7 things we did on deployment we're totally proud of - We Are The Mighty
Veterans

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of

When service members return from deployment, their world is never the same. In many cases, veterans’ cultural views and morals change after they’ve seen how a different part of the world works.


For the most part, we step out of our comfort zone to complete the mission — a move everyone deserves credit for.

We do many things we’re not proud of, but there’s always one or two aspects of a deployment that brings our troops joy just by remembering special moments.

So we asked a few our fellow veterans what their proudest deployment moments were. Sure, it’s a tough question, but here’s what they said.

1. “Help building schools and restore the locals’ electricity.” — a Marine infantrymen recalls (OIF).

It’s a common factor for Marines to step out of their traditional roles to fulfill the mission.

2. “My sergeant informed me that one of my severely wounded Marines I took care of was going to make it.” — a Navy Corpsman remembers (OEF).

The relationship between Marines and their corpsman is a nearly unbreakable bond.

 

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
Lcpl. Bohannon (left), Doc Kirkpatrick (center), and Lcpl. Bartek takes a quick moment for a photo op before heading out on Operation Savage Wing. (Source: Tim Kirkpatrick)

3. “I brought back all my soldiers after 500 missions.” — an Army tanker states (OIF).

Although the tanks America uses to fight the war on terrorism are extremely tough, they’re also a huge target.

4. “I got to document military history.” — Air Force combat camera says (OIF).

Military history wouldn’t be as complete without the brave men recording the intense action of the frontlines.

5. “After 600 meters of ‘springing and switching,’ we managed to medevac an injured Marine engineer from a Taliban compound.” — a Marine scout sniper remarks (OEF).

Marines knowingly put their brother’s safety well in front of their own.

6. “I saw people rise above their own fears.” — a Marine officer proudly states (OIF).

While under heavy gunfire, people tend to fold as their fear rises. But those who want to invoke actual change, press on and rise above the occasion.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
This soldier instructs a group of Iraqi troops for a training exercise. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

7. “I saved a kid from a torture house.” — an Army Green Beret explains (OIF).

Knowing who your enemy is the key to maintaining the rules of engagement.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
In many cases, the enemy uses innocent children to help combat allied forces.

What are your proudest deployment moments? Comment below.

MIGHTY FIT

This Army vet started a supplement company dedicated to education

Before John Klipstein joined the Army, he smoked a pack a day and his PT test run time was roughly 23 minutes — which accounts for the time spent throwing up on the side of the track. The military turned that around. The newly-minted 13B found a love for fitness and pushing his body to the limit. After leaving the military, he developed a line of supplements to help others do the same — safely.


During his first deployment, Klipstein and his friends handled the stress by working out. In his time at the gym, he noticed a lot of soldiers taking a lot of different supplements — some of which could be found on the military’s banned supplement list. Klipstein was interested in why those expensive jugs of pre-workout were confiscated — what exactly their ingredients were.

By the time his second deployment rolled around, he was making his own pre-workout using ingredients he ordered himself. Now that he was in the role of squad leader, it was his job to confiscate banned substances. He used the opportunity to educate his troops on the dangers of those banned ingredients. Sadly, shortly after his deployment ended, an NCO in their unit died during a five-mile run. The cause was cardiac arrest — caused by a pre-workout supplement.

“This happens all the time in the military,” Klipstein says. “Heavy stimulants mixed with extreme heat and intense training can be very dangerous and soldiers end up dying from it.”

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
Klipstein and his platoon. He’s the one smiling in the center.
(Courtesy of John Klipstein)

“Sometimes, supplements may be effective but have questionable safety profiles.” says Jennifer Campbell, an Army veteran, Certified Personal Trainer, and Master of Science in Nutrition Education. “Remember Hydroxycut back in the early 2000s? Its active ingredient was Ephedra, which was banned by the FDA in 2004.”

So, when Klipstein started UXO Supplements after leaving the Army, he made it UXO’s mission and vision to provide safe and effective formulas for supplements while educating people on how to use them the right way.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
Klipstein in one of many educational videos on the UXO blog.

“With UXO you get clean energy with clinical amounts of researched and proven ingredients” he says. “All products are manufactured in an FDA approved lab, so you will not find any banned substances. In fact, we have all products 3rd-party tested before they hit the shelves to ensure they are safe for our consumers.”

“Knowledge of a supplement’s legality, safety, purity, and effectiveness is critical,” Campbell says. “Unlike food, the FDA does not review supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. The manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe before they go to market.”

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
UXO has developed a full line of safe supplements.

Klipstein left the Army as an E6 promotable after herniating two discs and banging up his knee but UXO’s other business partner remains in the service, keeping up with the fitness trends that affect the military the most. Even though John Klipstein isn’t rucking up and down mountains and patrolling villages on maneuver missions anymore, he’s still working to keep himself — and his veteran-owned business — in shape and taking care of his brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

“The most important thing about being a vet-owned business is giving back to the veteran community,” Klipstein says. “We do it with a quality product and solid education. We also offer them a 25 percent discount.”

