This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors - We Are The Mighty
Military Life

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Army occupational therapist Maj. Erik Johnson will use anything that works to help wounded warriors. One of the big problems he faces is how to get his patients involved in their own therapy.


Therapists have historically used activities like working with leather and copper tooling to engage patients, but that doesn’t appeal to soldiers from the Xbox generation. Johnson, a gamer and former Army rehabilitation patient himself, found a way to incorporate games into therapy.

 

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Army Maj. Erik Johnson plays video games with patients at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Photo: courtesy Maj. Erik Johnson

“If I threw, you know, macrame in front of a soldier he might laugh at me,” Johnson said in an interview with WATM. “But if I threw him at a video game, he’d be like, ‘Yeah man. I love this dude. Hell, I’m gonna go like do everything I can to optimize my treatment.'”

The games used in therapy are carefully curated by Johnson who identifies what needs each could fulfill. DJ Hero and Big Brain Academy, for instance, are good for soldiers who have suffered brain traumas.

“One of the biggest things with concussions is that you have what we call executive dysfunction or basically, a big issue with cognition,” Johnson said. “So like, your memory is not as good as it was. Or you have issues with problem solving. Or maybe you have issues with delayed response with your brain thinking to your hands moving.”

So, Johnson can put soldiers recovering from a concussion or another brain injury in front of DJ Hero, which requires that the player keep to a rhythm, watch symbols on a screen, and anticipate the actions of others.

Big Brain Academy allows players to work on memory, statistics, analysis, math. And, it allows them to measure their progress.

“And the thing with Big Brain Academy is that it kept a record of everything you did,” said Johnson. “So, if you built a profile, and you’re like, ‘Okay, yesterday was the very first time I worked on this, I was terrible. Today I’m a little bit better and in a week I’m doing fantastic.’ Even if that’s not standardized, you can still see them improving.”

Big Brain Academy payed off big for Johnson and the soldiers under his care when he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 to set up a brain injury program inside a deployed brigade combat team. Stuck on an austere forward operating base, a simple game that could be set up in a hooch was a good tool to help soldiers recovering from a concussion or TBI.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Photo: Courtesy Army Maj. Erik Johnson

When Johnson got back to the states, systems like the Xbox Kinect and Nintendo Wii allowed him to target physical therapies with video games as well. For amputees who lost one or both legs, cardio is an issue.

“Our lower extremity amputees have a big issue with cardio. They haven’t been able to run, and they start gaining weight and running is a lot more challenging for them. How are we going to engage them in a good cardio regimen?

“One of the things we noticed was we could put them on Wii Boxing and set them up on a therapy ball and they have to balance on the therapy ball which would strengthen their core and then also, they are doing a lot of engagement with  their upper extremities. And, anybody that has played any kind of Wii sport-type game that takes a lot of that effort knows that real quickly it gives you a good workout.”

Amputee patients also got help from Ken Jones, an engineer who runs Warfighter Engaged and builds custom controllers for amputees.

“He’ll modify game controllers or systems so that anybody could play on them,” Johnson said. “Let’s say you lose your left hand, well, he’s going to bring all those buttons on your Xbox controller over to the right side.”

Jones even made a custom controller for a quadruple amputee.

“Just by like pushing switches and big toggles and different elements like that, he basically made it to where anybody could engage in therapy. Well, I call it therapy, they call it gaming.”

Building a gaming center for wounded warriors isn’t easy. Luckily, Johnson got help from Operation Supply Drop, a charity that engages veterans and deployed service members through video games.

Glen Banton, the CEO of OSD, met Johnson and asked for his wish list, everything Johnson would need to create the perfect setup for treating wounded warriors with video games.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
In Operation Supply Drop’s largest single donation, they gave six video game consoles and plenty of other gear to Brooke Army Medical Center. Photo courtesy Operation Supply Drop

“So I started to do a lot more writing down, research on games. I would want this particular game for this application. I would want this for this application. And I started going down this list of different games that would do different things.” 

“So Glen and his team, they came with OSD last week and blew me away,” Johnson said. “I mean, like way more than I had asked for, way more than anticipated. My office is full of gaming stuff right now that I’m now trying to build an entire huge gaming center within out therapy gym so that it’s actually almost a piece of medical equipment, that is its intended use. Before, we had roving televisions and we’d throw a system on it. Now it’s like, I’m going to actually have a specified space where we go and do therapeutic gaming.”

Of course, not all of Johnson’s patients are video gamers. But for the ones that are, they have a therapist who not only wants to engage them with their chosen hobby, but has an awesome suite of tools to do it with.

