The Hollywood dream is a realm of cutthroat deals, alliances and family dynasties stretching to the industry’s humble beginnings. Veterans never shy away from a challenge. However, even the bravest need back up navigating the waters of the entertainment industry. The Writers Guild Foundation has a one-year mentorship program designed to provide guidance to military veterans embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. They provide resources and tools that nurture their passion to become successful. This is how you can apply to The Veterans Writing Project and make your voice heard.
How does the program work?
The WGF’s Veteran’s Writing Project selects from a pool of applicants and pairs them with a mentor who is successful in the entertainment industry. It starts with a weekend-long retreat followed by monthly workshops and special events. You can rest assured that the mentor is an active member of the Writers Guild of America, one of the most prestigious entertainment unions.
How to apply
Before embarking on a mission, military members are given a lengthy five-paragraph order with a 40 minute mission brief. Luckily, we’re civilians now and we can speak in layman’s terms. Here are the five W’s:
U.S. military veterans and active duty service members that are 21+ years old and a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident are eligible to apply. Although experience is a plus, it is not a requirement. The most important thing a veteran should have is a passion for screenwriting and a commitment to completing one screen play or TV pilot during the program. Around 50 veterans are accepted into the program per year.
What you need to apply is a resume, a brief personal statement consisting of 500 words or less, a copy of your DD-214 with your social security number redacted, a writing sample no greater than 10 pages in length, and some sample loglines. Loglines, for the uninitiated, is a sentence or two that describe the idea of your story.
The deadline to apply is Friday, March 26, 2021 at 11:59 PST.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, current sessions are hosts via zoom but the program will resume in-person meetings when social distancing guidelines are lifted. The in-person sessions will take place at the WGF’s Shavelson-Webb Library in Los Angeles, CA. The program is free but those selected who reside outside of the Los Angeles will need to cover their own expenses related to transportation and lodging. Take this into account if you are active duty and need to request leave to attend the program during the in-person meetings.
The program has nurtured writers since its founding in 1966. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is associated with the Writers Guild of America West. The WGF’s mission is to promote the history of screenwriting. Veterans are natural story tellers and the WGF can be the compass to navigate your career as a screenwriter and represent our community on the world stage. Veterans fight for the freedom of speech, yet so many are left voiceless. Apply and be the leader our brother and sisters need.
This week’s Borne the Battle features Air Force Veteran David Tenenbaum, the creator of Honor Media and Heroes Linked.
From a young age, Tenenbaum wanted to help others in need. Inspired by his father, a Holocaust survivor liberated by US forces, he grew up with the stories of seeing good people standing against great injustice. Like the men who freed his father, he wanted to follow in their footsteps, to do good for others.
His journey began in 2001, at Officer Candidate School a month before 9/11.
Tenenbaum served in the Air Force for six years as an Aircraft Instructor Navigator, leading stateside and overseas operations for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft. He left the service during a downsizing period to begin a new journey, but the Great Recession made it a rough transition.
Moving to Los Angeles, Tenenbaum pursued a new profession direction: media production. He created Honor Media, a nonprofit that supports other Veteran nonprofits with media production, distribution, photography and social media support. He is also the director of Heroes Linked, an online platform that pairs Veterans with mentors to help them get to the next step in their post-military journey.
Many of the side effects of war go unaddressed by those outside the military and veteran community. Recent veterans have been exposed to deadly chemicals released from burn pits. Vietnam War veterans fought for decades to get recognition of the impacts of exposure to Agent Orange. But finally, there can be some solace for veterans who have been exposed to nuclear radiation.
The first sort of federal acknowledgement of the unfathomable health concerns involved with being in close contact with nuclear waste, radioactive elements, and even nuclear blast testing came in 1990 with the establishment of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). Now, with the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, radiation-exposed veterans will be honored with the colloquially named “Atomic Veterans Medal.”
It means that the government is finally saying that being this close to a nuclear explosion is, apparently, “bad for your health”
H.Amdt.648 to the H.R.5515 requires the Secretary of Defense to design and produce a military service medal to honor retired and former members of the Armed Forces who were exposed to radiation — or, as the amendment calls them, “atomic veterans.”
At first glance, this seems like a paltry concession for someone who has lived a lifetime of hardships stemming from irradiation. It is, in essence, a ribbon, a piece of metal, and a paper that says, “that sucks — we’re sorry that happened!” That sort of thing is of little importance in the minds of atomic vets.
But it means far more in the bigger picture.
One fire screwed over 16 million vets well over 45 years later.