Just use the coupon code MILSUPPS25 at when checking out at UXOSupplements.com. He also invites the military-veteran community to tell him what they think of his products.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
Klipstein talks about pros and cons of multivitamins on the UXO blog

Fitness and Nutrition expert Jennifer Campbell also adds that some supplement manufacturers aim to pursue the most inexpensive raw material from suppliers that will pass under the given certificate of analysis to minimize the cost of goods. She backs Klipstein’s insistence on supplement education.

“Do your research,” she says.

John Klipstein isn’t about to let another soldier fall to poor or unethical supplements. He’s happy to post his ingredients — and explain how lesser supplements are trying to be deceptive with their ingredient lists. He, like Campbell, warns of things like “proprietary blends” and implores supplement seekers to find third-party reviewed ingredients in the products they purchase.

UXO products are tasty and provide the energy and recovery they promise. The military discount is great because it makes the products extremely affordable. On top of that, before purchasing, UXO Supplements tells you everything you need to know about the type of product you’re buying as well as the formulation and purpose of the specific item you’re interested in. It’s a great intro to workout supplements, from start to finish.

Klipstein wants all his clients to be healthy, happy, and of course, repeat customers. The UXO Blog says it all.

“There is nothing better than receiving positive feedback from veterans and athletes alike. Our goal is to deliver a great product with an amazing taste. We will never sacrifice our values or our quality to try and make a quick dollar.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

How Amazon is tackling the veteran unemployment problem

By 2021, Amazon has pledged to hire 25,000 U.S. military veterans across all of its operations. More than that, they are also dedicated to hiring veterans reservists, spouses, and family members – regardless of rank or military specialty. These “Amazon Warriors” as the company calls them, come to Amazon through a number of programs, each focused on a different aspect of veterans’ lives. This includes wounded warriors, active and transitioning veterans, student vets, and more.


You can catch Amazon and its employees active in all area of veteran culture, from the Old Glory Relay to RED Fridays and even doing 22 pushups every day. Amazon even partners with the Department of Veterans Affairs to create certification programs for vets with no costs.

One of Amazon’s best programs is an employment plan for wounded vets designed to fill skill gaps due to service-related wounds, injuries, and illnesses. Through education, advocacy, and training for wounded warriors, this one-of-a-kind program seeks America’s wounded vets to show the world the possibilities and potential these prior-service workers still have.

Amazon also launched the Amazon Military Leaders Program in an effort to find innovative, experienced talent to transition from military service and into the senior leadership at Amazon. It just makes sense – in order to fill the most necessary roles at the top of one of the world’s biggest and most profitable companies, Amazon wants to look for those people who volunteered for some of the most dangerous and critical jobs out there.

This company also goes above and beyond for National Guardsmen and Reservists who are activated or called away to training. Not only does the company ensure the member has job when they come back, as required by law, Amazon seeks to place the employee in a role they would have worked if they had never left their Amazon job at all. What’s more, if the pay the military member receives from serving is significantly less than their Amazon pay, Amazon will make up the difference.

“There are veterans and active duty service members from the Guard and Reserve at every level of the company,” says Ardine Williams, Amazon Web Services’ Vice-President of Talent Acquisition, who also happens to be a former Army officer. “That population, that community, makes it really easy for us to not only do the right thing but also do what we say we will do.”

When Amazon isn’t hiring veterans and preparing service members for their post-military careers, they are supporting other organizations with the same intent, mission, and drive. Amazon is a sponsor of the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day business development and networking event that brings together non-profit startup accelerators geared toward vet-owned businesses, successful veteran entrepreneurs, and like-minded veterans who are looking to change their lives by starting their own enterprises.

To learn more about what Amazon is doing for veterans in terms of training and employment, check out Amazon’s military page. To learn more about the Military Influencer Conference, check out the speakers list, or find a Military Influencer Conference close to you, visit MilitaryInfluencer.com and take a look around. It could be the first step to an entrepreneurial career.

Articles

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Throughout military history, the gear our ground troops wear has depended on different aspects, for instance: the available technology, budget, and the weather (for the most part).


The needs of the mission and the environment determine what gear our infantrymen haul on their backs, around their waists, and even what they stuff into their many cargo pockets.

But the endgame of the mission always remains the same — win the war at all cost.

Related: These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

Today, the modern battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted our military to change what our troops take with them. “SAPI” plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) were added to help protect the service members vital organs from small arms fire.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
All that gear adds up. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

Travel back in time where medieval Knights wore several layers and different types of heavy body armor to protect themselves from sharp swinging swords to the accurately shot arrows. These fearless men would spend countless hours training while cloaked in their protective garments, acclimating their bodies for war.

Fast forward to the rice patties of Vietnam where Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers bravely left the wire typically sporting only their thin layered green t-shirts due to the constant humidity of the jungle while still toting pounds of extras.

