Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors - We Are The Mighty
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Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

Silhouetted palm trees dotted a creeping sunrise to the east, and a waning moon hung in the black sky above the Pacific Ocean at 5 a.m. Friday morning as 22 current and former Reconnaissance Marines stood on the San Onofre Beach shoreline aboard Camp Pendleton, California, waiting to start a grueling day.

“Three! Two! One!” a Marine yelled, starting the 2021 Recon Challenge.

Competing in two-man teams, the Marines took off over sand and slick rocks, rifles slung across their backs and carrying rucksacks weighing at least 50 pounds. Without hesitation, they waded into the surf, shrinking smaller and smaller until they disappeared in the waves.

The 1,000-meter ocean swim was an initial baptism to kick off the 2021 Marine Recon Challenge.

Competitors put their strength and endurance to the ultimate test during the punishing, daylong contest. Each Recon Marine wore the name of one of his fallen brothers on his pack, and the Gold Star families of the fallen were on hand to observe the commemorative event throughout the day. They cheered competitors on at several of the challenge’s 10 events and welcomed the Marines at the finish line.

The teams raced through Camp Pendleton’s hilly terrain, rucking from event to event and logging roughly 25 miles with many steep climbs along the way. They overcame obstacles such as underwater knot-tying, casualty evacuation drills, and live-fire marksmanship drills. While the morning started out cool, the Southern California sun beat down brutally, and afternoon temperatures reached as high as 90 degrees.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Competitors in the 2021 Recon Challenge hike up a steep hill on Camp Pendleton April 30. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

“It is an honor to put our bodies through that grueling pain and shared suffering so that we remember our fallen and feel them with us as we move through that route,” said Gunnery Sgt. Frank Simmons, an instructor with Reconnaissance Training Company (RTC) and one of the lead coordinators for the 2021 Recon Challenge.

Team 8, consisting of RTC Executive Officer Capt. Benjamin Lowring and Basic Reconnaissance Course Instructor Staff Sgt. Andy Meltz, took a strong lead from the beginning of the competition, only to be overtaken late in the day. The team took a wrong turn on their way to the eighth of 10 events, losing precious time and allowing Team 11 to close distance.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Competitors in the 2021 Recon Challenge hike through the hills of Camp Pendleton April 30. Competitors hiked nearly the distance of a marathon while completing 10 graded events. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

The second-to-last event of the challenge sealed Team 8’s fate. The Marines struggled with the task of moving a massive tire from a 7-ton truck from the deep end of the Camp Horno Pool up and over a 9-foot ledge to the shallow end. The Marines resurfaced over and over, experimenting with different strategies and techniques before finally succeeding after more than 15 minutes. By the time they managed to heave the tire over the ledge, RTC Senior Enlisted Advisor Master Gunnery Sgt. Cory Paskvan and RTC Commanding Officer Maj. Morgan Jordan — Team 11 — had caught up.

After quickly shedding their rucks and stripping down to swimsuits, Team 11 jumped in the pool and went to work. They wasted no time, using a rope to pull the tire to the surface and bobbing it across the water with ease. They hurriedly applied a topical aid to sore muscles, dressed, and stepped off in hopes of a come-from-behind victory. A poorly timed leg cramp helped them leapfrog Team 8, and Paskvan and Jordan took the lead going into the final stretch.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Staff Sgt. Sean Wyman, takes a breath while monitoring competitors in the underwater knot-tying event at the Reconnaissance Training Company pool aboard Camp Pendleton April 30. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Once in the lead, Team 11 maintained a strong but manageable pace as they made the final push across the roughly 5 miles of hilly terrain that remained between them and the finish line.

Nine hours and 27 minutes after first plunging into the cold Pacific, the pair walked under the Recon Challenge banner and hung Lt. Col. Kevin Michael Shea’s dog tags on a battle cross staged there. The Marines’ loved ones, fellow service members, and the honored Gold Star family members cheered wildly.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
RTC Senior Enlisted Advisor Master Gunnery Sgt. Cory Paskvan and RTC Commanding Officer Maj. Morgan Jordan of Team 11 make the final painful hike to the finish of the 2021 Recon Challenge aboard Camp Pendleton April 30. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

With a combined age of 84, Paskvan and Jordan were the oldest team in the challenge, competing against Marines as young as 25.