(Department of Defense)
Federal acknowledgement is paramount. The fact that, according to the House voting record, 408 congressmen agree that this amendment should be included and that the government should do more for atomic veterans is huge.
Care for atomic vets has been an issue swept under the rug for years. That care was made even more questionable after the National Archives Fire of 1973, which saw the destruction of military personnel files for over 16-18 million veterans in a single night. Because of that fire, many cancer-stricken veterans were denied healthcare as it was impossible to prove that they were, in fact, within the proximity of a nuclear blast.
One hill at a time.
(United States Air Force photo)
The first radiation exposure act gave atomic veterans the ability to receive special, priority enrollment for healthcare services from the VA for radiation-related conditions. The amendment in 2013 allowed even more veterans to be covered by RECA by including veterans who were downwind of nuclear tests. The wording of the medal seems to allow for all veterans who’ve been affected by radiation in some manner.
This alone is a huge win as it now gives treatment for the veterans who’ve long been denied access to medical care. With legislation like this receiving overwhelming support, it’s only a matter of time before Agent Orange veterans and the Burn Pit veterans also get their acknowledgement.
Staten Island veterans are threatening legal action if New York City officials won’t allow their Memorial Day parade to occur this year. The outcry comes after marijuana advocates were permitted to march earlier this month.
James Haynes III, CEO of United Staten Island Veterans Organization Inc. (USIVO), and his attorney Brendan Lantry appeared on Fox & Friends Monday morning to discuss what they called a “sickening” double standard.
This year’s Memorial Day march is supposed to be the USIVO’s 102nd annual parade. The organization applied for a permit with the New York City Police Department and received a denial in early March, with the department citing executive orders Mayor Bill de Blasio gave last year that limited activity because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Staten Island Advance reported.
USIVO was prepared to proceed with a smaller “patriotic convoy,” as it did last year. Then the veterans saw the May 1 Cannabis Parade and Rally, during which weed-loving activists marched through Manhattan carrying a massive (fake) joint.
“I opened up the paper Sunday afternoon … and I see this big joint in the paper,” Haynes said on Fox & Friends.
About 100 people participated in the Cannabis Parade on May 1, including Sen. Charles Schumer and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who both gave speeches, according to the Staten Island Advance. USIVO’s permit application listed an estimated attendance of 1,000 people.
“This is sickening, what the city is doing with our veterans here,” attorney Brendan Lantry said on Fox & Friends. “There’s a clear double standard being applied, and we’re just asking the city not to play politics with our veterans.”
With Memorial Day just around the corner, Lantry said he and his clients set a deadline of noon Monday for the city to “correct course,” or they’ll ask the courts to compel officials to grant the veterans a permit.
“We’re just asking for the same treatment … the same process that was put in place last week for the Cannabis Parade. That same process should be put in place at least for our veterans,” Lantry said.
Female post-9/11 veterans are the fastest growing demographic within the veteran population, but they’re also the greatest risk of experiencing homelessness after their service ends. Just like their male counterparts, they experience all the financial trappings that come with leaving the military. As of this writing, the national unemployment rate stands at 3.9 percent and is falling. But for female post-9/11 vets, unemployment is a solid 5.5 percent.
Female vets are a valuable, knowledgeable part of the workforce. More than half of transitioning women have a college education and are twice as likely as men to have a background in science, technology, engineering, or math career fields. Despite this, many women have difficulty transitioning to civilian life and navigating their benefits, taking up to three months longer than male counterparts to find a job once they leave the service.
With this in mind, Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families launched its premiere entrepreneurship training conference, Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE), with the help of the U.S. Small Business Association. It helps female veterans and military spouses find their passions and teaches them the skills they need to turn passion into a profitable business venture in just three phases.
65 percent of these women will start businesses after the V-WISE conference and 93 percent of those will still be in business five years later.
(Institute for Veterans and Military Families)
Phase I of the V-WISE program is a 15-day online learning experience designed to teach participants the “language of business,” how to understand opportunity recognition as it relates to growing a sustainable venture, and present actionable strategies related to new venture creation.
The conference phase of the V-WISE experience is a three-day training offered to cohorts of 200 women at locations across the country. Participants must complete Phase I before attending Phase II.
The conference includes more than 20 distinct modules of training (representing over 40 hours of coursework) designed for both new business owners and to support the needs of existing ventures. Topics addressed include business concepts, financing, guerrilla marketing, human resources, legal challenges, profit models, and more.
Phase III, V-WISE Biz Support, provides program graduates with technical assistance to start and grow their business. Graduates will have access to incorporation services, financing services, mentorship, and opportunities for further education and skill-building with the IVMF and its partners, often at a reduced or waived cost. These services are available through a password-protected website.
