco comes from a Marine family. His grandfather served for over 33 years in the Marine Corps and fought in three separate wars.
“Honor, courage, and commitment. That is who he was. Seeing that in him inspired me to want to be like him,” says Monaco.
And, in 1997, he did just that. “I’ve only seen my grandpa cry twice in his life. Once was at his 50th wedding anniversary and once was at my graduation for the Marines.”
As a Marine, he spent his days serving our country — his nights, however, were reserved for working on drift cars at his own shop. This side gig opened the door for him to become a DJ. Once he put it out there that he wanted to learn to produce electronic music, DJs would bring their cars to him and he’d pick their brains. Two years and a complete album later, he’s on stage at BaseFEST.
Modest Monaco is no stranger to Twentynine Palms. It was, after all, where he trained. But instead of embracing the suck, as Marines tend to do, he instead kicked ass on stage.
The night also featured Nombe, Carlton Zeus, Haha Tonka, and The Offspring. Sadly, the Southern California festival concluded this year’s BaseFEST tour. But if you missed it this year, don’t sweat it — BaseFEST was a resounding success, so fans can probably expect bigger and better things to come next summer!
To hear former Marine Corps Sergeant Matt Monaco, aka Modest Monaco, share his experiences in his own words, check out the video below.
“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,'” Mr. Trump said, describing the general’s view of torturing terrorism suspects. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terror suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better.'” He added: “I was very impressed by that answer.”
Torture, Mr. Trump said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”
It amounts to a “remarkable” reversal for the president-elect, as the Times put it. It also somewhat contradicts the position of Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has said that “all options are on the table.” Before he campaigned for Trump, however, Flynn criticized the practice.
The debate over waterboarding in enhanced interrogations has a larger legal barrier than what President George W. Bush faced in the past. While Bush authorized the practice after the 9/11 terror attacks through legal memos, President Barack Obama ordered the practice to stop through an executive order. That order was later codified into law in 2015.
Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March that the use of waterboarding is “inconsistent with the values of our nation.” Dunford previously served as Mattis’ deputy at 1st Marine Division.
“When you’re young, you have this sense of invincibility, ” says Stacy Pearsall. “You can hear the gunshots, but they can’t touch you.” Pearsall is a former Air Force Combat Photojournalist who spent much of her storied ten-year Air Force career assigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron in Charleston South Carolina. Her awards include the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor. She is one of two women to win Military Photographer of the Year and the only woman to win it twice. She has an honorary doctoral degree from The Citadel and was declared a Champion of Change by the White House.
During her first Iraq deployment in 2003, then-23-year-old Pearsall documented everything from Blackhawk helicopter sorties to foot patrols with Army infantry units on the ground. This would be the cornerstone of an epic that would impact thousands of veterans from across the US and around the globe.
“Throughout my deployment I photographed a civil affairs mission to rebuild a bombed out school where Saddam’s wife once taught,” Pearsall reflects. “We targeted it during “shock and awe” because Ba’athists used it as a headquarters. When we were gearing up for the convoy, there was one open seat in the lead vehicle and one in the rear. My partner and I drew straws to see who would sit where. As we departed the school, an IED buried under piles of debris detonated near my vehicle, sending projectiles and dust everywhere. It was fortunate the bomb wasn’t bigger. Everyone walked away that day.”
She waited to seek medical attention until she returned to the Air Force’s Camp Sather. She’d seen far worse wounds and didn’t want to make a big deal about whiplash and some blood in her ears. She played down her injuries and continued to document missions nearly every day until the end of her deployment.
“Suffice to say I slammed a lot of vitamin M,” Pearsall recalls.
Like many blast traumas, it was the injuries she couldn’t see that followed her home from deployment. Once back home in Charleston, Pearsall was cooking dinner and suddenly fell over. Her world was off-kilter and she couldn’t stand upright. Doctors thought her injuries gave way to viruses so she underwent the treatment for that with little to no relief. Today, a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI) would’ve been more likely. For Pearsall, that diagnosis would not come for another five years.
