While Black-Americans have been helping America win wars since the Revolutionary War, they have not historically been recognized for their heroism at the same rate as their white counterparts.
These 8 heroes received Medals of Honor for their actions decades after the battles:
1. Sgt. Henry Johnson
One WWI soldier was not bestowed his Medal of Honor until nearly a century later.Sgt. Henry Johnson, assigned to the “Harlem Hellfighters” of the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, came under heavy enemy fire on May 15, 1918, from a German raiding party in the Argonne Forest. Despite being wounded Johnson used grenades, a rifle, a knife, and his bare hands to hold off the German attack.
2. 2nd Lt. Vernon J. Baker
2nd Lt. Vernon J. Baker took part in a company attack in Apr. 1945, near Viareggio, Italy. He personally destroyed four German positions that were pinning down his unit and then covered the evacuation of wounded personnel. The next night, Baker led an advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire to capture a division objective.
3. Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter, Jr.
Sgt. Edward A. Carter was riding on a tank on Mar. 23, 1945 near Speyer, Germany when enemy anti-tank and rifle fire began flying in. Carter voluntarily led a three-man team against the position. He was wounded five times and an enemy squad attempted to capture him, but he killed six Germans and captured two.
4. 1st Lt. John R. Fox
Near Sommocolonia, Italy on Dec. 26, 1944, 1st Lt. John R. Fox was directing defensive artillery fire to slow a German advance. He adjusted the fire closer and closer to his position until finally ordering it onto his own building as the Nazis drew closer. Later, Fox’s body was found with approximately 100 dead German soldiers around him.
5. Pfc. Willy F. James, Jr.
On Apr. 7, 1945, Pfc. Willy F. James Jr. scouted a vital bridgehead while pinned down, then returned to his unit he assisted in developing a plan of maneuver to take the bridge. He led a squad, designating targets as he advanced, until he was killed by enemy fire while trying to aid his fatally wounded platoon leader.
6. Sgt. Ruben Rivers
Sgt. Ruben Rivers was a tank platoon sergeant in World War II. On Nov. 16, 1944, he was leading a tank assault when he struck a mine and was severely injured in the leg. He refused to be medically evacuated and led another tank in to save his platoon.
On Nov. 19, Rivers’ wound was infected but he led another tank in a company assault despite his wounds. When an enemy anti-tank unit began firing from concealed positions, the rest of the company withdrew. Rivers spotted the Germans began returning fire alongside another tank. The rest of the company made it out but Rivers’ tank was destroyed, killing him and wounded the rest of the crew.
7. 1st Lt. Charles Thomas
Near Climbach, France on Dec. 14, 1944, 1st Lt. Charles Thomas’s armored scout car was subjected to intense enemy artillery and small arms fire. Although wounded by the burst of fire, Thomas, assisted the crew in dismounting before he took additional enemy fire in his chest, legs, and left arm.
Thomas directed his two antitank guns begin returning fire. Realizing he could no longer remain in command, Thomas stayed long enough to brief his subordinate officer on the enemy disposition. Only after he was certain the other officer was in control did he permit himself to be evacuated.
8. Pvt. George Watson
Pvt. George Watson was on board a ship near New Guinea on Mar. 8 when it was hit by enemy bombers. The order to abandon ship was given but Watson did not head to safety. Instead he began assisting soldiers who could not swim to a raft. Because of this, he was eventually pulled under the surface of the water by the suction from the sinking ship.
For years, there was one benefit the Air Force had over all branches of the military, the one thing you could only get by crossing into the blue: an associate’s degree from the Community College of the Air Force, a two-year, accredited degree program that integrates all your military training with the addition of just a few general courses. You couldn’t get it with the Army or Navy.
Now, members of any branch can start a similar program to earn a degree from Syracuse University – for free.
In an age of skyrocketing tuition that has Presidential candidates debating if colleges and universities have gone too far, Syracuse University is opening its doors to more and more people, especially America’s active duty troops, reservists, National Guard members, and veterans.
With part-time learners like U.S. military members in mind, the school has created a way for the entire armed forces to go Orange. Syracuse University has aligned the part-time tuition rates it charges active duty members enrolled in online classes to match the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) reimbursement. This means no matter where they’re stationed, if they want a degree from a top-tier four-year university, they can have it without ever touching GI Bill benefits.
The move is part of Syracuse University’s and Chancellor Kent Syverud’s dedication to the U.S. military, its veterans, and their families. Since Syverud took his post in 2014, his administration has taken enormous steps to further serve veteran students and their families. The number of military-connected students at the university has skyrocketed more than 500 percent in five years. The school even employs veteran admissions advisors who help military members transition from the service to student life, assisting with GI Bill and other Veterans Affairs processes. Syracuse even has a number of special programs dedicated to veteran student successes – including veteran-only offices, study areas, advisors, immersion programs, and even legal clinics.