And the system works. The V-WISE program is only six years old and has many of the three-phase programs under its belt but can boast more than 3,000 entrepreneurs — 93 percent of whom are still in business to this day. On Sept. 14, 2018, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families will host its 20th event in San Diego, Calif., where the slate of speakers will include:
Remi Adeleke, Transformers actor and former Navy SEAL
Larry Broughton, Co-Founder and CEO of BROUGHTONadvisory and Founder and CEO of broughtonHOTELS
Neale Godfrey, founder and CEO of Children’s Financial Network
The V-WISE class in Phoenix, Ariz. in 2017.
(Institute for Veterans and Military Families)
The V-WISE conferences are open to all women veterans, active duty female service members, and female partners/spouses of active service members and veterans who share the goal of launching and growing a sustainable business venture. It is just one of a slate of eight national entrepreneurship programs and three resources offered by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families — a slate the IVMF calls, “The Arsenal.”
Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families is the first interdisciplinary national institute in higher education focused on the social, economic, education and policy issues impacting veterans and their families post-service. Its dedication to veteran-facing programming, research and policy, employment and employer support, and community engagement allows IVMF to provide in-depth analysis of the challenges facing the veteran community.This one-of-a-kind dedication to the military-veteran community creates real, sustainable changes in the lives of military veterans, as showcased by the successful women who have graduated from the V-WISE program.
Senior Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees recently demonstrated to the public how innovations are advancing clinical care and outcomes for veterans. Innovations included a virtual reality application used as a revolutionary PTSD treatment and 3D printing used for everything from orthotics to pre-surgery procedures.
The innovations were presented at the 2nd Annual Tech Day on May 16, 2019, in Washington, DC, by Dr. Beth Ripley, Senior Innovator Fellow, and Joshua Patterson, Acting Director of Strategic Initiatives with VHA Innovation Ecosystem (IE). Tech Day is a way for federal agencies to share their cutting-edge, mission-enabling technologies with leaders, fellow federal workers, and the public.
VHA IE made a big impression with its virtual reality and 3D printing demonstrations as attendees experienced how these ever-expanding technologies are helping veterans every day.
Beth Ripley demonstrates 3D printing.
Patterson demonstrated StrongMind, VHA’s innovative PTSD treatment that offers patients therapeutic experiences that wouldn’t be possible without the use of virtual reality. By donning a virtual reality headset, attendees experienced how StrongMind works and why it’s appealing to a younger generation of veterans. They also experienced the personalized, forward-thinking care VA is delivering to veterans using innovative technology.
Ripley described how VHA’s 3D Printing Network is an integrated national effort that allows VA health care staff to share ideas and best practices, solve problems, and pool resources to improve veteran care.
These programs aren’t just on the showroom floor, however.
Veterans in the Puget Sound area have been the beneficiaries of 3D printing as VHA medical staff make model kidneys for veteran patients with renal cancer to aid in pre-surgical planning. At many other VHA facilities, veterans suffering from diabetes who lose feeling in their feet now have access to custom orthotics at the time of their visit, instead of waiting weeks to have them manufactured.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has spent the last two years transforming how it interacts with veterans, taking the best ideas from all over (including the business world) to upgrade your customer experience. Here are nine improvements — big and small — you may not believe.
1. A new call number that’s easy to remember.
Can’t remember which of our more than 1000 phone numbers to call? Me neither. Now, we only have to call one phone number: 1-844-MyVA311. The number will route you to the right place. If you do know the right number to call, you can still call that number.
2. Someone to actually answer your call.
The only number I can ever remember is number for disability claims and other benefits. Believe it or not, people are actually answering the phone now, on average in under five minutes. Employees in some of our contact centers report veterans temporarily forgetting why they called because they are stunned by how quickly someone answered the phone.
3. One call does it all.
Veterans in crisis are no longer asked to hang up and dial the Veterans Crisis Line. This month our medical centers, benefits line and MyVA311 will automatically connect callers to the Veterans Crisis Line if they “press 7.”
4. Total online resource.
Working toward one website and logon – Vets.gov – that now lets you discover, apply for, track, and manage the benefits you have earned, all in one place. One site, one username, one password. Track the status of your disability claim, apply for your GI Bill, and enroll in health care, on a site that’s mobile-first, accessible (508 compliant) and designed based on Veteran feedback. All Veteran-facing features will be migrated to vets.gov by April 2017!
5. Now you can actually find your service center.
Have you ever tried to use the VA.gov facility locator? If you have, you know it was essentially an address that you had to copy and paste into Google maps and hope for the best.
