Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way - We Are The Mighty
Veterans

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Jensen, service was in his blood. 

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

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

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

For Jensen, it wasn’t enough that he had survived an injury many others had not. Jensen had to find a way to heal, to rehabilitate, and to get back to work. He was Sergeant Jensen Shirley.

This was his calling, his life’s work…the future had been mapped out in his mind since the day he graduated from high school. Only, what was that future now?

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Carol Keller.

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

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

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

From Sergeant Shirley…

…To Dr. Jensen Shirley.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Chive Charities and their community of committed donors, they were able to fund a grant for Jensen with an impact of $17,691. 

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

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

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

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

Chive Charities is committed to supporting the veteran community. Like We Are the Mighty, serving those who serve is core to who they are. If you or someone you know could benefit from one of Chive Charities’ life-changing grants, CLICK HERE to learn more + apply.

Veterans

Lawrence “Yogi” Berra: All-time great


Lawrence “Yogi” Berra was a baseball legend, astute businessman, World War II Veteran and posthumously awarded recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lawrence “Yogi” Berra is well-known for his long and successful playing career with the New York Yankees, his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and his roller-coaster post-player career as a coach and manager. Not as well-known was his service as a Navy gunner during World War II.

Born Lorenzo Pietro Berra in May 1925, Berra grew up in St. Louis. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help his family financially. Berra played baseball as a teenager in American Legion Baseball, which was when he was given the nickname, “Yogi.” A friend thought Berra resembled a Hindu yogi because of the way he folded his arms and legs when waiting to bat.

During his teenage years, Berra tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals. They offered Berra a contract and signing bonus of $250. But that was half the $500 bonus they offered his friend, Joe Garagiola. He turned down the Cardinals and went back to his job at a shoe factory. The next year, he tried out for the Yankees. In November 1942, the team offered Berra a contract and a $500 signing bonus to play with the Norfolk Tars, a Yankees affiliate. He accepted.

In May 1943, just as Berra turned 18, he got word from Uncle Sam to take a pre-induction physical. He passed the physical and was allowed a deferment to finish the baseball season. Berra initially opted for the Army but was persuaded to join the Navy in hopes to be on a naval baseball team. Although Berra joined the Navy, his deployment prevented him from playing on the team.

Berra was sent to Bainbridge, Maryland, for basic training in 1943. In January 1944, he attended amphibious training in Norfolk, Virginia. Upon completion, Berra deployed to Europe, where he began training for the coming landings in Normandy, France. He was assigned as a gunner’s mate to USS Bayfield, an attack transport. During the D-Day landings, Berra was stationed on a rocket boat. He then departed from the Bayfield to help protect the waves of infantry by providing suppressive fire. Berra fired machine guns and rocket launchers, pounding hostile German bunkers.

In July 1944, Berra participated in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. Berra and his comrades were sweeping the beaches with intense fire. Their gunning was directed at a former beach resort the Germans were using as a machine gun bunker. While shooting at this emplacement, Berra was struck in the left hand by an enemy bullet. He did not report the injury, as he was afraid his mother would worry if she found out. However, upon his return home, he reported his injury and was awarded a Purple Heart.

Berra was stationed in Tunisia after his participation in Operation Dragoon. In January 1945, he was sent back to the United States and stationed at the Naval Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut. Berra was placed on Welfare and Recreation and subsequently played baseball for the Navy. He was discharged in May 1946 as a seaman second class.

Berra went on to have a legendary career with the Yankees. In his 19 years as a pro player, Berra won 10 World Series championships, the most ever for a single player, made 18 All-Star appearances and was American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) three times. When Berra retired as a player, he became the manager for the Yankees in 1964. He led the team to the World Series that year but was fired when they lost. The next season, he became a coach for the Mets and then manager in 1972, until he was fired three years later. He then went back to the Yankees as a coach and, in 1984, he was manager again, only to be fired the next year.

Berra became famous for his malapropisms, which was when he would misuse a word or phrase. These were also known as “Yogi-isms,” with one of them being, “We’re lost, but we’re making good time.” Berra was an astute businessman and a popular product spokesman.

Berra died in September 2015. He was 90. Two months later, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We honor his service.