Syracuse has a long history of supporting American veterans. While the school recently established the interdisciplinary Institute for Veterans and Military Families, an on-campus non-profit that works to advance veterans’ post-military lives nationwide (not just at Syracuse), the school’s commitment to vets dates back to the end of World War II, when the school guaranteed admission for all veterans. Its university college for part-time students was initially created for veterans who couldn’t study full-time. Since then, the school has specially trained thousands of the Pentagon’s officers, photojournalists, and other disciplines in the military. Syracuse even allowed Marines deployed to the 1991 Gulf War to continue their studies independently.
Their work continues, with partnerships to train entrepreneurial military spouses backed by Google, conducting studies to tackle veteran unemployment and homelessness, and even testifying before the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, no one is more dedicated to the post-military success of American veterans. If you’re looking for a powerful, positive community of veterans to join when leaving the military, look no further.
Military movies can often remind Veterans of their service. They can also bring up painful memories of the past.
Air Force Veteran and Silver Star recipient John Pighini is someone who knows both sides of this issue. He recently worked as a technical adviser on a major motion picture that showcased the bravery of service members, but also brought up a painful past. These movies can sometimes show Veterans dealing with their own struggles: anger, paranoia, edginess, regret and survivor’s guilt.
Pighini saw those struggles on the big screen after working on the movie. “It feels like they take post-traumatic stress and they set it right in your lap,” he said. “Don’t go to this movie and not take a handkerchief or tissues with you. You will not make it through.”
PTSD in Veterans
These are the feelings Pighini knows all too well. He served as a pararescueman during Vietnam, which led to his role on the movie as a technical adviser. As members of Air Force Special Warfare, pararescue specialists rescue and medically treat downed military personnel all over the world. These highly trained experts take part in every aspect of the mission and are skilled parachutists, scuba divers and rock climbers, and they are even arctic-trained in order to access any environment to save a life when called.
Dr. Paula Schnurr, executive director for National Center for PTSD in VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, started studying PTSD in 1984. She said Vietnam Veterans are still dealing with effects because the lack of support when they returned from deployment.
“Vietnam Veterans, like Veterans of earlier wars, were expected to come home and get on with their lives,” she said. Schnurr added the publicly opposed war made Vietnam Veterans’ transition hard to come home.
The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, completed in 1988 by the Research Triangle Institute, was pivotal for Veterans and the medical community. At the time, it was the most rigorous and comprehensive study on PTSD and other psychological problems for Vietnam Veterans readjusting to civilian life.
The study findings indicated about 30% of all male and 27% of female Vietnam theater Veterans had PTSD at some point during their lives. At the time, that equated to more than 970,000 Veterans. Additionally, about one half of the men and one third of the women who ever had PTSD still had it.
PTSD symptoms may increase with age after retiring from work, or from medical problems and lack of coping mechanisms.
Having a mission
Having a mission can help Veterans deal with PTSD. While working on a recent movie, Pighini recalled the struggles he still deals with–50 years after his Vietnam service.
“The early days, we didn’t know what we had,” he said. “As we get older, we become more melancholy. We’re not busy and we’re not out there on the firing line.”
While filmed in Thailand, Pighini said the smells from Southeast Asia raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Despite the flashbacks, Pighini said he hopes viewers realize the importance of putting a spotlight on PTSD. He added movies also depict the courageousness of military members. In the movie he worked on, the movie told the story of an Air Force pararescuemen who lived by their motto, “That others may live.”
“That means you lay it out,” Pighini said. “You do whatever you need to do to save a life. It’s the ethos we have. It’s what we live by. If you have to lay down your life or one of your limbs or whatever it is, you do it. It means everything.”
The veterans currently living in the Lebanon Veterans Home in Lebanon, Oregon have walked through tough times. The majority of them are over 70 years old and around one third of them over 90. Many of them saw combat in the Korean War, Vietnam War and even World War II. They made it home from those wars only to have another show up at their doorstep at what should be a quiet time in their lives: COVID-19.
Trying to survive a global pandemic is their new war.
The Lebanon Veterans Home houses more than 145 veterans and some of their spouses. There have been 14 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the home, which has been wreaking havoc on the world. On Sunday March 22, 2020, a veteran of the home died from the disease. He was in his 90s and served this country with honor.
While the residents of the home continue to reel from the death of one of their friends and neighbors, the fight for their well-being is just beginning. The entire facility is now in complete lockdown with no visitors allowed. The residents are also now barred from doing group activities or even eating together anymore. In a sense, they are quarantined to their rooms. This is a traumatic change for these veterans and is causing a negative impact to their mental health.
The intensity of the response to combating COVID-19 for these veterans is due to all of them being considered high risk with their age and medical conditions. Although warranted to prevent the spread of this disease, the veterans are suffering in their isolation.
Tyler Francke, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs spoke with We Are The Mighty to ask our readers for their help by submitting messages of hope, encouragement and gratitude via homemade videos. The veterans home has a closed-circuit TV that they can showcase the videos on. These videos would go a long way to let these veterans know they aren’t alone and they can make it through this tough season.
