VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide - We Are The Mighty
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VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide

VA is partnering with four technology organizations — CaringBridge, IBM, Objective Zero Foundation, and RallyPoint — that share VA’s commitment to preventing veteran suicide. These organizations are working with VA to promote social connectedness and expand the reach of lifesaving resources using mobile applications and online platforms.

“Partnerships are a vital component of the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which we are implementing at the national, state, and local levels,” said Dr. Keita Franklin, executive director, suicide prevention, for VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. “Our goal is to prevent suicide among veterans nationwide and across the globe, reaching even those who do not, and may never, come to VA for care. To do that, we are working closely with dozens of important partners across sectors to expand our reach beyond VA facility walls, to deliver care and support to at-risk veterans wherever they live, work, and thrive.”


As identified in the national strategy, engaging community partners in the technology sector is an important component of VA’s public health approach to suicide prevention. While each of our technology partners offers their own unique services, they all use technology to help service members and veterans get the care they need whenever and wherever they need it.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Clayton Cupit)

CaringBridge

CaringBridge is a global nonprofit social network dedicated to helping family and friends communicate with and support loved ones during any health journey through the use of free personal websites. A CaringBridge website can be used to share updates and coordinate support for service members, veterans, their caregivers and families during any health journey including mental health and substance use. While enhancing social connectedness, CaringBridge also allows its users to conduct personal fundraisers. Through the partnership with VA and CaringBridge, a tailored destination page www.caringbridge.org/military-service/ to directly focus on the needs of Service members, veterans, caregivers and their families is now available.

IBM

IBM and VA launched a collaborative suicide prevention program to develop an innovative mobile application currently under development titled GRIT (Getting Results In Transition). GRIT demonstrates how the real-time and consistent collection of personalized data can help service members and veterans understand and strengthen their emotional well-being and resiliency — particularly during the transition from active duty to civilian life. GRIT allows users to create a digital self and gain personal insight into their personality baseline, provides access to a digital assistant powered by IBM Watson, helps to build a squad of social connection and offers employment matching and fulfillment capabilities using IBM Watson Employment Manager among other resources to support the transition out of the military.

Objective Zero Foundation

Objective Zero Foundation is a nonprofit organization that uses technology to enhance social connectedness and improve access to mental health resources. The Objective Zero mobile application connects service members, veterans, their families, and caregivers to peer support through videoconferencing, voice calls, and text messaging. Users also get free access to resources on mental health and wellness. Volunteer ambassadors sign up for the application, receive training including VA’s own A.V.E. training “Signs,” “Ask,” “Validate,” and “Encourage and Expedite,”— course to then be on the receiving end of those in need of connecting. Objective Zero aims to be more upstream than the Veterans Crisis Line and allows service members, veterans their families and caregivers to both volunteer and connect to others when they need it most. You can download the free Objective Zero mobile application at https://www.objectivezero.org/app.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide

(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

RallyPoint

RallyPoint is a social networking company designed to gather service members and veterans connect with each other, discuss military life, share information and exchange stories. The platform is now open for families, caregivers and federal employees of service members and veterans. Users can build out their own professional network, share resources, connect with other members of the military and veterans in a safe, secure social media environment. Career opportunities and resources, active community discussions and increasing social connectedness with over 1 million users is free, ready and available at www.rallypoint.com/.

“VA will not stop working to prevent veteran suicide, but we can’t do it alone. Everyone has a role to play in preventing Veteran suicide,” Franklin said. “VA’s partnerships in the technology sector enhance social connectedness and expand the reach of VA’s suicide prevention resources through these technology platforms. We are working with partners in the technology space and other sectors to ensure we reach all Veterans with lifesaving resources and support.”

The health and well-being of our nation’s veterans and former service members is VA’s highest priority. Guided by data and research, VA is working with partners, veterans’ family members and friends, and the community to ensure that all veterans and former service members get the right care whenever they need it — regardless of their discharge status. To learn about the resources available for veterans and how you can #BeThere as a VA employee, family member, friend, community partner, or clinician, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/resources.asp.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How VR has helped prosecute a Nazi guard

There’s a common refrain in Germany, “This is the last Nazi trial.” The country keeps striving to hold Nazis from World War II, especially those who worked in concentration camps, accountable for their crimes against the world and against those Europeans that the Third Reich deemed undesirable. But as many camps were dismantled after the war and survivors of the camps are dying of old age, it’s hard to collect evidence against individuals for crimes perpetrated in the 1930s and 40s.


But now, forensic virtual reality is helping jury members and judges see exactly what crime scenes, including concentration camps, looked like, and that’s helping German prosecutors go after former concentration camp guards and staff. This could allow Germany to assign culpability to perpetrators of the Holocaust until the last accomplice has died.

How Virtual Reality Helps Catch Nazis

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Take the case of Reinhold Hanning. He was, undeniably, a guard at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. During Hanning’s time at the camp, 170,000 people were killed, most of them Jewish, most of them in gas chambers. As an SS sergeant, Hanning would likely have been involved in the “selection” process, where some prisoners were sent to the chambers and some to hard labor.