Writer: Michael Veronda

Editors: Cassidy Reid, Katie Wang, Julia Pack and Christopher Wilson

Researchers: Alexys Santiago and Alexandria Davenport

Graphics: Helena Strohmier

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA diagnoses 4,000 cases of colon cancer each year: how to get screened at home

Denise put off a screening colonoscopy for two years. When she finally did, she was diagnosed with rectal cancer.

“I was fortunate. My cancer was in the early stages and surgery offered me a cure. The prep was not that bad. The sedation made me wonder, ‘Is that all there is to it?’ The moral of my story is if I had waited until I had symptoms, it would have been too late.”

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths, behind lung cancer. The yearly death toll from colorectal cancer in America exceeds the total number of American combat deaths during the entire Vietnam War.


The Veterans Health Administration recommends screening for colorectal cancer in adults age 50 through 75.

The decision to screen for colorectal cancer in adults age 76 through 85 should be an individual one, taking into account the patient’s overall health and prior screening history.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way

Six out of ten deaths could be prevented

In the past decade, colorectal cancer has emerged as one of the most preventable common cancers. If all men and women age 50 and older were screened regularly, six out of ten deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented. Screening is typically recommended for all between the ages of 50 and 75 years. VA diagnoses some 4,000 new cases of the disease each year in veterans.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. It’s as common in women as it is in men. Most colorectal cancers start as a growth called a polyp. If polyps are found and removed before they turn into cancer, many colorectal cancers can be prevented.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: A perfect time for veterans to get screened.

Questions? Here are the answers, including symptoms and how to prevent colon cancer.

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

Articles

This song will give you a flashback to your time in the service

From the time the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, infantry Marines are out on the range or catching some much-needed shut-eye — usually in an uncomfortable place.


While on active duty, they’ll lament their decision-making history while hauling heavy combat loads across the rough and unforgiving terrain or missing important events back home or, you know, taking fire from terrorists.

But at the end of the day, ask any Marine and they’ll tell you: all that blood and sweat they shed was worth it. Not only that, their shared hardships become the foundation of some epic memories.

Related: This Marine rapper spits lyrics that veterans know all too well

Life after the military can be a challenging and confusing time as many veterans attempt to find themselves. For the Marine-turned-rapper known as Fitzy Mess, using his passion for music to help tell the stories of his unique experiences is a way of easing the transition.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
Fitzy Mess performs on stage wearing the legendary silkies. (Source: Fitzy Mess’ Facebook)

“To tell the truth its fun as hell for me, puking up booze while my platoon sergeant yells at me,” Fitzy Mess raps.

We’ve all been there, Fitzy Mess. We’ve all been there…

Also Read: 9 things you should know before becoming a Marine infantry officer

Check out Fitzy Mess‘ video below to hear the lyrics that reflect on his time serving in the Marine Corps — we bet the veterans out there will find themselves relating:

(Fitzy Mess, YouTube)
MIGHTY TRENDING

President Trump releases PREVENTS roadmap for ending suicide among Veterans and all Americans

On June 17, 2020, President Trump released the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). This landmark nationwide plan engages Americans in a nationwide effort to prevent suicide, connect Veterans and others at risk to federal and local resources, and facilitate coordinated research on suicide prevention.

“My administration is taking steps to ensure that the men and women who bravely fought for us when they were called will be given the care and attention they need during some of their darkest hours,” said President Donald J. Trump.

The roadmap is the result of an Executive Order that President Trump signed on March 5, 2019. It calls for several steps to advance this critical national goal, many of which are already underway:


National Suicide Prevention Activation Campaign

This summer, the PREVENTS Office will launch a nationwide public health campaign aimed at educating Americans that suicide is preventable. It creates awareness of mental health and suicide prevention best practices with a call to action for ALL Americans to take the PREVENTS Pledge to Prevent Suicide.

Improving Suicide Prevention Research

Too often, we focus on a one-size-fits-all approach to suicide prevention that fails to take into account an individual’s specific risk factors. As a key element of the roadmap, PREVENTS will launch the National Research Strategy to accelerate the development and implementation of effective solutions to help prevent suicide among Veterans and all Americans.

