On Veterans Day 2017, U.S. Army veteran David Brown was walking around an area of Arlington National Cemetery that was far removed from the holiday crowd of tourists and volunteers. He came across an older man walking alone among the tombstones in Section 60 – where those killed in action in the Global War on Terror are laid to rest.
The man was Secretary of Defense (and retired Marine Corps General) James Mattis.
There were no cameras or news reporters walking with the retired general. He was dressed respectfully in a black tie and jacket, walking through the rows of graves. As Brown put it, “Defense Secretary James Mattis spent his Veterans Day with the recent fallen.”
Brown then watched Mattis as he spoke with others visiting Section 60. Mattis listened to the stories of those visiting their lost loved ones. And overheard an exchange between the general and a Gold Star Father.
“An old man visiting his Marine son’s grave told Mattis that he was his boy’s hero; the Warrior Monk smiled sadly and said that the old man’s son was one of his.”
Brown snapped a selfie with the secretary and posted it to his Facebook page. The comments on the photo were full of stories of personal encounters with Mattis and love for the general and his long history of supporting American troops.
Comments ranged from “General Mattis is a national treasure and we are very lucky that he remains in service to the United States of America,” to “THAT IS F**KING COOL AS SH*T BRO!!!” – a testament to the wide respect the General earned in both his time in the Marine Corps to his service as SECDEF.
Greg Oswald and Eli Tomac are a couple of modern bad asses in their own right. Greg is a C-17 pilot for the U.S. Air Force and Eli just shredded the 2018 San Diego Supercross. I hate to go all Top Gun on you, but these guys obviously have a need for speed.
“Motocross and Supercross, you’re just in it. We race in rain or shine. The noise from the four-stroke, and you’re in the dirt — it pushes you in every area, whether it’s physically or mentally, it’s the real deal.”
In 2010, Eli was the first rider in history to win his professional debut — since then, he’s continued to prove himself to be one of the fastest riders in the sport. In early 2018, he won his first Monster Energy Supercross, and his brother Greg was there to watch.
“I’m here to support Eli. If it’s a good day or a bad day, the overall goal is to just be a big brother to the guy in the track.”
Greg pointed out the connection between a pilot in his aircraft or a rider on the bike — they’re both about a man and his machine, but neither can do it alone. Pilots and riders require a crew to get their machines going.
“I’m out there as an entertainer [but with] the military…you can’t just go into work and say ‘Oh I’m tired, I’m not gonna ride today.’ You gotta get it done no matter what if you’re in the military so that’s something that I’ll never know…and that’s where I have the utmost respect for everyone that’s in, and that’s for my brother as well.”
Check out the video above to watch Monster’s coverage of Eli’s victory and hear the brothers talk about how they support each other.
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.
Content warning: the following article features an open and frank discussion about suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255.) There’s not a damn thing wrong with asking for a helping hand when you need it most.
Times are rough right now. We’re at the brink of a global pandemic, schools and places of work are closing and people are panic buying things that aren’t usually in short demand. But the factor that is hitting the closest to home for most folks is, well, everyone staying home.
This is what is known at social distancing. It’s an important step in ensuring that the most vulnerable of our population stays away from anyone who may have contracted the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. It’s a drastic measure that’s annoying to most, but it’s going to save lives in the long term. And that’s not something that should ever be understated.
Yet, there’s also an unseen side effect that could potentially harm another group if it’s not handled properly. The disruption of a daily rhythm, potential loss of work and social isolation could impact a vast number of people already fighting through depression and that ever present thought of suicide: veterans.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions lists two determining categories for depression – biological and psychological. Genetics, hormones and neurotransmitters all play their part in making someone more likely to be genetically predisposed to depression but loss, stress and a sense of unfulfillment can hit anyone. At this moment, there’s plenty of that going around.
Even going back a few months before COVID-19 took the world stage, finding a steady paying job wasn’t that easy. Bills can pile up and somehow it feels we’re always just one paycheck above water. But at least some of us had a handful of buddies we could go out to drink with or to see a movie with. Now, it feels like all of that was swept away and we also have to worry if we’ll have enough toilet paper to get through the week.