“There’s not a lot of competitors coming out to run it this late in their career,” Jordan said.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Gunnery Sgt. Josh Cruz helps his teammate, Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Briel, as Briel grimaces in pain at the finish line of the 2021 Recon Challenge. The team had just knelt to place the ID tags of their fallen brothers on the battle cross. The Marines hiked nearly 25 miles with roughly 50-pound packs while completing a series of physical and mental challenges along the way. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Scott Gardner, a retired Force Recon Marine, was the oldest competitor in the challenge at 47. Gardner and his teammate, Staff Sgt. Gabe Gillespie, finished the event toward the middle of the pack.

Among the competitors’ many impressive feats was the 3rd place finish of Gunnery Sgt. Joshua Kovar and Marine Recon veteran George Briones of Team 10.

Kovar, who serves as a Ranger Instructor at the Army’s Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, finished third in the Recon Challenge just two weeks after finishing second overall in the 2021 Best Ranger Competition, an annual US Army competition that’s comparable to the Recon Challenge and considered one of the most physically rigorous endurance events in the military. Competitors are tested in a nonstop series of events that are meant to push them both physically and mentally while judging their ability to execute a variety of military skills.

“Gunnery Sgt. Kovar embodies the Recon Creed by forever striving ‘to maintain the tremendous reputation of those who went before’ him and ‘exceeding beyond the limitations set down by others,’” Simmons said, praising Kovar’s performance in the challenge.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
A battle cross holds the ID tags of fallen Marine Reconnaissance men at the closing ceremony of the 2021 Recon Challenge aboard Camp Pendleton April 30. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

As senior leaders of RTC, Paskvan and Jordan took on the challenge as an opportunity for them to lead by example and “defy the odds.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Paskvan said. “I’ve been coming out here since 2015 trying to win one of these. I’ve gotten a fair amount of second places, but this is the first time I’ve actually won.”

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Retired Maj. James Capers Jr., a legendary Force Reconnaissance Marine, congratulates RTC Executive Officer Capt. Benjamin Lowring and Staff Sgt. Andy Meltz of Team 8 on their second-place finish in the 2021 Recon Challenge aboard Camp Pendleton April 30. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Defying the odds, taking home commemorative paddles, and shaking the hand of retired Maj. James Capers Jr., a legend of the Marine Corps’ elite Force Reconnaissance community, are all experiences the winners won’t soon forget. But the competitors and organizers said the real reward is honoring the fallen.

Paskvan said he’s served with many of the fallen Marines whose ID tags competitors carried during this year’s challenge and in challenges past.

“It’s very humbling,” he said.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Competitors in the 2021 Recon Challenge complete a challenge event on Camp Pendleton April 30. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Even more humbling was knowing Shea’s widow was waiting at the finish line. After completing the challenge, Paskvan and Jordan were able to give her the flag they carried throughout the race in remembrance of her husband.

“It’s not every year that you get out, make a relationship with a family that you’re running on behalf of,” Jordan said. “Really, we do it for them.”

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

6 tips to grow the most beastly vet beard possible

It’s a rite of passage for veterans. The morning of the day they’re set to receive their DD-214 is one of the last times for a long time that many vets will pick up a razor. Some still shave to maintain a professional appearance when they enter the civilian workforce, but the most important thing is that it’s their choice to give their face a trim.

Those veterans who do decide to sport their well-earned lumberjack style may run into a few speed bumps along the way. The vet beard isn’t for everyone — but those who can rock it look like glorious Vikings ready to storm the bar and take every keg of beer with them.


If you’re struggling to keep up with these majestic-as-f*ck vets, here’s a few pointers:

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

Growing a beard is actually pretty easy. You just have to wait.

(Cpl. Brandon Burns, USMC)

Patience is a virtue.

A great beard takes time. Throughout the growing process, there’ll be many great moments, like the point where your mustache gives you an 80s action-hero look. But then it’ll grow longer to the point where you’re getting a mouthful of mustache whenever you take a bite of food — not to mention the constant itchiness. But you’ll have to endure if you want that vet beard.

Many of the these downsides can be addressed with proper care. As long as you treat your beard right, you can minimize the downsides and simply enjoy envious looks from your peers.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

If Luke Skywalker can keep his hair and beard on point despite being on some deserted planet for years, you can take a few seconds out of your day to put some shampoo in yours.

