This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon patrol the sandy streets of Djibouti, the hot East African sun scorches their path with temperatures upwards of 115 degrees. Passing through impoverished villages, Rodriguez began to notice a devastating trend — most of the children are barefooted.

It was during his visit to an orphanage that, Rodriquez immediately thought of his own two daughters and made it his personal mission to do something about the shoeless orphans.

“While on patrol, every few weeks we passed a local orphanage where children gather for their meals,” Rodriguez said. “Children aged 5-8 sleep along the walls outside and wake up to shower in the orphanage. They eat cups of peanut butter for protein with crackers. Since there is no refrigeration, that is the most protein they are able to get. That’s their lunch — crackers. So I thought you know what? This would be a great mission for my church back home.”


While on emergency leave due to his father’s passing, Rodriguez pushed past his grief to talk to students and coordinate a sandal drive with the school that his daughters attend, Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Laredo, Texas. Their Catholic school is part of the parish that Rodriguez and his family belong to.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, stands with several of the children in Djibouti. Rodriguez gifted 500 sandals to barefoot orphans and children during their deployment.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

“I am very active in my daughter’s school and I wanted to get my daughters involved and proactive in something in Africa as well,” Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, said. “I talked to the principal, who said she would talk to Father Wojciech, the priest in charge of his church in Laredo. The school sent out flyers thru the National Junior Honor Society asking parents to donate one pair of sandals.”

On Veteran’s day, Rodriguez who is completing his fourth deployment, visited his daughter’s school to talk about his service in the military and the children in Djibouti.

“I described how the weather was there, how hot it was and asked them to imagine standing outside, barefooted in Laredo,” Rodriguez said. “My daughters and their classmates are at that age where they are learning to help others and how to ask for help as well. I want them to learn a sense of compassion.”

From September to December, his daughter’s school collected six boxes filled with roughly 500 sandals of varying sizes. After the sandals were collected, the students raised money to send the two by three-foot shipping boxes to Djibouti for Rodriguez and his unit to deliver to the children.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, hands out sandals to barefoot orphans and children with his platoon during their deployment, February 2019 in Djibouti.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

“This is the first time that we have done something so big that reaches out of the country,” Cynthia Sanchez, math and science teacher at Blessed Sacrament School. “It’s a trickle-down effect, from parents, and at school they are learning how to help others so that they can teach their own kids.”

Normally, the school participated in blanket, canned food and sweater drives, and periodically will make trips to feed the homeless.

“They feel good and warm inside about helping others with no incentives but because they want to give it,” said Sanchez. “We weren’t expecting that amount. A lot of parents and kids wanted to do their part and National Junior honor Society members went outside of the school into their communities to get donations.”

Anxiously waiting for the packages to arrive, Rodriguez received the sandals in February.

In order to distribute the sandals in the community, Rodriguez coordinated with the local orphanage and the village elder for approval.

After he received approval, Rodriguez and his platoon set out to deliver the sandals to the children of the community.

“When we handed out the sandals the children were so surprised,” Rodriguez said. “Their happiness turned into overwhelming joy, to trying to be next, I made sure they all were good. It got chaotic at times but these children had nothing but what they were wearing and most were barefooted.”

Rodriguez, who kept close contact with his daughter’s school immediately alerted the school, via e-mail, that he had handed out the sandals to the children.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Children from Djibouti pose for a photo after receiving sandals from Texas Army National Guard Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon, February 2019 in Djibouti.

(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)

In response, Anacecy Chavez, a Blessed Sacrament School teacher wrote:

“When I read this my heart jumped. You are a super hero for me and many others for serving our country and helping those around you.”

The Director of the orphanage, Caritas Djibouti, also thanked Rodriguez and his daughter’s school for their donation.

“We had the good surprise a few days ago to receive, through Mr. Rodriguez, a nice and generous donation of shoes for the street children here at Caritas,” said Francesco Martialis, director of Caritas Djibouti. “It was such a generous support which will be usefully used for sure! And also many thanks for the Church support that we feel, from here Djibouti, an isolated place, through your donation. It is precious to us.”

Rodriguez, who has been a soldier on the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force for 18 years, is no stranger to getting involved into the community. Task force members routinely support local law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations in an effort to detect, interdict and deter illicit drug activity.

In addition to being an involved member of his church, Rodriguez said that his experience as a task force member enhanced his ability to build relationships on an international level, communicate and coordinate with partners in order to make the drive a success.

Although Rodriguez’s tour is coming to a close, he has continued to solidify the connections of his church at home with the local Djibouti church — which coincidentally are both named Blessed Sacrament.

Rodriguez spoke to the Bishop of the Djibouti Catholic Church about maintaining contact in the case that they may be able to provide more donations for the children.

“It is great to hear that our young youth are striving to be humanitarians as that is something this world is missing more of,” Rodriguez said. “It gives me great pride to know that the sacrifices we make as soldiers to protect our country is giving our youth the opportunity to grow into caring, responsible and giving citizens of our communities.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 5 most successful military operations in history

Napoleon at Jena. The Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu. Washington’s withdrawal from Long Island. What makes a military operation so perfectly complete that you can almost hear Shang Tsung himself say “Flawless Victory” in the back of your mind? A few criteria for the title of “successful” come to mind.


For one, it can’t be an overwhelming win between two countries, one being vastly superior to the other. Sure, the United States completely crushed Grenada but who gives a sh*t? So the odds need to be close to evenly matched. Secondly, a pyrrhic victory isn’t exactly what anyone would call a “success.” Yes, the British won at Bunker Hill, but they lost half of their men doing it. Also, if luck was critical to the outcome, that’s not planning. The British at Dunkirk planned only to get a tenth of those men off the beaches. Finally, there needs to be some kind of military necessity, so Putin’s “Little Green Men” don’t count.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

The Six-Day War: Israel vs. Everybody.

Okay, so maybe not everyone, just its aggressive Arab neighbors. In 1967, Israel was still very much the underdog in the Middle East. But living in a tough neighborhood means you need to grow a thicker skin and maybe learn how to fight dirty. Few events have gone into the creation of modern-day Israel as we know it like the Six-Day War. In the days before the war, as tensions mounted, Israel warned Egypt not to close off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships. Egypt did it anyway. So Israel launched a massive air campaign, destroying the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. When Jordan and Syria entered the war, they got their asses handed to them by an IDF with unchallenged air supremacy.