Right now, many people have lost their jobs or had their hours cut drastically. Even if you haven’t, you’re probably working from home without seeing anyone but the ones you live with. You might be kicking yourself in the butt because you didn’t go to the grocery store before it turned into a scene from The Walking Dead. Thankfully, this isn’t the end times and the internet can still connect us while we’re standing more than six feet from anyone.[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2FJZP-ebOe0UsmSOlFfx-ZfSK_kjHJYNlYtsKgqF9pcHBDg-KTQd6WrP7GrC6yOOEmkEOZgfG7-23RF-6K-55opWeLwa3lLvpZjENRl93zQRfL6dyNpY4lkV71IyGukrJg2nKxFxeSCDcXW9fmPQ&ho=https%3A%2F%2Flh3.googleusercontent.com&s=298&h=e86267c4c48c91b3d540173ed586769b65668149f0538cb5eebc136b98f92f20&size=980x&c=744452975 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252FJZP-ebOe0UsmSOlFfx-ZfSK_kjHJYNlYtsKgqF9pcHBDg-KTQd6WrP7GrC6yOOEmkEOZgfG7-23RF-6K-55opWeLwa3lLvpZjENRl93zQRfL6dyNpY4lkV71IyGukrJg2nKxFxeSCDcXW9fmPQ%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Flh3.googleusercontent.com%26s%3D298%26h%3De86267c4c48c91b3d540173ed586769b65668149f0538cb5eebc136b98f92f20%26size%3D980x%26c%3D744452975%22%7D” expand=1]
Quick sidenote: toilet paper is something that is typically used at a set rate. Unless you’re planning on hiding for months or TPing your neighbor’s place, you don’t need to stockpile TP.
(Photo by Ingrid Cold)
I urge you, please keep in regular touch with anyone you love who’s been hit hard by this social isolation. Chances are they’re not doing so well. Check up on them. Call to see how they’re doing.
Depression is a real disease and the final symptom could be suicide.
This advice goes for everyone but us in the veteran community already had compounding factors before the outbreak. The “22 a day” is still thrown around, albeit those often-cited numbers come from a 2012 study and they’re more accurately at around 17 a day after a much needed cultural shift within our community. That’s still not great; it’s still far above the national average. Often, we’ve been able to find the one ember that kept our flame burning. But for a lot of veterans, that fire could be extinguished with social distancing.
Don’t take this out of its intended context. Social distancing is crucial at this moment. We just need to adjust to the shift in how things are done. Hotlines are still open. The VA Mental Health facilities are still open. And if you’re concerned and feel symptoms of the coronavirus, there are always video conference calls available to connect you with a mental health specialist or doctors.
For health and safety reasons, the hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. For good reason.
(U.S. Navy photo by Diana Burleson)
I say all of this… because I found myself in that dark place. The part where I wrote about how people are feeling is mostly pulled from what’s going on with myself.
I recently attempted to end my own life. I’ve been fighting through my own depression for some time now and it reached its boiling point. It probably wouldn’t be wise to go into details, but I will share the thought that got my feet back on the ground. It was the thought that no one would ever be able to explain to my cat why I’m never coming home. Make of it what you will, but thoughts like that can help pull you out of an irrational moment.
I mean, I love my family and friends. But I wouldn’t ever want to hurt this good boy.
(Picture by Eric Milzarski)
It was through the help of my buddy from the Army and my loving wife that I was able to come back. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still in that damn tunnel. I’m now seeing a mental health specialist at the VA regularly and I can honestly say that it was the right choice. No judgement. No negative consequences. And I feel silly for hesitating this long. Just open arms –metaphorically speaking, of course. I kept my six feet of distance and sanitized my hands, because the VA also houses elderly and immuno-vulnerable veterans. And if need be, they’re still doing video calls for anyone feeling any symptoms.
If you know anyone who’s in that dark place, reach out to them. Go in person if you have to, but there’s always the phone. There are always online video games. There’s always a meme you can tag them in. Anything will help. It may not feel like it while we’re self-isolating until things go back to normal, but we are never truly alone.
As late as 2013, some of Western New York’s veterans were still slipping through the cracks of the VA system. To address the issue, the Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition and Goodwill of Western New York teamed up to help those who were continually underserved.
The two organizations created the Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York, a place any veteran can go find answers to any question along with comprehensive solutions to the unique problems veterans face in civilian life.
Those problems were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn caused by restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the virus. These issues hit veteran service organizations hard, and the people they serve struggled harder as a result. Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY applied for the Evan Williams COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant, which made it possible for the nonprofit to more effectively meet the overwhelming need for support in the area.