Military Life

Here are the best military photos for the week of November 4th

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


Air Force:

Crew chiefs assigned to the 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron perform maintenance on a C-130J Super Hercules at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Nov. 3, 2017. Yokota received the C-130J from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., and crew chiefs maintain the aircraft 24/7. The C-130J primarily performs the tactical portion of the airlift mission, and is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips. It is the prime transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(U.S. Air Force photo by Yasuo Osakabe)

Master Sgt. Benjamin Seekell, 343rd Training Squadron Security Forces Apprentice Course flight chief and wounded warrior, prepares for an incentive flight with the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” prior to the start of the 2017 Joint Base San Antonio Air Show and Open House Nov. 2, at JBSA-Lackland, Kelly Field Annex. The Thunderbirds perform for people all around the world, combining years of training and experience with an attitude of excellence to showcase what the Air Force is all about.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Best. Incentive Flight. Ever. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)

Army:

Cape Wrath (left), a 697-foot cargo vessel owned by the Department of Transportation is staged at the Port of Baltimore for use during a port operations training exercise conducted by U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from the 200th Military Police Command and the 1398th Deployment Distribution Support Battalion on Nov. 2, 2017, as part of their mission essential tasks for deployment.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Abraham Lincoln is underway conducting carrier qualifications and training.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Sherman)

Navy:

The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) launches a RIM-116B missile from a rolling airframe missile launcher during a live-fire exercise. Harry S. Truman has successfully completed a tailored shipboard test availability and final evaluation problem and is underway preparing for future operations.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn)

Sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) move a training aircraft from the hangar bay to the flight deck. Abraham Lincoln is underway conducting carrier qualifications and training

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kyler Sam)

Marine Corps:

U.S. Marines with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion take cover while conducting an urban breaching exercise during the Sapper Leaders Course aboard Camp Pendleton, Oct. 30, 2017. The Marines in the Sapper Leaders Course conducted demolition training to familiarize themselves with explosive breaching and to develop proficiency in mobility support to infantry units.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Teutsch)

Marines watch as an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV), assigned to Combat Assault Battalion, AAV Company, enters the well deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) during Blue Chromite. Blue Chromite is an annual exercise held between the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps to strengthen interoperability and increase naval integration and proficiencies in amphibious warfare.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay)

Coast Guard:

A Coast Guard Station Ketchikan 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew arrives on scene to assist a disabled 21-foot Boston Whaler with two people aboard on Moira Sound, Alaska, Nov. 2, 2017. The boatcrew embarked the two and took them to Thomas Basin.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo

A Coast Guard 45-foot Motor Lifeboat crew from Station Cape May, New Jersey, assist the crew of a recreational vessel six miles east of Cape May, New Jersey, Nov. 1, 2017. The Coast Guard Cape May boat crew dewatered the 52-foot boat and escorted the vessel to Canyon Club in Cape May Harbor, New Jersey.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by BM3 Tristan Ray)

Articles

This is what happens when Israelis and Palestinians eat dinner together

In our post for Part 1 of the MRE season finale, we explored how the task of bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together might, in fact, be facilitated by mutual concern over food — specifically the production of olive oil.


This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Middle Eastern oil, the happy kind. (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Host August Dannehl toured a Palestinian-owned olive farm in the West Bank that was being guided by consultants from the Near East Foundation and USAID’s Olive Oil Without Borders project. Similar aid was being offered to neighboring Israeli olive farmers and, far from begrudging the competition, the Arab farmers seemed relieved just to be able to get on with their livelihoods and happy to wish their Jewish counterparts the same.

In Part 2, Dannehl dives deeper into Israeli military, farm, and food culture, meeting with an Arab gourmet chef who helms a cutting edge restaurant in Tel Aviv, talking to young Israeli Defence Force soldiers about how they view their nation’s foes and learning from diners of both nationalities the frank similarities between Israeli and Palestinian cuisine.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
“We’re kind of the same people, you know? We love hummus, they love hummus…” (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Finally, he returns to West Bank olive country, to the farm of Israeli olive oil maker Ayala Meir in order to attend a traditional kibbutz dinner, joined this time by Meir’s family and a number of their Palestinian friends from across the border wall.

Olive oil is culture. It brings people together. This is now the season that Jewish and Arabs and Muslims and Christians meet together. We all love this product. And it’s a way to know our neighbors. Actually an ancient olive tree is many individuals living in the same house. Every branch has a different root system. —Ayala Noy Meir

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
A toast to friends and neighbors. (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

The recent success of efforts like Olive Oil Without Borders, not to mention the more live-and-let-live worldview that can be found among younger citizens of both nations, gives the world a glimmer of hope that this, one of the thorniest conflicts in human history, may one day be no more than a story neighbors reminisce about around a communal dinner table.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Magic hour in occupied territory. (Go90 Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Watch as Dannehl finds that hospitality knows no nationality, in the video embedded at the top.

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

Army food will make you feel the feels

This whiskey is a WWII victory, distilled

This is what happens when you run your kitchen like a platoon

This is what it means to be American in Guam

This is how olives could bring peace to the Middle East

Military Life

What exactly a Trade War is and why it matters

In On War, Carl von Clausewitz teaches that war is an extension of politics by other means, as emphasized by a balance of power strategies. That’s really what a trade war is — political gamesmanship. But that’s not a very practical definition.


In more concrete terms, it’s where trade-related policies have a negative effect on certain countries. Those countries then retaliate. Then, the original country retaliates, upping the ante. The escalation could, theoretically, go on forever until everyone hates them both.