As the name suggests, the war lasted all of six days, with Israel taking the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Operation August Storm: USSR vs. Imperial Japan

Sure it took almost the entirety of World War II to get Japan and Russia, virtual neighbors, to start fighting each other, but once they did, Stalin came through like the most clutch of clutch players. After curb-stomping the Nazi war machine, the Red Army was ready to get some vengeance for the Russo-Japanese War that embarrassed them so much before World War I. In order to bring a quick end to the Pacific War, the U.S. needed to ensure the Japanese forces outside of the home islands surrendered with the rest of Japan – and there were some 800,000 Japanese troops on the Chinese mainland, just waiting to kill Allied forces. What to do?

How about sending 1.5 million joint force Red Army troops fresh from wiping the floor with the Wehrmacht to encircle them along with 28,000 artillery pieces, 5,000 tanks, and 3,700 aircraft? That’s what happened on Aug. 9, 1945, when the Soviets split the Japanese Army in two and dismantled it over a period of days. By Aug. 22, the deed was done, and World War II was over.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

The Iliad: Horsing Around

I know I’m going way back into antiquity with this one, but it must have been great if people are still warning each other about Greeks bearing gifts. The level of deception, planning, and discipline it must have taken an ancient army to pull this off is incredible. After constructing the infamous Trojan Horse, the Greeks had to move their ships out of the horizon to make the Trojans believe they’d actually fled from their invasion. Then the Greeks inside the horse had to remain completely silent and cool for as long as it took for the Trojans to pull them into the city and for night to fall. The rest of the Greek Army had to land all over again, regroup, and be completely silent as thousands of them approached a sleeping city.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Desert Storm: Iraq vs. Everybody

How Iraq came to invade tiny Kuwait is pretty easy to figure out. A miscommunication between Saddam Hussein and U.S. ambassador April Glaspie left the Iraqi dictator believing the United States gave him the go-ahead to invade his neighbor. Boy was he wrong. In a logistical miracle that would make Eisenhower proud, in just a few weeks, the United States and its coalition partners somehow moved all the manpower and materiel necessary to defend Saudi Arabia while liberating Kuwait and trouncing the Iraqi Army while taking minimal losses.

Like the biblical story of the flood, the U.S. flooded Iraq with smart bombs for 40 days and 40 nights. After taking a pounding that might as well have been branded by Brazzers, the Iraqi Army withdrew in a ground war that lasted about 100 hours.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Operation Overlord: D-Day

Everyone knew that an invasion of Western Europe was coming, especially the Nazis. But Hitler’s problem was how to prepare for it. What’s so amazing about the planning for Overlord wasn’t just the sheer logistical mastery required – Ike had to think of everything from bullets to food, along with the temporary harbors to move that equipment onto the beach, not to mention planning for a supply line when he didn’t know how long it would be from one day to the next. What is so marvelous about D-Day is all the preparation and planning that also went into fooling the Nazis about where the invasion would hit.

Operation Quicksilver, the plan to build the Ghost Army of inflatable tanks and other gear, all commanded by legendary General George S. Patton. The plan to deceive the Nazis using a corpse thrown from an airplane with “secret plans” on his person, called Operation Mincemeat. It all came together so that on June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious landing to date, along with the largest airborne operation to date could combine with resistance movements and secret intelligence operations to free Europe from the evil grasp of an insane dictator and save an entire race of people.

Articles

Here’s how the Army is assisting Iraqi forces in the fight for Mosul

Although the U.S. mission in Iraq is often referred to as one of advising and assisting, only about 25 percent of the 101st Airborne Division‘s 2nd Brigade Combat Team was doing that during its deployment to Iraq, which concluded in January, the brigade’s commander said at the Pentagon May 3 during a media roundtable discussion of the deployment.


Army Col. Brett Sylvia, the brigade’s commander, told reporters that the other 75 percent of his Task Force Strike soldiers were engaged in route clearance, expedited communications, air and ground coordination, and logistics, which enabled Iraq to build up its forces up and get to their tactical assembly area for the push into eastern Mosul, which began Oct. 17 as part of the effort to liberate Iraq’s second-largest city from the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

When Task Force Strike arrived in Iraq in April 2016, the Air Force was delivering all the precision strike capability to the Iraqis fighting ISIS, Sylvia said. Over the course of the deployment, Task Force Strike soldiers augmented much of that strike capability with their own artillery and unmanned aerial vehicle assets. About 6,000 artillery rounds were fired, he added.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans
Army Col. Brett Sylvia, commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, conducts a key leader engagement with Iraqi forces on advancements into Mosul at Tactical Assembly Area Filfayl, Iraq, Nov. 26, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christopher Brecht)

Sylvia said he was pleased with the authorities the U.S. commanders on the ground were given to call for fire to enable the Iraqi ground forces to move forward. In March 2016, the month before the task force arrived in Iraq, the authority was granted not only to the general in charge of the operation, but also for colonels, lieutenant colonels, and in at least one case, a captain near the front of the fighting, he explained.

Also read: Islamic State terrorists launched a chemical attack in Mosul

Although the Iraqis did the fighting, some limited situations arose when U.S. soldiers accompanied them to provide “niche capability,” Sylvia said. For example, he said, soldiers accompanied an Iraqi battalion on a bridge-building mission on the Tigris River, where the enemy had blown up the bridge. The soldiers advised them on establishing area security as the U.S.-made bridge was erected, he told reporters.

Militia fighters not attached to the Iraqi army who also were fighting ISIS were pretty much segregated from Iraqi forces, Sylvia said. U.S. forces were aware of their location and movements, he added, but did not interact with them in any way.

Threat From Above

It’s been some time since the U.S. faced a threat from the sky, Sylvia said. During the battle for Mosul, UAVs began appearing in the air in and around the city, and it was quickly determined that they did not belong to friendly forces.