(Lucasfilms)

Your beard is still hair. Use conditioner and brush it.

It’s surprising how few people actually care for their beard as it’s growing out. You shampoo and condition the hair on top of your head in the shower, why skip the hair on your chin?

You can also brush it to keep it in proper form after you’re done in the shower. This also helps get out all the accidental bits of food that occasionally get trapped in there. Using conditioner and regularly brushing will help the scratchiness of your beard and help it from basically becoming Velcro on everything.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

If you know what you’re buying, it’s fine. Just don’t expect much other than a slightly more luscious beard that smells nice.

(Photo by Marc Tasman)

Beard oil isn’t some magical, instant-beard formula

Oils are (usually) exactly what is being advertised. They’ll help if you think of it more like a leave-in conditioner that will make your beard smell nice, but many people who buy beard oils are under the impression that it’s more like a type of Rogaine for your face — it’s just not going to immediately give you something like in that episode of Dexter’s Laboratory.

Oils marketed to promote “beard growth” will actually make your beard grow in healthier and prevent breakage, so your beard will appear thicker and longer, but it still won’t happen over night.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

Kind of like how Mat Best does it. Still professional, yet bearded.

(MBest11x)

Trim it down to maintain a professional appearance

If you’re down with looking like a bum, by all means; you can do whatever you want with your facial hair in the civilian world. That’s your choice now. Still, if you’re looking to make strides in the professional world, first-impressions are important — arguably more important than an extensive resume.

Even if your beard puts a Civil War general to shame, tidy it up with a pair of scissors to keep an organized appearance. You can also shave off the under-chin and the scraggly bits on your cheek to make your beard growth look intentional.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

I’m going to go out on a limb as say that the dudes from ZZ Top don’t care about touring in the northern states during the winter.

(Photo by Ralph Arvesen)

If you can endure the summer heat, you’ll do well in the winter

Summers suck with long beards, but things start getting better after Labor Day. If you live an active lifestyle, no one will fault you for cutting it down in the summers to keep the sweat out. But don’t chop it all off if you want a head start when things cool down and you’ll probably look like a thirteen year old when you do.

Soldier through it and, when the winter chills start hitting your chin come December, you’ll be happy you took the extra few months to grow your own face protection.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

Or shave it however you want, like what Tim Kennedy does every now and then. Welcome to the civilian world, where you have options again!

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)

There’s no shame in shaving what you can’t grow

The ability to grow beards is entirely hereditary. If your dad could grow a bear, you’re probably good. But the person you should probably look toward for a better indication of your potential beardliness is if your maternal grandfather. That’s just how it works; genetics are funny.

It’s all a roll of the dice. If your face is better suited for a goatee, rock it. If your granddad could be confused with Gandalf, go all out. If you can’t grow a beard, embrace it. That’s just you.

MIGHTY TRENDING

An essential list of fall virtual events VA job seekers should attend

Fall brings changing leaves, shortening days and cooler temperatures. At VA, it also means a slew of conferences and conventions.

Normally, you’d find us all over the country at various professional health care conferences. While in-person events are currently off the table, there are still plenty of chances to catch us at virtual career events.


Check out the list of online events below that we’ll be attending or hosting this fall. You can sign up for one to learn more about VA, what it’s like to work here and how you can find your perfect VA job.

  1. VA Virtual Open House: At noon ET every Wednesday through Oct. 28, you can sign up to talk to a VA recruiter at our virtual open house. Learn more about open positions, how to apply and the many benefits of a VA career. During the 10-minute chat, you’ll also have a chance to ask the recruiter any other questions you might have about working at VA.
  2. Talk About It Tuesday: Looking for more information about what it’s like to work at VA? Hear about it straight from VHA Marketing Specialist Mike Owens. Every Tuesday on LinkedIn, Owens talks about his experiences at VA and gives advice to job seekers. Topics he’s covered include common application mistakes, VA work culture and advice for transitioning military personnel. Once a month, he also sits down with a VA expert for a longer question-and-answer session. Grab some lunch and come join us next Tuesday at noon ET for another episode, or check out our archive of past videos anytime.
  3. VHA Innovation Experience (iEX): Returning virtually this October, our third annual iEX gives you a chance to discover how VA is using innovation, partnership and technology to change and save Veteran lives. From Oct. 27-29, you can attend talks and demos, watch the VHA Shark Tank competition, attend discussion panels and virtual exhibits, and listen to keynote addresses from health care industry leaders. Register for iEX here.
  4. Other virtual events: You can also catch us at a number of virtual events held by external partners this fall. If you live in the St. Louis area or are interested in working there, we’ll be exhibiting at a PracticeMatch virtual career fair from 4-7 p.m. CT on Oct. 29. We’ll also be at:

Work at VA

We’d love to connect with you at one of these virtual events and help you learn more about a VA career.

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

Articles

6 ways the Army was the perfect primer for ‘Batman’

The whole world mourned June 9 at the news that Adam West, the Army veteran and actor who brought “Batman” to the silver screen, had died at the age of 88 after a battle with cancer.


Adam West was born, and drafted into the Army, as William West. In the military, he was in charge of standing up TV stations at San Luis Obispo, California, and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. But if it seems odd that the star of a farcical show like the 1966 version of “Batman” got his start in the Army, it was actually the perfect way to prepare for such a ridiculous show.

Here are six reasons why:

1. Renaming everything to some arbitrary standard like “bat cuffs,” “bat time,” and “bat channel,” makes sense for anyone who has had to relearn names for Velcro, Duck Tape, and zipper

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Batman and Robin stand with their utility belts. (Photo: Greenway Productions, Public Domain)

Batman wore a bat belt that contained bat pills and bat cuffs which came in handy for the show that played twice a week at the same bat time, same bat channel. While all of that seems like nonsense to civilians, soldiers are used to fastening “hook and loop fasteners,” taping items down with “100 mph tape,” and securing their blouses with “slide fasteners and tab thongs.”

Those are ridiculous ways of referring to Velcro, Duck Tape, and zippers, which are all brand names that the Army can’t use in official doctrine. So young Billy West would have gotten used to using the Army names. It was probably easy to start calling everything “bat” later in life.

2. Dealing with a group of ne’er-do-wells like the “Batman” villains is old hat for anyone who has dealt with an Army squad

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
The villains of the 1966 Batman film. From left to right, the Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, and Joker. (Photo: Greenway Production, Public Domain)

Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Archer, and other crazy villains were always hatching insane schemes in the Batman TV show. But, once again, the Army would’ve prepared the future Bruce Wayne for this.

Soldiers decide to get high with spice and bath salts? Yup, sounds about right. Troops smuggling liquor overseas by pouring it into Listerine bottles and mixing in food coloring? Seen it. Enlisted hijinks are basically Silver Age Batman ridiculous, just without the fancy gadgets and costumes.

3. Having to mentor a grown adult while treating them like a child is how all specialists deal with new privates

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
(Photo: flickr/BATMAN)

One of the more awkward truths about the Batman is that Robin, the Boy Wonder, was actually a 21-year-old man when the show began. The grown adult Adam West had to act like mentoring another grown man while treating him like a child wasn’t sort of weird.

But again, the Army is perfect preparation for this. After all, most specialists have only been in the military for a few years and they can be assigned responsibility of a private first class who has been in the Army a couple of years. So, 24-year-old  supervising 20-year-olds.

4. Spending all of your time with an attractive lady without giving in is easy for any NCO who had to ignore their co-ed lieutenant’s good looks

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Adam West’s Batman and Catwoman almost kiss. (Photo: YouTube/InnuMaccaband)

One of Batman’s greatest villains was Catwoman, who definitely had a thing going on with Batman. But Batman refused to give in to it (though he almost kissed her once, and a later incarnation of Batman ran off to Europe with her).

But any specialist or sergeant who has pulled overnight duty with an even moderately attractive officer knows what it’s like to weigh the consequences of “fraternization” over and over. Chances are, young and attractive Billy West had to say no to a few female sergeants and officers, or at least find the right place to give in without getting caught.

5. Only in the military and “Batman” can the little stuff be crucial during an emergency

This is a small one, but most organizations will let little things go during an emergency. But Batman doesn’t accept any of that crap from Robin. Proper grammar is important, and Batman corrects Robin even as Catwoman tries to get away on a rocket.