Now, we have one on Vets.gov that uses Google maps — and provides an initial set of VA services at those facilities. Try it here.
Additionally, maps are notoriously bad at being accessible to screen readers, but the Vets.gov facility locator is accessible and has been tested with blind and low vision veterans.
6. There’s an app for that.
Veterans can call or text the VCL with just one click from a mobile device using vets.gov.
7. No more waiting.
When you’re sick or in pain, you really want to see a doctor that day and now you can. Same-day appointments in our clinics are available when a provider determines a veteran has an urgent or emergent need that must be addressed immediately.
8. Claims are processed faster.
In 2012, some received disability claim decisions after more than two years. Now, after a series of people, process and technology changes, claims take an average of 123 days to complete. But VA is taking it a step further, looking at how it can improve veterans experiences around the compensation exam.
9. Taking out the middleman.
Need hearing aids or glasses? No need to see your primary care physician just to get a referral. Go ahead and make an appointment directly with both optometry and audiology.
These are just nine ways the VA is joining the modern world to better serve you. Watch for more.
When America’s big business lends its support to the men and women in uniform, it’s usually about giving a good, old-fashioned military discount. While military members and veterans alike love and appreciate getting a deal as a nod to their service, it’s always a surprise when someone goes the extra mile. Be it someone on the staff, a kind business owner, or a company policy, the appreciation given to service members and their families is always appreciated in return.
But what Super 8 by Wyndham does for military members and their families is more. Yes, right now, they’re offering a twenty-percent military discount and 500 Wyndham Rewards bonus points through December 10th to military members and their families, but they always go the extra mile for service members who are miles away from their homes.
This is one of those ideas that undoubtedly sprang from a big-hearted employee. The Super 8 in Adrian, Mich. had an employee by the name of Juice Majewski — a veteran. Majewski was the chain’s maintenance manager and his boss, Jennifer Six, came from a family of military veterans. Six honored his service by creating a veterans-only spot in the Adrian Super 8’s parking lot. When corporate leaders saw the initiative, they decided to take the idea nationally. Now, every Super 8 in North America features preferred parking for vets.
The Human Hug Project
Super 8 is a proud partner of the Human Hug Project, a non-profit organization with the goal of raising awareness for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress. Members of the Human Hug Project visit VA facilities across the nation in order to spread love and awareness for veterans and their families.
Founder Ian Michael is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Gino Greganti is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, and Erin Greganti is a Marine Corps wife who knows exactly what service members’ families go through when a loved one returns home from war. Super 8 helps the HHP by providing places to stay as they make their way across the U.S. to visit all of the VA’s healthcare facilities.
Recently, Super 8 by Wyndham designed a one-of-a-kind Jeep to showcase the latest and greatest amenities found in their newly revamped guest rooms. From the built-in coffee maker to the upholstery that looks like one of the comfortable beds you’d find in a Super 8, this monster of a vehicle is a hotel room in a car.
Super 8’s parent company, Wyndham Hotels Resorts, supports those who are working hard to make a living by using veteran-owned supplier companies.
From maintenance companies to security services to bedding manufacturers, it takes a full complement of amenities and facilities to make guests comfortable — Wyndham knows that by working with veteran-owned businesses, they’ll constantly achieve their mission of giving you a fantastic place to rest.
So next time you hit the road, whether it’s to visit an on-base family member or a spontaneous road trip, know that Super 8 is there to support you all the way.
More than 600 gang members and associates from 145 different gangs were arrested in 179 cities across the U.S. during Project Southbound, a month-long operation executed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which targeted gangs affiliated with the SureÒos.
The world is an ever-changing place and future American policy planners will not only need to keep up with the pace of change, they’ll need to know the past events that shaped the world.
America’s national security policy relies on an intelligent and skilled workforce that values diverse backgrounds and experiences in areas that are critical to national defense.
With this in mind, few are better suited to bolster national defense than veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. With experience performing in the command-and-control structure of the government’s uniformed services to specialized training and security clearances—many veterans find their post-military calling supporting national defense.
International relations and global security is more than just how countries interact in the context of globalization. It’s also about how past events or conflicts lead to the breaking news of the day. The policies set by governments and nongovernment actors are a reflection of regional values, economies and cultures—creating interdependencies that can lead to war or peace.
How will the United States navigate its obligations as a global superpower while looking out for its own best interests? What effects will it have on America’s partners or enemies? Who will be impacted by geopolitics in the future? You can learn how to analyze these risks and conflicts, and develop the critical thinking and policies to increase prospects for sustainable peace in hotbed regions.