In one day alone, 12 appeared, he noted — mostly quadcopters operated by Wi-Fi with about 45 minutes of flight time.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans
A private drone with imaging capabilities, similar to those acquired by enemy combatants. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

At first, he said, the enemy used them for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and to obtain video for use as propaganda on social media sites.

Over time, Sylvia said, the enemy managed to mount 40 mm grenades on the UAVs and drop them. It was primitive, such as when World War I pilots tossed bombs out of their airplanes by hand, he said. It’s not precision bombing, but it’s more effective than their indiscriminate bombing, the colonel told reporters.

Over time, U.S. forces employed countermeasures that stopped or slowed their flight, enabling Iraqi ground forces to shoot them out of the sky, he said, noting that the new threat from the air led to dusting off old manuals on how to respond to threats from the air with countermeasures such as camouflage.

Best Day in Iraq

Sylvia said he clearly recalls his best day in Iraq. It was Christmas Day, and Iraqi forces, who are Muslim, invited him and his soldiers to a Christian church just outside Mosul to attend services. ISIS had gutted the church, but the Iraqis had rebuilt it with their own money.

“It was a powerful symbol, and was amazing,” he said of the visit to the church, adding that he hopes the relationship forged with the Iraqis will be enduring.

Task Force Strike returned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in January, replaced in Iraq by the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s what other branches could do with Air Force’s budget for a single coffee cup

In a recent scandal, the Air Force came under fire for reportedly spending over $300,000 on specialized, fragile coffee cups. That’s right — the Air Force has been buying, breaking, and replacing cups that reheat liquids in air refueling tankers mid-flight at the low, low price of $1,280 a pop.

But one of the most peculiar things about this scandal is how civilians are shocked and outraged, while those in the military aren’t batting an eye. Why? Because of course the Air Force has that kind of money to blow on stupid crap. And of course they’d be spending exorbitant amounts of money on coffee cups. In fact, it’s probably the most Air Force thing on the planet.

To be fair to the airmen, we get that it’s important for your KC-10 Extender to have nice, warm coffee to keep you alert on long flights. We get it — but, seriously? You guys get to toss out broken, four-figure coffee mugs while we’re training with sticks and tape?

You guys should just give us the money. The other branches would find a better use for that much-needed cash.


This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Judging from the sailors I know and work with, that may only be enough to get the party started…

Navy

Every branch likes to talk about how much they consume, but the expression is “drink like a sailor” — not “drink like a soldier.” A fact that, as a soldier, I am sour about. Nearly every single time sailors get shore liberty, they’re out proving this stereotype true. But beer costs money.

Let’s say it costs around 0 for a keg of beer. That means, rounding down, we’d be able to get 12 kegs for the price of one Air Force coffee mug. At 15.5 gallons of beer per keg, that gives us a grand total of 186 gallons of beer, which would mean one hell of a Friday night for the 340 enlisted sailors aboard a Ticonderoga-class Guided Missile Cruiser.

Cheers.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

It’s funny how all the Marines will get to shoot but those 4000+ rounds will all be police called by six or so lance corporals.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde)

Marine Corps

If there’s one thing Marines love more than talking about how bad they have it compared to other branches, it’s shooting. So, it should come as no surprise that, given some extra cash, they’d buy some ammunition to hit the range and prove that every Marine is, indeed, a rifleman.

At 30 cents per round, the cost of one specialized cup means roughly 4,266 rounds — which would give a platoon of Marines a single afternoon of fun.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

You do what you gotta do downrange — even if it means weekly kidney stones.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jb Jaso)

Army

The Army is a hodgepodge of different people, professions, and missions, so it’s kind of hard to find one unifying thing that connects all soldiers together — except for an undying love for the one thing that gets the specialists ready for war: energy drinks.

At the cost of about dollar per full-sized can, you’d be able to get an entire brigade’s E-4 mafia a round of the “official soft drink of war!” (trademark pending).

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Or it could be used to post bail for the Coastie who started a fight at the local bar with someone who mocked their branch. Personally, I believe this would be more effective at proving their “realness.”

(Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David R. Marin)

Coast Guard

The Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces, despite being under Homeland Security and not the Department of Defense. And, despite the fact that they’re generally seen as the smartest branch (considering their high ASVAB score requirements), we’re sure that Coasties are also debilitating alcoholics who try to pick up strippers in the Mustang they’re paying for at a 28% interest rate. That’s the true test of a troop’s “realness.”

So, if there’s one thing that pisses off Coasties more than anything, it’s having their branch status brought into question.

For the bulk price of 9.99 per 500 copies, the Coast Guard could buy 4,000 single-sided pieces of paper that simply read, “the Coast Guard is a real branch. Change my mind” and drop that sh*t from a MH-65 Dolphin like they’re on a PsyOps mission.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The guilt of a Gold Star friend

It was Nov. 10, 2010 — the Marine Corps birthday. I was sound asleep and having another nightmare. I’d been having them randomly for years; PTSD does that to a person. Lately, the nightmares seemed real and more consistent.


My husband had recently deployed for his 4th combat deployment. A Platoon Sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Mike was in what was considered at the time to be the deadliest place in the world: Sangin, Afghanistan.

I was about to be diagnosed with some serious medical issues. While I waited for test results, I spent my days and nights in those early stages of deployment hiding that from everyone. I was alone with three children under 6-years old, and 50+ wives and mothers and families, all of whom depended on me to be strong and healthy.

Of the 50-something man platoon my husband was with, none but three had ever been in combat aside from him. Not even his lieutenant.

The wives were having issues with the Family Readiness Officer, and so the saltier wives took over helping the less experienced ones. It was very much like the beginning of the Iraq war for us — unreliable contact, unreliable information, unreliable family readiness program, unreliable EVERYTHING.

In short, it was a sh*t show just shy of becoming a sh*t storm.

So, I was having another nightmare. Somewhere in the distance I could hear knocking. A phone ringing. Was someone saying my name?

In my dream, Mike was whispering “Katie, answer the phone. Katie, get the door.” He coughed, his face contorted in pain. “Katie… Katie… Katie…”

I pulled out of a groggy, medication-induced sleep, and picked up my phone.