“So I learned to deal with the vertigo and headaches,” Pearsall says. Despite the chronic headaches and neck pain, she continued her Air Force photojournalism career. Her work earned her Military Photographer of the Year (MPOY) in 2003, an annual award, open to all military personnel. During the judging, the panel referred to Stacy as ‘he‘. They did not do it years later, when she won for the second time.
While supporting Operation Enduring Freedom Horn of Africa, she teamed up with combat videographer Staff Sergeant Katie Robinson, an Air Force Reservist who would eventually become Pearsall’s battle buddy for life. The two worked to deploy together at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warhorse, near Baqubah, Iraq.
Despite a mud-floored CHU with a leaky roof and a critical satellite transmitter sitting in a pool of water, set out to prove they could hang with the soldiers at Warhorse.
“I was never faced with anything regarding my competency because I am a female,” Pearsall says. Initially, everyone was apprehensive because I was a photographer. I caught earfuls of inter-service rivalry for being Air Force but after our first firefight, word got around that I was worth having around. Instead of seeking them out, they started asking for our support.”
FOB Warhorse proved to be the right place for action. The Battle of Baqubah was the last major offensive of the Iraq War and would last seven months. Having freedom to do so, Pearsall and Robinson moved around the AOR documenting one key mission after another.
“I put those soldiers on a pedestal,” Pearsall reveals. “They are still today, my personal heroes to whom owe my life.”
Pearsall and Robinson were supposed to accompany Delta Company into Baqubah on a raid to take down a house harboring enemy fighters. At the last minute, they were transferred to an Iraqi Army operation in nearby Buhriz. As they prepared for their new assignment, they listened to their friends’ progress as the reports trickled in.
“As the breach team moved in, the house blew,” Pearsall remembers. “The Bradleys came back to the FOB and began unloading the injured. The soldiers were a mess. We looked for our friends, but couldn’t see them. Then the last Bradley dropped ramp and unloaded those who were killed in action. Blue Platoon lost three really great guys that day. The rest of their team had to soldier on. Katie and I did too. We still had to go out and meet the Iraqi Army for our next operation.”
The two were split up between two Iraqi Army companies, with the idea they’d link back up in a few days. That was the plan, anyway.
“They shot my fucking thumb off!” Robinson said the minute she was struck by a nearby sniper. The sniper was aiming for an officer sitting next to Robinson. The bullet went through her left forearm, through her video camera and exploded the battery, which partially amputated her right thumb.
“I laughed when I heard that,” Pearsall remembers. “That’s what made us so close. Our collective humor, our unwavering bond, our utmost respect for each other.” When given the opportunity to redeploy home and rehab back in the United States, Robinson refused. Instead, she opted to return to FOB Warhorse.
“For me, the rest of the deployment was intense, just like that,” Pearsall says. “So many good soldiers taken so quickly, so young. Photographing the rare moments between gunfights was my favorite thing to do. It was my sense of home, of humanity.”
Toward the end of her deployment, Pearsall further injured her neck during an operation. Robinson finally convinced her to see a doctor. An x-ray led to a CAT scan and more tests. Doctors concluded she needed surgery. For Pearsall, that was not an option. She wanted to leave Iraq on her own terms.
“Katie was strong. I wanted to remain strong too,” Pearsall says. I already lived with the pain for so long, one flight home wasn’t going to kill me. It was the one thing I could control in a situation that seemed out of my control.”
“My neck wouldn’t heal enough for me to stay in the military,” Pearsall explains. “It was devastating. They offered alternatives, like admin or finance. But after you’ve tasted combat, you can’t go back. If I couldn’t fight, what was I supposed to do? My career in the military was over.”