A trade war doesn’t necessarily happen just between geopolitical adversaries. The United States has sparked trade wars with its democratic, political allies. In 1983, the U.S. placed import tariffs and quota on specialty steel coming from Europe. It cost Europe two percent of its steel market share in the United States. Europeans demanded to be compensated. When that didn’t happen, European markets imposed similar tariffs on chemicals and plastics.

Most of the trade wars involving the U.S. since 1980 were with Europe or Canada — only one was with an ideological rival, like China. In 1985, a quota on Chinese textiles resulted in China suspending agricultural imports from the U.S., a $600-million loss for American farmers.

China wasn’t even as important a trading partner as they are today. Still, experts think the countries most likely to take the brunt of a Trump Steel Tariff are Brazil and Canada. And Canada has no qualms about retaliating. They did in 1993 as a result of duties on Canadian steel products.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

As a matter of fact, the Ottawa Reporter already reported that Canada demanded an exemption and vowed retaliation.

So, this all sounds weirdly frightening, even though most of us reading this have no idea how it will actually affect our day-to-day. At worst, it could lead to another Great Depression. The Smoot-Hawley tariffs were protectionist duties that are said to have exacerbated the global economic downturn. Some even believe the looming threat of the tariffs caused the Depression itself.

More to the point, prices of certain goods related to the war will go up, especially if domestic producers of those products can’t fill the demand.

For example, if aluminum manufacturers can’t meet their needs with U.S. aluminum, products requiring aluminum will still need to be made, they’ll just use the aluminum that costs 10 percent more. The cost will pass on to the consumer.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
President Trump plans to implement a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

Moreover, since the customer will be forced to pay a higher price for overseas steel and aluminum products, domestic producers will likely just raise their prices to meet the market price.

Here’s the war part: other countries will slap tariffs on the $2.3 trillion worth of exports from the United States. Suddenly, American companies operating overseas are not as competitive in those markets as they once were.

Related: How the Civil War created the modern US economy

China is the U.S.’ largest debt holder (and owns as much as $1 trillion) and many other countries’ desire to invest in purchasing U.S. debt keeps interest rates here relatively low. They may be less inclined to buy American debt in a trade war and that would drive up interest rates on domestic American purchases.

How does one win a trade war? The same way they win a real war: by not fighting it in the first place. The best outcome of all this trade war talk is that the countries involved re-evaluate their trade relationships in a way that prevents a financial battle.

Military Life

How Silly Putty got its start in the military

It’s the crazy compound that bounces, molds, stretches, snaps — the non-Newtonian fluid that seemingly takes on new properties with each shape. It’s a beloved toy that has been around since the 1940s, but didn’t make its way into the hearts and hands of families until years later. Why? The substance’s original use wasn’t to become a toy at all, in fact, it was created to have tactical uses in World War II. 

Years later when the viscoelastic liquid silicone was rediscovered, it was repurposed into a toy and remains a best seller for Crayola to this day. The business was a slow start, but after a mention in the New Yorker put Silly Putty on the map, more than 250,000 units were sold in three days. Originally intended for adults, manufacturers realized their biggest market was in kids aged 6-12. They went on to create its first commercial, airing during the Howdy Doody Show in 1957. 

The history of Silly Putty

In the midst of WWII, the U.S. was rationing its rubber sources to keep up with production of boots, tires, and other necessary war supplies. This was due to Japan’s invasion of countries that produced rubber in the Pacific Rim. During this time, Americans were encouraged to make their rubber items last as long as possible, and donate any extras they might have on hand.

At the same time, the government began researching rubber alternatives that could be used instead. Synthetic compounds that could be used in its placed were sought after in labs, including General Electric, which was located in New Haven, Connecticut. 

In 1943, researchers combined boric acid with silicone oil to create a “gooey, bouncy material with unique properties.” It’s disputed as to whether James Wright with General Electric, inventor Harvey Chin, or Rob Roy McGregor of Earl Warrick was the original scientist to do so. However, Wright is given credit in Crayola’s history, while Mcgregor received a patent. 

During this time, workers were impressed with Silly Putty for several reasons. It didn’t mold, it had a high melting temperature, it was extremely stretchy and versatile, and it was non-toxic. However, it would not work as a viable replacement for rubber. 

Silly Putty becomes a toy

Silly putty
If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can still buy the original Silly Putty on Amazon.

Years later, in 1949, Silly Putty was re-discovered by Ruth Fallgatter, who owned the Block Shop Toy Store. She got in touch with Peter C.L. Hodgson, a marketing consultant, and the pair began marketing it as a toy. It made its debut at the International Toy Fair in New York in 1950. 

Hodgson put himself deeper into debt to purchase extra product and packaging. He’s credited for coming up with the name Silly Putty and putting it into plastic eggs. They sold for $1 a pop. 

Sales were steadily growing, but with the Korean War, silicone was on short supply — one of the main ingredients to Silly Putty. A year later the shortage was gone and Silly Putty was back on the market.