You know, just like a sergeant major yelling about gloves during a firefight or reflective belts during literally anything.

6. Working within made-up rules is easy for anyone who has dealt with UCMJ and Rules of Engagement

Batman runs into some pretty stupid bureaucratic problems during the show, like that time the Riddler sues Batman (while using riddles to explain his scheme, because of course he did) for false imprisonment and assault.

While the details of the case seem insane, Billy West probably sat through the Uniform Code of Military Justice briefing where soldiers are told they technically can’t engage in anything other than “missionary”-style sex because of Article 125.

Really think anyone who was briefed on Article 125 will be thrown for a loop by Gotham’s insane judges?

Articles

Harley Davidson offers members of military free riding academy training

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Image: Harley Davidson


Harley-Davidson, long a big supporter of U.S. veterans, announced that it is extending free training at its riding academy through next year for members of the military.

The program is now available to active-duty, retired, reservists and veterans. The free training was first offered earlier this year prior to Armed Forces Day aboard the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier in Charleston, S.C.

Related: Dining deals for veterans and active military on Veteran’s Day

“Thousands of members of the military have learned to ride through the program so far,” Christian Walters, Harley Davidson’s managing director and an Army Special Operations Aviation officer, said in a statement this month. “We’re proud to extend this opportunity in 2016 so even more military personnel can enjoy the very freedom they protect.”

Never ridden before? No problem. As the company says “Great riders aren’t born. They’re made.”

The New Rider Course is designed to get newbies comfortable on a bike and ensure they have got the skills to get the license and start riding. The course features Harley-Davidson certified coaches who will provide expert guidance.

Related: Healthy Mouth Movement: Helping Veterans with Dental Care

There are two primary components: classroom and on the range. The classroom section focus on rider safety skills basics and getting familiar with the motorcycle you will be riding.

At the practice range, skills like braking, turning, controlling skids and tackling obstacles are learned and practiced.

Completing the course in some states means you don’t have to take the riding portion of the motorcycle license test. With some insurance, it can also mean a discount.

All members of the military who are stateside can take advantage of the offer by visiting a local Harley-Davidson dealer or going to h-d.com/AmericanHeroes.

Related: Homeless veterans: Let’s give our vets the homes, dignity and respect they deserve

If a riding academy is not available in your particular area, then you can attend another certified motorcycle safety program and Harley-Davidson will reimburse you.

Deployed outside the US? Not a problem. If you’re currently abroad, then submit the form by December 31, 2016. The company will send you a voucher for free motorcycle safety training that can be used when you return home. It will be good through 2017.

The free training is part of the company’s wide ranging support for veterans. To date, Harley-Davidson has donated more than $1 million to support those who serve through fundraising initiatives, the Harley-Davidson Foundation and the Operation Personal Freedom MotorClothes collection.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Rob Riggle continues to be awesome with the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend

Rob Riggle is no stranger to We Are the Mighty — and it’s no secret that we’re big fans of his. But it’s not just the fact that he’s a hilarious, self-made comedian with a background of service with the United States Marine Corps Reserve, it’s also because he’s a genuine, charitable guy.

This year, he’s back at it once again. Beginning June 1, Riggle is hosting yet another Big Slick Celebrity Weekend to raise money for Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy. Last year, Riggle and his supporting cast of celebrities from all walks of life helped raise over $1.7 million dollars for the award-winning hospital.


It all started in 2010 when Riggle called on two other alumni of Shawnee Mission South High School: Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis. Over the course of 9 short weeks, the three put together a weekend chock full of events to raise money for Children’s Mercy Hospital. Dubbed the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend, their very first run earned over $120,000 for the hospital.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
From left to right, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Rob Riggle, and Jason Sudeikis kick off the charity auction at Big Slick Celebrity Weekend 2017.
(Big Slick Celebrity Weekend)

Since then, things have gotten bigger and better than ever. The three called on other celebrities, including Will Ferrel, Weird Al Yankovic, Olivia Wilde, James Van Der Beek, and many more, to come help grow the event to make an even bigger impact — and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

This year, the crew has plenty of fun in store. It all starts on the afternoon of Friday, June 1 when celebrities take the field to play a game of softball. After that, players from the Major League step in — the Oakland Athletics are taking on the Kansas City Royals. Each ticket to the MLB game sold includes a $5 donation to Big Slick.