“One day, while waiting for an appointment at my VA hospital, a World War II veteran leaned over and asked if I was taking my grandfather to his doctor’s appointment. He seemed surprised to learn I was a veteran. He told me how he helped liberate a concentration camp during WWII and I realized that I judged him unfairly – just as everyone was doing to me. So I set about healing myself through the experiences of other veterans.”
Now her mission continues. First on her mind is a portrait project, photographing veterans from every conflict and preserving their stories their image for generations to come.
“I had the honor of photographing the last living pictures of soldiers on the battlefield,” she says. “And I wanted to continue that service to my fellow veterans.”
Her work and personal recovery, isn’t limited to her portrait project. There were some whose stories could no longer be told firsthand. In 2012, she published Shooter: Combat From Behind the Camera, a book of her Iraq War imagery.
“I couldn’t look at my photos without having an emotional response,” she says. “I wanted to put what happened on a page and shelve it, so I wouldn’t have to live that part of my life every day anymore. Shooter was my therapy. It was my way of honoring those who didn’t have a voice anymore, to share their experience with the world.”
Her second book, A Photojournalist’s Field Guide was published in 2013. Along with contributions from her heavy–hitter photojournalist friends, Pearsall created a guide to educate younger photographers. The book isn’t limited to photography tips. It includes insight on how to survive in austere conditions, cope with stress and maneuver through tough situations.
“I’m not the first woman to go into combat for the United States,” Pearsall explains. “There are a whole slew of women who fought for this country. Unfortunately, they’re not spoken much of in the history books.”
Not anymore. Pearsall’s project will ensure history won’t forget any veteran who fought for the U.S., regardless of gender.
Robert Wilkie, President Donald Trump’s’ nominee to become the next VA Secretary, said June 27, 2018, that he was against “privatization” of VA health care and would work to break the bureaucratic logjams on wait times and benefits appeals.
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Wilkie also rejected allegations that he supported “racially divisive” issues in his private life and in his past work as a staffer for conservative senators.
Wilkie said he had previously attended events of the Sons of Confederate Veterans involving the display of Confederate flags but said he “stopped doing any of those thing at a time when that issue became divisive.”
He said that former President Barack Obama had sent a wreath to a Southern heritage event, an episode noted in a Washington Post report.
Wilkie also dispute the charge that in the 1990s he marked up draft legislation calling for young women to finish high school before they qualified for welfare.
Wilkie, who was working at the time for then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said Lott and other staffers made changes in the legislation.
When asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, whether he believed women should have to graduate from high school to receive government benefits, Wilkie said, “that would never enter my mind.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told Wilkie he expected his nomination to be confirmed, but added that Wilkie had worked for a “very racially divisive senator,” meaning the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina.
“[And] you were appointed to this job by a very racially divisive president,” Brown said.
In his opening statement, Wilkie said that there were no excuses for failing to address the VA’s problems after Congress gave the department nearly $200 billion in funding and passed the VA Mission Act to overhaul and consolidate the VA Choice Program on private health care options for veterans.
Wilkie said he favored private and community care when the VA could not meet the needs of the veteran, but added that he was opposed to privatization and would keep the Veterans Health Administration fully funded.
If confirmed, Wilkie said his goal would be to make the VA more “agile and adaptive” to meet the needs of a changing veterans population.
“It is clear that the veterans population is changing faster than we realize,” he said. “For the first time in 40 years, half of our veterans are under the age of 65. Of America’s 20 million veterans, 10 percent are now women. The new generation is computer savvy and demands 21st Century service — service that is quick, diverse and close to home.”
Wilkie, 55, of North Carolina, had been undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness when he was moved over to the VA in March 2018 as acting Secretary after Trump ousted then-VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
A North Korea-linked hacking group has been tied to a series of cyberattacks spanning 17 countries, far larger than initially thought.
A new report by McAfee Advanced Threat Research found a major hacking campaign, dubbed Operation GhostSecret, sought to steal sensitive data from a wide range of industries including critical infrastructure, entertainment, finance, healthcare, and telecommunications.
