From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Five years ago, Marine Corps Veteran Frederick Nardei returned to service, but not the military. He became a certified peer support specialist, dedicated to helping fellow Veterans whose futures were as uncertain as his had once been.


Nardei served as a peer specialist for a recent study at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, helping Veterans enrolled in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) manage their mental health and substance misuse challenges. The study was also conducted at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass., where it was led by Dr. Marsha Ellison.

Actively and significantly engaged in their own recovery from mental health issues, VA peer specialists serve as success stories for their fellow Veterans. Their experience using mental health services, combined with their VA training and certification, have made them valuable additions to VA’s mental health offerings.

“My own experiences with homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness had prepared my heart to serve in ways that the Veterans could easily relate to… When I share my recovery story, they say that they are inspired and empowered because they can see that I am the evidence that recovery is possible and achievable,” said Nardei.

The study, led by Pittsburgh VA’s Dr. Matthew Chinman, found that formerly homeless Veterans who worked extensively with peer specialists had greater improvements in their symptoms than those who did not work with a peer specialist. When asked about their work with a peer specialist, both the Veterans and the other HUD-VASH staff expressed great satisfaction. Veterans reported being less isolated, more integrated into their community, and more involved in recovery activities as a result of their work with a peer specialist.

Who better to help other Veterans on their recovery journey than someone who has been in their shoes?

“The Veterans who struggled with the shame and stigma of being homeless were able to overcome those barriers… because I was able to share with them my own experience with being homeless for seven months after my wife left, because of my heroin addiction,” said Nardei, one of an estimated 1,100 Veterans serving as VA peer specialists.

Recover, heal, grow

The peer support program inspires and empowers participants to recover, heal and grow. Nardei believes that there is nothing more powerful than seeing someone accomplish the things that once seemed impossible.

He’s the proof he inspires in others.

To become a VA-trained peer specialist, visit the VA Careers webpage for details.

To learn more about peer specialists and their how they improve Veterans’ lives, download the Peer Support Toolkit.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran’s newest ballistic missile, the Bright Conqueror

Iran just unveiled a new short-range ballistic missile on Aug. 13, 2018, just a few days after test firing a variant of the missile over the Strait of Hormuz.

The Fateh-e Mobin missile is an “agile, radar-evading and tactical missile with pinpoint accuracy,” said Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami, according to Defense News, citing the Iranian Tasnim News Agency.


“The more intense are sanctions, pressures, smear campaigns, and psychological warfare against the great nation of Iran, the greater will become our will to enhance our defensive power in all areas,” Hatami said, according to Press TV, an Iranian news outlet.

The Fateh-e Mobin, which means “Bright Conqueror,” has a range of about 483 to 805 miles, Defense News reported.

The unveiling of Bright Conqueror came just a few days after the Iranian military test-fired a Fateh-100 Mod 3 ballistic missile from an Iranian Revolutionary Guard base in Bandar-e-Jask, according to Fox News.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Bandar-e-Jask skyline.

The anti-ship Fateh-100 Mod 3 ballistic missile flew about 100 miles over the Strait of Hormuz, landing at an Iranian test range northwest of the base, Fox News reported.

It was the first time Iran test fired a ballistic missile since March 2017, Fox News reported, but it’s unclear if the missile hit its target, Defense News reported.

The test fire also came as Iran conducted a naval exercise practicing closing the Strait of Hormuz, which Tehran has been threatening to do since President Donald Trump threatened sanctions on countries importing Iranian oil in late June 2018.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

2017 radioactive cloud over Europe due to Russian nuke site

European researchers have concluded that a radioactive cloud that drifted over Europe in 2017 likely originated in Russia, possibly from a plant that was the site of an infamous nuclear disaster.

Meteorologists and researchers detected the burst of radioactive isotopes in October 2017, and have struggled to determine its origins.

At the time, prevailing winds and other evidence pointed to Russia, but authorities denied responsibility for the release of the ruthenium-106 isotopes. The dispersed isotopes were harmless to human health, but noticeable by monitoring equipment.


This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A NATO ally is fighting US-backed forces in Syria

Turkey will carry out new military operations along its borders after its two previous offensives into Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on May 6, 2018, as he announced his manifesto for June 2018’s snap elections.

Turkey is now carrying out an offensive into northern Syria’s Afrin region against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency on Turkish soil.