“Even with the VA having a strong presence in the area, there were still some gaps in services and a lack of coordination with those services,” says Katherine Zunner, Chief Development Officer of Veterans One-Stop Center. “Even if a veteran didn’t serve during war time, we can assist anybody.”
Zunner comes from a family of military veterans. One grandfather was a World War II-era Marine. Her other grandfather served in the Army during the same war. Her brother is a Navy veteran, so the military-veteran community is an especially important community for her.
Without Veterans One-Stop’s assistance, that community’s need goes unanswered. During the pandemic, areas where veterans were hardest-hit included education, employment, and housing. Those needs are supposed to be addressed before the veteran needs critical services — but when that doesn’t happen, organizations like Veterans One-Stop Center of NWY intervene.
With 95,000 veterans in Western New York, Zunner says around 10-40% are in need of critical services, with many unaware of the benefits for which they are qualified. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the United States, Veterans One-Stop saw a large uptick in urgent requests for those critical services — but the group needed help meeting the demand.
Zunner applied for the Evan Williams’ COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant, made possible by the American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund, established by Evan Williams in 2020 as part of their ongoing commitment to improve the lives of veterans. As an American-made and owned company, it’s important for Evan Williams Bourbon to give back to those who serve.
The grant they received funded Veterans One-Stop Center’s core services: case navigation and peer support.
“We were excited to try for something new because we usually don’t stray too far out of the area when we look for funding,” says Zunner. “Our services, though very needed, aren’t very ‘sexy,’ so it can be a hard sell. But we also have a lot of success stories.”
The Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY works because counselors sit down with individual veterans and plot a course with them, one-on-one. They map out the veteran’s basic and most critical needs, then connect them with the resources they need to get there.
Thanks to the Evan Williams’ COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant, Veterans One-Stop Center closed for just one week, to clean and sanitize their offices. They were right back to helping veterans the week after. Now, they’re even looking to expand the number of counselors available to veterans.
“It takes a full community to successfully do the work that we are doing,” Zunner said of being selected for the grant. “Anytime we can spread our message is very exciting and to be selected on a national level, I always get very excited about that.”
Long before that fateful day in January 1944, James Howard was a man of action. After graduating college in 1937 with the intention of becoming a doctor he instead joined the Navy and became a pilot.
After just two years in the fleet Howard left the Navy and joined many other American aviators in Asia to become a part of the famed Flying Tigers. While fighting in Asia Howard flew 56 combat missions becoming a squadron commander and being credited with the destruction of six Japanese planes.
Howard then left the Flying Tigers in July 1942 when the unit was disbanded and returned to the United States. Wanting to get back in the war he joined the United States Army Air Corps and was commissioned as a Captain.
By 1943, he had been promoted to Major and put in command of the 356th Fighter Squadron based in England. His unit flew its first mission on Dec. 1, 1943, escorting bombers over Europe. Armed with the new P-51B Mustangs, this was an entirely different mission than Howard had ever flown, but his previous experiences would soon prove useful.
During the winter of 1943-44, the Eighth Air Force was working hard to establish air superiority over Europe before the upcoming invasion in the summer. This meant that heavy bombers had to strike aircraft manufacturing deep inside German territory.
For most of 1943, this had been accomplished without fighter escort over the target. Heavy losses had scaled back the number of bombing raids to Germany. But the arrival of Howard’s 356th Fighter Squadron and other Mustang outfits meant the missions could resume.
On Jan. 11, 1944, Howard was flight lead for his entire fighter group, the 354th, leading his own squadron as well as two others to protect bombers striking aircraft factories at Oschersleben and Halberstadt.
The plan called for Howard’s P-51’s to pick up the Eighth Air Forces bombers — 525 B-17’s and 138 B-24’s — after their initial escort of P-47’s and P-38’s had to turn back. They would then cover the bombers over the target and again hand off the escort to a new group of short range fighters as the P-51’s returned to base.
When the 354th Fighter Group rendezvoused with the bombers they had already completed their bombing run. However, they were being swarmed by some 500 German fighters according to an Eighth Air Force estimate.
Approaching from the rear of the formation, Howard directed fighters to different parts of the formation as his element made its way towards the lead bombers.