But prosecutors had to prove that Hanning was involved in that process or that he knew the process resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. It wasn’t enough to prove that he was at the camp. It wasn’t enough to prove that he worked there. They had to prove that he knew his actions contributed to murder.

If that was proven, he could be convicted as an accomplice to 170,000 murders. But, how do you prove that he must have known about the gas chambers and that he must have known what the results of their use were? After all, he claimed that he had never seen a prisoner gassed and that he didn’t know people were being killed.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide

Prisoners in advanced state of starvation in a concentration camp liberated by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Sergeant Lucien Lapierre of the New Brunswick North Shore Regiment.

(Donald I. Grant, Library and Archives Canada)

And, nearly all the records from the time have been lost or destroyed. And most of the camp was either torn down or has fallen apart in the years since World War II. While some concentration camps survive today, that is because they’ve been maintained as museums and memorials to the atrocities. The camps were not designed or constructed to last 100 years.

But prosecutors had a modern tool in their arsenal for prosecuting murderers and other criminals in the modern day: forensic virtual reality. Experts went to crime scenes and imaged the site with lasers, digitally recreating the area in 3D down to the blood splatters on the walls. Prosecutors asked the experts if they could recreate a concentration camp, instead.

Engineers turned to maps of the camp and compared those to measurements taken over four days at what remains of Auschwitz. Then members of the jury and the court were given VR headsets and a tour of the camp, complete with the views from the areas where Hanning lived and worked.

If Hanning could see how the selection process sent people to the gas chambers to die, then the jury could convict. And when the jury saw Hanning’s views from the tower, it became clear that he must have known that the camp was used to kill people, that his actions contributed to that, and that his actions allowed it to continue.

Hanning was found guilty, thanks to a digital recreation of a long-lost site. It should be noted, though, that he appealed this decision and that he died while his case was on appeal. In the German system, that means his case ended on appeal; it did not end with a standing conviction.

But VR could help prosecutors make other convictions in the coming years for the atrocities of World War II, so the last Nazi prosecution might not come until the last Nazi accomplice has died.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Marines’ Toys for Tots helped spread holiday cheer

‘Twas several days after Christmas when the retired Marine marched box after box of new toys into the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office.


He was soon joined by two deputies who helped him unload — not a sleigh, but a station wagon — that was piled end-to-end with donated toys.

Inside were Star Wars and Avengers action figures, science projects, remote control toys, a fossil excavation kit, and three boxes of popular Hess toy trucks, among other visible items.

The toys had been collected as part of the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots campaign and were being delivered by Jack Sparling, a representative of the Marine Corps Coordinating Council of Rochester, who was playing the role of Santa Claus.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Christopher Green)

“We’re here to help out wherever we can, whether before or after the holidays. It doesn’t matter,” Sparling said.

And while the holidays may have passed, the Jan. 4 delivery to the Sheriff’s Office will help make any season bright for area children.

“If there’s a house fire, a death, something tragic or unfortunate, we can provide something for the child,” said Deputy Mike Didas, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office community policing initiatives. “It’s not just at Christmas; unfortunately, kids and families can face a crisis at any time.”

The donated toys will help with the Sheriff’s Office’s own Operation Christmas and officials will also alert other fire, ambulance, and emergency services that toys are available. Beyond Christmas season efforts, the toys help reassure children and give them hope that even in a crisis or other difficult situation things can improve.

Shelly Read, a Department of Social Services school-based preventative caseworker at Livonia Central School for the Department of Social Services, was picking up several toys for a family that had suffered a devastating home fire right after Christmas.

The Toys for Tots program, in conjunction with other school organizations and many volunteers, had also collaborated on a Santa’s Workshop-style event at Livonia before the holidays.

“It’s set up so nicely with cookies, hot chocolate, and decorations so it’s a really fun experience for the whole family,” Read said.

Also Read: This is why Toys for Tots is so important to the Corps

This year, the program served 66 families and 111 children just in Livonia.

The school-based program works closely with Toys for Tots and shares names and ages to pull together a positive experience.

It’s similar to the effort of Operation Christmas in which school resource officers and other school officials provide names to the program, which Deputy Kerry Ann Wood from the corrections division helps coordinate.

Some names are also provided directly to the Sheriff’s Office.

“For some people, they may not be able to afford toys for the children,” said Didas.

The Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program is coordinated nationwide by the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation based in Quantico, Va. Some 800 campaigns take place nationally.

Sparling’s group serves nine counties — distributing 35,000 toys to 17,000 families in its most recent Toys for Tots effort — and has been active in Livingston County for the past four years.

They would like to do more, he said.

The Toys for Tots boxes begin appearing in September but it is really a year-round effort, said Sparling.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
A U.S. Marine takes donations for Toys for Tots in the days following Hurricane Katrina (Photo from FEMA)

“A lot of companies are very generous. We get great numbers of donations,” he said, noting that warehouse space for the toys is donated.

The Coordinating Council itself serves a region that runs from Syracuse to Buffalo and Erie, Pa. The organization helps active and reserve Marines who encounter financial difficulties, such as missing car payments or rent. Those that may need mental or physical assistance are directed to the agencies that can best serve them. The Council often gets referrals from law enforcement agencies and veterans outreach organizations.