“Uh huh,” I muttered into the phone.

“Katie!” the frantic screaming felt like a bucket of ice water being thrown over me. “Katie, they’re at the door and I don’t know what to do!”

I jumped out of bed. “Who’s at the door,” I asked the young wife on the phone, my mini-me. At barely 19 years old, Katie Stack was my overly dramatic, neediest Marine’s wife, and she was a GD headache. I loved her, but I really wanted to knife hand her most days.

“The- the men! In blues! A chaplain!” I could tell that Katie was on the verge of outright collapse. Her voice was near hysteria. I could hear her movements; she was practically rushing around in a circle halfway through the house, screaming mostly incoherently, trying not to look at the men standing, knocking on her door.

“Sweetheart,” I said softly, “Is Joanne home?” Joanne was Katie’s little sister, and I knew that Katie was home in Chicago visiting family. I’d had to update the FRO just days prior in case something happened. In case she needed to be notified of…

“She is, but she’s just a kid!”

“Sweetheart, put your sister on the phone and go answer the door, you have to.” I waited for Katie’s little sister’s voice to greet me.

“Hello?” came the tiny, terrified, barely-a-teen, voice. In the background I could hear a sob, a wailing. Men talking gently.

“Joanne, honey. Where’s your mom?” Katie and Joanne’s mom, a school administrator, would’ve already left for work, I assumed.

“She’s at work. Miss Foley, there’s men at the door named CACO and they’re saying scary stuff about James…”

“I need you to go hand the phone to the men at the door, go upstairs and get your phone, and call your mother right now.”

“What’s going on Miss Foley?”

“Hon, I need you to do this right now and then you have to come back down stairs and sit with Katie until your mother gets there. Tell your mom it’s an emergency, and that CACO are at the door. Run now.”

The next voice I heard was deep and somber.

“Mrs. Foley, are you near Chicago that you could get here within the next few hours? Mrs. Stack is going to need you.”

“I’m in California. I’ll take the next plane, but her mother is en route now. Do you guys stay with the widow? She has stress related seizures, she can’t be left alone like this. There’s a baby in the house…”

My mind was running a mile a minute-

Get to Chicago, get childcare for my three kids, reschedule my upcoming doctors appointments, shoot an email to Mike- God is Mike okay? No time for that. Someone will come to my door if he isn’t.

I hung up and went to my kitchen, rushing around, pushing dishes into the sink, starting a pot of coffee, pulling my V-neck tee all the way on as I’d run out of my room with just one arm in the sleeve. Suddenly, I stopped moving.

“Katie, something’s happened to James! I can feel it. Something terrible, I just know it.”

The conversation from just the day before replayed in my mind as if the two of us were standing in front of me in my kitchen.

“Katie!” I’d angrily snapped at her. “God! James is fine. You’re fine. Everyone is FINE! Sh*t! Calm down.”

The scene played over and over until I leaned against my wall and slowly slid to the cold kitchen tile.

She’d called me multiple times a day, every day, from the moment our husbands had left. She’d wailed and cried and complained. She’d tried to send a Red Cross message when he was in pre-deployment training because she’d gotten a headache one night.

I’d finally lost my freaking mind and hollered at her.

“James is fine.”

The words repeated over and over.

“Everyone is FINE. Sh*t.”

Over and over.

“James is fine.”

Every time the words played again, I could feel my heart tighten. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. My chest hurt. I couldn’t feel my arm. My vision was going out.

“Mama?” a tiny voice called out from the top of the steps.

I crawled across my kitchen floor and peered around the bottom of the steps.

“Yeah?” I smiled up at my son at the top of the stairs, his pudgy little fingers gripping the baby gate.

“Lub you. I go back to bed now,” the 3-year-old ginger smiled at me from the top of the steps before skittering back to his bed.

I laid down on the tile right there between my kitchen and dining room and just sobbed.

“Everyone is FINE. Sh*t.”

James Bray Stack was killed in action by a sniper on Nov. 10, 2010, in Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

“James is fine.”

He left behind a wife and baby daughter, Mikayla.

“Everyone is FINE. Sh*t.”

He competed in the Junior Olympics in 2008, taking the Gold.

“James is fine.”

His daughter was 1 year and 7-days-old, and it was one year and four days after my father died.

“Everyone is FINE…”

Everyone is not fine.

I have, since that morning in 2010, been both wracked with guilt and rattled to my core. I’d never experienced combat deaths from the wife side of the field. When Marines died, it was Marines I knew. I didn’t know their wives. I knew them because I’d served with them. I’d ridden to boot camp with them or worked with them in an S3 shop somewhere or left Camp LeJeune on a bus with them at some point.

When Marines I knew died, I simply felt bad for their wives. But then again… I didn’t yell at them.

“Everyone is FINE. Sh*t.”

Years later, Katie would tell me what she remembered from that day. “It was November,” she’d tell me. “The Marine Corps birthday. James would’ve liked that.”

That’s all, really. She doesn’t particularly remember me yelling at her the day before. She doesn’t really remember most of it.

We are closer friends than most of either of our friends. She calls me out of the blue sometimes, and I text her every few random months to check in. But she isn’t far from my mind, ever. I stalk her on Facebook to make sure she’s okay, and she stalks me on Facebook to make sure I’m still married.

I haven’t seen her in five years. Sometimes I hear my words “Everyone is FINE. Sh*t.” in my mind and I feel like I’m being crushed. I might never stop feeling guilty about that.

“Is there such a thing as survivor’s guilt when the other person survived as well?” I asked my therapist one day.

“Yes. All that is required for survivor’s guilt is that you be dealing with some level of PTSD, and that the thing that happened did not happen directly to you. Stack’s death happened to his wife, not to you.”

“How effed up does that make me?” I asked her, laughing a bit at myself because it’s frowned on to laugh at other people.

“It makes you normal.”

“Other spouses feel like this?”

“They do.”

All these years, all this time, I thought I was alone in that. I thought I was some weird Marine/Marine wife hybrid that had gotten caught in the middle and was just short circuiting or something. But no. It’s normal.

We feel survivor’s guilt, too.