Also Read: That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

One 155-pound TV show host wanted to experience just how heavy the gear of an American GI in Vietnam was. So after donning the full Vietnam War style combat load — complete with ammo, an M-16 rifle, an individual medical bag, and 2 quarts of water — the TV show host’s total weight amounted to just under 235 solid pounds of gear. It was an 80-pound difference.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to see this TV show host play grunt for an afternoon.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
MIGHTY TRENDING

Operation Mail Call connects isolated Veterans with the world

Veterans in the community living center (CLC) at VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, like CLC residents throughout the VA health care system, are isolated due to COVID-19 safety precautions and unable to receive visitors.


But thanks to the hundreds of letters they have received through Operation Mail Call, they know they haven’t been forgotten.

Call to action

Operation Mail Call began when Navy Veteran Tim Moran posted a call to action on Facebook. Moran is a VA Central Western Massachusetts registered nurse.

“I asked people to write to our Veterans in the CLC on the main campus since they can’t leave or receive visitors for their own safety,” says Moran. “We received between 115 to 120 pieces of mail in response to that first Facebook post. Every Veteran received at least three or four letters during the first mail all.”

Inspired by Navy service

Moran says Operation Mail Call was inspired by his time as a sailor in the Navy. “I worked on a fast frigate homeported in San Diego. My high school sweetheart used to write me letters scented with perfume. I used to read those letters over and over again.”

As Moran prepared to deploy to a VA CLC in Bedford, Massachusetts, to help care for coronavirus patients, he handed the project over to VA Recreation Therapist Meaghan Breed.

“We’re happy to spread the love to other Veterans who live on our main campus. And to those who are unable to receive visitors at this time as well,” Breed says.

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

Articles

Remembering Black Hawk crew chief Jeremy Tomlin

Specialist Jeremy Tomlin was afraid of heights but his fear fell away when he was in a Black Hawk helicopter, his mother said April 19.


Tomlin, 22, was killed this week when the helicopter he was on crashed into a Maryland golf course during a training mission. Two other soldiers on board were critically injured.

“Jeremy loved to hunt and fish,” grandfather Ronnie Tomlin said. “Growing up, he never caused anyone trouble. All he wanted to do was play video games. He was just an average kid.”

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
A UH-60 Black Hawk. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jasmonet Jackson)

Tomlin, the helicopter’s crew chief, grew up in the Chapel Hill, Tennessee, area. He was assigned to the 12th Aviation Battalion and stationed at Davison Airfield in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

He started playing video games at age 3 or 4, Jenny Tomlin said.

After graduating from high school in Unionville and turning 18, he headed off. He married his high school sweetheart, Jessica, before shipping off to Germany and they spent two years there, Jenny Tomlin said.

“He loved working on those helicopters and he loved flying,” Ronnie Tomlin said. When Jeremy Tomlin spoke to his grandfather recently, he said he was interested in getting into special operations.

Tomlin was aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter when it crashed in Leonardtown, Maryland, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southeast of Washington, D.C., the Army said. The helicopter was one of three on a training mission, the Army said.

Tomlin died at the scene and two others aboard, Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Nicholas and Capt. Terikazu Onoda, were injured and taken to a Baltimore hospital, the Army said.

Related: An Army Black Hawk has crashed in southern Maryland

Nicholas was in critical condition the evening of April 19 and Onoda had been upgraded from critical to serious condition, said Col. Amanda Azubuike, director of public affairs for the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. One witness described pieces falling from the aircraft and another said it was spinning before it went down.

A memorial service for Tomlin is scheduled for April 21 at Fort Belvoir.

“He was scared of heights, but in the helicopter he felt safe,” Jenny Tomlin said. “Not a lot of people can say they died doing what they loved.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army veteran Joe Quinn makes the move to Headstrong

Joe Quinn, a West Point graduate and the current Director of Leadership Development for Team Red, White Blue (RWB), has been hand-selected as in the incoming Executive Director for Headstrong, a non-profit organization that provides post-9/11 military veterans with free mental health care. He’ll begin his new role on Jan. 1, 2018.


7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
Team RWB swag during the Old Glory Relay.

U.S. Marine Zach Iscol, Chairman and Co-Founder of The Headstrong Project (and a previous veteran-to-watch on WATM’s Mighty 25) personally attested to Quinn’s character in the announcement made to the Headstrong team:

Despite graduating from West Point, Joe has had an exemplary and impressive career. He deployed twice to Iraq, served as an advisor to General Petraeus’ Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance team’s in Afghanistan, and earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard. As the Director of Leadership Development at Team RWB, a leading Veteran Service Organization, he has managed their growth to a major national organization and personally developed nearly 2,000 community leaders.