The Afrin campaign is Turkey’s second cross-border operation into Syria during the seven-year-old civil war. The first, dubbed “Euphrates Shield”, targeted Islamic State and Kurdish fighters further east than Afrin, and was completed in early 2017.

Speaking to thousands of supporters in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey’s operations along its southern border would continue “until not a single terrorist is left.”

“We will not give up on constricting terrorist organizations. In the new period, Turkey will add new ones to the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in order to clear its borders,” Erdogan said.

“We shattered the terror corridor being formed on our southern border with these operations. Our soldiers, who lastly wrote an epic in Afrin, are ready for new missions,” he said.

Erdogan has previously threatened to push its Afrin offensive against the YPG further east to Manbij, where U.S. troops are stationed, risking confrontation between the NATO allies.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party and has been infuriated with U.S. support for the militia.

On May 4, 2018, the US also announced details of a proposed $717 billion annual defense policy bill, which included measures to temporarily halt weapons sales to Turkey.

Ankara is looking to purchase more than 100 F-35, and possibly Patriot missile defense systems, but has also recently signed an agreement with Moscow to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems, which are incompatible with NATO systems.

On May 6, 2018, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “Turkey will absolutely retaliate” if the US halts the weapons sales, adding that the US “needs to let go of this.”

But Cavusoglu also said on May 6, 2018, that Ankara and Washington have reached an understanding on a roadmap in Syria’s Manbij in which the militants will leave the area, and that the details were being discussed with the new U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

Erdogan has also said Turkey could carry out a joint offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq with Baghdad. Cavusoglu said the operation was still on the agenda.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

A drunk guy stole an armored carrier then promptly crashed it

A drunken man was detained after stealing an armored personnel carrier and crashing it into a supermarket in northwestern Russia on Jan. 10, police said.


Police said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the man stole the tank-like vehicle on caterpillar tracks from a military driving school in the city of Apatity in the far northern region of Murmansk.

Related: That time a drunk Richard Nixon tried to nuke North Korea

The school teaches driving skills to future army conscripts, but the vehicle had been stripped of weapons, police said.

On a joyride through Apatity, the man driving the armored vehicle badly damaged a parked car before careening through the supermarket window, police said.

After the crash, the man climbed out of the vehicle’s hatch and walked into the aisles of the supermarket before being detained, the police said.

After detaining the man, officials said police determined that he was drunk.

Local news website Hibinform reported that the man also attempted to steal a bottle of wine from the supermarket just before his arrest.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here are the 76 countries where the US is fighting terrorism

“This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while,” former President George W. Bush said on the White House South Lawn on Sept. 16, 2001. “And the American people must be patient. I’m going to be patient.”


Bush was right that a war on an abstract noun like “terror” would take awhile.

It began in October 2001 with the U.S.’s invasion of Afghanistan. And although former President Barack Obama officially ended “The Global War on Terror” in 2013, the fight against terrorism continues nearly 17 years later.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support
Map showing every country US military fighting terrorism Costs of War (Image from Brown University)

In fact, it has spread.

Between October 2015 and October 2017, the U.S. fought terror in 76 countries, or 39% of the total number of countries in the world, according to data recently published by Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

The graphic shows where the U.S. military had troops and bases, where it trained other forces in counterterrorism, and where it conducted drone and air strikes.

Perhaps the most striking detail, besides the U.S.’s well-known heavy involvement in the Middle East, is the American military’s presence in Africa.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia is quietly invading this important U.S. ally

Ten years after the two countries fought a short but deeply formative war, Russia is quietly seizing more territory on a disputed border with Georgia as it warns NATO against admitting the tiny Eurasian nation as a member state.

Despite warnings from Washington and the fact Georgia is a top US ally, Russia and local allies have been swallowing more and more territory in recent years. The Georgian government and international community have continuously decried this ongoing practice as illegal.


The ongoing, incremental seizure of land has had a detrimental impact on many locals, as the Russia-backed “borderization” has split communities and led some Georgians to literally find their homes in Russian-controlled territory overnight, NBC News reports

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Areas around Abhazya and Guney Osetya currently occupied by Russia

Russia occupies 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory

Since 2011, there have been at least 54 instances of “borderizaton” on the border separating South Ossetia and Georgia, according to the Heritage Foundation . The “borderization” process “includes constructing illegal fencing and earthen barriers to separate communities and further divide the Georgian population,” the conservative think tank said in a recent report.

It’s not clear whether this is being directed by Moscow or the pro-Russian government in South Ossetia, but the Kremlin hasn’t done anything to stop it.