I wish I’d known that six years ago. I wish I’d known that it was normal, that there were other people who felt like I did. I could’ve been of far more use to other spouses, Gold Star and the others.

But most of all, I wish I’d known it was normal because maybe I could’ve helped Katie more.

Articles

How SEALs were caught in ‘ferocious’ firefight during Yemen counter-terrorism raid

New details have emerged about the Jan. 28 raid on a compound used by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL and the loss of an MV-22 Osprey.


According to a report by the Washington Post, the raid had been intended to nab Yemeni tribal leaders and get intelligence on their ties with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The snatch operation turned into a firefight when terrorists launched a counter-attack.

Among the militants firing at the SEALs were women, an several were believed to have been among the 14 terrorists killed in the raid. The SEALs were forced to call in air support from AH-1Z Cobras and AV-8B+ Harriers based on the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) as the firefight went on, the Post report says.

Additionally, officials with Central Command said Feb. 1 that investigators are looking into allegations that among the dead were civilians in the compound targeted by the SEALs. Officials said in a release that civilians were “likely” killed and “may include children.”

“The ongoing credibility assessment seeks to determine whether any still-undetected civilian casualties took place in the ferocious firefight,” CENTCOM said. “The known possible civilian casualties appear to have been potentially caught up in aerial gunfire that was called in to assist U.S. forces in contact against a determined enemy that included armed women firing from prepared fighting positions and U.S. special operations members receiving fire from all sides, including from houses and other buildings.”

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans
An AH-1Z Cobra helicopter assigned to Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Squadron (HX) 21, based in Patuxent River, Md., Approaches the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rebekah Adler)

To get the SEALs out, elements of what the report called “an elite Special Operations air regiment,” likely referring to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also called the Nightstalkers. After retrieving the SEALs, the Nightstalkers intended to meet up with a Marine quick reaction force on MV-22 Ospreys to transfer the SEALs to the Makin Island, where the wounded could receive medical treatment.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans
A group of U.S. Navy SEALs clear a room during a no-light live-fire drill near San Diego. Naval Special Warfare reservists from a Combat Service Support unit attached to a West Coast-based Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) Team conducted a field training exercise based on principles from the expeditionary warfare community. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Stevenson/Released)

That meet-up went wrong. One of the V-22s made a “hard landing” – more akin to a crash – which ended up leaving three Marines injured.

In an interview with reporters Feb. 1, Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. John Davis said officials are still investigating what went wrong with the Osprey, adding his suspicion was that brown-out conditions might have played a role.

“They were going into a firefight at night.  … But what’s the good news? A lot of people don’t walk away from hard landings, and everybody walked away from this one,” Davis said. “There’s a Marine who kind of bumped his head, but everyone walked away.”

After evacuating the wounded, the inoperable tilt-rotor was destroyed by an AV-8B using a Joint Direct Attack Munition, according to officials who spoke with the Post. During that time, Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens died from his wounds.

A Department of Defense release noted that the operation was “one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen and worldwide. Similar operations have produced intelligence on al-Qa’ida logistics, recruiting and financing efforts.”

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Seen through the greenish glow of night vision goggles, Navy SEALs prepare to breach a locked door in Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Columbia Pictures’ hyper-realistic new action thriller from director Kathryn Bigelow, ZERO DARK THIRTY.

According to a report by FoxNews.com, President Trump attended the return of the remains of Chief Owens and had a private meeting with the fallen SEAL’s family during a two-hour visit.

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘The Terror: Infamy’ brings creepy supernatural folklore to WW2

The first season of The Terror centered around a failed British expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The second season of this horror anthology takes place in the (fictional) Colinas de Oro War Relocation Center, a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II.

Star Trek’s George Takei stars in the show and came aboard this season as a consultant.

“Set during World War II, the haunting and suspenseful second season of the horror-infused anthology The Terror: Infamy centers on a series of bizarre deaths that haunt a Japanese-American community, and a young man’s journey to understand and combat the malevolent entity responsible,” reads the official synopsis.


The Terror: Infamy Season 2 Trailer | Coming This August

www.youtube.com

Watch the trailer:

“Anywhere you go, it follows you,” warns George Takei’s Yamato-san, a community elder well-versed in its lore..

‘It’ being racism evil shapeshifting spirits that haunt at least three generations of a Japanese-American community in what is expected to be an eerie follow-up to a successful first season.

Takei was actually imprisoned in Japanese-American internment camps with his family during World War II. Since then, he has become a social rights activist; he came aboard the project to help ensure historical accuracy.

Also read: What life was like in an American concentration camp

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Nightmare fuel.

Screenshot from official trailer for ‘The Terror: Infamy’

The 10-episode season is co-created by Max Borenstein (Kong: Skull Island) and Alexander Woo (True Blood). The first season was praised for its supernatural suspense and currently has a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The second season will premiere on Monday, August 12 at 9/8c.


Articles

This museum sub may find new life as artificial reef

A submarine that just missed serving in World War II may soon find itself making one last dive off the coast of Florida.


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USS Clamagore as a GUPPY II. She was later converted into a GUPPY III, and is the last surviving vessel of that type. (US Navy photo)

According to WPTV.com, the Balao-class submarine USS Clamagore (SS 343) could be towed to a point off Palm Beach County and sunk as an artificial reef. The vessel is currently at the Patriot’s Point Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, along with the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV 10) and the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724).

According to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, the Clamagore is the only surviving GUPPY III-class submarine in the world. Nine GUPPY III-class submarines were built. According to a web page serving as a tribute to these diesel-electric submarines, most of the vessels modified under the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program were scrapped, sunk as targets, or sold to foreign countries.

The reason she is going to wind up becoming a reef? The report from WPTV states it is about money.

“The museum up in Charleston is losing money and they would really like to unload this as quickly as possible,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche told the TV station. The alternative to turning the 2,480-ton submarine into an artificial reef is to scrap her.

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USS Clamagore SS-343 at Charleston, South Carolina November 24, 2003. This is the only surviving GUPPY III diesel-electric submarine in the world. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“We wanted to honor the people that served on it, we wanted to honor the submarine service in general,” Valeche said.