Attackers used tools and malware programs associated with the North Korea-sponsored cyber unit Hidden Cobra, also known as Lazarus, to execute the highly sophisticated operation.
Servers in the US, Australia, Japan, and China were infected several times from March 15 to 19, 2018. Nearly 50 servers in Thailand were hit heavily by the malware, the most of any country.
McAfee researchers noted many similarities between the methods used in Operation GhostSecret and other major attacks attributed to the group, including the 2014 attack on Sony Pictures and 2017’s global WannaCry attack.
(Flickr photo by Blogtrepreneur)
“As we monitor this campaign, it is clear that the publicity associated with the (we assume) first phase of this campaign did nothing to slow the attacks. The threat actors not only continued but also increased the scope of the attack, both in types of targets and in the tools they used,” Raj Samani, McAfee’s chief scientist, said.
The report indicates North Korea has been expanding its cybercrime beyond its usual focus of stealing military intel or cryptocurrency that can be used to funnel money to the heavily sanctioned government.
North Korean groups have been tied to increasingly high-stakes attacks in recent months.
The attack was attributed to the Lazarus group, which has been conducting operations since at least 2009, when it launched an attack on US and South Korean websites by infecting them with a virus known as MyDoom.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
U.S. forces are establishing observation posts in Northeast Syria to further deny escape routes to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters today.
The spokesman said the observation posts will be set up to deter ISIS fighters that try to flee the middle Euphrates River valley into Turkey to the north.
Army Col. Sean Ryan, speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, updated reporters on ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
“These observation posts will provide additional transparency and will better enable Turkey’s protection from ISIS elements,” Ryan said.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced the observation posts last week in a press briefing with Pentagon reporters.
The move follows close consultation and collaboration with Turkey, both at the military and State Department levels, according to a DOD News report.
Also in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces arrested a senior ISIS official accused of involvement in the assassination of Sheikh Bashir Faysal al-Huwaidi, an Arab chieftain in Raqqa, Ryan said.
“This targeted operation undermines the enemy’s ability to operate in the shadows, and allows the SDF to ultimately eliminate sleeper cells that continue to threaten civilians and prolong their demise,” the spokesman added.
The U.S.-led coalition and its partners will continue to fight the terrorists and degrade their capabilities, he said.
“It’s important to take the fight to the enemy [and] we must continue to consolidate our considerable gains,” Ryan said.
Near Manbij, the alliance between Turkish and U.S. forces in the Combined Joint Patrols allows forces to continue to deny terrorists access to the area, he added, and noted that over time, it has become a community that is thriving.
“This stability is the direct result of the focus of our NATO ally Turkey and through cooperation with local officials from Manbij,” the spokesman said.
ISIS remnants are fortifying their positions and digging in for a protracted campaign, Ryan said.
“We should remain patient [because] fighting will continue to be intense as we continue to pressure the enemy into smaller and smaller spaces,” he said. “This is the last real physical terrain held by enemy forces, and they will continue to wage a resistance as they steadily lose relevance.”
This Militia is Threatening American Troops in Syria | NYT – Visual Investigations
Along the Syria-Iraq border, the 8th Iraqi Army Division continues to reinforce border security by engaging and repelling ISIS militants as they try to flee the offensive in the middle Euphrates River valley, Ryan said.
“Iraqi units continue to conduct coordinated strikes even as ISIS elements probe border positions with vehicle-borne [improvised explosive devices], motorcycles, small-arms fire and mortars,” he added.
The Iraqi air force on Nov. 20 launched two airstrikes targeting an ISIS weapons facility and a building that housed 30 ISIS fighters, Ryan said, adding, “This operation also signifies the ability of the Iraqi security forces to protect its border and uproot cells.”
In Mosul, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air support carried out a security operation in Menkar village that resulted in five enemy fighters killed.