Building Partnerships

The PREVENTS Office has built relationships with dozens of organizations across the country. These include Veteran and military service organizations, faith-based groups, universities, non-profits, corporations, small businesses. It also includes state and local governments to share best practices for promoting mental health, to ensure awareness of and access to federal, state, local and tribal resources.

“The release of the PREVENTS Roadmap is a critical step in advancing the national priority of preventing suicide in this nation, but it is only a first step” said PREVENTS Executive Director Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen. “With our Veterans leading the way, we will engage all Americans as we fully implement the PREVENTS Roadmap. Together we will prevent suicide.”

For more on PREVENTS, please visit: https://www.va.gov/prevents/.

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

Veterans

Every Veteran, spouse and caregiver in America eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

30 million vaccinations is a big job – and VA can handle it


About six million enrolled Veterans use VA health care, and VA has successfully given at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to more than two million of those Veterans, with more getting vaccinated every day.

But there’s still more to do: VA will vaccinate every Veteran and spouse and caregiver.

In recognition of our success, Congress passed and the President signed the SAVE LIVES Act. This act gives VA the job of delivering vaccine to all Veterans in America – whether they’re enrolled in VA health care or not – as well as their spouses and their caregivers.

Within 48 hours after the President signed that bill, we began testing our existing vaccination delivery systems in order to determine how long it will take us to get about 30 million additional people enrolled and vaccinated. In two days of testing, we safely and successfully vaccinated 1,000 Veterans, spouses and caregivers who would not normally be eligible for a VA vaccination. That vaccination rate will only increase as we expand our capacity and take delivery of more and more doses of vaccine.

It’s a big job, but we can handle it

As we do that, I’d like to ask you for a bit of patience. It’s a huge task, but VA health care can handle it, as we have handled every new challenge during this pandemic. We just need a bit of time to make sure that Veterans, spouses and caregivers who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination can sign up and get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Sign up to get vaccinated

Meanwhile, I urge every Veteran, spouse and caregiver to go to https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/ and sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine.

We will continue to update you as we move ahead. Thank you for trusting us with your care and with your vaccination.


Dr. Richard Stone is the acting secretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration. He is a retired Army major general and Veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He was born and raised in Michigan and is a proud alumnus of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

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

Military Life

These are the Navy’s rules for being buried at sea

It may seem like an antiquated practice, but to many of our nation’s sailors, it’s a rite of passage. After bidding a beloved Navy veteran “fair winds and following seas,” you can have their remains interred on the seas they loved so much. The Navy will absolutely take care of this for you. There are just a few simple rules.


It’s true the Navy still performs this solemn ritual on its ships, but only while the ships are deployed — this means that, sadly, family members of the deceased cannot be present. But the commanding officer who performs the ceremony will inform the family of the time, date, latitude, and longitude once the body has been committed to the deep.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way

(U.S. Navy)

Burial at Sea Ceremony

The uniform is the Uniform of the Day for all attending personnel. If a chaplain of the appropriate faith is not available, the service will be conducted by the commanding officer or designated officer.

The service is as follows:

  • Station firing squad, casket bearers, and bugler.
  • Officer’s call. Pass the word “All hands bury the dead” (the ships should be stopped, if practicable, and colors displayed at half-mast).
  • Assembly.
  • Adjutant’s call (Call to Attention).
  • Bring the massed formation to Parade Rest.
  • Burial service.
    • The Scripture (Parade Rest).
    • The Prayers (Parade Rest, heads bowed).
    • The Committal (Attention, Hand Salute).
    • The Benediction (Parade Rest, heads bowed).
  • Fire three volleys (Attention, Hand Salute).
  • Taps. Close up colors. Resume course and speed at the last note of Taps (Hand Salute).
  • Encasing of the flag (Attention).
  • Retreat (resume normal duties).

Officers in the funeral procession and casket bearers may wear the mourning band on the left arm.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way

(U.S. Navy)

Performing the Burial at Sea

The chaplain performs only the religious parts of the ceremony. Everything else is performed by the ship’s officers and crew. Casketed remains are covered with the national ensign, with the union placed at the head and over the left shoulder. Six to eight casket bearers will carry the remains, feet-first, with its place cleared on deck.