Russia has 19 military bases in South Ossetia alone and its activities in the region, on top of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, have continued to raise alarm bells in the West. The Russian military and its allies currently occupy roughly 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory.

The ongoing dispute over these territories has made the normalization of relations between Georgia and Russia impossible.

It’s also a large part of the reason the US has continued to provide Georgia with 0 million in aid every single year, which is also linked to the country’s active role in supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Georgia has sent more troops to Afghanistan per capita than any other US ally.

With Russia to the north, Turkey to the west, and Iran not far to the south, Georgia is at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. It’s also an important route for oil from the Caspian Sea.

In short, Georgia may not be on the forefront of every American’s mind, but the country is of great geopolitical significance to the US.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

A Georgian soldier with the Special Mountain Battalion takes a knee and provides security after exiting a U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Feb. 16, 2014, during Georgian Mission Rehearsal Exercise

Georgia’s NATO woes

Prior to the 2008 conflict, Georgia received assurances it would soon join NATO. The war complicated this process, but NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg recently reaffirmed the alliance’s intention to accept Georgia as a member state. Subsequently, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned he would respond aggressively if this occurred.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday echoed Putin and said if NATO admitted Georgia it could trigger a “terrible conflict.”

“This could provoke a terrible conflict. I don’t understand what they are doing this for,” Medvedev told the Russia-based Kommersant newspaper.

The Russian prime minister added that Stoltenberg’s recent reiteration of NATO’s intention to admit Georgia is “an absolutely irresponsible position and a threat to peace.”

‘The United States support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering’

The US government has spoken out against Russia’s activities in the region, but seems reluctant to offer a more forceful response.

“The United States support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering,” Elizabeth Rood, chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Tbilisi, told NBC News.

“We strongly support Georgia in calling out Russia and the de facto separatist regimes on human rights abuses in the occupied territories,” Rood added, “and on the continued violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Vice President Mike Pence made similar remarks on a visit to Georgia last year.

“Today, Russia continues to occupy one-fifth of Georgian territory,”Pence said . “So, to be clear — the United States of America strongly condemns Russia’s occupation on Georgia’s soil.”

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A decade later, a six-day war is still on Georgia’s mind

The subject of who fired the first shots in the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict is a subject of great debate. But the conflict ended in a matter of days after Russian troops pushed past the disputed territories and marched well into Georgia, sparking international condemnation.

The conflict resulted in the deaths of roughly 850 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

The six-day war was largely fought over two disputed territories in the region: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia has occupied these territories since the conflict ended, though the vast majority of the international community recognizes them as part of Georgia. The Russian government at one point agreed to remove its troops from the territories, but has not followed through with this pledge.

Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of the war. Georgians marked it by taking to the streets in Tbilisi and protesting against Russia’s ongoing occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why a think tank puts teen girls in command of military operations

Though women have made a lot of progress in recent years, especially in the military and defense sectors, there are still very few women in senior positions in the U.S. military-industrial complex. Only a third of the senior positions at the Department of State are women, and less than a fifth hold such positions at the Defense Department.

That’s why a Cold War-era think tank agreed to put women in command of a large wargaming exercise. Were women able to prevent an all-out nuclear conflict on the Korean Peninsula?


From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Alexis Visser is a 19-year-old international relations student and Army Reservist who helped game the South Korean and American forces.

(Dori Gordon Walker/RAND)

The RAND Corporation, a global, nonprofit policy research center created in 1948, wanted to bring a much-needed female perspective to the fields of defense policy and national security. The group of women are in age groups ranging from their late teens to early 20s, and most have never had any kind of wargaming or strategy experience before. Still, they are leading command discussion about scenarios facing troops in a war with North Korea in a conference room overlooking the Pentagon.

In the scenario, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has a long-range missile that can target locations on the U.S. West Coast. The North threatens “grave consequences” if the United States and South Korea conduct their annual joint exercises to practice their responses to a North Korean invasion. The warning from the DPRK is the same the Stalinist country gives the Southern Allies every year. This time, when the allies begin their drills, the North fires an artillery barrage into Seoul. South Korea responds with missile strikes. The new Korean War is on.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

(Photo by Dori Gordon Walker/RAND Corporation)

RAND uses wargames like this one to study almost every national security scenario and has since the earliest days of the Cold War. It was the RAND Corporation who was at the center of the 1967 Pentagon Papers case that determined why the United States had not been successful in Vietnam. It’s very unlikely this is the first time RAND has wargamed a war between North and South Korea, but it’s the first time young girls were given command of the allied forces.