Also read: Team Red, White Blue is running the American flag 4,216 miles across the United States

No stranger to service-after-service (Team RWB enriches the lives of vets by connecting them to their community through various activities), Quinn’s own letter to the Team RWB family was filled with sentiment, purpose, and praise for his team:
Beginning January 1st, I’ll be the next Executive Director of the Headstrong Project, an organization that heals the hidden wounds of war through stigma-free, bureaucracy-free, cost-free, evidence-based treatments. At Headstrong, we are going to lead a vast movement across the country that heals the hidden wounds of war to help prevent veteran suicide. This is only the beginning, and I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity.
Quinn is a highly respected member of the veteran community, and one who knows the space and is connected to the vets he serves. He’s someone to watch out for in the coming year and we can’t wait to see what good he’ll do for veterans next!
Veterans

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way

On August 23, 1977, Sergeant Shirley was performing his military duties as instructed and required when the unthinkable happened. An explosive device detonated prematurely, blowing up in his hands. Jensen was severely injured, losing both forearms, a lung, vision in one eye, and multiple other internal and external injuries. He was 21 years old.

When he awoke after the injury, only one thing was on his mind. Service. 

For as long as he can remember, Jensen Shirley has understood the importance of serving. The son of a military veteran and nephew to five other WWII service members, Jensen had the future mapped out in his eyes before the tassel on his high school graduation cap was moved from right to left. He was joining the Army.

The year was 1973 and the United States was still two years out from ending its long and bitter war with Vietnam. 

“When I was in high school,” Jensen said, “I told my father I was joining the military and he said, ‘By the time you graduate, you’ll still end up going to Vietnam.’ And he asked me what I thought about that. I told him, ‘No one wants to go, but you all served and sacrificed, and now is our time to serve and sacrifice.’”

“It’s not a question of being right or wrong on the war question, or whether we should or shouldn’t have been there — we were already there. We were asked to serve, we were asked to go, and that was it.”


For Jensen, service was in his blood. 

After Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training (AIT), Jensen attended the Jungle Operations Training Center and successfully passed jungle school, a highly specialized, rigorous, infantry survival course. Jensen was operationally deployed to Panama where he continued his journey as an infantryman and soldier. 

When his overseas deployment was complete, Sergeant Shirley was assigned to Ft. Jackson, SC as a Combat Weapons Instructor on Bastogne Range. 

Here, service and sacrifice would take on new meaning for the young soldier. His catastrophic injury would change the course of his life forever.



For Jensen, it wasn’t enough that he had survived an injury many others had not. Jensen had to find a way to heal, to rehabilitate, and to get back to work. He was Sergeant Jensen Shirley. This was his calling, his life’s work…the future had been mapped out in his mind since the day he graduated from high school. Only, what was that future now?



“I couldn’t even sign the form I didn’t want to be signing.”

Here is a soldier with a deep-rooted commitment to serve who has suffered an unimaginable loss – of his hands and of his physical body, yes – but also of his sense of self. And he stands in front of the Physical Evaluation Board, forever changed, yet pleading for a chance to stay in the military. There’s just nothing they can do; his injuries are too severe. His military career was over.

But Sergeant Shirley – Jensen – did not allow his journey to end in that boardroom. You know by now that he doesn’t back down easily. 

So, if a military career was truly out of the question, Jensen was looking at the next best thing: serving veterans as a clinical counselor. Jensen was going to college.



There was just one small problem. With no hands and no full-time support, how was he supposed to write a paper or complete an exam? Remember, this is the 1970s. There were no resources, no systems, and no processes to help him navigate through this new journey. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) wasn’t even signed into law until almost 15 years later, and that left Jensen alone to figure out his own path forward. 

Enter Carol Keller.



Carol Keller helped Jensen transition into his new life, one that he never anticipated would be his, but one that he would make extraordinary.

“Because of her help in getting over that first hurdle, I started believing that I could do it. If somebody could just help me, if they could just open the door and let me in, I would do the rest,” he said.

So, just as he set out to do, Jensen graduated from American University. Then he graduated with a master’s degree from The George Washington University. Then he earned a second master’s from the University of San Francisco, a doctorate of education from the University of San Diego, and a CACREP-accreditation from Walden University. Not bad for someone with injuries deemed “too severe.”

From Sergeant Shirley…

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of

…To Dr. Jensen Shirley.



Thanks to some mutual friends, Jensen was eventually connected with William Rider. You might remember that name from a past story of ours. Bill served in Vietnam, experiencing unimaginable trauma. He later formed an organization called American Combat Veterans of War, or ACVOW, to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, sexual assault, or those serving jail time. 

A veteran helping veterans. Sound like anyone else you know?

The two were fast friends. Jensen and Bill spend time each week at the North County Vista jail, providing support and counseling to incarcerated veterans. After one such training session, Bill asked Jensen if he had ever heard of Chive Charities.

“Bill smiled, knowing that I had a heart for serving veterans and volunteering my time, talent and service to giving back,” Jensen told us. “And Bill said, ‘I want to talk with you not just about an organization, but about people like yourself who want to make a difference.’”

Making a difference in the lives of others is what it’s all about. And now, the one who always gives is finally receiving. We’re proud to serve Dr. Shirley in his time of need.