In 1961 Silly Putty made its way outside the U.S., being sold in the Soviet Union and in Europe, becoming hits in both countries. It also made it into outer space when astronauts from Apollo 8 took it on a lunar orbit in 1968. The surge of popularity turned Hodgson into a multi-millionaire, due to ongoing publicity and sky-rocketing sales. 

After Hodgson’s death in 1976, Crayola obtained the rights and began selling it as part of their line of toys. It was introduced to the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2001, and to-date,  more than 300 million eggs — that’s 4,000 tons — had been sold.

Today, Silly Putty comes in many colors and scents, including offensive scents for the class clowns among us (vomit and puke), and aromatherapy options that target older users. Small eggs start at $1.99, topping out at $99.99 for a five-pound block. 

Articles

7 items every Marine needs before deploying

Your orders just posted and you’re shipping out on a 7 to 13-month deployment. Good luck with all that!


The checklist your first sergeant passed out is several pages of stuff you just cram into the bottom of your sea bag — like extra PT gear, running and shower shoes — just to mention a few.

Pretty much all work and no play items. That’s no fun.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Marines assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit embark aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Julio Rivera).

There’s another list the NCOs don’t hand out; the list of stuff you’ll actually use on a day-to-day — one that will make that long deployment more manageable and fun.

Remember, you won’t have much storage where you’re headed off to, so plan accordingly.

1. Extra undies

While manning the front lines, there’s no guarantee when you’ll have free time to do laundry. It’s amazing how wearing a clean, dry set of underwear can boost morale.

2. 550 cord

Also known as “Paracord,” this traditional interwoven cord gets its name from the 550 pounds of heavy tension it can withstand and its ability to tie stuff together. The versatile cord was even used by Space Shuttle crews to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

You’ll use it as a multi-tool, including to tie down cammie netting, attach extra gear to your body armor and air dry your laundry.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
24th December 1956: The laundry at the United Nations (UN) camp in Abu Seuir, Egypt.

3. Shock resistant camera

Deployments are life changing experiences. You’re going to want to capture the moments, but not any camera will do.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Shock resistant Cameras are designed for rugged outdoor use and are great when ambushing ISIS. They tend to run a little more expensive than traditional digital cameras, but when you’re on patrol and take heavy fire, these little bad boys shouldn’t let you down when recording your personal history.

That’s badass.

4. A Cheap laptop

Deployments can be boring, with loads of downtime if you’re lucky. Consider bringing a cheap laptop with as many movies as your external hard drive can hold. Don’t spend too much money on one; chances are dust and debris will ruin it after too long.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Movie time!

What better way to spend a Friday night with your brothers then huddling around a 15-inch screen watching an action movie. The more variety of movies you have in stock the better.

5. Calling cards

No, we don’t mean that unique object you leave after getting away with a heist.

A calling card or phone card allows you to make calls from any working phone without charging the expenses to the receiver. It can get pretty expensive that way.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Many foreign bases around the world have USOs set up for deployed members to call home or use the internet. Some require the purchase of calling cards so have one handy dandy if you walk into one where Uncle Sam is too cheap to fit the phone bill.

 6. Music player

Self-explanatory, because everyone likes music.

7. Magazine subscriptions

Having new magazines show up during mail call is one of the greatest gifts a Marine can receive. Especially, when you’re in an all-male infantry unit stationed in the middle of  bum f*ck nowhere and Maxim magazine arrives. Everyone celebrates.

Can you think of anymore items? Comment below.
MIGHTY TRENDING

Female veterans pose on same ship that carried WW2 troops

Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.

“Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel,” said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Gina Elise, Founder

Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over ,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans’ healthcare program expansion across the United States.

The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you…he really nailed it.


This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Julie Noyes, Army veteran

Army veteran Julie Noyes says, “It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring.”

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran

“I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master’s Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization.”

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Patti Gomez, Army veteran

Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

“Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn’t pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!”

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors

Check out that cover image!

The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.

Military Life

Families stationed in Germany get creative during lockdown

Navy veteran and spouse Courtney Suesse and her family live in Stuttgart.

Air Force spouse Jennifer Borkey has left base once this year — to travel to a nearby post for a dental appointment. Borkey, her husband, and two children, ages 10 and 13, have made the most of their time confined to a 1,630-square-foot apartment on Robinson Barracks, one of the five installations that comprise Army Garrison Stuttgart. 

Over the past year, the garrison, home to more than 20,000 U.S. military personnel, federal agencies, civilians, and family members, has maintained a variety of restrictive lockdown measures in conjunction with host-nation and Army policies. 

During this time, Borkey’s read 30 books, picked up knitting, and refined her sewing skills. Her advice to other families — “If you don’t have a hobby, find one.”

On March 10, 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stuttgart closed all non-essential services, including CDCs, gyms, and playgrounds. DODEA schools in the region were closed around the same time. 

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Air Force spouse Jennifer Borkey, her husband, Master Sgt. Brent Borkey, and their children, Zara and Xander, enjoyed hiking in Blautopf, Germany when restrictions were eased over the summer.