“The Lebanon Veterans’ Home is an amazing place,” Francke said, “and it’s all because of the dedicated and hard-working staff, and the incredible residents who live there. The men and women there are unbelievable. They’re our nation’s heroes, and yet, they ask for nothing. Instead, they do what they can to brighten your day. Around the Home, I know it’s become something of a rallying cry: ‘They fought for us, now we fight for them.’ I know there are a lot of people all around the community, the state and even the country who are pulling for them, and we just thought this would be one really cool way for everyone to show it.
Francke asked that people send 30-45 seconds of positive videos with big smiles and clear voices offering messages of support, encouragement and hope. These can easily be done on a cell phone and do not require any production.
Residents smile for a photo. Picture via Facebook.
These videos would take but a moment out of your day to make a veteran smile and bring hope to their hearts. This is a great project for kids to do while they’re in virtual learning. Many of the veterans have grandchildren and great-grandchildren they’re unable to see, and it’s a great way to teach your kids about history, service and selflessness.
These veterans sacrificed so much for America, help show them they haven’t been forgotten and that they can make it through this.
As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to provide the best mental health care access possible, VA is reminding veterans that it offers all veterans same-day access to emergency mental health care at any VA health care facility across the country.
“Providing same-day 24/7 access to mental health crisis intervention and support for veterans, service members and their families is our top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s important that all veterans, their family and friends know that help is easily available.”
VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention is the national leader in making high-quality mental health care and suicide prevention resources available to Veterans through a full spectrum of outpatient, inpatient and telemental health services.
Additionally, VA has developed the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which reflects the department’s vision for a coordinated effort to prevent suicide among all service members and veterans. This strategy maintains VA’s focus on high-risk individuals in health care settings, while also adopting a broad public health approach to suicide prevention.
VA has supported numerous veterans and has the capacity to assist more. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, 1.7 million veterans received Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health services. These patients received more than 84,000 psychiatric hospital stays, about 41,700 residential stays and more than 21 million outpatient encounters.
Nationally, in the first quarter of FY 2019, 90% of new patients completed an appointment in a mental health clinic within 30 days of scheduling an appointment, and 96.8% of established patients completed a mental health appointment within 30 days of the day they requested. For FY 2018, 48% of initial, in-person Primary Care — Mental Health Integration (PC-MHI) encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter. During the first quarter of FY 2019, 51% of initial, in-person PC-MHI encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter.
Veterans in crisis – or those concerned about one – should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text message to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Transitioning from military life to the civilian world is no walk in the park — for those working through the process of transition, how do you choose your support?
What if one program supported your transition from career services, education, to placement?
VETTED shines as a veteran transition platform embracing this total package approach.
While studying at the University of Texas, Navy SEAL and VETTED Founder, Michael Sarraille, saw a gap in veterans joining corporate America. While there are thousands of work programs available, there wasn’t an organizing structure or process producing repeatable results for veterans specifically.
Sarraille, the architect behind VETTED, led the development of what is now hailed as the most comprehensive veteran transition platform.
Current CEO, Robert White, notes three parts of successful transition: Career Development + Education + Placement.
Military funded programs, like TGPS, provide part of the career services component while placement firms, like Bradley Morris Inc. and others, do talent sourcing, but as White notes, “without the education piece, you’re going to plateau.”
Disparity in support
Many veterans are familiar with career service resources, but the common tools that they use don’t often work for career placement. Military transition counselors aren’t the same advocates as recruiters and many of the education programs used while serving lack the alumni and brand recognition of civilian programs.
For example, 50% of the 2017-2018 VETTED fellows have MBAs from programs you know in uniform — but unfortunately, the military MBA programs aren’t as recognizable as top MBA programs in the civilian world. Although equally educated, veterans don’t often get the respect they deserve in the civilian market.
Alignment and consistency from military support to civilian support is where VETTED stands out.
“This is the professional military education platform to accelerate high-caliber veterans into corporate leaders or entrepreneurs.” – Robert White
VETTED works in five stages: Transition preparation, distance education, residence education, career placement, and followthrough.
Potential fellows complete a detailed application process, and, if accepted, progress along a five-month distance education program.
Each distance program is partnered with a regionally accredited, top MBA program.
The first fellows complete coursework with the Executive Education/MBA departments at University of Texas Texas AM University, receiving the same course content and training as their civilian counterparts. And as the VETTED program rolls out nationwide, fellows will be able to target programs based on geographic locations that they want to transition into.
Residency and placement
Following distance education, fellows meet for a two-month, in-person residency.
This February, 40 fellows will attend intensive training at UT McCombs Texas AM Mays Business Schools. They undergo orientation training in management consulting or entrepreneurship.
After residency, VETTED has partnered with Bradley Morris, Veterati, American Corporate Partners, and other experts to extend support to graduates.
Fellows partner with both VETTED and industry mentors to find ideal employers and craft a network for employment. No other transition support or training provider has this “cradle-to-grave” structure.