That isn’t to say no women have wargamed at the Pentagon. Many of the women who have participated in wargames at the highest levels of the U.S. government, including in the Pentagon, often admit to being the only woman in the room. RAND wants to create a pipeline for young women to be able to participate in such wargames – as professionals.

In the game, the women determine where to deploy infantry, how to stop North Korean advances, and even when to use tactical nuclear weapons, all under the advice and counsel of RAND’s expert and veteran women advisors.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Samina Mondal, right, listens as RAND’s Stacie Pettyjohn reviews the blue team’s tactics.

(Dori Gordon Walker/RAND)

The game is working, and not just against North Korea. History majors decide to turn their attention instead to National Security Studies. Eighteen-year-olds decide on careers in nuclear security. Soon, women will begin to change the way we look at the defense of the United States.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Hundreds attend a funeral for a Vietnam vet with no family

There’s an unspoken creed within the military-veteran community: no veteran should ever be buried alone.

The U.S. military is a system designed to break its members of the individuality that defines Americans to create members of single team — a unit. This bond endures as veterans transition out of the service. It’s one of the defining characteristics of veteran life.

Nowhere else in life is this more true than in death. For those without family buried in Arlington Cemetery, the Arlington Ladies will make sure they aren’t alone. But Iowa-born Vietnam veteran Stanley Stoltz wasn’t going to Arlington and had no known family. Then, his obituary went viral.


Stoltz was 73 when he died on Nov. 18, 2018 in Bennington, Nebraska. His obituary in the Omaha World-Herald said that he had no family. Although he worked in Bennington, he spent the end of his life around medical caregivers. While it was eventually revealed that Stoltz had a brother and an ex-wife, hundreds of people who never knew the deceased came out to pay their last respects.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Unfortunately, Stoltz didn’t get to see the outpouring of respect and appreciation for his service that he and so many other Vietnam veterans sorely lacked upon returning home from the war.

“No vet deserves to die alone,” attendee Dick Harrington told WOWT-TV, the Omaha NBC affiliate. “We looked around and said, ‘Here’s his family.’ It’s true. Veterans. We’re all family. That’s just the way we roll.”

Despite the frigid Nebraska weather, hundreds of people who never knew Stanley Stoltz — including many who have never met a Vietnam veteran or a veteran of any war — flooded Bennington to ensure he received the send off worthy of his service to their country.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

(WOWT- TV Omaha)

The cemetery estimated that upwards of 2,000 people came to the funeral. The services were even delayed so stragglers to the event wouldn’t miss a moment. Traffic was backed up, bumper-to-bumper along Interstate 80 to give a final salute to a passing veteran.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coast Guard finally getting back-pay after shutdown

Some Coast Guard families began receiving back pay Jan. 28, 2019, while bracing for the possibility that another government shutdown on Feb. 15, 2019, could again leave them scrambling to cover bills and put food on the table.

In Oregon, Stacey Benson, whose husband has served 19 years in the service, said back pay from the 35-day government shutdown was in her family’s account Jan. 28, 2019.

Coast Guard officials said they are working to deliver back pay by Jan. 30, 2019, to all of the more than 42,000 Coast Guard members affected by the longest government shutdown in history.


Benson, who helped start up “Be The Light” food banks for struggling Coast Guard families during the shutdown, said the food banks essentially closed Jan. 27, 2019, after President Donald Trump signed a bill Jan. 25, 2019, opening the government for three weeks while Congress and the White House seek agreement on funding for a border wall.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

However, Benson said that volunteers are “making arrangements” to restart the food banks “just in case” the government shuts down again Feb. 15, 2019.

“If it happens, we’re prepared for the worst,” she said.

At the food bank in Astoria, Oregon, Benson estimated that 50,000 to 70,000 pounds of goods had been collected for distribution, including “pounds and pounds and pounds of ground beef and huge bags of dog and cat food.”

The shutdown strained donors’ resources to the point they’re asking for donations themselves.

Brett Reistad, national commander of the American Legion, said efforts by the group to assist Coast Guard families had essentially drained the veterans organization’s Temporary Assistance Fund.

“I’ve been in the Legion 38 years,” he said in a phone interview, “and I’ve not experienced an instance like this.”