Almost immediately, Howard’s fighters found themselves attacked, and as they engaged the Germans, Howard soon found himself all alone heading towards the lead bomber group.
That group, the 401st, was on its 14th combat mission and had seen plenty of action. None of them, however, had ever seen anything like the display Howard was about to put on.
As Howard approached the group, he saw that they were heavily engaged by some 30 German fighters. Although only a lone fighter, Howard was undeterred; as he put it, “I seen my duty and I done it.”
Howard quickly jumped a German twin-engine fighter and sent it earthward. He then spotted an FW 190 coming up underneath him and dispatched it too. “I nearly ran into his canopy,” Howard said, “as he threw it off to bail out.”
After two quick kills, Howard started to circle back to find the rest of his formation. As he did so, he spotted an Me 109 moving in on the bombers. The German spotted him too and took evasive action.
A turning dogfight ensued. The German tried to dive away but Howard’s P-51 was up for the challenge. A short burst from his .50 caliber machine guns sent the Messerschmitt down in flames.
As Howard returned to altitude with the bombers he engaged more fighters. According to his own reports he probably destroyed two further fighters. According to the bomber crews that number was more like four or five.
Howard was “all over the wing, across it and around it,” the lead bomber pilot reported “for sheer guts and determination, it was the greatest exhibition I’ve ever seen. They can’t give that boy a big enough award.”
Indeed Howard was determined. For over half an hour he fought alone against the swarm of German fighters. When his ammunition was exhausted he simply dove at the Germans in the hopes of driving them off — often times it worked.
Finally, low on fuel, Howard waved his wings to the bombers and departed with a few straggling P-51’s that were still in the area.
For his efforts that day, Howard received the Medal of Honor, the only fighter pilot in the European theatre to be so awarded. He was officially credited with four enemy aircraft shot down that day. He would later add two more, becoming an ace.
In 1945 he was promoted to Colonel and would eventually retire as a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve in 1966.
Ronald Reagan probably helped save a number of lives on the front lines — and not because he was a big hero. In fact, Reagan’s eyesight was so bad, they kept him in the United States. But despite not being fit for front-line duty, Reagan still played his role for Uncle Sam.
While Reagan’s eyesight made him next to useless for combat, he did end up being involved in doing training films, one of which involved recognizing the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Friendly fire has long been a problem — ask Stonewall Jackson.
In this training film, “Recognition of the Japanese Zero,” Reagan portrayed a young pilot who had just arrived in the Far East. The recognition angle is hammered home, and not just because of the friendly-fire problem.
Reagan’s character studies silhouettes drawn by a wounded pilot who hesitated too long — and found out he was dealing with a Zero the hard way.
Even with the study, Reagan’s character later accidentally fires at a P-40 he misidentifies, greatly angering the other American pilot. However, when he returns, he takes his lumps, but all turns out okay when the other pilots realizes there is a Zero in Reagan’s sights from the gun camera footage.
Reagan’s character explains that he stumbled across the Zero, then after a dogfight (not the proper tactic against the Zero, it should be noted), Reagan’s character shoots down the Zero.
There’s a happy ending as the earlier near-miss is forgotten and the kill is celebrated.
The film is also notable in that it revealed to American pilots that the United States had acquired a Zero that had crashed in the Aleutians. The so-called Akutan Zero was considered one of the great intelligence coups in the Pacific Theater, arguably second only to the American code-breaking effort.
So, see a future President of the United States help teach American pilots how to recognize the Zero in the video below.
One of the best things about serving in the military is the camaraderie built with the men and women we serve beside. We depend on each other when we’re away from home, missing our families, and even fighting for our lives.
That’s why trust among service members is so important. And what better way to build trust than to eff with the new guy/gal?
It might sound counterintuitive, but it works. An initiation rite is a way to challenge someone new in a safe but hilarious way and see how they handle tough situations. An added bonus, as in Jesse Iwuji’s case, is that it also communicates that there’s some fun to be had.
As the junior ranking officer on his first ship fresh out of the Naval Academy, Iwuji was the perfect target. Check out this episode of No Sh*t There I Was to see how Iwuji handled his task of “lowering the mast” of the USS Warrior…
Leave a comment and tell us your favorite stories of messing with the newest person to the team.
As Vietnam War Veterans Day nears March 29, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces is nearly complete but needs help from the public to track down the last few dozen photos.