During the prayers, the deck is at parade rest, heads bowed. Once the religious parts are over, the crew is called to attention.

The company executes a hand salute until the remains are secured with feet overboard and at right angles to the launching. A Chief Petty Officer takes charge of the seven-man firing party and the Chief Master-at-Arms will command the burial party until the flag is folded and presented to the commanding officer.

It’s between the prayers and benediction that the remains are committed to the open sea. The three volleys are then fired as the crew salutes.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way

Neil Armstrong’s burial at sea.

(U.S. Navy)

Who is eligible to be buried at sea?

All active duty members of the uniformed services of the United States are eligible for burial at sea. So are retired and honorably discharged veterans. Marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command and dependent family members of all of the above are eligible as well.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way

(U.S. Navy)

How to be buried at sea

Once the individual has died, contact the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs office at 1-866-787-0081 to request more information about Burial at Sea. You will need a copy of the person’s death certificate, a burial transit permit or cremation certificate, and their related discharge papers. The DD-214 will suffice. These, along with the Burial at Sea request form, are all you need.

Everything you need to know about being buried at sea

  • Every burial requires a flag (except for dependents). If you send your own flag to your loved one’s service, it will be returned to you. If you don’t, the Navy will provide one, but you won’t get to keep it.
  • Cremated remains must be in an urn (no stopping at Ralph’s) which must be sent to the point of embarkation with the paperwork necessary. You must use the Post Office with tracking and signature on delivery to ensure the urn’s arrival.
  • For full, casketed remains, you are responsible for shipping your loved one to the point of embarkation, along with the paperwork and burial flag. The start and end points for this transaction should be coordinated through transferring and receiving funeral homes.

All other questions should be sent to the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs office at 1-866-787-0081.

MIGHTY MOVIES

These hip hop songs come straight from combat vets

Ask any vet — music and combat go hand in hand.  Whether pounding the drums of war, blaring the bugle calls, or recording songs after combat, music has underscored the good, the bad, and the ugly of warfare throughout human history.


“Live From Iraq” is a Rap album actually made by combat veterans in a theater of war.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
Soldiers from 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment conduct security with their M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank for a cordon and search operation in Biaj, Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)

It was produced and conceived by U.S. Army Sergeant Neal Saunders, an M1 Abrams tank crewman of the 1st Cav’s 112 Task Force, along with several of his buddies.

Also read: This incredible rap song perfectly captures life in Marine Corps infantry

They were fighting around Baghdad and Sadr City in 2005. When not out on missions, Big Neal and his crew would record songs in a makeshift studio, using their paychecks to order equipment from a Sam Ash music store in Philadelphia.

It was the only Sam Ash that would ship to their APO address.

“Live From Iraq” takes the listener on a harrowing, poignant journey of a year-long deployment. There’s no boasting of riches, hot girls, or glorified violence — just words of truth with socially relevant lyrics:

“This is up armor kits and bulletproof windows/ We sleep with body armor blankets and Kevlar pillows,” are some lyrics from the title track, “Live From Iraq.”
CHEWandLUvideos | YouTube

The album samples a troops-in-contact moment on the song, “Lace Your Boots,” with the lyrics: “But it’s too late to switch/ After this full metal jacket grabs ’em/ Look we told ’em this was war/ And we told ’em we get at ’em/ This is war…”

“Reality Check” over a poignant piano riff calls out those who like to play soldier in style and attitude, but have never walked the walk: “Wanna be soldiers

Follow me I’ll take you to see some Marines in Fallujah/ And I hope you make it/ Or come visit my theater/ Shit I’ll show you some places/ But I really don’t think/ That y’all wanna go where I’ll take you…”

4th25 – Topic | YouTube

Big Neal has said that this album is the blood of soldiers and all that they have seen and done. One could argue that “Live From Iraq” is the original Battle Mix, one that still resonates today with many of our soldiers deployed.

Articles

This soldier risked everything to save his friend in Tal Afar

Gary Villalobos left his civilian life to join the United States Army. By 2005, he found himself in Tal Afar, Iraq, as Sgt. First Class Villalobos. It was there he learned the true meaning of fear — and what it takes to overcome that fear to try and save one of his own.