While a variety of restrictions were lifted in the summer and travel restrictions eased slightly, the situation has remained fluid. New lockdown procedures, including curfews, school closures, and travel restrictions, were put back into place in November and again in December.  

Commissaries, exchanges, and the post office have remained open, but nearly all other retail facilities, including most out in town, have remained shuttered.

As of press time, DODEA schools in the region were partially reopened and some restaurants were allowing takeout but the majority of restrictions remain, including in-person gatherings, which are currently limited to 10 people from two households. While residents are allowed to exercise outdoors with a mask, their movements are geographically limited. 

For Borkey, one of the biggest differences about being stationed overseas is that rules are not optional. “People state-side might not understand that when we are handed down regulations, we have to follow them,” she said. 

“There’s no doubt that the community has had to make a great deal of sacrifices this year, especially with things that you take for granted,” Paul Hughes, public affairs specialist at USAG Stuttgart, said during a phone interview in late February. 

With no 4th of July celebration, Halloween canceled, Thanksgiving and the winter holidays limited, and no New Year’s celebration, COVID-19 restrictions have significantly impacted the Stuttgart community, Hughes says. 

Still, he praises the dedication during this challenging chapter, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing. “It’s been tough and I think the second lockdown is wearing on people a little,” he said. 

This Army therapist uses video games to help wounded warriors
Courtney Suesse, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Suesse, and their daughter, Stella, pictured in Colmar, France before the pandemic.

Navy veteran and spouse Courtney Suesse says that the lockdown has been a struggle emotionally. Having a 3-year-old at home and balancing a full-time college course load during the pandemic has taken a toll emotionally. 

“Everyone has gotten in their feelings and way more personal,” Suesse said, noting that she’s found assistance through a behavioral health licensed counselor on post. 

“If you’re struggling like I am, I highly recommend reaching out and finding resources,” Suesse said. 

Stuttgart Employee Assistance Program Coordinator Kim Roedl says that the garrison has worked hard to make sure families and service members have access to physical and mental health resources. Her office has ramped up its efforts to connect with families and ensure that they know about their free, confidential, and short-term counseling and referral services.

“We want people to know that we are here for them, and we are always here to listen,” Rodel said in an email. 

In addition to mental health services, Suesse says that technology has been a lifeline during the home-bound months. Her daughter has tea parties with her grandparents and playdates with her aunt via Facebook messenger. 

The highlight of each week has been an international virtual trivia with family. 

“It’s midnight for my sister in Saigon, 6 p.m. for our family in Germany, and noon for my in-laws in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We make it work across the globe,” she said. 

Game nights have been such a success for Suesse that she connected with other spouses to start a local virtual game night. The group, to which Borkey also belongs, has been meeting for over a year. With the restrictions in place, they’ve only met in person once during that time even though they live relatively close. 

Suesse says that the game night is a fun release and time to gather. “We commiserate about lockdown and when someone misses a question we tease them saying ‘since you’re a homeschool teacher now, shouldn’t you know the answer?’” 

Both Borkey and Suesse are looking forward to getting off post and exploring the surrounding area once restrictions are lifted. 

“We are most looking forward to travel, travel, and did I say travel?” Borkey joked.

In the meantime, Suesse is walking the base and nearby areas as permitted and exploring German life as she can. 

“There are still trails to walk, architecture to see. . . There’s still an international community you can experience while still being bundled into this military community,” she concluded. 

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

Articles

Soldiers sue for benefits after non-honorable discharges related to PTSD

Hyper-vigilant during his military stint in Iraq, always on the alert that he was in danger of being killed, Steve Kennedy found he could not turn it off.


An Army soldier who had led several teams during his time in Iraq, and won numerous awards, Kennedy uncharacteristically started using alcohol and putting himself in dangerous situations, hoping to get hurt.

Diagnosed with major depression they could not treat, the military gave Kennedy a less than honorable discharge blamed on an absence without leave to attend his wedding. Once out of the service he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

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According to RAND, 20-30% of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. (Courtesy photo illustration)

Alicia Carson took part in more than 100 missions in less than 300 days with an Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, and served in combat on a regular basis. When she returned home, she was found to have PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.

After presenting a physician’s diagnosis, she asked to be excused from National Guard drills. The National Guard then discharged her with a less than honorable discharge because of her absenses.

The two Army veterans filed a federal class-action suit April 17 asking that the Army Discharge Review Board give “liberal consideration” to their PTSD diagnoses as former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel had instructed in 2014.

They are being represented by supervisors and student interns at the Jerone N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the Yale Law School.

Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, members of the Yale Law School team and others held a press conference on the suit at the law school after it was filed with U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton in Bridgeport’ federal court.

Kennedy and Carson are filing on behalf of themselves and more than 50,000 similarly situated former military personnel.

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In 2014, only 42% of veterans were enrolled in the VA. (Veterans Affairs photo)

Blumenthal had worked with the former secretary of defense to put in place the Hegel memo to correct discharges that were based on actions tied to brain trauma and PTSD.