Of the 58,279 names inscribed on The Wall, there’s less than 80 photos needed to complete the Wall of Faces.
The virtual Wall of Faces features a page that honors and remembers every person on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Each page has a photo to go with each of the more than 58,000 names on The Wall. The Wall of Faces allows family and friends to share memories, post pictures and connect with each other.
Additionally, over 1,400 of the photos are poor quality. Anyone with better photos can upload them. A list of those are at located here.
The remaining names, listed in alphabetical order, are below. The list has name with a link to the Veteran’s page, service, date and location of birth, and date and location of death.
Joseph Sroka isn’t just an investment specialist, he’s a military veteran and business owner with a passion to assist the veteran community. He is the Chief Investment Officer of NovaPoint Capital, a firm he co-founded, which provides investment management for individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations.
Before getting into the number crunching and chart watching of the investment world, Sroka served as an infantry officer in the Army. After graduating from West Point in 1988, he was stationed in Berlin, Germany and was witness to the iconic fall of the Berlin Wall, reunification of Germany, and collapse of the Soviet Union. As a person who was inspired to serve by Ronald Reagan, seeing the end of the “Evil Empire” seemed like a good time for a career change.
“I grew up in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and was in middle school during the Iran hostage crisis,” Sroka recalls. “President Reagan brought pride back to the country and the military. I was proud to serve.”
After earning his MBA, Sroka spent time working in equity research at investment banks, hedge funds, and asset management firms in Chicago, New York, and eventually Atlanta, the city he now calls home. The investment management industry has proven as lively as the military. Sroka was working at 4 World Financial Center, across the street from the World Trade Center, on 9/11 and helped evacuate his colleagues at Merrill Lynch from the building. He has also managed through the volatility of the markets during the 2008 financial crisis.
His deep experience in the industry helped him develop the tools he needed to go into business with his partner, Alan Conner. Together, they decided the goal of NovaPoint Capital was to provide individuals and institutions with disciplined and transparent investment management.
We’ve both seen the ugly side of the business over the years,” Alan explains, “Excessive fees and complicated investment products seem designed to benefit the investment firms and the brokers, rather than the clients. It is very satisfying to run a firm where we truly put the client first.
As a boutique firm, they offer an aspect that is often lost when dealing with larger firms: the opportunity to build a personal one-on-one relationship directly with their clients. This structure provides clients with direct access to the manager who is handling their money and not sales representatives or relationship managers who are twice or three-times removed from the actual investment.
They recognize that a lot of trust that comes with handling investments. NovaPoint seeks to provide all clients, large and small, with complete transparency in how their money is invested. They have used technology to simplify the process and give clients a window into what the team at NovaPoint is doing every day.
NovaPoint shows they are purposeful and disciplined when it comes to the strategies they put forth. Both owners understand discipline. Sroka as a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, Conner as an endurance athlete and three-time IRONMAN triathlon finisher. Conner sees “the discipline in our investment process as a simple extension of the discipline we have in our everyday lives.”
Being a veteran-owned business, NovaPoint understands the value the veteran community provides to the country’s economy and wants to encourage other veterans to pursue their investment and financial goals. To help veterans achieve these goals NovaPoint Capital takes a few proactive steps. They offer special discounts on standard fees as well as waiving minimum investment requirements for veterans. They extend these offers to include retirement plans for other veteran-owned businesses as well as non-profit organizations that serve the veteran community. Additionally, NovaPoint contributes one day of revenue every six months directly to veteran charities.
Beyond discounts and waived requirements, Sroka personally continues to serve veterans in his community by being a mentor through organizations like Veterati and FourBlock. “I am a huge believer that the current generation of transitioning veterans are going to be the leaders in the U.S. economy for decades to come,” Sroka said. He is also working to bring a Bunker Labs chapter to Atlanta to help military and veteran entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses in the area.
“A few years ago I heard about the treatment from my friend in Washington state. I went on the computer and I checked a few things out, and I thought, ‘Why not? It’s time that you do something.'”
For Jerry, that time came 48 years after he had returned from Vietnam…
“Bullets are flying everyplace…”
“It was quite an experience coming back from ‘Nam, and I could tell I had changed an awful lot. And I think the biggest thing in my behavior was the fact that I was so jumpy. I would wake up in the middle of the night, and I’m in the middle of Vietnam, and bullets are flying everyplace, and my bed is ringing wet.”