Several organizations are trying to save the Clagamore for continued service as a museum. A 2012 FoxNews.com report indicated that at least $3 million was needed to repair the vessel.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what Elon Musk had to say at a Marine ball

Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a welcomed appearance at the 1st Marine Raider Battalion Ball and delivered a sobering speech that took many US Marines by surprise Nov. 3.


The 1st Marine Raider Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, California, is comprised of elite Marines under the command of Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the Marine Corps’ expeditionary force that typically operates in austere conditions.

Musk was invited to the event as a guest of honor because the Raiders wanted an “equally innovative” keynote speaker to honor the battalion on its birthday, a former Marine Raider commander who asked not to be named, told Business Insider. Around 400 people attended, including World War II veterans and Gold Star family members, the Marine Raider said.

Much like the secrecy of the Marine Raiders’ operations, Musk’s appearance at the event was closed to the press and kept low-key in order to “avoid a media frenzy,” the Marine Raider said.

Also Read: The Marines want self-repairing smart trucks

Like other branches of the military, formal military events are steeped in deep tradition. The Marine Corps, however, pride themselves in being a distinct group from the other branches, and their customs were reportedly noticed by Musk.

“You can tell he was a little nervous,” said Joe Musselman, the CEO of The Honor Foundation. “He was walking alongside the commanding officer of the 1st Raider Marine Battalion. You have this polished officer who’s walking in step to very traditional music.”

Musselman was invited to the event as the CEO of an organization that supports veterans.

As the Marine Raiders brought out a celebratory cake, the commanding officer of the battalion reportedly drew a sword.

“Elon kind of stepped back like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on. Why did you draw your sword at me,'” Musselman said.

The officer proceeded to serve Musk with the first piece of cake, using his sword to set it onto Musk’s plate.

“That’s intimidating for any person,” Musselman said. “A Marine Raider just served [Musk] a piece of cake off his sword. I don’t know if that was necessary in the scripts or the notes for Elon to review beforehand.”

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Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. (image OnInnovation Flickr)

‘The whole room, you could’ve heard a pin drop.’

As the guest of honor, Musk reportedly delivered the opening statement that appeared to make an impact to the group of elite Marines.

“I will never forget it; it set the tone for his entire talk,” Musselman said. “He said, ‘I wanted to come and speak to this group,’ and I get the chills even saying it, ‘Because whenever there’s danger in the world, you all are the first to go and die.”

Musk continued to say he had a great amount of respect for their service to the country, according to Musselman.

“And the whole room, you could’ve heard a pin drop,” Musselman said. “When he said that, the way he said it, it wasn’t prepared, there was no script. He was genuinely looking up in the air to find the words to say ‘Thank you for doing this for our country.'”

Following the speech, Musk offered some lessons he’s learned throughout his career in the Silicon Valley. One particular lesson he reportedly said was to always question authority — a trait that could be seen as counterintuitive to the military’s doctrine of strict obedience.

One Marine was said to have made light of the discrepancy, shouting, “You’re in the wrong room for that, sir,” and drew a few laughs.

Musk went on to discuss his companies’ involvement in the veteran community and emphasized Silicon Valley’s need for leadership and talent from veterans.

“It was quite a treat for us to have Mr. Musk,” the former Marine Raider commander said, “He [recognized] Marines and sailors would be one of the first ones in harms way.”

Also Read: Elite Marine Raiders were among those killed in tragic C-130 crash

MARSOC, a relatively new command compared to other special operations groups, was founded in 2006 to integrate Marines into the special operations community. Although media coverage of the special operations forces have largely centered on Navy SEALS and Green Berets, MARSOC Raiders have proven itself as a capable special operations force and screens its applicants as rigorously as other branches — with around 120 applicants graduating from its individual training course each year.

Articles

Air Force announces first 30 enlisted drone pilots

The first 30 board-selected enlisted airmen will begin training to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, the Air Force announced Wednesday.


The service’s inaugural Enlisted Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot Selection Board picked two senior master sergeants, five master sergeants, nine technical sergeants, 14 staff sergeants and five alternates from about 200 active-duty applicants from various job assignments, according to a release.

Related: 6 ways to use those retired Predator drones

“These 30 Airmen join the Enlisted RPA Pilot program along with the 12 other Airmen from the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class, four of whom started training in October 2016,” it states. “The Air Force plans for the number of enlisted RPA pilots to grow to 100 within four years.”

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Tech. Sgt. William, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing sensor operator, flies a simulated mission June 10, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. The 432nd WG trains and deploys MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircrews in support of global operations 24/7/365. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen/Released)

The selection board met in February to deliberate and choose from 185 active-duty enlisted airmen who made it past an initial qualifying phase of the program. Airmen holding rank from staff sergeant through senior master sergeant and having six years of retainability from course graduation date were considered for the board, the release said. Those considered also had to complete the Air Force’s initial flying class II physical examination, plus a pilot qualification test.

Two airmen from the board are expected to begin the Initial Flight Training program at Colorado’s Pueblo Memorial Airport by April, Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson told Military.com last month. Subsequently, two enlisted airmen will be part of each class thereafter throughout this fiscal year and into early next fiscal year, Dickerson said.

Also read: Here’s how bad the Air Force’s pilot shortage really is

The Air Force announced in 2015 it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft.

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U.S. Air Force photo

The AFPC said in November that 305 active-duty enlisted airmen had been identified to apply for the selection board. The center saw a surge of interest from potential RPA airmen during the application process that began last year, AFPC said at the time. It received more than 800 applicants, compared to a typical 200 applicants.

The Air Force said its next call for nominations for the 2018 enlisted RPA pilot selection board is scheduled for next month, the release said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what happens when your Delta Force squadmate is also a cartoonist

Master Sergeant George Hand U.S. Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

Officer: “Guys, if this job were easy monkeys could do it.”
NCO: “Yeah, and if monkeys could do it… then we wouldn’t need officers.”


When I was stationed with Special Forces Dive Academy in Key West Florida as an instructor, I took to immortalizing events as I witnessed them in person: the good, the bad, the smart, the stupid, and always the funny. Heck, as a cartoonist I could always make events funny even if they weren’t; that’s just what a cartoonist does.