Then, the following day, the festivities continue as celebs hit the lanes for a bowling tournament. Finally, Saturday night is capped off with a party and auction where they’ll put up some great items, all sold to the benefit of Children’s Mercy.

Children’s Mercy has been repeatedly ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.” They’ve been helping treat the sick and supporting medical research since 1897 and, with your help, they can keep offering the very best in care to kids across both Kansas and Missouri.

To learn more about the Big Slick Celebrity Weekend 2018, check out their website. To get a glimpse into the fun-filled weekend, check out this clip from last year’s event!

Veterans

100-Year-Old Veteran loves VA telehealth

Proves age is not a barrier to telehealth


People often think that new technologies are for the young. But a 100-year old Veteran in Florida has proven otherwise. Dr. Joseph Belshe, a World War II Veteran Air Force medical officer, has used VA telehealth technology for almost two years to receive care from VA.

Belshe incorporated telehealth into his care thanks to Kimberly Braswell, a nurse practitioner in the cardiology unit at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida. As a part of his cardiac care, Belshe meets with Braswell for routine appointments to review diagnostics related to his medication.

Belshe gets diagnostic tests done at his local primary care annex. The provider uploads the test results to Belshe’s VA Electronic Health Record so Braswell can review it. He then meets with Braswell through VA Video Connect, a VA app that enables Veterans and their VA providers to conduct secure, real-time video visits through a smartphone, computer or tablet.

“So convenient… really quite simple”

Through his VA-issued iPad, Belshe receives email reminders about his upcoming telehealth appointments. On the day of an appointment, he receives an email with a link to open his appointment on VA Video Connect.

“VA has made it so convenient for me. It is really quite simple,” he said.

VA Video Connect has also eliminated the need for Belshe to make 80-mile round trips from his home in Lakeland to Tampa for his appointments with Braswell. Of that added convenience, Belshe said, “My time is important to me. So the ability to avoid fighting traffic, I love it.”

Telehealth appointments have become important to everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Belshe was using VA Video Connect for about a year before the pandemic started.

Reliability adds a layer of confidence

“Dr. Belshe is really an early adopter,” said Braswell. “While many people had to adjust their normal routines for social distancing, he was able to continue on the same schedule. I think that reliability added a layer of confidence and peace of mind for him, knowing that his medications and care wouldn’t be interrupted.”

Braswell says her day is always a little brighter when she meets with Belshe. She sees many Veterans through VA Video Connect. And they appreciate the opportunity to connect through video rather than a phone call. “Age is not a barrier to accessing virtual care.”

Belshe agreed. “Being able to have that face-to-face visualization and speak directly has been enjoyable. I think more Veterans should try it even if they don’t have experience with technology.”

For more information on VA telehealth, visit the VA Telehealth Services website and read VA’s Connecting Veterans to Telehealth Care fact sheet.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an Air Force pilot saved a United Airlines flight

For most airmen going on leave for the holidays, the time off means an escape from their everyday Air Force career. After all, when is someone going to need a loadmaster at the liquor store (unless there’s a huge bourbon shortage at an egg nog festival and Costco is planning a relief drop from a C-17)?

An Air Force pilot on a United Airlines flight, however, is another story.


Like a scene out of a movie, Captain Mike Gongol was on a flight to see his extended family in Denver from Des Moines in 2013 when the B1-B Lancer pilot noticed the Boeing 737’s engine begin to idle — something only another pilot would realize. When the plane began to descend and drift to the right, he knew something was up.

He was right. A nurse on board the flight, Linda Alweiss, entered the cockpit, and found the pilot slumped over in his seat.

The rest of the plane knew something was up when a flight attendant asked the passengers if there was a doctor aboard the plane. They were asked to remain seated as the crew ran up to first class with a medical kit. When the attendants again addressed the passengers, they asked if there were any “non-revenue pilots” aboard the plane.

Gongol realized the pilot was probably the patient – and his Air Force specialty was needed. The first officer must have been the only other pilot aboard. He “looked to his wife as she gave him a nod, and Gongol pressed his button and headed toward the flight deck.”

“He was sick and mumbling and was just incoherent,” the nurse told KTLA.