His request of Chive Charities was simple: he needed new kitchen appliances that he could operate with his prosthetics and a 4×4 golf cart with enough power to get to the end of his long and sloped driveway and back up again. 

You better believe he was getting those items.

Thanks to our committed donors and incredible partnership with STRATACACHE, we were able to fund a grant for Jensen with an impact of $17,691. Jensen is the third recipient they’ve directly supported this year (remember Gracyn and Zack?). 

Like Dr. Shirley, STRATACACHE values the importance of serving others and providing help to those in need. At Chive Charities, our mission is to make the world 10% happier – we’re able to stand behind that because of their ongoing commitment and support, and through donors like you. If you haven’t joined us yet, DONATE HERE). 

“Jensen shows the true character of the American soldier. In the face of great adversity, he doesn’t quit. STRATACACHE and Chive Charities are proud to thank him for his service and try to help make his life a little easier,” said Chris Riegel, CEO of STRATACACHE. “Our partnership with Chive Charities allows STRATACACHE to focus on helping the underdog, the outsider, the little guy and those in need in the shadows of our lives challenged with everyday activities we take for granted. Helping Jensen is about making the world 10% better.”

Speaking of helping, Chive On California even stepped up to hand-deliver his new appliances this week, gladly serving someone who has served so many others.



We asked Jensen what this support means to him, and as always, his words are powerful. We’ll let him take it from here:

“The Chive Charities grant has impacted me in a way that is so humbling. First, it lets me know I am not alone. Although many years have passed since my incident, I am still pressing on serving others, one person at a time.”

“Second, life is not about what or why things happen to you; life is about what you do for others when things like this happen. My call has been to serve God, country and others. Now, my call is to serve until the service is done. Thank you, Chive Charities, from the bottom of my heart.”


Serve until the service is done. For rare medical, first responders, or veterans like Jensen, that’s a calling we can get behind. Can you? DONATE HERE.

This story originally appeared on Chive Charities. Visit their website to learn more about their services.

Veterans

The Mother Teresa of recreation therapy has retired


Joyce Casey is all smiles while trying out adaptive skis at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

recreation therapy

Mom. Big sister. Teacher. Therapist. Psychologist. Friend.

Those are some of the ways Milwaukee VA recreation therapist Joyce Casey has been described.

But Dr. Ken Lee, head of the Spinal Cord Injury Center, probably had the best description: “She’s the Mother Teresa of recreation therapy,” Lee said.

But Mother Teresa has retired.

Casey, 62, who has been at the Milwaukee VA for 15 years, called it quits Feb. 26. The 62-year-old and her husband are set to become Wisconsin snowbirds starting in March.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “It’s like a family here, and I’ll miss Veterans and all the fun times we had.”

Casey broke a lot of ground at the Milwaukee VA, gaining national prominence in the push to get paralyzed Veterans up and moving through adaptive sports. She pushed them to try just about everything, from fishing to downhill skiing.

And the Veterans are glad she did.

“She’s the greatest recreation therapist I’ve met,” said Noah Currier, the founder of OscarMike, the Veteran apparel company that supports adaptive sports.

“Over a decade of being involved in the VA system and wheelchair games, I’ve met recreation therapists all over the country,” he said. “Everyone knows Joyce, and her team always does the best.”

Currier’s story – injured in a freak truck accident in the U.S. after surviving the first forays of the Gulf War, he was on the verge of suicide before discovering adaptive sports  – shows how Casey set him and many other bitter and despondent paralyzed Veterans on the road to a better life.

Joyce Casey helps a Veteran outside the Spinal Cord Injury Center at the Milwaukee VA.

“I might have been a young punk when I met her, and she did a great job of dealing with me,” Currier said. “She struck that perfect balance of patience and impatience, making me accountable and also making me excited to do things in adaptive sports.

“I’m a totally different person now. When I met her, I wasn’t involved in adaptive sports at all, and now I run an organization devoted to it. She connected me with a great group of people to help push me along the way.”

“She has touched so many Veterans’ lives,” said Erinn Kulba, a fellow recreation therapist in SCI. “You can see Veterans light up when they are around her. She’s the reason they have the ability to maintain the quality of life they want.”

Casey knew early on that helping people was one of her strong points.

During school, she spent summers working at a swimming pool where she taught swim lessons to kids and adults who had a fear of water or other problems.

“She’s been like a mom to me. She takes you under her wing, and she gets you to feel like you’re a normal person, and you learn to do things differently.”

— Veteran Randy Riek

“I would always take the heavy hitters. That didn’t bother me,” she said.

One of her jobs at the camp was providing leisure-time programming for the campers, which included organizing a talent show.

“It was just really cool,” she said. “One thing just kind of led to another, and rec therapy just seemed like a good fit.”

That led her to the University of Iowa and its recreation therapy program. While in college, she spent time in a program that helped children and young adults with self-care and also assisted at a camp for boys who stuttered.

She interned in Omaha, Neb., and worked at a number of hospitals in Nebraska, Texas and Virginia before coming to Milwaukee in 2006.