VETTED’s leadership is committed to diversity inclusion in fellows and leadership.
White notes that VETTED is researching with the University of Washington Women’s Center on how to better target women for the program. The current fellows program is 12.5% women and VETTED wants to increase that percentage to better match the transitioning veteran population.
VETTED’s partnership with the University of Washington goes beyond just targeted recruitment and outreach. UW’s Foster School of Business has recently been announced as the third school implementing VETTED’s Veteran Accelerated Management Program.
With others schools currently in negotiation, VETTED is on it’s way to becoming the premier transition platform to catapult military leaders into management consulting, operations, and entrepreneurship.
But growth has its limits.
VETTED has expanded their donation model to allow individual contributors, as well as corporate sponsors for both fellowship spots or their entire program. If you’re interested in supporting, please reach out.
About the Author: Travis is an active duty Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard. He’s currently a Marine Inspector Port State Control Officer, assigned to the Port of New Orleans. He is also the author of two books, including his recent book Command Your Transition.
Recently, a video of Secretary of Defense James Mattis surfaced as the retired, decorated Marine met with a group of deployed service members. As the former general started to speak, a school circle quickly formed around him as his words began to motivate those who listened.
Mattis is widely-known for his impeccable military service and leadership skills, earning him the respect by both enlisted personnel and officers.
Mattis broke the ice with the deployed service members by humorously introducing himself and thanking them in his special way — an epic impromptu speech.
“Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it of being friendly to one another, you know, that Americans owe to one other,” Mattis said. “We’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”
USAA is stepping forward to honor the nation’s nearly 18 million veterans with its #HonorThroughAction challenge. Country music star Chris Young, who has close ties to the military community, is joining forces with the organization for Veterans Day.
Young has had an impressive career in country music. But despite number one hits, world tours and numerous awards, he remains a humble man, deeply appreciative of America’s service members. Early in his career he spent a lot of time playing on military bases throughout the United States and had friends who were closely connected to the military growing up. But it hits home for him, too. His grandfather served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War and then later in Young’s music career, his sister joined and served as a Marine herself.
When USAA approached him to help lead and promote its campaign, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. The goal of the campaign is to flood the internet with images of people with the letter “V” on their hands and messages of gratitude for America’s veterans. Young shared that he felt it was a visible way to truly say thank you by overflowing social media with personal messages, reaching even more veterans. “It’s an awesome way to use social media as an outreach platform to really make it a huge day of thanks for their sacrifice and service,” he explained. “I normally have my name talked about much more than my sister and this is a way for me to use all of my platforms to say thank you to her, too.”
Young has spent considerable time overseas performing for the troops, something he said he truly enjoys. He’s gone to Iraq multiple times, Kuwait and even as far as Japan. Young also shared how he once had the opportunity to go to a Forward Operating Base on the border of Iran, which was impacting in more ways than one. “Their PX was a tractor trailer… It was a small FOB. I was playing acoustic with another guitar player because that’s really all we had room for, since it was a much smaller base,” Young explained. “Everybody was very thankful and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ because it was over the top saying thank you. But then a service member told me I was the only non-military entertainment that had ever played for them. That just blew my mind.”
This experience was pivotal for Young, he said. Although he’s spent time playing at bases throughout the world and inviting service members to shows, playing for those service members in particular was different. It cemented for him that any opportunity he has to say thank you, he’s all in. “I am very honored that USAA wanted to partner with me to not only say thank you to the 18 military US military veterans but also do something like this where people can actually take part in it too,” he explained.
USAA’s third annual #HonorThroughAction challenge is really easy. Participants can simply draw a V on their hand – for veterans – and then add the initials of anyone in particular who has served that they want to highlight. Then simply snap a picture and share on social media along with the hashtag, #HonorThroughAction. It only takes a moment and is an actionable way to make your thank you more meaningful. The goal is to flood all social media platforms with these posts, reaching as many veterans as possible. “This might be the most important thing someone sees on their [social media] feed that they didn’t expect to,” Young explained. “I just really encourage anyone who sees my posts or reads this article to go do it.”
This Veterans Day, pause for a moment and truly breathe in the sacrifice of our country’s heroes. Let us use our collective power to ‘break’ the internet with images of gratitude for those who willingly raised their right hands to die for us. They are worth that and so much more.
President Donald Trump signed a bill April 19 to temporarily extend a program that lets some veterans seek medical care in the private sector, part of an effort by the president to deliver on a campaign promise.
The extension will give Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin time to develop a more comprehensive plan to allow veterans to more easily go outside the VA health system for care. Under the bill Trump signed into law, the VA will be allowed to continue operating its Choice Program until the funding runs out, which is expected early 2018.
The program was scheduled to expire on Aug. 7 with nearly $1 billion left over.
Trump said veterans have “not been taken care of properly” and that the program will continue to be able to see “the doctor of their choice.”