“What I think about when I think about my four deployments in Iraq, I’m glad I was part of it,” Villalobos says. “I took part in something greater than myself, something significant. But most importantly, you know what I think about is the hundreds of people, the hundreds of soldiers that I connected with at a different level. Shared hardships really bring people together.”

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
Villalobos in Iraq.
(Courtesy Gary Villalobos)

Now-Master Sgt. Gary Villalobos came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1970, moving into a small shack near the beach behind his grandmother’s house in California. By the time he graduated from high school, he had a job that wasn’t going anywhere. It was just after the 1991 Gulf War and young Gary watched as that war’s heroes were greeted triumphantly upon their return to the U.S.

So, he went to an Army recruiter. Twelve years later, the United States invaded Iraq and, in 2005, Villalobos was in Tal Afar for only a month before he found himself directing Iraqi soldiers with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry to take on an insurgent group and capture their leaders.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
(AARP Studios)

Villalobos and Army officer Lt. Col. Terrence Crowe took 14 Iraqi Army troops on a patrol to capture those leaders, stepping into an alleyway — an alleyway that was also an ambush killzone.

The Army officer took the full brunt of at least four AK-47s, not one shot hitting above his waist. .

Villalobos tried to suppress their fire but the incoming sounded like it was coming from all sides. Gunfire poured in on Villalobos and the patrol as he tried to make sense of the ambush. He suddenly realized he had an edge and chucked his only grenade as hard as he could into the ambush. The firing stopped and he was able to pull his officer out.

The enemy melted away.

Back to FOB Sykes, Villalobos learned Col. Crowe didn’t make it.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Terrence Crowe.

Crowe and Villalobos went on numerous patrols together and became quite close. They went on nearly every mission together. Crowe was a native of Upstate New York and was a talented carpenter in his civilian life.

“He treated me with dignity and respect,” Villalobos says. “Part of the reason I feel guilty is because I was not in the front, where I should have been. He should have been in the rear, or at least the middle… but not point man.”

Villalobos was awarded the Silver Star for making sure he pulled Crowe out of the ambush. To him, it’s the most important award, representing the sacrifice that Colonel Crowe made.

“I don’t see it as something I earned… I just wanted to get Colonel Crowe out of there,” he says.

Articles

Taco Rice is what happens when Japanese and American tastes collide

Spoiler alert; it’s delicious!:


Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
American-style taco – shell + sushi rice = a dish to heal the wounds of WWII. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Kon’nichiwa, TACO RICE.

Meals Ready To Eat explored the advent of one of Japan’s most popular street foods when host August Dannehl traveled to Okinawa in search of taco rice, a true food fusion OG.

If you were to suggest that spiced taco meat dressed in shredded lettuce, cheese, and tomato, would seem a bastard topping to foist upon sushi rice, Japan’s most sacred and traditional foodstuff, well, in Okinawa at least, you’d find yourself on the receiving end of a lesson in local history.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
Distinguished inventor of taco rice, Matsuzu Gibo, c. 1983. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Taco Rice is the result of two post-WWII cultures: that of the Japanese and the American troops stationed in Okinawa, finding a way to transcend their differences through the combination of comforting foods.

An influx of American delicacies, most notably Spam, flooded the island following the cessation of hostilities and led to a heyday of culinary cross-pollination. Spam is still featured in many now-traditional Okinawan dishes, but taco rice is, for modern Okinawans and American military personnel, the belle of the mash-up Ball.

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

These military chefs will make you want to re-enlist

This veteran farmer will make you celebrate your meat

This is why soldiers belong in the kitchen

What happens when a firefighter’s secret identity is revealed

This Galley Girl will make you want to join the Coast Guard

Articles

Why it sucks to report to the ‘Good Idea Fairy’

Air Force Capt. Mark Harper was probably worried about the lack of network connections and other technology in 2007 when he was sent to Djibouti, Africa, to take over a staff section there. Unfortunately, his colonel hadn’t gotten the message about Djibouti’s limited network access and ordered Harper and his crew to start making weather podcasts for Djibouti.