The Coordinating Council also hosts family days offering food and fun for reservists, family and friends; scholarships and the Marine Corps birthday ball.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This cockpit video shows the moment two Navy Tomcats shot down Libyan MiGs

One of the more constant sources of action for the United States Navy in the 1980s was the Gulf of Sidra.


On three occasions, “freedom of navigation” exercises turned into violent encounters, an operational risk that all such exercises have. The 1989 incident where two F-14 Tomcats from VF-32, based on board the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) is very notable – especially since the radio communications and some of the camera footage was released at the time.

 

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Todd Frantom via Wikimedia Commons

 

In 1981, two Su-22 Fitters had fired on a pair of Tomcats. The F-14s turned around and blasted the Fitters out of the sky. Five years later, the Navy saw several combat engagements with Libyan navy assets and surface-to-air missile sites.

 

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide

 

In the 1989 incident, the Tomcats made five turns to try to avoid combat, according to TheAviationist.com. The Floggers insisted, and ultimately, the Tomcat crews didn’t wait for hostile fire.

Like Han Solo at the Mos Eisley cantina, they shot first.

 

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
An air-to-air right side view of a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger-G aircraft with an AA-7 Apex air-to-air missile attached to the outer wing pylon and an AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missile on the inner wing pylon. (From Soviet Military Power 1985)

So, here is the full video of the incident – from the time contact was acquired to when the two Floggers went down.

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Here’s how Hollywood turns actors into military operators

Filmmakers would love just to pick up a camera, press record, and film the most realistic performances from their hired actors. In many cases that is considered possible (after a few takes), but not when you’re dealing with military-based movies. Winning over the veteran audiences is a struggle; comments about how Hollywood “got it wrong” tend to start flying as the end credits roll.


Veterans critique the hell out of any movie that contains our troops — most of the time they have issues with uniforms and tactics. Face it — we have every right to.

Check Out: 7 reasons why ‘Top Gun’ made you want to become a fighter pilot

However, there are a few films out there (like “Platoon,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “Blackhawk Down”) that, for the most part, won over even those tough-to-reach veterans. That’s not to say they didn’t have their fair share of issues, but they had well-written scripts supported by research and outstanding technical advisors.

Since replicating the real-life grittiness of war is next to impossible, it’s the technical advisor’s job to train the actors on how to make their combat maneuvering authentic and feel like they’re really in the thick of battle. That means putting the cast through some extreme training scenarios before heading to set.

So check out how these advisors turned their actors into military operators:

1. “Platoon”

In 1986’s “Platoon” directed by Vietnam Veteran Oliver Stone, retired Marine Captain Dale Dye took his cast of actors into the jungle, 85 miles away from all communications with only an entrenching tool so they could acquire a thousand yard stare.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
Marine veteran Capt. Dye stands with actors Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Mark Moses on the set of “Platoon” deep in the Philippines jungle (Source: Orion Pictures | Screenshot)

2. “Saving Private Ryan”

Capt. Dye would repeat a similar practice for director Steven Spielberg in 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” as he led the A-list cast on a six-day field training exercise, conducting land nav, physical training, and weapons training just to name a few.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
Tom Hanks (left) stands with Capt. Dye (right) on the set of “Saving Private Ryan” (Source: Dream Works | Screenshot)

3. “Black Hawk Down”

Not all movies use this method to nail the combatant mind-set.

In 2001’s “Black Hawk Down,” producers chose a different approach by sending actors such as Josh Harnett, Ewan McGregor, and Orlando Bloom on a civilian mission to Fort Benning to attend a crash course orientation class of intense physical training, intro to demolition, and ground fighting led by the elite Army Rangers.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
The cast of Black Hawk Down receives a few some words of instruction before raiding an M.O.U.T. or Military Operations Urban Terrain. War Games! (Source: Sony | Screenshot)

The cast also got to listen to words from the veterans of the Mogadishu raid, including Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Durant, who is famously known for piloting one of the Black Hawks that was shot down during the raid and was taken prisoner but was released 11 days later.

Comment below on how you’d like to see Hollywood represent your branch of service.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China warns foreign ships: ‘steer clear or you will pay’

The US Navy and regional allies have reportedly noticed an increase in Chinese radio queries to foreign ships and planes operating in the South China Sea — some said to be less than friendly, and others actually threatening.

“Leave immediately,” Chinese forces in the disputed Spratly Islands warned in early 2018 when a Philippine military aircraft flew close to a Chinese outpost, The Associated Press reported July 31, 2018, citing a new Philippine government report.


“Philippine military aircraft, I am warning you again, leave immediately or you will pay the possible consequences,” the report said the Chinese forces threatened soon after, according to the AP.

In the latter half of 2017, Philippine military aircraft patrolling near contested territories received at least 46 Chinese radio warnings, the government report says, according to the AP. While these warnings have traditionally been delivered by Chinese coast guard units, they’re now thought to be broadcast by personnel stationed at military outposts in the South China Sea, the news agency reported.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide

US Navy destroyers.