A Rockwell B-1 Lancer is a very different craft from a Boeing 737. Differences in weight, crew, engine number and thrust, top speeds and ceilings are all significant factors. The moment Gongol entered the cockpit, he and the first officer sized one another up – he opted to support her as her first officer.

The Air Force captain decided to let her take the lead. He backed up her checklists, used the radio, and kept an eye out for anything going wrong.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

“She was calm, but you could tell she was a little stressed, who wouldn’t be,” Gongol told Air Force Space Command. It was only when they moved to land in Omaha that Gongol took the lead. The first officer had never landed in Omaha, but Capt. Gongol knew the airfield well, landing there many times in training. Still, he talked her through it.

The pilot, as well as the other 157 people aboard the flight, survived the trip.

Articles

Choice Program temporarily allows vets to seek private medical care

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.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
(Photo: VA)

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.

Also read: The VA might actually be getting its act together

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.”

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors

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.

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This Warthog pilot will receive the Silver Star 14 years after saving troops in battle

During the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, elements of the 3rd Infantry Division had come under fire from Iraqi forces, including T-72 tanks. That’s when the boots on the ground called for air support.


According to a report by the Air Force Times, two A-10s, one of them flown by Gregory Thornton, responded to the call. During the next 33 minutes, they made a number of close passes.

Thornton came within 1,000 yards of the enemy, using his A-10’s GAU-8 cannon in some cases. Ultimately, he and the other pilot would be credited with killing three T-72s, six other armored vehicles, and a number of other targets.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
A-10 fires its GAU-8 during an exercise at Fort Polk. | US Air Force photo

Fourteen years after that battle, Thornton, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, will receive the Silver Star in a ceremony in July that will be presided over by Gen. Mike Holmes, the commander of Air Combat Command. The ceremony will take place at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

“This courageous and aggressive attack, while under withering fire and in poor weather, along with Capt. Thornton’s superior flying skills and true attack pilot grit, allowed Task Force 2-69 Armor to cross the Tigris River with minimal combat losses and successfully accomplish their objective of linking up with coalition forces completing the 360-degree encirclement of Baghdad,” the citation that outlined the award reads.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
The A-10 shows off its non-BRRRRRT related talents. | US Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Bob Sommer

Thornton had been assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron at Pope Field, near Fort Bragg, prior to his retirement. At the time of the incident, Thornton was a captain in the Air Force.

The Air Force is reportedly considering replacements for the A-10. Aircraft involved in what is being called the OA-X program are going to start testing this summer. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to get new wings to prevent the premature retirement of some A-10s.

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World War II vet gets awesome 99th birthday present

Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard served in the Marine Corps during World War II and was wounded in action. But he never lost a love for aviation, also serving in the Air Force and as an airplane mechanic in his civilian life.


Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard (Youtube screenshot)

So, for his 99th birthday, one friend decided to pick up the former Marine’s spirits after Leonard became a widower and moved to the Phoenix area, Fox10Phoenix.com reported.

What was selected for that task was another World War II veteran — a restored B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
B-17 formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, Aug. 17, 1943. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In a day and age where we lose 492 World War II veterans a day, according to the National World War II Museum, those few remaining are a link to the heroic history of that conflict.

The same can be said for the planes. In this case, one World War II vet was able to give another one a brief pick-me up.

Here is Fox10Phoenix’s report on Staff Sgt. Leonard’s flight:

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

6 common VA interview questions and how to prepare for them

Landing a job interview is one of the most exciting and potentially nerve-wracking parts of job hunting. While it’s thrilling to move on in the selection process, it can also feel like a lot is riding on one conversation.

Preparation is key to soothing those pre-interview jitters. When you’re prepared, you’ll feel relaxed and confident so the conversation can flow naturally.


Too bad you can’t get a sneak peek inside the interviewer’s head and learn the questions ahead of time!

Or… can you?

No mind-reading abilities required! We asked two of VA’s national recruiters, Hillary Garcia and Timothy Blakney, for information on VA’s interview process. Here are the six most common VA interview questions and tips on how to prepare for them.

Question: How have you developed and maintained productive working relations with others, even though you may have had differing points of view?

Tip: Come armed with an example or three. In this case, you’ll want to discuss how you worked as a member of a team, including the role you played and how the group interacted.