“You got it? The doctor of their choice,” he repeated for emphasis.
Shulkin, who attended the bill signing, has said the money is needed to pay for stopgap services while he works on the longer-term plan. He said April 19 that the plan is due in the fall. Congress would have to approve any changes to the VA health system.
Shulkin said the extension is important because it gives veterans another avenue for care.
“It’s this approach where veterans can get care wherever they need it that really is the way that we’re going to address all the needs and honor our commitments to our veterans,” he said after Trump signed the bill.
The Choice Program was put in place after a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months to be scheduled for appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center.
The program is intended to provide more timely care by allowing veterans to go outside the VA network only in cases where they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Yet the program itself often encountered long wait times of its own.
The new law also calls for changes to alleviate some problems by speeding up VA payments and promoting greater sharing of medical records.
Major veterans’ organizations and Democrats support a temporary extension of the Choice Program, but are closely watching the coming VA revamp of the program for signs that the Trump administration may seek greater privatization. Those groups generally oppose privatization as a threat to the viability of VA medical centers.
Trump had pledged during the presidential campaign to give veterans freedom to seek care “at a private service provider of their own choice.”
Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, commended Trump for upholding a campaign promise to make veterans a priority, but said more needed to be done. Lucas said the Choice Program was a well-intentioned “quick fix” to the Phoenix scandal, but that it remains flawed and has forced too many veterans to seek care at what he termed failing VA facilities.
“Congress now has some time to work with Secretary Shulkin on broader, more permanent choice reforms that will truly put the veteran at the center of their health care and remove VA bureaucrats as the middlemen,” Lucas said. “We look forward to supporting legislation that will let veterans go outside the VA for care when they want or need to.”
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., said more than 1 million veterans have made 7 million appointments with health care providers in their communities under the Choice Program. He said those appointments would have otherwise “lagged” in the VA scheduling system.
More than 1 million out of 9 million veterans in the VA system use some Choice care, with agency data pointing to even greater use this year.
McCain, a Navy veteran, said the extension “sends an important message that we will not send our veterans back to the status quo of unending wait-times for appointments and substandard care.” He said more work is needed, but called the legislation “an important first step.”
Shulkin has said he would like to expand veterans’ access to private care by eliminating the Choice Program’s current 30-day, 40-mile restrictions. At the same time, he wants the VA to work in partnership by handling all the scheduling and “customer service,” something that congressional auditors say could be unwieldy and expensive.
Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.
Despite most public assumptions, Los Angeles County leads the nation with the highest concentration of military veterans calling it home. The female veteran-led Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative (LAVC), stands ready to serve them.
According to their website, LAVC is a structured network of public, private and government agencies working together to reduce suffering and improve the lives of veterans, service members and military families in LA County. Along with the collaborative efforts of 300 organizations and resources housed under LAVC, the initiative is working towards policy changes that could further positively impact veterans.
The foundation or backbone for the LAVC is Southern California Grantmakers, which has programming led by two female veterans determined to change the landscape for veterans as they transition or find themselves in need of support.
Directing LAVC is Air Force Reserves Master Sgt. Aimee Pila-Bravo. But her passion for serving veterans goes beyond her connection as a military service member herself. It started after watching her brother, a Marine, struggle and not receive the help he needed. He eventually attempted to commit suicide while still on active duty.
“There were a lot of incarcerations and hospitalizations and he had a lot of problems that weren’t being addressed,” Bravo explained. Inspired by a social worker that was finally able to help her brother, she decided to become one herself.
After leaving active service for the reserves to earn her master’s degree in social work, she knew she wanted to impact the lives of those who serve and have served.
“If someone could help my brother through that process then I want to be able to do it for others,” Bravo said. “I just recognize that there is a lot of help that needs to be given. I would prefer that they get that help while they are still in, before they get to us.”
Life after leaving active duty service is a shock to many veterans, with the added confusion of where to go and what’s available, Bravo said. Although each branch offers a class before the member begins terminal leave, she said it leaves many more confused than when they started. LAVC aims to make it as seamless as possible to set them up for success.
Cristina Garcia is the Director for the Veteran Peer Access Network, which is part of Southern California Grantmakers, as well. The program connects county departments, non-profits, the VA and LA City programs, making navigation simpler for the veteran. It is led by veterans for veterans, giving them a battle buddy as they begin their journey after the military.
A 24-year veteran of the United States Army, Garcia ended her career in the California Army National Guard working in diversity and immigration, retiring as a 1st Sgt. Her role at the end of her career would create a drive and purpose to continue to find ways to ensure all veterans received the care and resources they needed.
“It really gave me a sense of worth and satisfaction to help those soldiers, families and the community,” Garcia explained.
That drive and passion for service led her new role and she hasn’t looked back since. “We, as veterans, we know what’s out there. We get it, but when you hit those bumps and there’s no one to help, you kind of go into a downward spiral from there. That’s why this program is so low barrier,” Garcia said.