Strategic, operational and tactical intelligence is harnessed around-the-clock by every military branch. The Department of Defense taps into a vast network of military intelligence servicemembers to inform its command. It’s why a large cadre of veterans transition into the intelligence community after active duty service—and they come from a variety of military backgrounds.
At AMU, students explore intelligence operations, counterintelligence, collection methods and even gamification. The incorporation of social media into intelligence collection provides real-world application, now more than ever. It’s an impactful data source, which the intelligence community continues to refine how it collects and analyzes communications across the proliferation of social platforms.
AMU’s homeland security program was established before 9/11 and continues to prepare national security and public service professionals who want to safeguard the Nation as a first line of defense. But homeland security doesn’t begin and end at the borders, ports or airports. It means securing critical infrastructure, retaining interoperability across agencies, and serving as first-responders when fellow citizens need them the most—after a disaster.
AMU’s homeland security discipline explores the legal and ethical issues behind why national security policies are in place, finding areas most at risk from foreign threats, and most importantly, having the know-how to protect the people and critical infrastructure that keeps this country running.
If the Coronavirus pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the whole planet was unprepared for how bad it could get. And yet, veterans were on the frontlines of this epidemic, from medical staff to logistics, to public health warnings. Public health isn’t just about curing diseases, it’s about addressing the systemic causes of disease and other ailments that plague countries and regions of the world. Public health professionals conduct scientific research and educate populations with the goal of preventing disease and illnesses.
Public health workers aren’t only doctors and nurses. They have to be capable administrators and managers, well-versed in policy and the law surrounding their field. AMU’s experienced public health experts design their curriculum to help students apply emerging practices to prepare for whatever comes next.
Cyberattacks are a global threat, but hardening and safeguarding our national data infrastructure begins on U.S. soil. With the growing power of AI and disinformation campaigns, cybersecurity is a mission-critical discipline that deserves your attention. From the battlefield to the boardroom—AMU’s veteran community is actively strengthening the cyber “warrior” for the future.
The university is also part of the accredited American Public University System, which was designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. The center provides oversight and guidance to enable AMU to craft multidisciplinary cybersecurity education that reflects the trends and strategies used in the field today.
Space isn’t just the realm of NASA anymore. With space entrepreneurism exploding—think SpaceX and Blue Origin—the next frontier of space is already here. Add the new U.S. Space Force to the mix and America’s national security apparatus spans Earth’s orbit and includes a wide range of military and federal agencies, private contractors, and multinational corporations working together.
AMU’s space studies program was designed with input by former astronauts, NASA engineers, aerospace leaders, and more. It provides a unique approach that integrates space exploration, aerospace science, astronomy, and policymaking from both federal and space industry perspectives.
For the astronomy purist, AMU built a space observatory atop its Information Technology building, which houses a 650-pound reflective Planewave CDK24 telescope that is fully remote-controlled to capture and share celestial imagery for research and education at a distance.
As the old adage says, “Those who don’t learn from history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” Military history draws many veteran students with an interest in analyzing technological advances or strategic turning points in wars with an eye on learning from history to prevent future conflicts.
AMU students learn from the towering figures of military history, analyze historical battles and determine how they shaped the future, and explore the past philosophies or war and military strategy. They learn how military spending can advance human development, launches new technologies, and impact societies as a whole.
America needs skilled, experienced professionals at every level to guide the country forward. Decisions we make in the near future will be informed by the next generation of graduates who have the knowledge and expertise required to make the tough calls. AMU’s mission is to help educate and prepare those leaders to meet that challenge.
Being a Marine taught me the importance of giving back. But my last mission may be my most crucial: Instilling the same values in my son.
Two years ago, I was built like a tank. I’ve been built like that my entire life, having grown up as a wrestler in high school and college. Once, way back then, someone looked at me and said, “What the hell are you?”
I look much different now. It’s hard for me to speak for long periods of time, and I’m about half the size I used to be. Now, I’m happy to just get up and walk, which is a mental challenge all by itself. The guy I used to be has been destroyed by chemotherapy.
In late 2015, I was diagnosed with stage-four cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that starts in the bile ducts. I don’t know how much time I have left; I may not even make it to my 55th birthday this December, but I’m happy that I can go knowing I’ve lived my life in complete service to others and to my family.
Except I have a teenage son, and there’s still so much to teach him.
I won’t be able to impart my wisdom to Mason as he grows up. That’s why I’m making sure he knows, now, the importance of living a life in service, like I have. The lessons are simple: Be humble, be open, and be helpful.