At that time, SCI was on the 10th floor of the hospital, which was not ideal.

“I hated it,” she said. “I was just dropped off on the 10th floor and had to figure it out. I didn’t even know what a handcycle was.”

But by talking with Veterans and corresponding with other recreation therapists across the country, she soon figured it out.

recreation therapy
Joyce Casey walks with a Veteran in the Milwaukee VA’s Spinal Cord Injury Center.

BraveHearts, a therapeutic horse-riding program, was her first foray for the Veterans, but others soon followed, including Guitars 4 Vets and Team River Runner.

Before long, Casey’s Veterans were involved in all manner of adaptive sports.

Those involved became a team, and the positive reactions reverberated through the community of paralyzed Vets. As more Vets became involved, they encouraged others. The outings became commonplace.

“There was a big influx (of paralyzed Veterans) at the time, from the Iraq and Afghanistan generation, and we were a difficult group to deal with,” Currier said. “She did a great job. She was more like a friend. We all looked up to her, and the way she dealt with us was pretty spectacular.”

Fellow Veteran Terrence “T-Bone” Green agreed.

“You have to have good communication skills with the guys, and she would talk to you like a big sister, a mom, a friend – sometimes a psychologist,” he said. “She knew how to talk with people.”

“She’s been like a mom to me,” said Veteran Randy Riek. “She takes you under her wing, and she gets you to feel like you’re a normal person, and you learn to do things differently.”

Blazing a trail

Casey found a kindred spirit in Lee, also a believer in adaptive sports.

“We clicked from the very get-go,” he said. “She could read my mind. Whatever needed to be done, she got it done, and it was done right.

“The Vets really benefited from her, and she started a lot of stuff at the national level. She started a movement.”

“When I think about how this program really took off, I feel like the stars were aligned,” Casey said. “Dr. Lee was very supportive and very instrumental.”

Before long, a new facility was built for SCI, which gave the recreation therapy program more resources in addition to the groups and organizations Casey connected with in the community.

“My job was just connecting the dots between the Veterans, the community and whatever that Veteran liked to do, whether it was golf, fishing or trapshooting,” she said.

Those outpatient programs blended with the work other therapists do with inpatients, because the goal of therapy is to get patients out of the hospital and back in their homes.

But keeping the Veterans active once the return home is key, Casey said.

“A big part of what we do is seeing that rehab process out in the community, so that when they get discharged, they get involved in some sort of activity, rather than go home and put on weight or make some unhealthy lifestyle choices,” she said.

Making the hard look easy

Recreation therapy is easily misunderstood, Casey said, because it looks like people out having fun. But the outings require meticulous planning, help from volunteers, and a variety of special equipment and transportation.

In addition to the logistics, the therapists have to meet the physical and mental needs of the Veterans, many of whom are doing something well outside their comfort zone.

“She has brought such awareness to spinal cord and adaptive sports. Everyone knows her as being the therapist who gets Vets up and on the move after their injuries.”

— Milwaukee VA Recreation Therapist Erinn Kulba

“You really need to know your equipment and the level of injury of your Veterans because you want to set them up to have a successful experience,” she said.

“There’s a learning curve for the Veterans… but when they get it figured out, it’s amazing. That spark comes back, and they find that little flame in their soul to pursue something that gives them enjoyment… It’s priceless.”

Kulba said Casey has taken scores of interns under her wing, and many have flourished as recreation therapists. In fact Casey is the reason Kulba became a recreation therapist.

“I volunteered in SCI 11 years ago, and after meeting the team, I decided to pursue my master’s so I could do what she does,” Kulba said.

“She has brought such awareness to spinal cord and adaptive sports. Everyone knows her as being the therapist who gets Vets up and on the move after their injuries.”

Sidelined

The COVID-19 pandemic effectively quashed all the outings the adaptive sports Veterans enjoy.

It hurt Casey as well – being cooped up in a building is not her strong suit. And she admitted the past year helped push her toward retirement.

“I can’t just sit around. I can’t,” she said. “We’ve done some virtual stuff… but it’s not the same.”

Riek agreed.

“It’s been so hard to not be able to come in and do things,” he said. “We used to tie flies, do woodworking, play bocce ball, go bowling.”

That programming will come back eventually, but Casey said the restart may be difficult.

“It’s going to take quite a bit of work, energy and creativity,” she said. “It’s doable, but it will be different, and it will take some time.”

Kulba lauded Casey for being innovative during the lockdown, using virtual interactions to keep Veterans engaged.

And she said the groundwork Casey has laid will endure.

“That will carry on well beyond my years and anyone else’s,” she said. “She has established such a strong, strong program.”

If the Veterans had their way, Casey wouldn’t be going anywhere.

“We’re going to kidnap her and chain her to the deck,” Green joked. “If they can clone her, then it’s fine. But she will leave some really big shoes to fill – bigger than Shaq’s.