(US Navy photo)

“Our ships and aircraft have observed an increase in radio queries that appear to originate from new land-based facilities in the South China Sea,” Cmdr. Clay Doss, a representative for the US 7th Fleet, told the AP.

“These communications do not affect our operations,” he added, noting that when communications with foreign militaries are unprofessional, “those issues are addressed by appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”

The Philippine military tends to carry on with its activities. “They do that because of their claim to that area, and we have a standard response and proceed with what we’re doing,” Philippine air force chief Lt. Gen. Galileo Gerard Rio Kintanar Jr. told the AP.

Though an international arbitration tribunal sought to discredit China’s claims to the South China Sea two years ago, China has continued to strengthen its position in the flashpoint region.

In recent months, China has deployed various defense systems — such as jamming technology, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, and even heavy bombers — to the South China Sea, leading US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in June 2018 to accuse China of “intimidation and coercion” in the waterway.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide

An EA-18G Growler takes off from a flight deck .

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Ethan J. Soto)

Beijing, however, argues that it has a right to defend its sovereign territory, especially considering the increased frequency of US Navy freedom-of-navigation operations in the area; it has conducted more than half a dozen since the start of the Trump administration.

Despite Chinese warnings and objections, the US military has repeatedly made clear that it will maintain an active military presence in the South China Sea.

“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told the AP in February 2018.

The US military has also expressed confidence in its ability to deal with China’s military outposts in the region should the situation escalate.

“The United States military has had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific taking down small islands,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, told reporters in Ma 2018, adding: “It’s just a fact.”

In early 2018 the US disinvited China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy from participating in 2018’s iteration of the multilateral Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises, citing what it characterized as alarming Chinese activities in the South China Sea. The Philippines has at least twice raised the issue of radio warnings with Beijing, the AP reported July 31, 2018.

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

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The 30th woman to attempt Marines’ Infantry Officer Course is dropped

A female Marine officer was dropped from the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course when she failed to complete a ruck march for the second time. The unidentified Marine was the 30th woman to attempt the course. Two male officers dropped out during the same ruck march.


VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
A female Marine goes through infantry training in Germany. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps by Sgt. Tyler L. Main)

All three officers will move to the Marines Awaiting Training Platoon and will be able to restart training in July, according to Marine Corps spokesman Anton Semelroth.

While this is the 30th female Marine to drop out of training, she will be the first to be allowed to re-attempt the course. Only officers seeking an infantry MOS are allowed to restart the course. Previous female candidates were destined for non-infantry jobs and so were not allowed to repeat.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
Marine Corps officers in the Infantry Officer Course. Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

While women have made it through other challenging U.S. courses like the U.S. Army Ranger School and the Marine Corps’ enlisted infantry training, Marine Corps IOC has consistently stopped them. So far, only two women have even made it to the second week of the training.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus maintains that the standards will not be dropped so that women can make it through the course.

“I will never lower standards,” Mabus said.  “Let me repeat that: Standards will not be lowered for any group! Standards may be changed as circumstances in the world change, but they’ll be changed for everybody.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how military service was honored at Super Bowl LII

It’s no surprise that troops love football and this year’s Super Bowl showed the military some love right back. Nearly everything, from the pre-show to the coin toss to the USAA Salute to Service Lounge, showed appreciation and respect to all those who have and are currently serving our nation.


Here are the highlights:

7th Annual NFL Honors

The night before the big game, Marine Corps veteran and comedian Rob Riggle hosted the 7th annual NFL Honors. Throughout his opening monologue, where he took priceless jabs at players, he wore an Honor Ring on his right index finger. The 22Kill Honor Ring is a black band, worn on the index finger, and a symbol of support and empowerment for the all military veterans seeking mental health treatment.

It serves as a reminder to us all of the estimated 18-22 veterans who commit suicide every day. While there is hope — these numbers are in decline — the ring Rob Riggle wore shows that the mission will continue until that number reaches zero.

Related: Rob Riggle doubled-down on his USMC service while clearing rubble at Ground Zero

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
Thankfully for everyone involved, Riggle kept his “Lt. Col. Knifehand” sheathed. (Screengrab via NFL YouTube)

2017 Salute to Service Award

At the Gala, a panel of prior recipients and USAA members recognized members of the NFL community for their contributions to the Armed Forces.

This year’s recipient of the 2017 Salute to Service Award is Andre Roberts, wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. Roberts is the son of two Army veterans and played for The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. He was recognized for his many visits to VA hospitals, off-season travel to military installations, and his dedication to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). His coach, Dan Quinn, received the award last year.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
Roberts also enjoys playing football with his fellow military kids during ProCamp events. (Photo by Sgt. Steven Lopez, 40th Public Affairs Detachment)

The National Anthem

American singer-songwriter Pink performed a beautiful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner and was accompanied by The President’s Own United States Marine Band and the Joint Service Color Guard from the Military District of Washington. The Philadelphia native came down with the flu earlier in the day, but she still channeled her inner Whitney Houston.

The most impressive addition to the National Anthem was flyover by the United States Air Force Heritage Flight. The Heritage Flight serves as the Air Force’s demonstration team and performs breathtaking maneuvers all across the country. This time, it was over the frigid Minneapolis sunset. All this and every single player stood with their hand over their heart.