A podcast. In 2007. For a group of people with limited internet access. The “Good Idea Fairy” had struck again.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
Air Force Capt. Mark Harper and his crew record their weather podcast for the people of Djibouti. (Go90 No Sh*t There I Was screenshot)

Shocker, it had a limited listenership and the crew wasn’t happy while making it. But since the order came from a colonel, they would need at least a general to shoot it down.

Unfortunately for them, their attempts to sabotage the program in front of a visiting two-star didn’t exactly go according to plan. Check out the whole story, complete with a colonel falling asleep on a grateful captain, in the video embedded above.

Watch more No Sh*t There I Was:

Why it sucks to report to the ‘Good Idea Fairy’

A Ranger describes what being a ‘towed jumper’ is actually like

That time Linda Hamilton asked a Marine to the ball

This is a perfect example of how ridiculous boot camp is

Veterans

This sitting Senator deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan 19 times

While much has been made of a mayor who served a deployment in the middle of his term, there is a United States Senator who arguably has him beat.


 

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
Col. Lindsey Graham (left), a Reserve Judge Advocate, spent 2 days in Iraq with Senator John McCain, then another 8 days as a JA with the Multinational Force, Iraq. (AF photo/Staff Sgt. Ian Carrier)

According to a listing maintained by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan 19 times from 2006 to his retirement from the Air Force Reserve in 2015. Senator Graham’s deployments were often coordinated with Congressional recesses – enabling him to balance his duties as a United States Senator with his reserve duties.

Graham would often head over as part of a Congressional delegation, spend one or two days as a civilian, then he’d stay behind and serve for about a week (sometimes more) as a Judge Advocate General in the United States Air Force Reserve.

In a release by his Presidential campaign in 2015 after a Washington Post hit piece, some details of Graham’s service in both Iraq and Afghanistan came to light. Army General David Petraeus and Marine General John Allen both noted that much of Graham’s work was done on detainee policy. Both a former Judge Advocate General and Deputy Judge Advocate General praised Graham’s service in the release.

Service over self: A veteran trailblazer paves the way
Col. James Van Orsdol (right) helps Lt. Col. Lindsey Graham don a judge’s robe Nov. 4, 2003, after Graham was sworn in as a new judge for the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber K. Whittington)

The deployments came about because Senator Graham had to be transferred from an assignment to the Air Force’s Court of Criminal Appeals — an assignment given in 2003, according to a release from Senator Graham’s office — due to a claim made by an airman fighting charges of wrongfully using cocaine.

The ruling on the airman’s appeal (the sentence of a bad conduct discharge, four months in jail, and a reduction in rank was upheld) after the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Graham wasn’t required to recuse himself resulted in Graham’s removal from the court. He isn’t even listed as a past judge on a listing at the court’s website.

Senator Graham was also a veteran of Desert Storm prior to winning election to the House of Representatives in 1994. He was first elected to the Senate in 2002, replacing Strom Thurmond. Graham retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2015 as a colonel, shortly before running for President, ending a combined total of 33 years of active-duty, reserve, and National Guard service.

Veterans

Vietnam Veterans Memorial showcases warriors instead of war


When people visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., they can see the 58,279 names on The Wall, The Three Servicemen statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, the In Memory plaque, and a flagpole that flies both the U.S. and the POW-MIA flag.

While the memorial and names provide an obvious visual reminder, Army Veteran Jan Scruggs wants people to know the story behind the memorial. It involves a poncho, a promise, PTSD, an Academy Award-winning movie and a focus on warriors instead of a war.

A poncho creates a promise

Scruggs landed in Vietnam as an Army infantryman after volunteering for the draft. He spent most of his time firing 81mm rounds at targets, also carrying an M-16 and M67 90mm recoilless rifle.

One day in May 1969, Scruggs was in his first battle. The next day, an armored unit came in to pull his unit out. Scruggs said an eerie feeling crept over him.

“You know what, I got a feeling I’m going to get hit today,” he said.

That day, he placed his poncho behind his pistol belt and tied it tight, like in basic training. That small tip was a lifesaver. Enemy shrapnel hit Scruggs in both legs and right arm, but the majority hit his poncho.