“This cause is a matter or justice, plain and simple. …Steve Kennedy has been through hell. The special hell of a bad paper discharge resulting from post-traumatic stress, one of the invisible wounds of war,” the senator said.

He introduced Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran, who was part of a different war but experienced the same bad papers due to actions committed while suffering from PTSD, something that was not even recognized medically in that era.

Monk, however, benefitted from the review board following Hegel’s memo after a lawsuit filed against the Department of Defense.

Also read: 5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

Blumenthal said the discharges resulted in a stigma for both of them and Carson, as well as a loss of benefits.

Kennedy has since put himself through school and is expected to get his doctorate this year in biophysical chemistry at New York University. With an honorable discharge, he would have been eligible for $75,000 in benefits he never received.

The senator said a lawsuit should not have been necessary to move the review board to do the right thing and follow the law.

“The Department of Defense has failed to provide the relief the law requires,” Blumenthal said.

The Army does not comment on pending lawsuits.

Blumenthal said he has spoken to Secretary of Defense James Mattis about this issue.

“He has been sympathetic, but these men and women are not seeking sympathy. They want real results. …They deserve consistent standards and fair treatment,” he said. Blumethal said they are not seeking any financial renumeration.

Kennedy lives in Fairfield, while Carson lives in Southington. She was not at the press conference.

Related: Not all PTSD diagnoses are created equal

Carson suffered from severe PTSD-related symptoms, such as nightmares, loss of consciousness, loss of memory, trouble sleeping, irritability, feelings of being dazed and confused, and photosensitivity, a vision problem recognized as a symptom of traumatic brain injury.

Jonathan Petkun, who is among the law students representing Kennedy and Carson, is also a former Marine and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With this lawsuit, we are asking the Army to live up to its obligations and to fairly adjudicate the discharge upgrade applications of individuals with PTSD,” he said.

Petkun said since 2001, more than 2.5 million military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than half deployed more than once. At the same time, some 20 percent are estimated to be suffering from PTSD or PTSD-related conditions.

“Instead of giving these wounded warriors the treatment they deserve, too often the military kicks them out with less than honorable discharges based on minor infractions, many of which are attributable to their untreated PTSD,” Petkun said.

Military Life

6 military-life problems that don’t go away when you get out

The DD-214. The magical ticket that ends all of your military life problems that started the moment that recruiter told you that your job doesn’t deploy, you’ll have plenty of time for college, and everyone looks sexy in a uniform.


Except that some of those problems you think of as “military” problems are actually just problems everywhere, and they will absolutely follow you into the civilian world. Here are six of the crappiest parts of the military that will keep coming up at every job:

1. People “Piggy-backing” at the end of meetings

 

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If it’s new information, fine. But if you’re seriously just going to rehash this d*mn safety brief, we’re all going to hate you. (via @SpaitoGaming)

Seriously, someone always wants to impress the boss. In the military, this means that safety briefs and other formations go on longer than they should, often with everyone standings or taking a knee as the order “Don’t drink and drive, no, really” is repeated about 14 times.

The only difference in the civilian world is that it’s always a meeting about something mundane like “Stop putting recyclables in the trash compactor” and you’re often, but not always, allowed to sit for it. On the plus side, you’re never required to stand at parade rest, so that’s nice.

2. Obviously contradictory orders

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Everyone better have 100 percent of their TA-50, no excuses. After all, we already gave you those lockers you can’t use. (via U.S Army W.T.F! moments)

Everyone’s been on that work detail where you get a long briefing about how to clear vines or branches or something safely, and then some private gets told to hold another one by the feet as the second one cuts branches upside down with sharp blades.

But don’t look to the civilian world to make more sense. Get a job in a warehouse and expect to hear stuff like, “Never lift anything over 40 pounds without having a buddy help you. Alright, now Tom, you go move those 50-pound boxes on your own. Everyone else come with me.”

3. Outdated equipment

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I mean, it’s not like a ship can be 100 percent steel. It would never stop rusting. So we went 40/60.(via Sh*t my LPO says)

Understand that no management on the planet wants to spend money on equipment for their workers until they have to. In the military, that meant it took a couple hundred letters to senators and an exposé on CNN before the command would buy the updated body armor that cost $2 more per plate.

But the civilian side isn’t any better. If that old Atari computer can still track the customer records and the engine jack only leaks a little bit of hydraulic fluid, you can bet that neither of those things is getting upgraded for a while. Probably not until the jack fails and Tom gets crushed under an old Toyota engine.

4. Horrible incompetence in your co-workers

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I get that you’re mad, I’m just not sure what I was supposed to do differently. (via Sh-t my LPO says)

Come on, you didn’t think that 50-year-0ld supply sergeant crankily waiting to retire as an E-5 while doing absolutely no work only existed in the military, right? If so, brace yourself, because those dudes exist in the civilian world, too.