Bravo echoed that sentiment but also knows that what they are doing is only the beginning of what’s needed to truly support veterans. “It’s a great start but it isn’t enough. It won’t be enough until we champion for change within the military itself,” she said. “It’s something that we need to work on and it’s a conversation that just can’t stop.”
Another unique point about LAVC is that the organization works with all veterans regardless of discharge and their families, making them standout as a valuable resource and initiative. “That’s why the program is so important and needed here in Los Angeles County,” Garcia said.
For an area like LA that has such a large concentration of veterans, Bravo and Garcia hope to set the standard for programming elsewhere in the country. With the Veterans Administration backlogged with needs and the recent uptick in service member and veteran suicides, initiatives like LAVC are an important piece of the solution.
Both women said they are proud of where the program is going and grateful to all of the organizations joining forces to serve and make a difference.
“We are here to inform, educate and make sure we give them that warm hug like – come here,” Bravo said. “It’s not ‘poor veteran’ either. Instead, it’s we know it’s going to be hard but that’s okay. We’re here.”
Active-duty servicemembers and veterans share many common experiences which often sets us apart from civilians. We can come together over a tour-of-duty station, a shared commander or unit, or the unforgettable aspects of our training. But it’s often our dark sense of humor — stories about Jody, tales of ass-grabbing antics on and off post, and the ribbing of comrades and competing branches alike — which underpins military culture and unites the community. That’s why I was excited when I recently discovered a growing non-profit organization, Irreverent Warriors, whose mission is to bring service members and veterans together using humor and camaraderie. Their target is to improve mental health and end veteran suicide through humor.
I was intrigued.
Fortunately for me, Irreverent Warriors was organizing a very popular event that I could attend right in New York City: a Silkies Hike. The hike was designed to get veterans, active-duty soldiers, reservists, and retired servicemembers together (in Silkies shorts — also known as “ranger panties” or “Catch-Me-F**K-Me’s”) to be among friends and build new bonds. The New York City Silkies Hike was just one of five going on that day. The hikes were held throughout the country and drew hundreds of hikers.
“As of now, we have 65 hikes scheduled for 2021,” Irreverent Warriors CEO Cindy McNally said. “We doubled the number of hikes in two years!”
But the group does more than Silkies Hikes. According to McNally, the organization has put together “camping trips, Silkies Olympics, boat trips, community clean-ups, events to serve disabled and senior vets, and much more.”
And the events are strictly for the military. The purpose is to ensure that members know that everyone who participates either wears the uniform or has worn it before.
That was reassuring for me. I knew my dirty jokes and endless f-bombs would be welcomed — even encouraged. That toilet humor doesn’t always fit well with civilians, but a soldier, airman, marine, or seaman (quick chuckle) will always get it.
So I went for it, Silkies and everything.
Warriors SP at 0830 hours led by event organizer, Marc Herzog, taking point and donning the black Irreverent Warriors flag.
As if sensing my newness, Irreverent Warriors New York Area Leader Marc Herzog told me that his first social event in 2017 “was the most amazing experience ever.”
“I found my people for the first time,” he added.
Another Irreverent Warriors member, a Marine named Kevin Bunn, assured me: “Many of us shared your experience… we’re not gonna push you. I know where you were and I know what you’re going through.”
In fact, I was quite comfortable around every hiker. I knew what type of people was around me: gritty, hard-working, selfless Americans who would jump at any opportunity to help a brother or sister in uniform.
Kevin confirmed what my gut knew: “[The vets] need these events to keep them from feeling isolated,” he said. “Just one or two events gets them through the year.”
The Warriors report to formation for a photo in Times Square, NYC. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Martinez, Marine.)
I also knew they can party, as I have done many times before (probably too much). And some partying was the first thing I saw that morning.
As we mustered at the start point in Central Park, many Irreverent Warriors members cracked open beers. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous that this affair would get out of control. As a former officer, I knew the math: soldiers + booze = debauchery.
But it turned out to be everything but that.
No matter how many drinks some Warriors had, (and a few had a lot!) they knew what line not to cross. No one urinated on the street, left garbage behind, or damaged any property. With the exception of some slurring and a little stumbling, it was pure professionalism at its finest. I was impressed, a little relieved, and totally at home.
On many occasions, curious onlookers asked the Warriors about the purpose of the group. No matter who answered, the response was always the same: “We bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicide.”
A small platoon-sized element poses for a picture at one of the checkpoints, Washington Square Park, NYC.
Another Warrior, “A.A. Ron,” was asked what the group meant to him: “I met a lot of vets through IW,” he replied. “Regardless of when you served, we’re the same. We’re here for each other to lift our spirits and to enjoy our lives and the lives of others lost.”
The New York City hike hit its climax at Ground Zero. As we rounded a city corner in the Financial District, we were confronted by the Freedom Tower. The direct view of the building and how it dominated the landscape captured everyone’s attention. The party atmosphere quickly dipped into a somber state. The group, whose mood had been one of partying and incessant chanting, became silent. We all felt the same way, we all knew what this meant.