Growing up, my father was constantly working, which meant he wasn’t around a ton. He did the best he could though, and I considered him my best friend. But I didn’t have someone who could mentally challenge me. I got into wrestling in the seventh grade, and my coach became that person for me instead. He ended up being a formidable figure in my life, and I’m still in touch with him today.
You could tell immediately that this man had served in the military — through his mannerisms, his attention to detail, and his level of concentration. I thought, “This guy is incredible.” At an early age, my coach gave me advice that to this day I continue to take to heart:
“Don’t be a wise guy,” he would tell me. “Don’t be a showboat.”
Eventually, I joined the Marines, and that advice is what got me through basic training. Now, it’s something I teach Mason at every opportunity. We have a lot of big talks these days — especially now that I don’t know how long I have left to live — and I try to tell him who I was before the military.
I tell him not to be that guy.
When I enlisted in 1982, I was a very private person. In fact, you could say I was pretty closed off. But interaction with people is important, and you have to be open and outgoing. There is just something about being open to new experiences that makes life more meaningful. It also makes you not afraid to help people.
There is nothing more gratifying than helping others, and there are many avenues for doing that — not just through the military.
I joined the Marines after one year of college because I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman,” about a guy who joins the Navy, came out right before I signed up, and that shaped what I thought the military was going to be like.
I was wrong.
My time in the military wasn’t like a Richard Gere action-romance film. It was tough and it was terrifying, but it also made me grow into a man that started to think to myself, “What can I do to give back?” What the Marines did was laser-focus my attention and instilled in me the idea that, “Hey, you’re capable of a hell of a lot more than what you’re doing now.”
I left the service in 1988 and it haunted me for a long time. I just missed it so badly. I still say that the Marine Corps was the best job I ever had. But I can no longer regret leaving, because I have the best family God could give me, and I would never have met my wife and had Mason if I had stayed.
But here’s the thing: When you serve, the experience never truly leaves you; it always stays with you. Every time something tragic occurred, I would quietly shed a tear. When 9/11 happened, I was choked up watching the coverage on TV. I felt like I should be there — I needed to help.
So off I went to Ground Zero, wearing my old and dated fatigues from the ’80s, and was able to get my way onto the search and rescue team that pulled out the first five people. It was surreal; everyone had the same look on their face, much like how they talk about the empty thousand-yard stare of soldiers who served in Vietnam. There was a gray, pinkish powder in the air, like debris mixed with blood. And it covered everything.
My cancer, my family and I believe, has a direct correlation to my time helping on the pile. But I wouldn’t take any of it back, and Mason knows that.
And that’s because service is part of me, now. I tell Mason constantly that being in service is such a selfless act. It’s contributing to something bigger than yourself. It just requires humility and the willingness to be open to help others.
Luckily for me, Mason already has most of these traits. But he’s only 14 and has a lot of growing up ahead of him and will face situations where I won’t be there to talk to him.
And that is the one thing that kills me — figuratively, of course — feeling like I’ve let down my son by dying too soon.
He’s talking right now of going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. I hope he does. He’s smart and creative, and good in science and math. I can see him being a biomechanical engineer or something similar.
But even if he doesn’t go into military, I just want him to be happy helping people. I tell him that if he sees someone who needs help, help them. It’s a really good feeling. I promise.
The 1968 World War II film “Where Eagles Dare” thrilled some viewers — and scared the bejesus out of others — with its tale of commandos storming a snow-covered mountain fortress and a scene of Richard Burton wrestling with Nazi thugs on the roof of a swaying cable car.
But for an Omaha teen named James Stejskal, seeing the movie inspired his life’s work as an Army Green Beret.
“I was always interested in that kind of life,” said Stejskal, 63, now retired from careers as a soldier and CIA agent and living in Alexandria, Virginia. “A small unit fighting against the bigger enemy (using) a combination of military and intelligence operations, not just brute force.”
Green Berets standing proud. (U.S. Army photo)
This spring, Stejskal published a book called “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90,” about the secret unit with which he spent nine of his 23 years in the Army. Its work was so sensitive that the Pentagon didn’t acknowledge its existence until 2014.
“That’s when we finally came in from the cold,” said Tom Merrill, 63, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, who served with Stejskal in Berlin and remains a friend.
Stejskal enlisted in the Army in 1973, a year after graduating from Central High School. Soon he became a Green Beret, serving on small special ops teams. He was a weapons sergeant and a medic, known to his buddies as “Styk.”
“He was the consummate operator — natively smart, well-educated, thought well on his feet,” said Merrill, who lived in Council Bluffs as a boy.