As a matter of fact, take a look around at your civilian job after you get that beautiful DD-214. If there’s a red-faced, lazy, 55-year-old equipment office manager complaining about how he “doesn’t get enough respect around here,” go ahead and ask when he retired from the military.

5. Having to find weird places to sleep

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(via Military Memes)

This part, at least, will be an easy transition for most of the skaters and shammers out there. Remember all those late missions and early mornings that drained the batteries, leading to everyone taking turns napping behind the connexes, in humvee seats, or squeezed under the stairs where first sergeant hopefully wouldn’t see?

Well, late nights drinking and early morning freeway dashes to avoid rush hour are only a little more forgiving, leading to you having to find spots to snatch a nap in the copy room, supply closets, and your car. Recommend getting a car with a large cargo bed or folding backseats.

6. Guys who do the bare minimum and act like heroes

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(via The Salty Soldier)

For everyone who does the bare minimum of their orders, cuts sling loads, and goes to the bar to brag about it, there’s plenty of good jobs in the civilian world for you. Congrats. For everyone else, sorry, those dudes will be at your civilian job, too.

You may be looking forward to heading home at 5 everyday, but remember that the guys in accounting may go home about 4:30. And if you still have to pay an equipment rental place before you head home? Sorry, there’s no one in the office with credit card access. If that screws up your timeline for the next day, that’s really unfortunate.

Military Life

5 civilian jobs that have military camaraderie

If you’ve ever served in the military then you’re aware of how much camaraderie can be built between a group of people. If you never donned a U.S. military uniform, then we assure you that the brotherhood we form while we serve is a nearly unbreakable bond.

For many of us that left the service, we lose that sense of camaraderie as we move on in life and into alternative careers. Although the thought of regaining that special relationship we once held in the military in another field might seem unlikely, there are a few careers that that continue with the family-like tradition.


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Three Guardsmen graduate from the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Basic Training academy for law enforcement officers in Richmond, Ky, 2017.
(Kentucky National Guard photo by Stacy Floden)

 

Law enforcement is full of camaraderie

This one was pretty obvious, right? Since the military teaches us weaponry and strict discipline, law enforcement fits that mold. Although it didn’t make the list solely for that factor, it’s on here because law enforcement officers face challenging times as a team.

The experience of watching your brothers’ and sisters’ backs is how rough situations eventually get resolved — and a sure way to bond with someone.

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(Photo by Erinys)

 

Security contractors

Security contractors are known to deploy all over the world to provide safe-keeping solutions for a variety of clients. Many of these guys come from a military background and their specialized training proves it.

Because of their experience, the camaraderie aspect tends to follow them in their new team environment.

A military publication

To provide authentic entertainment, many of the content creators at the various military and veteran publications companies are prior service — which most people probably already knew.

What you probably didn’t know is working at a place like We Are The Mighty is similar to living in the barracks. We talk sh*t to one another, drink alcohol during our brainstorming sessions, and pull for one another when we have to.

You might be out of the military, but the community and sense of military camaraderie is still around.

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Minor League Baseball team the Hartford Yard Goats

 

Sports- the most fun way to rediscover camaraderie

Sports are a low-risk “us vs. them” scenario — bonding with teammates is natural (and ideal). Athletes win and lose with their team, they face injuries, and they also understand how competitive the system is on a personal level just ask someone who has been non-voluntarily retired.

The stakes aren’t as high as they are in the military, but if it’s a team you’re looking for, sports are a good place to start.

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Firefighters Andrew Brammer (right) and Bobby Calder (left) from contractor Wackenhut Fire and Emergency Service replace their oxygen tanks while fighting a fire at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)

 

Firefighting

Firefighters are simply outstanding. They are the heroes of the community and will strap on their heavy equipment to save someone from a burning building without thinking twice. Due to the dangerous nature of their work, members of their team become more than just co-workers, but family.

They have to trust one another to get the job done so everyone can go home safe. It’s one of the occupations that comes as close to having that life-and-death camaraderie as the military.

Articles

This Marine lieutenant rescued a civilian in distress

Emergency medical technicians arrived on scene and stated that the man behind the wheel had suffered a stroke. In the moments before the incident, what seemed like a simple decision turned into something much greater; the difference between life and death.


For 1st Lt. Morgan White, the communications officer for Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, this situation tested her will to act as she became the deciding factor in saving a stranger’s life.

“I was on my way to work, and as I approached a stop sign, I saw a truck coming at a weird angle toward me,” said White. “It sort of dipped and bounced into a ditch off the side of the road. I drove forward to look back and see if the driver was okay.”

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1st Lt. Morgan White, right, instructs her Marines during a squadron-wide gear inspection. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

As White pulled-in closer to the stalled vehicle, she observed the driver, an elderly gentleman, who appeared to be shaking in the driver’s seat.

“I pulled over, ran to his truck, opened the door and found he was seizing,” said White.

It only took a moment for White to register the situation. She knew that the first thing to do was clear the airway and allow for proper breathing. After the combat lifesaver training she received at Marine Corps Officer Candidate’s School, she said that it all came rushing back to her.