The beauty of being the cartoonist is that I got to choose the events that were going to get the attention. Sure, guys could come up and present their ideas to me and plead their case, but if I didn’t like it I simply could… ignore it! It was easy to become intoxicated with power.

I carried the tradition with me to the Delta Force. I anonymously hung my first cartoon in the day room to test the waters. The sterling response from the pipe-hitters meant I could claim my work, and I kept a working log of my cartoons in a binder on the bar in our squadron lounge titled: A-Squadron Tymz.

Most of the guys loved being featured in the Squadron Tymz and roared with laughter at their plight or praise. Others lamented their incidental turn to be in the book. I consoled them in all seriousness:

“Brother, you’re looking at this all wrong… you WANT to be in the book; everyone should WANT to be in it because you are then immortalized for all time!” They thought that the book was a record of their mistakes but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I really am quite certain that piece of cheerleading in earnest gifted them peace of mind, and none of the features I added to the book were ever in poor taste. Brothers from the other squadrons tended to mosey over to our break room to have a casual gander at the latest cartoons and beg the backstory from any standers-by. Other squadrons even began to keep their own versions of my Squadron Tymz.

As for the back story of the featured cartoon, there are two parts depicting events that both happened on the same assault on a complex target objective. My assault team was designated to move in behind an initial ground floor clearing team. Once they cleared that ground floor of threats using assault weapons and flash-bang grenades, my team was to flow through quickly to the stairs and gain access to the top floor.

All went particularly well, if I may brag; assault rifles belched smoke, fire, lead, and hate as bangers thundered smashing out glass in the window pains and tearing holes through gypsum wall boarding. Calls rang out:

“CLEAR,” “CLEAR HERE,” “ALL CLEAR,”!!

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The condemned and abandoned target subject (left side)

Each of the guys on my team peered out and down the hall where our bro Guido had just swaggered out of a room and stood in the middle of the hall where you weren’t ever supposed to stop and stand. It was time for Guido-style post-assault levity as we had become accustomed to it. He stood with his rifle on his hip like a duck hunter, other hand on hip, head cocked to the side and stated in his best cool-guy voice.

“I think there’s something you guys don’t realized but need to know right now, and that is that this top floor is now officially… CLEAR!”

With that, the floor under his feet creaked and sagged, and Guido went instantly crashing through the floor of the old condemned building. His body fell roughly to its waist then jammed in the hole. On the floor below, startled men cursed as a half-dozen little red dots from visible lasers danced across his kicking legs.

We dashed to extract him. He cried out as we tugged and pulled him finally through the hole in the floor. Once out we headed back downstairs, Guido limping heavily. He had tweaked his hip in the fall, an injury we all insisted for days was actually his ass, a notion that he strenuously objected too at every opportunity.

Outside a car sped away with three more assaulters who had blocked the road leading to the target during the assault. Once we reported the objective secured, the men intended to push out farther away from the target to provide more advance notice to the assault force of approaching vehicles.

The vehicle they were in was purchased by the Unit from a local car dealer, and in need of repair, and fixed up by our crack mechanic shop. It was known by us all to have mushy breaks. As the driver, Jester, came up fast on the second security position in the dark he chose to right-leg break the car to a definitive stop, but didn’t have time to warn his riders.

As the car screeched to a halt, passenger Chainsaw came flying off his vinyl seat and slammed his head into and shattered the windshield. Poor Chainsaw… as Jester describes: “The brother is an accident magnet,” and indeed that may well be, as Chainsaw wrecked a motorcycle his first week in squadron plunging the kickstand through one of his calves.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans
The accident magnet Chainsaw in this exaggerated version is launched through the windshield as the Jester laments: “What have I done” in German.

Later he was blown up by the premature detonation of an explosive breaching charge. He is famous in the Unit for taking a .45 caliber ACP bullet to the forehead and surviving. The bullet struck his head at a shallow angle and bounced off just above his hairline. It snapped his neck back, injuring it, but otherwise he was ok. Only in the shower when his hair was wet could you see the .45 bullet-shaped scar on his scalp.

Sadly, Chainsaw was hit again in the head by an HK G3 rifle at the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. This time he was gravely injured and still suffers to this day from that head wound. We two remain friends on Facebook, catching up and busting chops just like in the day.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans
7.62 x 51 (NATO) Heckler and Koch (HK) G3 rifle

“How’s your ass, Guido?”

“I told you guys it’s my hip… my hip is what is injured; not my ass!”

“Ok, whatever you say, Guido… you take care of that ass, ya hear?”

“I TOLD you it’s not my ASS!”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha… sure thing, Guido.” And so it went.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans
MIGHTY TRENDING

Everybody involved in that dino puppet reenlistment video just got fired

In the worst military overreaction since the Faber College ROTC pledge pin incident of 1962, the Tennessee National Guard’s adjutant general announced April 18, 2018, that everyone involved in a recent viral video of a kooky reenlistment ceremony would have their careers wrecked, because that’s how you honor our military traditions, dammit.


The controversy revolved around an Air National Guard master sergeant in the Volunteer State who took her oath of reenlistment with a tyrannosaurus rex hand puppet mouthing her words. The internet being the internet, video of the ceremony got around, and some watchers decided it just wasn’t in keeping with the highest traditions of service… unlike all that readily available online imagery of service members reenlisting as imperial stormtroopers; at gunpoint; underwater; in gas chambers; in GameStops; or with rigged-up explosions behind them.