Question: Tell us about a time where you worked independently without close supervision or support.

Tip: At VA, you’ll sometimes need to make a decision on the fly, so an independent streak is a good thing. Play up your self-directedness. Also, when you describe past examples, don’t forget to mention the result and how your efforts made it possible.

Question: Describe a time when you went above and beyond your job requirements. What motivated you to put forth the extra effort? What was the result of your effort?

Tip: Many interview questions at VA have several parts, like this one. Consider bringing a notebook to jot down notes as questions are being asked so you answer them in full.

Question: Describe a situation where you have not communicated well with a co-worker, supervisor, management official or union official. What was the situation? How did you correct it? What was the outcome?

Tip: Communication abilities are often front and center in a VA interview, so be sure to think about your skills in this area ahead of time. You’ll probably be asked about a professional area of improvement or a time you could have changed how you responded. Answering this type of question thoughtfully demonstrates that you can reflect on and work to perfect your professional roles.

Question: Compare what you know about the job you are interviewing for with your own knowledge and skill. In what areas do you feel you already excel? What areas do you feel you will need to develop?

Tip: Make sure you read over the job announcement closely, especially the duties and specialized experience sections. Then review your own resume and previous experiences, paying particularly close attention to anything that makes you unique.

Question: Tell us about a time you briefed a supervisor or senior management official about bad news and/or results they did not like, along with recommending a different course of action. How did you persuade them to move in a new direction? What were the results?

Tip: Interviewers often ask questions about how you handled a difficult situation, and this can be a tricky one to navigate. You’ll want to think of a tactful example that demonstrates those vital communication abilities, as well as problem-solving and strategic thinking skills. If this was a negative experience, try to give it a positive spin by treating it as a learning opportunity.

Work at VA

Now that you’re feeling ready for a potential interview, a rewarding VA career is just a few steps away!

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

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Community Solutions is tackling the epidemic of veteran homelessness

Marines compete in grueling 2021 Recon Challenge honoring fallen warriors
photo credit: M1kha


Today there are over 40,000 nonprofits that focus on military and veteran issues, according to Charity Watch.

Most of those registered as nonprofits are chapters of larger organizations, but some of them are single chapter projects that focus on specific needs within the veteran community.

Here at We Are the Mighty, we wanted to explore some of those advocacy groups you might not have heard of in a bit more depth.

Community Solutions is a nonprofit devoted to ending homelessness, and one of its projects, Built for Zero, is committed to eradicating veteran homelessness.

A report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HUD Exchange estimates that there are slightly more than 39,000 homeless veterans (both in shelters and without shelter). While still a significant number, that number has seen huge decreases in the last few years thanks in part to partnerships with programs like Built for Zero.

Built for Zero is an intense national program that helps communities develop and implement drastic plans to address the issue of veteran and chronic homelessness, and “the conditions that create it.” The motivation is two-fold: homelessness costs local economies more money by sustaining shelters and emergency medical care, and that veterans who’ve defended this country shouldn’t be homeless in it.

“Homelessness is a manmade disaster, and it can be solved,” Community Solutions president Rosanne Haggerty wrote in the nonprofit’s 2015 Annual Report.

Built for Zero partners with communities and teaches them how to come up with ways to pool and manage their resources, tapping into previously non-traditional homelessness-fighting resources, like businesses, churches, and even real estate companies in order to address some of the conditions that impact homeless veterans.

Employment, transportation and healthcare are just some of the issues that the project addresses when fighting homelessness.

“Community Solutions works upstream and downstream of the problem by helping communities end homelessness where it happens and improve the conditions of inequality that make it more likely to happen in the future,” Haggerty wrote in the report.

Rather than make homelessness just a crime-fighting task, Built for Zero makes it a community task.

The techniques Built for Zero utilize have been proven to work. Earlier this week, a community in Wisconsin announced that it had eliminated veteran homelessness. To date, Built for Zero has housed over 40,000 homeless veterans, and helped 5 communities to accomplish their goals of eradicating veteran homelessness.

In 2015 alone, Community Solutions raised over $9 million through donations and grants. That money assisted in housing over 20,000 homeless veterans in 75 communities- and it saved tax payers an estimated $150 million doing it.

Check out how you can get involved with Built for Zero and impact veteran homelessness in your community.

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