 

Coin Toss

The coin toss is a prestigious ceremony that is often reserved for presidents, NFL Hall of Fame players, and other such famous guests. This year, the toss was performed by Woody Williams, a WWII Marine who acted with extreme valor at the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was accompanied by fourteen other Medal of Honor recipients — ten from the Vietnam War and four from the Global War on Terrorism.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said,

The NFL is proud to honor our Nation’s heroes at Super Bowl LII. These courageous individuals deserve to be recognized on America’s biggest stage. We are grateful for their service to our country and we are pleased to continue the NFL’s longstanding tradition of hosting special tributes to service members at the Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots won the coin toss and deferred to the Philadelphia Eagles — it was time to play.

 

Man of the year @jjwatt! True class!

A post shared by Florent Groberg , Cpt (Ret) (@florent.groberg) on Feb 4, 2018 at 2:26pm PST

New Marine Corps Ad

Even those who don’t care about sports still tuned in for the commercials. While everyone waited for the newest Star Wars and Avengers commercials, for the first time in 30 years, the USMC surprised viewers by airing its newest Marine Corps recruitment commercial during the Super Bowl — you might’ve missed it, though.

The ad didn’t air on television, but rather to everyone viewing from a computer or mobile device. Since most views between 18 and 24 intake most of their content through the internet as opposed to television, it was targeted perfectly to prospective recruits.

Also Read: US Army recruitment campaigns, ranked from worst to best

(YouTube | Marine OCS Blog)

USAA Salute to Service Lounge

USAA teamed up with the NFL to offer current former military members discounted tickets to the Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The experience was an interactive NFL theme park that completely filled a 30,000-foot retail space. As part of this massive event, USAA invited current military, veterans, and their families to visit an exclusive Salute to Service Military Appreciation Lounge on Saturday.

USAA’s Salute to Service Lounge was the only stop of its kind during the entire Super Bowl weekend, allowing those who came by the chance to meet some of their favorite NFL personalities, get signed memorabilia, and listen to NFL stars talk about their experiences in football and with the military.


MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army created a new, safe vaccine for the Zika virus

Three Phase-1 human clinical trials evaluating an Army-developed Zika purified inactivated virus vaccine, known as a ZPIV, have shown it was safe and well-tolerated in healthy adults and induced a robust immune response. Initial findings from the trials were published early in December in the medical journal “The Lancet.”


Each of the three studies included in the paper was designed to address a unique question about background immunity, vaccine dose or vaccination schedule. A fourth trial with ZPIV is still underway in Puerto Rico, where the population has natural exposure to other viruses in the same family as Zika (flaviviruses), such as dengue.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

“It is imperative to develop a vaccine that prevents severe birth defects and other neurologic complications in babies caused by Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, WRAIR’s Director for Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Zika program co-lead and the article’s lead author. “These results give us hope that a safe and effective vaccine will be achievable.”

Across the three trials, a total of 67 healthy adult volunteers (55 vaccine, 12 placebo) received two vaccine injections, four weeks apart. Researchers measured the immune response by monitoring levels of Zika virus-neutralizing antibodies in the blood. More than 90% of volunteers who received the vaccine developed an immune response against Zika.

Read More: Here’s what US troops should do if they’re worried about Zika

“Not only is the development of a Zika vaccine a global public health priority, but it is also necessary to protect Service Members and their families,” said Col. Nelson Michael, director of WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program and Zika program co-lead.

The ZPIV vaccine candidate was developed as part of the U.S. Department of Defense response to the 2015 outbreak of Zika virus in the Americas. WRAIR researchers conceived the ZPIV vaccine in February 2016 and were able to advance the candidate to a Phase 1 human trial by November of the same year.

“WRAIR has previously steered to licensure a similar vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, a flavivirus in the same family as Zika, which helped speed our vaccine development effort,” said Dr. Leyi Lin, who led one of the trials at WRAIR.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

In the volunteers who received the vaccine, neutralizing antibody levels peaked two weeks after they completed the 2-dose vaccine series, and exceeded the threshold established in an earlier study needed to protect monkeys against a Zika virus challenge. Researchers also found that antibodies from vaccinated volunteers protected mice from a Zika virus challenge, providing insight into how this vaccine might prevent Zika infection.

Next steps include evaluating how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts, and the impact of dose, schedule and background immunity. Michael added that, “Army researchers are part of integrated, strategic US Government effort to develop a vaccine to protect against Zika.”

The ZPIV program is led by Col. Michael and Dr. Modjarrad. The principal investigators at each of the study sites were Dr. Leyi Lin at WRAIR, Dr. Sarah L. George at SLU and Dr. Kathryn E. Stephenson at BIDMC. The sponsor of the investigational new drug application for two of the studies (WRAIR and SLU) is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The BIDMC study is investigator-sponsored by Dr. Kathryn Stephenson.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

 

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SOCOM Chief: Yemen raid wasn’t hastily planned

Reports that the Jan. 19 special operations intelligence-gathering raid in Yemen that left a Navy SEAL and 30 local civilians dead and six more troops injured was a result of hasty planning are “absolutely incorrect,” the head of U.S. Special Operations Command said Tuesday.