“[This] operation demonstrated ISF are strengthening their intelligence gathering to disrupt enemy operations and protect the Iraqi citizens from bombings and kidnappings,” the spokesman said.
Another successful ISF operation resulted in the death of an ISIS senior leader, code-named Katkut, Ryan said, adding that the operative was known to have planned and conducted attacks in Hadr, southwest of Mosul. He was killed in Saladin province after fleeing from the scene of an attack earlier in the week.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDOD)
WASHINGTON, DC — Hours after North Korea launched its second missile test in the past week, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter met with South Korea’s minister of defense, Han Min Koo, at the Pentagon on Thursday.
“As with previous tests we strongly condemn last night’s attempt, which, even when failed, violated several UN Security Council resolutions, and affirm that this latest provocation only strengthens our resolve to work together with our Republic of Korea allies to maintain stability on the peninsula,” Carter said in opening remarks.
The Hermit Kingdom’s latest test occurred on Wednesday at 5 p.m. CDT near the northwestern city of Kusŏng, according to a US Strategic Command statement. The presumed Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile failed upon launch.
The Musudan missile is speculated to have a range of 1,500 to 2,400 miles, capable of targeting military installations in Guam and Japan, based on estimates from the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
North Korea has tested Musudan missiles eight times this year. All launches except the sixth one, on June 22, were considered to be failures.
Carter and Han described new opportunities for bilateral cooperation, specifically, bolstering maritime security to counter North Korea’s submarine-based ballistic-missile launches.
“A submarine launch poses an especially grave threat since it could catch the United States and allies by surprise,” Rebeccah Heinrichs, a fellow at the Hudson Institute specializing in nuclear deterrence and missile defense, told Business Insider in a previous interview.
Mattis stressed that his first talks with Trump centered on the US’s ability to defend against and deter nuclear-missile attacks.
Mattis also lauded the State Department’s efforts to bring a diplomatic solution to the Korean Peninsula’s conflict. He made clear that the US had “the most precise, rehearsed, and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on earth.”
The US, which protects its air and naval bases on Guam with advanced missile defenses, appeared prepared to meet the challenge of North Korea’s unreliable missiles.
“We always maintain a high state of readiness and have the capabilities to counter any threat, to include those from North Korea,” Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, told Business Insider.
“It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” Mattis said at the time, but “would win at great cost.”
Read Mattis’ full statement below:
“The United States and our allies have the demonstrated capabilities and unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from attack. Kim Jong Un should take heed of the United Nations Security Council’s unified voice, and statements from governments the world over, who agree the DPRK poses a threat to global security and stability. The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.
“President Trump was informed of the growing threat last December and on taking office his first orders to me emphasized the readiness of our ballistic missile defense and nuclear deterrent forces. While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now posses the most precise, rehearsed, and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on earth. The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”
The Marine Corps is the latest service branch to announce a policy removing official photos from promotion considerations.
The directive states “photographs are not authorized information for promotion boards and selection processes pertaining to assignment, training, education, and command,” according to MARADMIN 491/20. It takes effect Tuesday.
For those Marines who have already submitted promotion packages or have included recently-updated selection photos to their Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), those photos will not be considered by the board when selecting candidates for promotion, assignment, training, education, or command.
The move is in response to a larger effort to address diversity in the military, which includes the establishment of a Department of Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion by Secretary Dr. Mark Esper.
Esper released a memorandum in mid-summer calling for “immediate actions to address diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity in the military services.” The document outlines several tasks on how the different branches are to address these issues within the services including updating the department’s equal opportunity and diversity inclusion policies, increasing training regarding diversity, racial bias, and equal opportunity, updating policies on grooming with regards to racial differences and removing photographs from promotion boards and selection processes.
Though photographs will be removed from OMPFs, additional guidance is expected that includes “provisions for establishing diverse selection panels and the removal of all references to race, ethnicity, and gender in personnel packets reviewed by panel members.” These processes will help to ensure that promotion boards and selection processes “enable equal opportunity for all service members, promote diversity … and are free from bias based on race, ethnicity, gender or national origin.” The USD(PR) has until the end of September to provide this additional guidance to all branches.