Reistad added that the Legion was reaching out to supporters to replenish the fund.

During the shutdown, the Legion distributed more than id=”listicle-2627427178″ million from the fund in the form of grants of 0 to id=”listicle-2627427178″,500 to needy Coast Guard families, Reistad said. Since Jan. 15, 2019, the organization had approved about 1,500 grants to a total of 1,713 families — specifically targeted at the 3,170 children in those families, he added.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Coast Guard Cutter Resolute.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)

“We try to stay out of politics” as a veterans service organization, Reistad said, but “we have to recognize the possibility of this happening again.”

“These are our brothers and sisters,” he said of Coast Guard members. “They were out there risking their lives, saving lives” during the shutdown without pay.

He asked anyone interested in replenishing the Temporary Assistance Fund to visit Legion.org for more information.

The White House was standing firm Jan. 28, 2019, on the president’s demand for .7 billion to fund an extension of the southern border wall. Trump said over the weekend that he would allow the government to shut down again or declare a national emergency to take money from the military budget if Congress doesn’t agree to fund the wall.

At a White House briefing Jan. 28, 2019, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the solution is to “call your Democratic member of Congress and ask them to fix the problem. This is a simple fix.”

She said Trump “is going to do what it takes” to provide border security.

He would prefer to do that through legislation, Sanders said but, if Congress balks, “the president will be forced to take a different path.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet the Air Force’s top couple

The Browns are self-proclaimed foodies who explore the DMV restaurant scene and steal time for walks together. It is during these no-tech-allowed strolls when the Air Force’s top couple catch up on their days and feed their relationship. Pun intended. 

And it takes work to maintain, Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. said of marriage and a military career. He and his wife, Sharene, met after he was already an airman but she was no stranger to the lifestyle. Her dad served in the military. 

Sharene Brown says the adventurous side of military life has long been a favorite aspect of being a dependent ID cardholder. It is likely the characteristic that kept her “all in” throughout the decades her husband has been building a career.

“First of all, I would describe military life as adventurous. I’m an adventurous person anyway; I like to travel; I like to see different things and what not. Since coming into the military as a spouse, I have found some of the same challenges a lot of our younger spouses have found,” Sharene Brown said.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support
Sharene Brown takes a tour of Jakarta Intercultural School, Jakarta, Indonesia in 2018. The Browns visited the country ahead of the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-Indonesia relationship, seeking opportunities to enhance cooperation between the two nations. Photo by Staff Sgt. Hailey Haux.

A 2019 survey found the rate of unemployment for military spouses to be 24%, according to Blue Star Families. It is reflective of the old adage that as much as things change, they stay the same. In fact, Sharene Brown said change is the one thing that remains constant throughout the decades for those married to service members. She can also relate to hardships in pursuing and maintaining professional aspirations. 

“There are things that I have experienced that I have grown from, but there are still some circumstances that are not much different. If I go back a few years to when I first came in, I was looking for a job and had a hard time finding one, moving from place to place. Then our family started to grow … our oldest son has some learning challenges, and so the plan was to go back to work after he got into school. It didn’t necessarily work out because of the challenges and I was determined at that point to just make sure he was going to be fine,” she said. “But what I found is when one door closes, another door usually opens.”

Read: Second lieutenant makes history in Air Force program

The connections she built over the years alleviated some of the common stressors she faced. Sharene Brown was not shy to dig in at duty stations, either. She relishes in the couple’s time overseas where they often chose to live off base to get a greater sense of the culture. Her favorite location was at Doha, Qatar, where she participated on a dragon boat team.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support
Brown with her dragon boat team. Courtesy photo.

Gen. Brown also grew up as a military kid. His dad, who retired from the Army as a colonel, guided Gen. Brown through the process of applying for ROTC scholarships. Ultimately, he said, the Air Force stood out for its opportunities in engineering.

In 1984, Gen. Brown was commissioned as a distinguished graduate at Texas Tech University. He has served in a variety of positions at the squadron and wing levels, including an assignment to the U.S. Air Force Weapons School as an F-16 Fighting Falcon Instructor, according to his official biography. He said it was working with the people at that school that led to a snowball effect of positive career experiences, leading him to contemplate a long-term future with the Air Force. Then, a notable staff tour as Aide-de-Camp to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force opened his world even further.

“I got to see a bigger part of the Air Force. Exciting mission, a lot of responsibility, get to see the world, and get to meet a lot of good people,” he said.