This soldier collected 500 pairs of sandals for barefoot orphans

Unlike all those clearly well-intentioned, lighthearted reenlistments, this sinister dino-puppet thing “goes against our very foundation,” according to the Air National Guard’s commanding general. That grave assessment led to this not-at-all bonkers Facebook post from Maj. Gen. Terry M. Haston, the Tennessee Guard’s top cheese, announcing that the master sergeant with the puppet, the colonel who administered the oath to her, and the NCO who acted as cameraman are all fucked, absolutely and utterly fucked (emphasis added):

I am absolutely embarrassed that a senior officer and a senior NCO took such liberties with a time-honored military tradition. The Tennessee National Guard holds the Oath of Enlistment in the highest esteem because that oath signifies every service member’s commitment to defend our state, nation and the freedoms we all enjoy. Not taking this oath solemnly and with the utmost respect is firmly against the traditions and sanctity of our military family and will not be tolerated…
Over the past few days, the leadership of the Tennessee National Guard has conducted a thorough investigation of the event with the following results:
The Colonel (O-6) administering the oath was immediately retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (O-5).
The Senior NCO taking the oath has been removed from her full-time position with the Tennessee Joint Public Affairs Office and other administrative actions are underway.
The Senior NCO who recorded the event has been removed from his position as a unit First Sergeant and has received an official reprimand, but will be retained in the Tennessee Air National Guard…

Let’s get this straight: A colonel was reduced in rank and sent packing, a senior enlisted leader who was reupping is now being drummed out, and the dude with the camera lost his billet and career momentum. Because of a dinosaur hand puppet.

Articles

Veterans (and the VA) are playing a key role in the war against cancer

Veterans are likely to play a significant part in what has been called “the Moon shot” in cancer research — the plan announced by President Barack Obama last week for a cancer fight effort to equal the country’s determination to put a man on the moon during the 1960s.


Fittingly, the veterans’ role in the cancer Moon shot, as well as in scores of other research projects into illnesses that impact vets and non-vets alike, will be doing something they were prepared to do back in their active duty days: shed some blood.

“When they realize that this could help other veterans most of them volunteer right away” when asked, VA Secretary Bob McDonald said during a visit to the VA Medical Center in Boston on Friday, when he toured the lab and growing biorepository.

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Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jeremy L. Grisham | U.S. Navy

The VA project, called the Million Veterans Program, predates the cancer Moon shot by six years. Its goal is to collect blood samples — and with it the DNA — of at least a million veterans, and use it to research illnesses, including at the genetic level.

“This is fascinating what they’re doing here,” McDonald said. “The whole role of genomics will be huge in, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted you to see this, because I think the work of the Million Veteran Project underscores the importance of genomics in the Moon Shot in eradicating cancer.”

It is veteran-centric, for sure, and already is being used in alpha and beta projects that focus on veteran issues, according to the VA.

The veterans’ blood samples, informed by medical health records that, depending on the veteran, may go back 20 or more years, could hold the key to understanding causes and discovering treatments and cures for myriad illnesses. The VA is looking at some 750,000 genetic markers that medical researchers believe could be linked to illnesses that plague veterans, ranging from cancers to heart disease, kidney disease to post-traumatic stress disorder.

To date, the effort has collected close to 445,000 vials of blood, each one spun in a centrifuge prior to storing to divide red cells, white cells and plasma. The vials are kept in an oversized refrigeration unit within a lab at the hospital.

Although the project name suggests it will store a million samples, it will continue to grow the biorepository as long as there is funding support and vets who volunteer.  There is storage space for several million samples. During a tour of the lab, McDonald climbed a ladder to look into the storage site, where a robotic arm, kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius, plucked newly deposited vials one at a time from small containers and moved them into trays that were then automatically transferred into the unit and stored at minus 80 degrees Celsius.

“When I do my recruiting speech to try to attract people to VA, this is exactly the issue — come be on the cutting edge, the tip of the spear [in medical research] that can make a difference in so many people’s lives,” McDonald said.

The department has spent about $130 million on the program since it began laying the foundation for it in 2010. Its nearly 445,000 samples have come from nearly 245,000 veterans. It currently is getting in about 100,000 samples per year, which means it will hit the million mark around 2022.

They hope the speed that up by opening the program to active-duty personnel. The VA estimates that would add an additional 25,000 samples a year to the collection and perhaps allow them to reach one million by 2020, said Dr. Mary Brophy, director of the biorepository.

Because the donations are for research purposes, neither the VA nor the Defense Department can simply request use of a veteran’s or service member’s blood for the project.

Donors — strictly veterans right now — may volunteer for the project at a number of VA sites across the country. In signing up, they are told their blood and medical information will be shared with researchers and that they may not benefit directly or immediately from any of the research.

But their identities are masked on the samples, so that researchers do not know whose blood or DNA they are working with. For its part, the VA does retain a link between the sample code and the veteran so that changes in health or long-term effects of drugs and medications can be incorporated into the veteran’s research profile.

While Britain began building its own biorepository before the U.S. and currently has more samples –about 500,000 — the VA is quickly catching up and will pass that number.

It’s not only because the veterans have volunteered in such large numbers, but because VA has been able to build the computing capacity to handle the data.

“It’s not just the samples, it’s the informatics platform. The reason VA can do that better than anyone … is that we have an electronic health record,” she said. “We have the health record already in a data base, and it’s been around for 20-30 years.”

The British Health System — it does not have a separate system for veterans – is largely decentralized, with many medical records still in paper form and residing in doctor’s offices across the country.

Not only has an existing data base of electronic records and a willing veteran population allowed VA to rapidly build its biorepository, it has already provided the VA enough samples and data to launch several research studies of benefit to veterans.

The projects include cardiovascular risk factors among African American and Hispanic Americans, to determine how genes influence obesity and lipid levels affect the heart; an examination of genetic risk from chronic use of alcohol, tobacco and opioids; and a study into how genes affect the risk and progression of kidney disease — a major risk factor for veterans, according to researchers.

The biorepository is essentially one-stop shopping for a specific patient cohort and control group for any research institution wanting to investigate an illness or try out a new drug, according to Brophy.

“If I want to do a study in Gulf War Illness, before I would have to go out and find all these patients with Gulf War Illness, do it myself, Then get the samples, store it and send it out” to research lab, she said. The biorepository eliminates those time-consuming steps, she said, by making VA the go-to place for medical researchers.

Now, she said, if a research lab needs 5,000 patients with Gulf War Illness, it can get that cohort from the VA, as well as a control group without Gulf War Illness.

“The infrastructure is there to do key PTSD research, Gulf War Illness research. The hard work of getting people together, knowing who has Gulf War Illness [is done],” she said.

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