The Berlin unit, created in 1956, was blandly named Detachment “A.” It disbanded in 1990, after the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended.
The soldiers of Detachment “A” didn’t look much like soldiers. They dressed in modish clothes, wore beards and long hair, made local friends, lived in off-base apartments. All spoke German, many of them fluently.
“Working in civilian clothes, blending in with the locals, doing cool stuff in West Berlin and the middle of (Communist) East Germany,” recalled Stejskal, who served in the unit from 1977 to 1981, and from 1984 to 1989. “It was a very ambiguous kind of duty.”
They were expert at soldierly skills like marksmanship, wilderness navigation, rappelling from helicopters, urban combat. But they also learned the tradecraft of spies, including surveillance and secret messaging.
In the event of a Soviet-led invasion of Western Europe, the detachment’s job was to melt into the population of Berlin and engage in acts of sabotage behind enemy lines. In his book, Stejskal describes it as a “Hail Mary plan to slow the (Soviet) juggernaut they expected when and if a war began.”
Each of the detachment’s six teams was to be responsible for sabotaging bridges and railroads, harassing the enemy in designated slices of East Berlin and East Germany.
The work evolved as new threats emerged in Europe, and encompassed training in guerrilla warfare, direct-action precision strikes, and counterterrorism.
As radical groups spread terror across Europe with kidnappings, mass shootings and hijackings in the 1970s, Detachment “A” practiced rescuing hostages from trains and airplanes. Pan Am let them drill using airliners stored in its hangars at Berlin’s Tegel airport.
The detachment’s highest-profile mission had little to do with the Cold War and didn’t even take place in Europe. In 1980, the detachment was tapped to help rescue 52 U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran by radical Iranian students.
Soon after the embassy was captured Nov. 4, 1979, the U.S. military began developing a plan to seize the hostages. Most were held in the main embassy compound, but the job of Detachment “A” was to snatch three who were being held separately at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
The first rescue attempt, Operation Eagle Claw, ended in disaster when a plane and a helicopter collided in the dark in the Iranian desert.
Operation Eagle Claw ends in failure, 1989. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
The military quietly began planning a second rescue attempt, again including members of Detachment “A.” Stejskal and Merrill, who hadn’t been part of Eagle Claw, were involved in the second, Operation Storm Cloud. It involved using Air Force transport planes to fly partly disassembled helicopters into an airfield commandeered in the desert. The helicopters would be quickly reassembled and used to assault the Foreign Ministry.
The team traveled to Florida to conduct live-fire drills and spent weeks rehearsing with helicopter crews. They honed their weapons skills with extra-long hours on the shooting range.
“We were blowing (our weapons) up, we were firing them so much,” Stejskal said.
They ran a dress rehearsal in late November 1980, but soon the word came down: The mission had been scrubbed.
“It was deflating, extremely,” Stejskal said. “It’s like preparing for a big game and then being told you can’t play.”
The hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981, the same day President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.
President Reagan’s inauguration, 1981. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Stejskal soon rotated out but returned to the unit in 1984. The 1980s are remembered now as the death throes of the Soviet empire. But at the time, it wasn’t clear whether popular movements like Poland’s Solidarity might provoke a Soviet crackdown.
“No one was really sure how it would all play out,” he said.
Stejskal left Berlin in the spring of 1989, but he flew back in November when he heard that the Wall had fallen. He wanted to see the end of the Cold War icon that had shaped his life.
“In one way, it was a relief: The mission as I knew it in Berlin was over, or soon would be,” Stejskal said. “On the other hand, there was a bit of nostalgia for the way things were.”
Not that his life on the razor’s edge ended when the Wall fell. In December 1992, Stejskal was badly wounded when his car drove over a land mine in Somalia.
Stejskal suffered a serious head injury and a shattered leg.
“I basically had 3½ inches of bone that was turned to confetti,” he said.
Stejskal returned to duty a year later. But he knew he would never regain his former strength. So he retired in 1996.
Green Berets. (U.S. Army photo)
That was the same year he married Wanda Nesbitt, a State Department foreign service officer he had met five years earlier during an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, in the country then known as Zaire.
At his first overseas posting with Nesbitt, Stejskal said, someone handed him a sticky note with a telephone number on it and said to call if he wanted a job. That led to a 13-year stint with the CIA.
In recent years, Stejskal has attended Detachment “A” reunions, where the stories flow along with the beer.
“Somebody said, ‘We need to get this down on paper. We’ve got a history. Who’s going to write it down?'” he said.
Stejskal volunteered. Merrill said the book, published in March by Casemate Publishers, has taught him a lot he didn’t know about the unit’s history.