In the summer of 2020, Gen. Brown became the first Black service chief in U.S. military history — an appointment that intersected with a period of heightened racial tension after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Gen. Brown says he is keenly aware of the significance of his role, but also emphasizes that he wants to be judged on the merits of his performance rather than the color of his skin. 

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support
Sharene Brown presents the official Air Force Chief of Staff service cap to her husband during the CSAF transition ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in 2020. Photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo.

“I would say there’s a before and an after: before George Floyd and after George Floyd. Before, I already knew it [my appointment] was historical in the like, and you know I’ve thought about it but I haven’t really. Partly because, a lot of the times in the jobs I’ve been in, I’ve been either the first of or the only one. It’s probably in some cases — I hate to say it this way — it’s a bigger deal for some others than it is maybe for me because I’ve lived this. … I am who I am and I just want to be good at what I do, and be recognized as a good officer. And then after that, be recognized as a good African American officer. Just like any other officer or leader, you just want to be recognized as a good leader. 

“I think after George Floyd, a bit more visibility and pressure was on the fact that I’m coming into this position. I think it adds a bit of extra weight because there’s some expectation that I’m going to be able to do things, but I’m just one person and I have almost 700,000 airmen that will have to buy into whatever good idea I come up with. And so, when we start looking at diversity and inclusion, it has to be things the whole Air Force can buy into and not just happen because I’m sitting in this chair as Chief of Staff of the Air Force,” he said.

In 2020, leaders ordered an independent review focusing specifically on assessing racial disparity in military discipline processes, personnel development, and career opportunities as they pertain to Black airmen and space professionals. The examination included a look at survey findings from more than 123,000 responses, formal interviews, and listening sessions. Results found that “varying degrees of disparity were identified in apprehensions, criminal investigations, military justice, administrative separations, placement into occupational career fields, certain promotion rates, officer and civilian professional military educational development and some leadership opportunities,” according to the report.

The full report can be found at https://www.af.mil/Portals/1/documents/ig/IRDR.pdf

Gen. Brown said small steps have been made, but his priority is to do “the deeper dive” that would include determining the root cause of the problem so recommendations can then be made of how to move forward. One example he cites is getting underrepresented demographics into aviation career fields. 

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support
The Browns conduct an interview with Military Families Magazine at the Pentagon. Photo by Wayne Clark.

“Do some of the tools we have, are they biased in some way? Not purposely but for whatever reason, we may have missed opportunities and that all comes down to exposure. We only aspire to be what we’ve been exposed to, so looking at how we can lay that out earlier for underrepresented groups, whether it’s race, gender, ethnic background,” he said.

At the same time, leaders are grappling with the ongoing pandemic that has placed restrictions on the normal way of doing business. Gen. Brown says an integral part of checking the morale and mental health of the force starts with building relationships. 

“The key part is knowing your people, and you can’t know they’re having a bad day if you don’t know them — because you can’t tell the difference between a good day and a bad day. And some of that has to happen before you get into a crisis. I found just a few minutes goes a long way. It’s building relationships with the people you work with; you got a professional relationship but you also got to have a little bit of a personal relationship — know about them, their family, some of the ups and downs they have, and talk to them about what they do in the evenings, what they do on the weekends. By building relationships, when they do have a problem, they may be more inclined to talk to you, to seek help,” he said.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support
Gen. Brown at his office in the Pentagon. Photo by Wayne Clark.

The line of communication between airman and leader is also important, especially for those junior enlisted members and officers who have certain aspirations in the Air Force. Gen. Brown tells airmen to “take your chances.”

“Always ask for what you want. The worst the Air Force can do is tell you no, but they can’t tell you yes unless you ask,” he said. “I just tell airmen to explore what it is you want to be able to do, and then share that with your leadership so they have an opportunity to help you get to where you want to go. Or, to help you understand you may not be qualified for where you want to go — but you have to have the conversation. If you keep it to yourself, you may miss an opportunity or talk yourself out of it.”

Gen. Brown is adamant that his vision for a successful tour will be the same in years to come as it is today: he wants to make a difference.

“Flying was not the reason why I came into the Air Force or even why I stuck around. I mean, I like to fly, but it’s not the end-all be-all for me. It’s making a difference and that’s the key part; if I can do something that will change the Air Force for the better, make it better for our airmen and families. I would consider myself a failure if I didn’t make a difference in some form or fashion,” he added.

Follow twitter.com/GenCQBrownJr for updates on the 22nd Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.