Army Gen. Raymond Thomas briefly addressed reporters after speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference outside Washington, D.C. He declined to go into operational details but emphasized that such raids are common and infrequently reported.

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

The White House has maintained that the raid, which resulted in the first military casualty of President Donald Trump’s administration, was well-planned and executed, but multiple news outlets have cited military sources complaining that the raid was hastily assembled and poorly planned.

VA reaches out to Silicon Valley for help with veteran suicide
General Raymond A. Thomas III | Creative Commons photo

Thomas told Military.com he does not categorize such operations as successes or failures, a hotly debated question surrounding the Yemen operation. He said discussion of the raid lacked the context of the frequency of such U.S. operations around the world.

“I don’t think that there’s awareness in the great American public that we’re a country at war, that ISIL and al-Qaida are in countless countries,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “That an operation like Yemen is what goes on any given night out there. And unfortunately it wasn’t in that context.”

Instead, he said the operation has only been reported and considered in terms of the death of Chief Special Warfare Operator Ryan Owens and the loss of an MV-22 Osprey that suffered a hard landing while transporting troops.

“But in context, I think America needs to know we’re in a tough fight right now,” Thomas said. “We’re making progress, but unless we get governance on the backside of our military efforts, this is going to be a long struggle.”

Thomas, who replaced Army Gen. Joseph Votel as head of SOCOM last March, repeatedly declined to comment on the workings and decision-making of the Trump administration.

But, speaking just hours after news broke late Monday night that retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn had resigned as national security adviser after 24 days in the position, he gave a nod to the tumult at the highest levels of leadership.

“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope we sort it out soon, because we’re a country at war,” he said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

USAF combat controller will get a Silver Star for 5-day fight

The Air Force plans to upgrade a combat controller’s Bronze Star Medal to a Silver Star for exemplary action while engaged in combat in Afghanistan in 2006.


Chief Master Sgt. Michael R. West, assigned to the 720th Operational Support Squadron, will receive the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest valor award, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Dec. 15, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a release.

West was originally awarded the Bronze Star in 2007.

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(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“West will be honored for his role in securing the safety of 51 Special Forces Soldiers and 33 coalition partners during a five-day offensive operation in support of Operation Medusa,” the release said.

“Over the period of five days and two climactic battles, West delivered more than 24,000 pounds of precision ordnance credited with more than 500 enemy killed in action,” AFSOC said.

His upgrade comes as a result of a comprehensive Defense Department-wide review of awards from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though the Air Force announced eight valor upgrades in totality this year, new evidence shed light on West’s case, 24th Special Operations Wing spokeswoman 1st Lt. Jaclyn Pienkowski told Military.com.

“With time, additional statements were provided that more completely captured Chief West’s actions during Operation Medusa,” Pienkowski said. “Once the package was complete, the Air Force considered totality of his actions and deemed the appropriate award to be a Silver Star Medal.”

“During this process, the Air Force was committed to properly recognizing our service members for their service, actions and sacrifices, and that those valorous service members were recognized at the appropriate level. It was important to ensure the award package was complete when it was reviewed,” she said.

Also Read: This Warthog pilot will receive the Silver Star 14 years after saving troops in battle

West, a master sergeant at the time, was involved in two dynamic battles over five days within the Panjwai Village, according to his official award citation.

West was a Joint Terminal Attack Controller supporting Special Forces teams tasked “to conduct offensive operations in support of Operation Medusa,” a Canadian-led mission during the second battle of Panjwaii in the Zhari and Panjwaii districts of Kandahar Province against Taliban fighters, the citation said.

While exposed to direct enemy fire, West’s “mastery of air to ground operations” allowed for the NATO teams to employ a strategic advantage “with over 88 fixed and rotary wing attack; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms; and medical evacuation assets in the area,” the citation said.

That included bombers, fighters, and MQ-1 Predator drones “to eliminate the enemy threat and allow the coalition forces to safely seize their target location,” according to West’s “Portraits in Courage” story. He was featured in the program in 2007.

West called in roughly “130 close air support missions,” the Portraits in Courage release said.

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An AC-130U gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron, flies near Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 20. The AC-130 gunship’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and force protection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

His actions “on numerous occasions either prevented friendly forces from being overrun, or directly enabled friendly forces to break contact and regroup while minimizing casualties,” the citation said.

Twelve Canadian soldiers lost their lives over the course of the battle, with dozens more wounded, according to figures from Veterans Affairs Canada; A British reconnaissance plane also crashed in Panjwai during the offensive, killing all 14 on board.

At the time it had been “the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO,” according to Canada’s CBC News.

Canada regards Operation Medusa as one of its most successful operations. Earlier this year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan exaggerated he was the grand “architect” of the operation, but later retracted his comments. Sajjan served in Afghanistan at the time as a liaison between Canadian commanders and local Afghan leaders, according to the Global News.

Whether or not West’s valor elevation may be the last medals upgrade for this year remains unclear.