“It would’ve split my spine in half,” he said.

Severely injured, Scruggs made a promise: “As I was laying there, literally dying—I was bleeding out, I could see the blood pumping out—I knew, maybe a few minutes to go. I just said the Lord’s prayer and said, ‘Look, God, if you can get me out of this mess here, I’ll do something to pay you back.’”

An explosion that still resonates

While still in Vietnam, Scruggs experienced another life-changing moment. One morning, a huge explosion rocked his camp from multiple exploding mortar rounds. Scruggs ran from his morning shave with medical bandages to see a truck on fire.

“All these guys, they were all laying on the ground,” he said, choking back tears. “They weren’t moving. They were all dead.”

Panel 14W lists the 12 men who died, a day Scruggs still struggles to deal with 41 years later. One of those was John D. Pies, who happened to walk past as the mortars as they were exploding.

“I was with them. It’s very difficult for me,” Scruggs said, saying he’s only touched the name twice in 39 years and thousands of Wall visits. “These were all great guys.”Army Veteran Jan Scruggs touches panel 14W.

Army Veteran Jan Scruggs touches panel 14W at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial March 15. VA photo by Tass Mimikos.

A promise kept

While at American University, Scruggs said he realized he suffered from PTSD. After writing a few articles, he testified in front of Congress for the Vet Centers program. Congress established Vet Centers in 1979 because a significant number of Vietnam combat and era Veterans were not accessing VA services at the same levels as Korean and World War II Veterans.

After going to the movie theater to watch “The Deer Hunter” with his wife, Scruggs told his wife he learned how to keep the promise he made in 1969.

“I know what I’m going to do,” he told his wife. “I’m going to build a national memorial in Washington, D.C., and have all the names on it, and it will be great, and I’m going to do this.”

His wife told him to sleep on the idea overnight. He read Carl Jung about warriors and shared memories, which lead him to the idea of placing every name on the Wall. He sold a piece of land he owned in West Virginia for $2,800, which started “this crazy idea.”

Using West Point graduates who went to Harvard’s Business School, a team went to work. On May 28, 1979, Scruggs rented a room at the National Press Club and told the media in attendance that there would be a national memorial.

“In order to get this memorial, we had the largest architectural design competition in the history of Western civilization,” he said.

Over 1,400 teams submitted, with Maya Lin’s design chosen.

Two and a half years later in November 1982, Scruggs stood at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, opening it to a crowd of about 50,000.

“Because I was so tortured by what had happened in this incident, this created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” Scruggs said.

Names as a tribute

Scruggs said putting the names of the casualties on the wall was a befitting tribute, albeit with substantial controversy. Some Veterans advocated for a war memorial, while Scruggs and his team wanted a memorial for the men and women who died. The 58,279 names are by date of death, with names in alphabetical order if they died on the same date. The Wall is intentionally devoid of ranks or service.

“We decided that all were equal in their sacrifice, no need to pay attention to military rank,” Scruggs said. “It would distract from the experience.”

The intention was for visitors to remember each person who died.

“They remember him the way he was when he was 19 or 20 years old, before he got killed in Vietnam,” Scruggs said. “They think, ‘what would he have done in life?’ Doctor, lawyer, fireman – he would’ve done something, something good and had a family. But at a young age, he was robbed of his youth.”

Focus on the warrior instead of the war

Because of the unpopularity of the war, Scruggs said people wanted the focus on the warrior instead of the war.

“You got to remember how divisive that war was,” he said. “The guys who were killed, it was pretty obvious to us nobody was ever going to remember these guys. Many of the people who are related to people on The Wall, they know they didn’t die for nothing. This is where the living and the dead commune.”

That fact is not lost on those who served, said then-Secretary of Defense and Vietnam Veteran Chuck Hagel during a Veterans Day speech in 2014

“This Wall means many things to many people as it records the names of the past and reflects on our hopes for the future,” Hagel said. “It also offers a reminder, a message that carries across generations. The Wall reminds us to honor those who defend our country for making sure they’re treated with the dignity and respect and appreciation they deserve.”

More information

Read about the Vietnam memorial walls releasing schedules, with COVID restrictions.

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

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