The Council of Foreign Relations examined diversity rates across all branches of the military. For the Marine Corps, about 90% of male enlisted recruits and 70% of female enlisted recruits are white. Only 15% of male and female enlisted recruits are Black, and Asians only represent about 5% of the enlisted recruit population. However, the Marine Corps has a higher rate of Hispanics than any other branch — outweighing the civilian workforce — with about 30% male and almost 40% of female recruits being of Hispanic ethnicity.
CFR also found that racial diversity decreases at the upper ranks with data showing generals to be disproportionately white. Complete findings can be found at Demographics of the U.S. Military.
Awhile ago, United may have taken it one step too far – at the expense of one of its own.
Daniel Fandrei is a United Airlines pilot who says he was not credited with his employee benefits – his accrued sick leave – while he was deployed to Southwest Asia as Air Force Reserve pilot Lt. Col. Fandrei. He reportedly filed a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.
Fandrei is a KC-10 Extender pilot who spent December 2012 to March 2013 conducting mid-air refuelings in support of combat operations in the CENTCOM theater. According to the Justice Department, United did not give him the same benefits as other employees during that time.
The Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ensures military reserve and guard members called to active duty do not experience penalties as a result of their service.
Under the USERRA, the federal government will file legal actions against things like car repossessions and home foreclosures for activated servicemembers. Fandrei joined the Air Force as an officer in 1990 and started working for United in 2000.
“Lt. Col. Fandrei has made many sacrifices to serve our nation honorably, including spending months away from his job and family,” U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois said in a statement. “When our servicemembers are deployed in the service of our country, they are entitled to retain their civilian employment and benefits, and to the protections of federal law that prevent them from being subject to discrimination based upon their military obligations.”
Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.
“Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel,” said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.
Gina Elise, Founder
Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over ,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans’ healthcare program expansion across the United States.
The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you…he really nailed it.
Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran
From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).
Julie Noyes, Army veteran
Army veteran Julie Noyes says, “It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring.”
Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran
“I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master’s Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization.”
Patti Gomez, Army veteran
Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
“Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn’t pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!”
Check out that cover image!
The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.
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
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.”
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.
Photo of Mike Monthervil gaming with the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
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.
Austin Tice is a former Eagle Scout, a former Marine Corps officer, and an award-winning journalist held in captivity in Syria. The Georgetown law student was on assignment there in 2012, covering individual stories set amid the background of the Syrian Civil War. Just five weeks after he arrived in the country, unidentified armed men released a 43-second video of Tice blindfolded and held hostage.
No one has claimed responsibility for his capture, unusual for such a propaganda war. After the first five years, his family was still trying to piece together what happened that led to Tice’s capture. Now, the reward for information leading to Tice’s whereabouts is more than $1 million.
No other information, photos, or video related to Tice has been released since.
Tice’s family is on a mission to get the Syrian government of Bashar al-Asad and the government of the United States to cooperate, using every available resource to locate Austin Tice and bring him home. They say the United States believes Tice is alive. He was last seen getting into a car in a Damascus suburb but was detained at a checkpoint shortly after.
When President Trump took office in 2017, the new State Department set up a back-channel with the Syrian government to secure Tice’s release. Unfortunately, that’s when the U.S. involvement in Syria began to thicken, The administration was forced to launch Tomahawk missiles at Syrian military sites, and the talks stalled.
As of December 2018, Tice’s parents divulged that they had received information that Tice is still alive and had survived his captivity. They believe he is being held by the Syrian government or one of its allies and the U.S. State Department has called on Russia to exert its influence is obtaining Tice’s release.
The Syrians insist they don’t know where Tice is being held, but the Tice family maintains that the best chance for the man’s release would come from direct talks between the United States government and that of the Syrian Arab Republic.