MIGHTY TRENDING

NASA has a SWAT team, and they’re good

If you think it’s hard getting tickets to a summer blockbuster on opening night, try getting into Kennedy Space Center these days to see a Space Shuttle launch.


After two and a half years of anticipation, people around the world want to see NASA boost back into action and the show sells out quick. Thinking about slipping in through the back door?

Think again.

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After climbing wall obstacles, Emergency Response Team members from Kennedy move to the next challenge during a SWAT Round-Up International event. (Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann)

Along with the formidable force of standard security at Kennedy, a highly trained and specialized group of guardians protect the Center from would-be troublemakers. They are the members of the Kennedy Space Center Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and they mean business.

“We’re here 24-7,” said SWAT commander David Fernandez. “There’s never a point when SWAT is not here, so we’re ready to respond to something if needed at a moment’s notice.”

NASA contracts the 29-member team from Space Gateway Support (SGS) to protect Kennedy’s employees, visitors, and national assets like the Space Shuttle from any potential threat. The SWAT team carefully prepares for special events like launch day and the arrival of astronauts and VIPs, but it also stands ready every day for possible problems that may arise.

Additionally, the SWAT team provides support to Kennedy security when special expertise may be needed to diffuse a dangerous situation. Skills like rappelling, defensive tactics, or marksmanship may be used to help keep the peace.

To stay sharp and fit for their job, members of the team have to pass annual physical fitness tests and maintain updated certifications for using their weapons.

“The training that we do out here is very intense sometimes,” Fernandez said. “But that’s because we’re at a stage which could be considered by some to be advanced. The training has to be more intense and challenging.”

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Members of the Emergency Response team, or ERT, carry a battering ran and equipment through an obstacle area during an event of the SWAT Round-Up International. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

As a part of staying in shape, members of the Kennedy Space Center SWAT team participate in competitions with the most elite teams around the world. SWAT officers hone their skills in events testing their speed and accuracy with special weapons and equipment. In 2019, the team from Kennedy placed 10th out of 55 teams at the annual SWAT Roundup in Orlando, Fla.

SWAT team logo Members of the SWAT team admit that one of the best parts of their job is getting the “big-boy toys.” But senior officer Eric Munsterman said there is also a rewarding bond they share with one another.

“In the civilian world, outside of police work or fire work, I don’t see where you’re going to find [camaraderie] as strongly as we develop it,” Munsterman said.

They may have their differences during the week, but when they suit up and go to work, that all goes away, Munsterman said.

Through a strong commitment to each other, members of the SWAT team ensure things at Kennedy stay safe. If you plan to come see a Space Shuttle launch, make sure you have a ticket.

“If anybody means harm to the astronauts or anyone else that works out here, they’re not getting past us,” Munsterman said.
MIGHTY TRENDING

This treatment for wounded warriors is ‘tubular’

After losing his arm and leg in battle, a Hawaiian soldier being treated at the Naval Medical Center San Diego told his doctors that more than anything else, he wanted to surf again.


Navy Seaman Emily Wallace reacts to a moment free from her severe pain during a surf therapy session for Naval Medical Center San Diego patients in Del Mar, Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. The medically appointed surf therapy helps her to manage her pain and provides her with a reprieve from chronic pain without medications. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Almost 10 years later, the hospital’s surfing clinic staff has assisted more than 1,500 wounded, ill and injured service members from all service branches in their recovery through surfing.

“I remember at the time, I told him we’re going to go surfing but I had no idea how we’re going to go, with him missing an arm and a leg,” said Betty Michalewicz-Kragh, surf therapy program manager and exercise physiologist with the Health and Wellness department at the medical center, also known as “Balboa.”

Michalewicz-Kragh said she looked for ideas on the internet and eventually called a Brazilian above-the-knee amputee who came to San Diego and assisted Michalewicz-Kragh in training the soldier for five weeks.

The patient started surfing. “And as a result of him going surfing, many other wounded warriors have gone surfing, and it’s been an amazing journey,” she said.

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Volunteers attend a briefing for the Naval Medical Center San Diego surf therapy session in Del Mar, Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. Surf therapy is medically appointed and provides treatment for a host of maladies, including post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Today, adaptive surfing is more mainstream, with its third world championship taking place in December in La Jolla, California. Michalewicz-Kragh said when the clinic first started using surfing therapy, she only thought of the physical benefits, such as the cardio ability and strengthening the posterior muscles.

“We ended up realizing the benefit surfing has for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues,” she added. “It’s been an amazing journey.”

Finding Fitness, Friends

Surfing is like a medication, and all the side effects are good, Michalewicz-Kragh said. “A person may come here to surf but they end up finding a community,” she explained. “The side effects will be that his fitness level will be better, his cardiovascular ability improves, he gets stronger, and he meets a lot of people. The community integration aspect is really important, so there are many benefits to surfing.”

She said patients don’t need to know how to surf before showing up and they can attend the swim clinic beforehand. “Our goal for the patients as they come to the program is to find out how they can make their life better by surfing and to have the ability to surf and become a better surfer,” she said. “You will not be Kelly Slater after six weeks, and not after 12, but you will have the tools to know how to practice and learn how to surf on your own safely and independently.”