As we mustered outside the Freedom tower, several Warriors took the stage to tell their stories of those lost and remembered. The message was clear: you are not alone!
After a moment of silence, a prayer, and warm hugs we gathered our belongings and carried on with the mission, as all Warriors do.
“Women have served in the defense of this land for years before our United States was born. They have contributed their talents, skills and courage to this endeavor for more than two centuries with an astounding record of achievement that stretches from Lexington and Concord to the Persian Gulf and beyond,” said retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, chief of staff of the Army, 1991-1995.
1. Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783)
Mary Ludwig McCauley gained the nickname of “Molly Pitcher” in 1778 by carrying water to the men on the Revolutionary battlefield in Monmouth, New Jersey. She replaced her husband, Capt. John Hays, when he collapsed at his cannon. Since then, many women who carried water to men on the battlefield were called “Molly Pitchers.”
2. Clara Barton, Civil War nurse (1861 – 1865)
Clara Barton witnessed immense suffering on the Civil War battlefield and did much to alleviate it. She was on the scene ministering to those most in need, taking care of the wounded, dead, and dying.
Barton became a “professional angel” after the war. She lectured and worked on humanitarian causes relentlessly, and went on to become the first president of the American Association of the Red Cross. At the age of 77, she was still in the field taking care of Soldiers in military hospitals in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
3. Susie King Taylor, Civil War (1861-1865)
Born a slave in Georgia in 1848, Susie Baker, who later became known as Susie King Taylor, gained her freedom in April 1862. Baker was initially appointed laundress of the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, re-organized from the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Due to her nursing skills and her ability to read and write, her responsibilities with the regiment began to multiply. More than a few African-American women may have provided service as the Union Army began forming regiments of all black men. After the war, Taylor helped to organize a branch of the Women’s Relief Corps.
4. Dr. Mary Walker, Union Army contract surgeon (1861-1865)
Dr. Mary Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855 and later earned a second degree in 1862 from Hygeia Therapeutic College in New York. During the Civil War, she worked at first as a volunteer in Manassas and Fredericksburg, Virginia. Later she worked as a contract physician for the 52nd Ohio Infantry Regiment. Walker is the only woman ever granted the Medal of Honor.
5. Mary Catherine O’Rourke, Telephone operator and interpreter (1917-1918)
Mary Catherine O’ Rourke was one of 450 “Hello Girls” who served in the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit during World War I. They were bilingual female switchboard operators recruited by Gen. John J. Pershing to improve communications on the Western Front.
The Signal Corps women were given the same status as nurses, and had 10 extra regulations placed on them to preserve their “status as women.” They had the rank of lieutenant, but had to buy their own uniforms.
Mary Catherine O’Rourke was in the fourth group of these women who shipped off to France during World War I. She studied French with instructors from the University of Grenoble. She was assigned to Paris and served as interpreter for Gen. John J. Pershing during months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles.
6. Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, First WAC director (1942-1945)
Col. Oveta Culp Hobby was called upon to serve as the chief, Women’s Interest Section, Bureau of Public Affairs for the War Department. She served in this position for one year before becoming the first woman sworn into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, or WAAC in 1942 and appointed as its director. The WAAC was converted to the Women’s Army Corps in July 1943 and Hobby was appointed to the rank of colonel in the Army of the United States as she continued to serve as director of the WAC.
After setting the stage for the creation of the WAC, Hobby built the corps to the strength of over 100,000 by April 1944. She established procedures and policies for recruitment, training, administration, discipline, assignment, and discharge for the WAC. She surmounted difficulties in arranging for the training, clothing, assignments, recognition, and acceptance of women in the Army. Hobby made it possible for women to serve in over 400 non-combat military jobs at posts throughout the United States, and in every overseas theater.
Hobby was later called upon by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve as the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1953-1955.
7. Col. Bettie J. Morden, WAC deputy director, 1971
Bettie J. Morden had a long, distinguished career in the Army that took many turns. She enlisted in the WAAC on Oct. 14, 1942. She receiving basic and administrative training at the First WAAC Training Center, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She served throughout World War II at the Third WAAC Training Center, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, as an administrative noncommissioned officer of the Publications Office. Morden later served as a first sergeant with Headquarters Company on the South Post. After the war ended, Morden was discharged in November 1945.
In September 1949, she entered the WAC, U.S. Army Reserve, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in February 1950. In November 1966, she was assigned as executive officer, Office of the Director, WAC, at the Pentagon and was promoted to full colonel on June 9, 1970. She assumed the position of acting deputy director, WAC, on Feb 1, 1971. She retired on Dec. 31, 1972, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
In July 1973, Morden was elected president of the WAC Foundation, now the U.S. Army Women’s Museum Foundation, a private organization formed initially in 1969 to support the museum. Morden resigned from the presidency in June 2001.