“She’s a saint. Joyce is the pin that holds everything together. It hurts that she’s leaving. The bottom line is you cannot replace Joyce.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” Currier said. “I’m happy she gets to retire, but nobody can replace her.”

Her colleagues feel the same.

“I’m so sad to see her go,” Lee said. “She is truly the heartbeat of recreation therapy.”

To view a slideshow tribute to Casey, click here.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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These 3 snipers had more kills than Carlos Hathcock in Vietnam

While Carlos Hathcock is perhaps the most famous sniper of the Vietnam War, he actually ranks fourth in the number of confirmed kills.


Yeah, that’s right. Hathcock was out-scored by three other snipers during that conflict. So, who are the guys who bested Hathcock’s 93 confirmed sniper kills? Let’s take a look at them.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
Carlos Hathcock | Photo: Marine Corps Archives

3rd place: Eric R. England – 98 confirmed kills

The Union County Historical Society reports that Eric England had his service in Vietnam cut short at seven months.

England also had a lengthy track record of success in competitive shooting, including winning the Leech Cup — the oldest competitive shooting trophy in the United States.

England rates as perhaps the most obscure of the snipers who out-shot Hathcock. Aside from some photos taken during the 2011 Memorial Day Parade in Union County, Georgia, few, if any, photos of this legend are publicly available.

Second Place: Chuck Mawhinney – 103 confirmed kills

Chuck Mawhinney served from 1967-1970 in the Marine Corps. According to a 2000 Los Angeles Times article, he spent 16 months in Vietnam. After leaving the Marine Corps, he worked in the United States Forest Service.

Mawhinney’s youth was spent hunting, and he chose the Marines because they allowed him to delay his entry until after deer season. Some Marine recruiter did his country a service with that call.

Mawhinney noted that every one of his kills had a weapon — with one notable exception: A North Vietnamese Army paymaster who he took out from 900 yards away.

Today, Mawhinney is talking about what he has done, seeking to dispel the many stereotypes of snipers that are in people’s minds.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
This is the M40 sniper rifle used by Chuck Mawhinney during the Vietnam War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1st Place: Adelbert Waldron — 109 confirmed kills

America’s top sniper of the Vietnam War wasn’t a Marine. He served with the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army. Yeah, you read that right. Marines got all the press and the glory, but an Army guy was the top sniper shot of the Vietnam War.

Waldron had served in the United States Navy for 12 years before going to civilian life. In 1968, he enlisted in the Army. SniperCentral.com noted that Waldron spent 16 months in Vietnam. Waldron primarily used the M21 Sniper Weapon System, a modified M14.

Waldron was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice. He also was awarded the Silver Star and three Bronze Stars. Still, he never talked about his service with the media, and died in 1995. His total would be the top score for an American sniper until Chris Kyle totaled 160 during the Global War on Terror.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of
Adelbert Waldron, America’s top sniper of the Vietnam War.

So, when it comes to Vietnam War snipers, the legendary “White Feather” ranks at number four.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Team RWB encourages Veterans to stay connected, stay active

Every year, more than 200,000 service members transition from military to civilian life, joining more than 18 million Veterans to form one of America’s largest and strongest communities. But like most big transitions in life, this one is not easy. Since its inception in 2010, Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB) has been helping Veterans stay active, connecting to their new communities and developing a resilient mindset. Today, Team RWB is 217,000 members strong, with chapters across the country. Volunteer leaders run these chapters, and collectively, they host nearly 40,000 events per year.


7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of

Providing Veterans more opportunities

Through a newly formalized partnership (signed memorandum of understanding) with the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA stakeholders will have access to Team RWB’s wide-ranging network of events, providing Veterans and supporters everywhere opportunities to connect at the local, regional and national levels.

In addition, Team RWB will work with local VA staff to bring the power of the Eagle network to communities across the country. Events range from hikes to yoga classes, to preparing care packages for deployed service members.

“Team RWB is a non-profit organization, but in that, we are so much more, ” says Mike Erwin, founder and Executive Director of Team RWB. “We are a movement and an identity, a mindset and a community that challenges and supports each other. We are accountable to each other, especially when it comes to creating healthy habits in our post-military lives. Through this new partnership with VA, Team RWB is positioned to engage every Veteran in our country—to help them re-discover the power of physical activity in their lives. And through that, a sense of pride, confidence, purpose and belonging.”

Last fall, Team RWB released a mobile app to engage Veterans wherever they are throughout the day. The Eagle app makes it even easier to discover nearby events and participate in virtual challenges like last month’s March Madness Challenge that had states competing with each other. In May, a new update will introduce social networking, the ability for members to create events and more.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of

Born for the Storm

As Team RWB prepares to celebrate its 10th year, the organization has rolled out a new mantra for its Veterans: Born for the Storm. It’s a virus now, but it could be something else by the fall. Life is unpredictable and adversity is certain. Team RWB knows that every Veteran has persevered through numerous physical and mental challenges while serving the nation, and reminds its Veterans that they have the character to weather whatever storms they may be facing.