Also Read: Adaptive sports camp helps wounded warriors reach new heights

Beach Yoga

Before surfing, patients can also take yoga classes at the beach, thanks to Navy Cmdr. Lori Christensen, the Navy medical center’s preventive medicine department head.

“I always check with them at the beginning of class as they check in, where they’re hurting, so I can make sure they focus the class on things that will be beneficial to any particular needs they may have and then ask them afterward,” Christensen said. “I’ve had feedback from some patients who say that this is the only thing they’ve found that helps them feel better, and some who say, ‘I hated yoga, but now I love it,’ so that’s encouraging. It’s a great setting. It’s not me; it’s the beach.”

Christensen said programs such as the surfing clinic are important for wounded warriors. “It gives them hope and confidence, which will help them with their depression if they have it,” she said. “It’s giving them hope that they can get better, confidence in their abilities to do so, and then ability and new skills and new talents.”

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Navy Cmdr. Lori Christensen, head of the Naval Medical Center San Diego’s preventive medicine department, instructs a yoga therapy session on the beach in Del Mar Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Volunteers

The patients can go through the six-week program twice to learn surfing, and those who transition out of the military and stay in the local area can continue with the program. About 50 surfers — retired firefighters, police officers and military, along with the Del Mar lifeguards — volunteer to work with the patients in the surf therapy clinic.

Former Air Force Sgt. Warren James, a Vietnam veteran, has been volunteering for the past two years. “I’m really good at teaching the beginners,” the former avionics technician said. “It’s very rewarding for me, and I can see it’s very effective for the patients.”

James, who repaired radios and radar equipment on F-4, C-130 and C-40 aircraft during his military service, said he enjoys volunteering with service members and fellow veterans. “It’s overwhelming sometimes. They have injuries, and I didn’t really get injured, so I feel for them,” he said. “I saw a lot of bad things, and I don’t say much about it, but it’s really good to be able to talk to somebody else about it. I know how they feel … I didn’t have PTSD, but I can sense when they do, and it’s really comforting to help them and know that it’s helping me, too.”

Volunteers attend a briefing for the Naval Medical Center San Diego surf therapy session in Del Mar, Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. Surf therapy is medically appointed and provides treatment for a host of maladies, including post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Surfing clinic participants gain confidence as they make progress in the surfing clinic, he said. “If they had a physical injury, they recover quicker,” he added. “They take less medication. It’s just a really good program.”

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Navy Cmdr. Lori Christensen, head of the Naval Medical Center San Diego’s preventive medicine department, instructs a yoga therapy session on the beach in Del Mar Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Patients’ Opinions

Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Toran Gaal, a bilateral amputee who lives in Valley Center, California, said surfing brings him closer to those he lost in combat. He was injured in an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2011.

“To be in a place like the ocean, it allows me to be closer to those people and feel like I’m lifted up,” Gaal said. “I feel like I’m around them when I’m out there. I feel like they’re around me, watching over me, making sure I’m safe. The ocean allows me to feel close to them, as well as gain relationships with some of the volunteers to be happy.”

The surfing clinic is about surfing and reintegration into the community, Gaal said. “It’s not just about gaining independence and going out and surfing. It’s about reintegration and transitioning,” he said.

Gaal said he and his wife, Lisa, have become friends and family with Bob Bishop, one of the volunteers, with whom they have regular lunches at Bishop’s home.

Navy Cmdr. Lori Christensen, head of the Naval Medical Center San Diego’s preventive medicine department, instructs a yoga therapy session on the beach in Del Mar Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

“It’s just a sense of family for me, and my wife knows that. She knows that when I’m around these people, I come back happier because I enjoy being in their presence and the negativity is not there. They’re all positive influences,” Gaal said.

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Volunteer Brianna Phillip helps Navy Seaman Emily Wallace, left, walk into the surf to meet her instructo,r Necia Snow, right, during a surf therapy session for Naval Medical Center San Diego patients in Del Mar, Calif., Sept. 14, 2017. Wallace suffers from an illness that causes severe pain, and the medically appointed surf therapy helps to manage her pain. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

Marine Corps Cpl. Leighton Anderson, a Gardena, California, native who was injured during an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crash in 2016, said he enjoys the surfing clinic as well.

“I always wanted to learn how to surf, since I’m from California,” Anderson said. “I tried it three times in my life and never did it. I was like, ‘Let me try it through here,’ and then after that, I was hooked. It was pretty sweet. I love it. Everybody’s really nice and supportive.”

Anderson said surfing helps him physically and mentally.

“I had so many barriers, because once I was injured, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do that. I might hurt myself.’ I have a little PTSD, and I didn’t think I would enjoy anything. Once I tried it, I broke down a lot of barriers I had mentally and physically. I had weak tendons in my hand and foot, but with surfing they’re starting to get better. And mentally, it makes me happy. It’s just something everybody should take on.”

“Surfing therapy is amazing,” James said. “The program works, because it keeps them not thinking what they would normally would be thinking when they’re at a medical appointment. But here, we just talk about other things, and that’s why it works.

“It’s different,” he added. “I definitely suggest getting in the water, even if you have no experience at all. Just come to the beach.”

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