You can find this story and more in our February issue of Military Families Magazine. Download it here

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Navy leader promises to fix Ford aircraft carrier

The acting Navy secretary is reportedly under a lot of pressure from President Donald Trump to get the USS Gerald R. Ford to work, something his predecessor failed to do.

The aircraft carrier is over budget, behind schedule, and still experiencing problems with certain key technologies, namely the advanced weapons elevators built to quickly deliver munitions to the flight deck.

“The Ford is something the president is very concerned about,” Thomas Modly, who very recently took over as acting secretary of the Navy after former secretary Richard Spencer resigned, said at the US Naval Institute Defense Forum this week, Military.com reports.


“I think his concerns are justified because the ship is very, very expensive and it needs to work,” he added, explaining that there is a “trail of tears as to why we are where we are, but we need to fix that ship and make sure that it works.”

Modly assured the audience that fixing the Ford would be a top priority. “There is nothing worse than a ship like this being out there … as a metaphor and a whipping boy for why the Navy can’t do anything right,” he said, according to the outlet.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford steams in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 27, 2019.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Connor Loessin)

Spencer, Modly’s predecessor, had previously staked his job on getting the Ford working properly, promising President Trump that he would get the elevators working by the end of the post-shakedown availability or the president could fire him.

The PSA ended in October with only a handful of elevators operational. The Ford is currently going through post-delivery tests and trials, with plans for the elevator issues to be sorted over this 18-month period.

As Spencer was questioned about accountability, the former Navy secretary sharply criticized the Navy’s primary shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), accusing the company of having “no idea” what it was doing with the Ford.

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Gerald R. Ford under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding.

(U.S. Navy photo by Ricky Thompson)

Now, the Ford’s challenges have fallen in Modly’s lap.

“Everything that the Ford should be able to do is going to be a game-changer for us,” the acting Navy secretary said, according to Military.com. “We just have to make sure that it can do it because we’ve got several more coming behind it.”

The USS John F. Kennedy, the second Ford-class carrier, was slated to be christened Saturday. The Navy has two more of the new supercarriers on the way after that.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army Emergency Relief looks to convert $1 million into grants for soldiers

Army Emergency Relief expanded its support programming in 2020 to keep up with the evolving needs of those impacted by COVID-19. Now the organization is going a step further in easing financial burdens for soldiers and their families.

AER disbursed assistance to more than 710 soldiers this year, according to its website, totaling $1.1 million in assistance. With the pandemic continuing to cause detrimental impacts to Army families, the organization is looking to convert loans into zero-payback grants.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, Director of AER, said he is excited to announce this initiative.

“Soldiers and their families may be exposed to financial challenges as an incident to their service, and this year has presented many challenges. We’ve been closely monitoring the situation and I believe Americans have noticed as well,” he said.

Since its inception, AER has provided $2 billon in financial assistance, with half of that occurring since the events of September 11, 2001. The organization has also supported around 4 million soldiers. While donations do come from larger organizations, many come from citizens who want to support U.S. troops.

“Thanks to the generosity of citizens, patriotic corporations, and Soldiers themselves, we were able to go back and review zero-interest loans where conversion to grant makes the most sense and alleviates distress caused by the unique challenges we’ve experienced this year,” Mason said.

Although the goal itself isn’t to specifically hit the $1 million mark, Mason says by examining the individual needs that prompted the loans, they’ll be able to hit that target.

“Our goal is to identify loans issued in response to some of the unique challenges we’ve faced this year, and eliminate the requirement of payback on those loans. In doing so, we believe we will convert $1 million in loans to grants and potentially change the financial future for over a thousand soldiers and their families,” Mason explained.

Although the loans soldiers received are zero interest, the organization wants to take it further by seeing where they can turn them into grants and further support relief efforts.

“In short, we’re trying to do the right thing while respecting the contributions we’ve received from generous Americans,” Mason explained.

AER has expanded its outreach efforts to ensure soldiers and their families know about its mission and the importance of asking for help when it is needed. The organization is doing this through engagement with Army leadership to instill the notion that AER should be the first stop when Army families find themselves in financial trouble of any kind.

With the entire country being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs remain great for many families. AER is poised to continue supporting Army families and finding ways to ensure they thrive, even in the midst of a pandemic. Stepping forward to convert loans into grants is just one more way it can live out its mission of soldiers helping soldiers.

To learn more about AER and how you can support their mission or request assistance, click here.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

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