Team RWB is fired up to partner with VA and wants you to explore the idea of joining the Team and becoming active in virtual challenges right away. You, the Veteran community and our country, will be better for it.

Download the Team RWB app
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This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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Congress considers 3.1% military pay raise

A House Appropriations subcommittee on May 15, 2019, approved a fiscal 2020 defense funding bill that would cover the cost of a 3.1% military pay raise.

The bill, introduced May 14, 2019, by the House Appropriations Committee, would provide $690.2 billion for the Defense Department — $8 billion below President Donald Trump’s budget request, but $15.8 billion above the fiscal 2019 DoD budget. The $690.2 billion includes $68.1 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds, or OCO.

Under the legislation, active-duty end-strength would be trimmed: The proposal supports 1,337,500 troops, 600 fewer than are currently serving and 2,000 fewer than the administration’s request. It also would cut the reserve component by 16,900, the amount requested by the Pentagon.


On other personnel issues, the bill would provide .7 million to upgrade child care facilities on installations and direct the services to come up with “innovative ideas” to solve the shortage of quality child care services.

It also would provide 0 million for medical research programs directed by Congress and furnish 7 million for sexual-assault prevention and response, an increase of million above the administration’s request.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of

Soldiers load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out and execute missions across the Combined Joint Operations Area- Afghanistan.

(US Army photo)

“The subcommittee has sought throughout this legislative process to keep in mind the morale and quality of life of all our service members and their families. I believe we have taken tangible steps in this bill to refocus much-deserved attention on their issues of concern,” said Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Indiana, who chairs the subcommittee.

Several programs would be bolstered if the legislation passes as written — unlikely, given that it is one of four bills that ultimately guide future defense spending. However, large sections of it are expected to be included in the final measure, usually an amalgam that includes similar legislation from the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate and House Armed Services Committees also weigh in with legislation that directs policy issues.

Programs that may see increases next year include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The proposed House bill would fund 90 F-35s, or a dozen more than the Pentagon’s request. It also would fund 73 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters; 14 V-22 Osprey aircraft and 16 C-130J aircraft, four more of each than the services asked for; and nine P-8A Poseidons, three more than requested.

The bill would fund 11 ships, including three DDG-51 guided missile destroyers, two SSN-774 attack submarines, one FFG frigate, a Ford-class aircraft carrier, two fleet oilers and two towing, salvage and rescue ships.

It also would pay for cannon and weapon stations for 86 Strykers and upgrade 165 M1A2 Abrams tanks.

7 things we did on deployment we’re totally proud of

US Army M1A2 Abrams tank.

“The bill ensures that our service members are trained and equipped to do their jobs safely and effectively and that they are prepared for future military needs,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, said in a statement May 15, 2019.

The proposed bill places a number of restrictions on the defense budget, including limiting how the executive branch and the Defense Department can move money in accounts. It limits the amount to id=”listicle-2637320945″.5 billion, down from .5 billion.

The change is a direct response to the Trump administration’s efforts to transfer money to fund a fence or wall along the southern border.

The bill also places an emphasis on environmental cleanup of military bases and former military sites, providing id=”listicle-2637320945″.26 billion — 8 million more than requested — for restoration, removal of unsafe property and debris, and hazardous waste disposal.

This includes million to study and assess the extent of contamination from chemicals used in firefighting foam and stain-resistant materials called perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.

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

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Quadruple amputee Travis Mills wows the crowd with appearance on ‘Ellen’ show

Retired Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills went out on a foot patrol on April 10, 2012. It was his third tour in Afghanistan. He woke up on his 25th birthday to find that he’d stepped on on improvised explosive device, or IED, and that he’d suddenly become a quadruple amputee.


David Vobora was an NFL athlete who’d been dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” after being the last draft pick of the season in 2008. While playing for the Seattle Seahawks, Vobora blew out his shoulder. It would ultimately force him to retire from the NFL at just 25 years old.

In the intervening years, Mills and Vobora forged an unlikely friendship.

“I had 25 good years with my arms and legs, and now I got the rest of my life to still keep living and pushing forward,” Mills said during an interview on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” yesterday.

“Something was missing,” Vobora, who is now a personal trainer, said. He noted that his work with professional athletes and wealthy clients was failing to fill a void in his life.

When Vobora met Mills, “I just knew I had to work with him.”

Mills talks about his predicament with lots of humor. When thanked for his heroism, Mills somewhat shrugs and replies, “I didn’t do more than anyone else. I just had a bad day at work, you know; a case of the Mondays.”

His wife, with whom he is expecting their second child, is equally humorous. “I’m in it for the handicapped parking,” Mills quotes her as having said shortly after his leg had to be amputated.

Vobora combined his research into the training he’d done with professional athletes with Mills’ experience at Walter Reed to build two non-profits: The Travis Mills Foundation and The Adaptive Training Foundation.

Both men were gifted with generous checks from Ellen and Walmart for their foundations.

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