Also read: That time Colin Powell saved crash victims by tearing burning metal with his bare hands

“I tried to hold his head upright and make sure he remained still,” said White. “When he stopped [shaking], he was drooling and I could tell it was difficult for him to breathe. I ran to my truck for my phone and called 911, and at this point someone else had also stopped to assist.

“We both got through at the same time, and once help was on the way we started to see if we could make it easier for him to breathe. We kept talking to him to keep him responsive, but initially he wasn’t at all. At one point, in fact, he stopped breathing.”

EMT’s arrived and were able to rush the man to the hospital. Without the rapid decision-making demonstrated that day, the outcome of the situation may have been much worse.

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White states that the training she has received in the Marine Corps helped develop her leadership and decision-making skills. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

“The Marine Corps teaches you to make hard decisions,” said White. “When life throws us questions that we don’t know the answer to, we’ve learned to quickly think on our feet. When I pulled over and saw the man that appeared to be in duress, all that training kicked in. I jumped out of my car and immediately started doing what I thought was the best thing.

“When I saw him start to come back, a wave of relief flooded me. I don’t know what would have happened if no one had stopped. I was very thankful that I made that decision and was able to help him.”

Originally a criminal justice major in college, White said she has always had a hunger for challenges and helping people in need.

“I don’t like injustices for people who can’t help it, so if I can be in any position where I can make things better for those around me, it’s a good use for what I was learning in college,” said White.

Rather than staying in one place her whole life, White grew up in a fast-paced military lifestyle. With a father in the Navy for over 20 years, White’s family moved around to many areas of the country including Florida, California, Alabama and Mississippi.

“I really enjoyed the military environment.” Said White. “Growing up, I saw the family that’s created within the military. I knew whether I did it for four years or 20, it was a good way to develop myself as a leader.”

More heroics: The Coast Guard rescued half a million New Yorkers from the 9/11 terror attack

In her day-to-day tasks, White states she always tries to lead her Marines with fairness.

“One of my pet peeves in life is when leaders make rules and regulations, and then don’t follow it themselves,” said White. “If I say that we are going to do something, I mean we are all doing it together. I love my Marines and they are what makes my job worth it. The challenges that they present on a daily basis are never easy, but I enjoy it.”

White states that in her job, every day brings something new to the table. Whether she is cleaning weapons with her Marines or pulling over to the side of the road to provide lifesaving assistance, she will always be willing to lend a helping hand.

Military Life

Here are the best military photos for the week of December 23rd

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


Air Force:

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Apphia Gomes, 336th Air Refueling Squadron, refuels a C-17 Globemaster III aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker near March Air Reserve Base, Dec. 18, 2017. The C-17 carried Elinor Otto, better known as Rosie the Riveter, on her first C-17 flight.

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(U.S. Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Eric Harris / Released)

An Air Force medium sized robot approaches a simulated Improvised Explosive Device during a response training exercise, Dec. 21, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The EOD Airmen were evaluated on their ability to respond to a distress call, locate, identify and neutralize an improvised explosive device.

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Eugene Oliver)

Army:

Command Sgt. Maj. Dana S. Mason, Jr. salutes the formation during the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command Change of Responsibility Ceremony.

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(U.S. Army courtesy photo)

Helicopters from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade arrived to Chièvres Air Base, Belgium. The brigade, which is in the 1st Cavalry Division, stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, deployed with 89 helicopters, including Apaches, Chinooks and Black Hawks. The helicopters arrived by ship Oct. 19 at the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium, and were then staged at the base before they move forward to support missions in Europe.

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(U.S. Army photo by Jessica Ryan)

Navy:

The superstructure of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) lights up during sunset in the Atlantic Ocean, Dec. 16, 2017. The George H.W. Bush was underway conducting routine training and qualifications.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joe Boggio)

Lt. j.g. Cory R. Cameron recovers the “Oscar” dummy during a man-overboard drill aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88). Preble is deployed with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Morgan K. Nall)

Marine Corps:

U.S. Marine Capt. Timothy Denning, company commander of Alpha Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, runs alongside his Marines during the 7th ESB Holiday Run at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Dec. 22, 2017. The Marines and Sailors of 7th ESB showed their holiday spirit by dressing up and singing holiday songs during the run.

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(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Timothy Shoemaker)

Hawaii’s first three AH-1Z Vipers arrive aboard Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Dec. 19, 2017. The arrival of the 4th generation attack helicopters enhances the capabilities and power projection of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and MCBH.

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(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Alex Kouns)

Coast Guard:

Salvage crews working with the Hurricane Maria ESF-10 Puerto Rico response remove a wrecked vessel from Hurricane Maria in Sardinera, Puerto Rico, Dec. 21, 2017. The ESF-10 is offering no-cost options for removing vessels damaged by Hurricane Maria; affected boat owners are asked to call the Vessel Owner Outreach Hotline at (786) 521-3900.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Ferdinando)

Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Crews, a marine science technician for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, places a wreath for a fallen service member during the Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, Dec. 16, 2017.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Jacob Gamble.)

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