“He gave it the respect it deserved,” Merrill said. “He was able to take his insider knowledge and transfer it to something an outsider can understand.”
The military is a breeding ground for excellence. You have to be a cut — or two — above the rest to make it through those doors and the wringer doesn’t stop until you are appropriately Blue, Green, or Marine.
It is no surprise that some of those excellent members turned out to be some of the all-time great athletes. Check out some of the best to ever step on the field of competition before, after, and sometimes during service to their country.
James served in the U.S. Air Force from 2002 to 2008 as a security forces member, HUA. James would separate from service to eventually attend and play ball for Florida State. He was drafted in 2012 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. James is the youngest veteran on this list at 32.
6. Elgin Baylor – Army Reserves
Baylor joined U.S. Army Reserves during his Hall of Fame career. At the time, Baylor was one of the premier players in the early days of the NBA. He was called to active duty during the 1962 season, having to bounce from duty to game and back throughout the course of the season. Baylor is a Hall of Fame inductee and a stylistic predecessor to many of today’s players.
5. Alejandro Villanueva – Army
Villanueva attended West Point and received a commission in the U.S. Army in 2010. He would initially go undrafted before eventually finding a home with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014. In the space between, Villanueva served his country as a U.S. Army Ranger and notched a few tours in the Middle East under his belt. His journey has come full circle, as he made the NFL Pro Bowl in 2017.
4. Willie Mays – Army
Mays was drafted to the U.S. Army in 1952 during the Korean War. He would miss two seasons while serving his country. He would return to the MLB with the San Francisco Giants in 1954 and promptly liter the record books with his name. Mays would go on to make every All-Star game until retirement in 1973.
3. Nolan Ryan – Army Reserves
Ryan holds the MLB record for strikeouts — nearly 1,000 strikeouts ahead of the number 2 guy — and no-hitters. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1967.
2. Randy Couture – Army
Couture served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1988. He attained the rank of sergeant before separating to pursue other endeavors. He went on to become an Olympic team alternate three times as a Greco-Roman wrestler before going on to UFC fame.
Vera enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1990’s after deciding college wasn’t the route for him. He trained with the Air Force wrestling team before injuring his arm and eventually being medically discharged from service.
Vera went on to rehab himself and make it to the UFC where he has a professional record of 15 and 7.
Steven and Katie Applegate never saw remote island living as part of their post-military life, but when the former EOD Sergeant turned unexploded ordnance (UXO) contractor saw a minefield of opportunity on Guam, he took it.
The south pacific island of Guam is a United States territory with a military history dating back to 1898. Home to Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base, the 212 square miles of shoreline have seen their fair share of military operations, leaving an estimated 10,000 plus undetonated ordnance in need of care under the exact expertise Steven Applegate possesses.
Katie Applegate, who shared she had never traveled farther west than Kansas, didn’t immediately pack her bags when her husband took off for his first short-term contract position. “He left in early 2020. The plan was for him to scope out the job and island with trips back and forth.”
As most 2020 stories go, COVID changed their plans, but not all impacts were negative. “We realized the school year was going to be really different, and travel not so likely, so when his contract got extended it was easier to just say yes,” she shared. “The island is now home to our five-year plan.”
Fresh out of a resort-oriented quarantine, Katie Applegate’s first impressions were a bit mixed. Even with a large American population and influence, Guam has its unique quirks. “The roads can be unpredictable, and the grocery shelves are weirdly overstocked with all one item or completely lacking what you’re looking for. So, between the two base commissaries, I’ve learned the art of food shopping,” she explains.
As a veteran couple, coming to Guam outside of military orders meant figuring it out without a sponsor. Luckily for the Applegates, the military community in Guam is still rallying around its own.
“Maybe it’s the small island bringing us all together, but I definitely still feel accepted by military spouses here,” she explained. “A lot of us (military) are here on contracts, as airline pilot families, active duty or permanent residents so there’s no reason for barriers.”
Steven Applegate explained the drastic difference in workplace satisfaction he’s experiencing here, “At work people get me, we speak the same language. It makes being direct that much easier.”
Contracting after service for organizations like the Department of Defense, often provides veterans with an atmosphere, team and skillset similar to what they did in the military. The Applegates feel fortunate his position on Guam does not come with the typical 3-1 rotation seen in other contacts.
“If you’re willing to travel, and in some cases relocate your family after retirement, this is really a good path,” he explains.
Guam definitely delivers on off-duty recreation opportunities. World-class hiking trails and once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling are keeping this couple plenty occupied and properly social-distanced.