8. Jacqueline Cochran, Pioneer female aviator (Pre-World War II to 1970)
After developing a successful line of cosmetics, Jacqueline Cochran took flying lesson in the 1930s so that she could use her travel and sales time more efficiently. She eventually became a test pilot. She helped design the first oxygen mask and became the first person to fly above 20,000 feet wearing one. She set three speed records and a world altitude record of 33,000 feet — all before 1940.
She was the first woman to fly a heavy bomber over the Atlantic. She volunteered for duty as a combat pilot in the European Theater during World War II, but her offer was rejected. She trained American women as transport pilots in England for the Air Transport Auxiliary of the Royal Air Force.
Upon return to the United States, she oversaw flight training for women and the merging of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in July 1943. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945 for her service in World War II.
After the war, she was commissioned in 1948. She became the first woman to break the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre Jet in 1953 and went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph in 1964. She retired from the Air Force Reserve as a colonel in 1970.
9. Brig. Gen. Clara L. Adams-Ender, Army Nurse Corps (1961-1993)
In 1967, Brig. Gen. Adams-Ender became the first female in the Army to qualify for and be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge. She was also the first woman to earn a master’s of military arts and science degree .at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
On Sept. 1, 1987, she was promoted to brigadier general and appointed the chief of the Army Nurse Corps.
In 1991, she was selected to be commanding general of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and served in this capacity as well as that of deputy commanding general of the U.S. Military District of Washington until her retirement in 1993.
10. Command Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson, First woman command sergeant major (1944-1970)
Yzetta L. Nelson joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1944. In 1966, she was promoted to the rank of sergeant major. On March 30, 1968, she became the first WAC promoted to the new rank of command sergeant major. She continued to serve in the WAC until her retirement in 1970.
11. Brig. Gen. Sherian G. Cadoria, First African-American female general (1961-1990)
Promoted to brigadier general in 1985, Sherian G. Cadoria was the highest-ranking black woman in the Army until she retired in 1990. She entered the Army in 1961, with a direct commission as a first lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps. In the 1970s, she transferred to the Military Police Corps.
12. Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson, First black female sentinel at Tomb of Unknowns
Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson became the first African-American woman to earn the prestigious Tomb Guard Badge and become a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Jan. 22, 1997.
Born in 1974 in Montgomery, Alabama, Wilson joined the Army in February 1993. She was a military police officer assigned to the MP Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). She completed testing and a rigorous eight-month trial period and became part of the Honor Guard Company of The Old Guard.
14. Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones, First command sergeant major of Army Reserve
In September 2003, Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones was selected by Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, Army Reserve chief, to become the ninth command sergeant major of the Army Reserve. She was the first woman to serve in that position and the first to be chosen as the senior NCO in any of the Army’s components. For some time, she was also the highest-ranking African-American in any of the military services.
Jones entered the Army in 1982. She attended basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. She was the first woman to serve as class president at the United States Sergeants Major Academy.
15. Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Surgeon general of the U.S. Army
Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West is the 44th surgeon general of the United States Army and commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Command.
West is a graduate of the United States Military Academy with a bachelor of science in engineering. She earned a doctorate of medicine from George Washington University School of Medicine in the District of Columbia.
Her last assignment was as the Joint Staff surgeon at the Pentagon. In that capacity, she served as the chief medical advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and coordinated all health services issues to include operational medicine, force health protection, and readiness.
(Editor’s note: The above 15 are just a sampling of the many women who have contributed to shaping the U.S. Army.)
It’s been 72 years since the end of World War II, and most vets who served have passed away, with many of them honored as being part of the “Greatest Generation.” However, a few of those still alive are fighting for the recognition they believe they are due, including the one of the last surviving aircrew who took part in one of the most famous attacks in World War II.
According to a report by the London Daily Mail, former RAF aircrewman Johnny Johnson, MBE, who took part in Operation Chastise – the attack on the Mohne, Elbe, and Sorpe dams in 1943, is among those campaigning for World War II veterans of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command to receive a medal. And he has some very harsh words for some historians.
“I have a pet hate of what I call ‘relative’ historians. I ask them two questions: ‘Were you there?’ and ‘Were you aware of the circumstances at the time?’ The answer is no, so keep your bloody mouth shut,” he said.
RAF’s Bomber Command, most famously lead by Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, carried out numerous bombing missions against Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. According to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, 55,573 men who served in that command made the ultimate sacrifice.
Bomber Command notably launched missions against German cities, most notably the 1945 bombing of Dresden, often sending over a thousand planes to carry out area-bombing missions against targets at night. The Daily Mail noted that the tactic caused heavy civilian casualties, causing the same politicians who ordered the bomber crews to carry out those difficult missions to distance themselves from the bomber offensive after World War II.
A memorial to Bomber Command’s fallen was not commissioned until 2012. A clasp was also awarded to veterans of Bomber Command, but Johnson is not satisfied.
“All I’m asking for is a Bomber Command medal,” he told the Daily Mail. He also is advocating that ground crews receive recognition for their efforts.