“What they didn’t know is I was scared of myself.”
Something was wrong. He didn’t know what it was or what to do about it. And Jerry didn’t want to jeopardize his career in the military by speaking up. He went on to finish two tours in Korea, then was stationed in Germany where he met his future wife and started a family. “I just felt that if I said there’s something wrong with me the Army wouldn’t need me.”
Instead of asking for help, Jerry buried himself in his work. “I was working around the clock. I was trying to control my mind, and I was trying to block it. I was in control most of the time.”
But he also lost control. Stupid mistakes felt intolerable, and they could easily set him off. “I can talk like a sailor, and in talking like a sailor, I could take your head off and put it in your lap, and you’d never know it.”
These types of outbursts affected his work-life. He later learned that his colleagues didn’t like to be around him because he was too unpredictable, too volatile. One called him a loose cannon, another told him years later that people were afraid of him. “What they didn’t know is I was scared of myself.”
Time passed. Jerry’s two sons grew into men. And more recently, his beloved wife became ill and passed away. For all those years Jerry had wanted to ask for help, but he didn’t know where to go. He couldn’t trust anyone.
Then one day a friend told him about the treatments at the VA. Treatments for PTSD. Eager to get help, but still skeptical, Jerry went in for an appointment.
“She was just that good.”
“I’ll tell you right now, as I sit here, when I walked in that room and saw that petite little thing sitting there, I said there is no way in hell this young lady has any clue about what I’ve been through, what I’ve done, and she can’t help me. I feel like an ass now but it didn’t take long for me to change my mind. It didn’t take long. Within 30 minutes I knew I wanted to come back for my next appointment. I could have probably stayed there the rest of the week and talked to her. She was just that good. She was ready for me. I wasn’t ready for her, but she made me ready. She was good.”
Jerry finished his therapy, an evidence-based therapy called Prolonged Exposure, in nine weeks.
“I felt that the treatment helped me in the fact that I can control myself a lot better. I control my anger. I can do a lot of things that I couldn’t do before. I still have moments where I don’t know, something snaps or something build’s up or whatever [but] I accept life a lot easier. I’m more tolerant of people.”
“I’ll just say it this way. It takes a lot to piss me off. I’m so proud of that.”
In 2018, Navy veteran Anthony Price burned through more than 450 gallons of gasoline and three sets of tires. He spent more than 700 miles in the rain, many days in temperatures above 100 degrees, and at least one day in the snow. He did all of it to honor the families who lost a loved one to America’s wars. And he’s going to do it again in 2019, as he has for the past six years.
The Gold Star Ride of a lifetime.
Price began his ride for Gold Star families in 2013 as a means of calling attention to those families and saying thank you in his own way. Since then, he has been to more than 44 states, enduring extreme temperatures and conditions just to ensure the families of fallen service members are taken care of. As the Gold Star Ride website says, “We ride because they died… We do the work that our fallen heroes would do if they hadn’t fallen for all our freedom.”
Soon the Minnesota-based Price and his fellow riders were a full-fledged nonprofit, dedicated to the mission of helping those in need. Gold Star Riders actively support, comfort, and provide education benefits to Gold Star Families throughout the United States directly with personal visits via motorcycle. They also vow to partner with any group who actively helps these Gold Star families.
“The families themselves are not looking for any stardom or any fame or any glory,” Price says. “They’re just looking for someone to remember, to remember a huge sacrifice.”
The title of Price’s book is a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s “Bixby Letter,” a letter the 16th President penned to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, a widow believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. In it, the President is said to have written his regret at her loss and his attempt to console her by reminding the mother of the Republic they died to save. He ends the letter with “Yours, Very Sincerely and Respectfully.”
Price in an interview with a Fox affiliate.
The letter is an apt reference, as Price describes on commercial producer Jordan Brady’s “Respect the Process” Podcast. Price mentions that he would talk to twenty or so people a day, on average, for two months straight. He found that 19 of those 20 didn’t know what a Gold Star Family was. In one case, even a Gold Star Family did not realize they were a Gold Star Family.
To be clear, a Gold Star Family member is the immediate family of any military member who lost their life in military service – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children.
“One of the reasons we do this is because no one else was doing it,” says Price. “Every once in a while I hear someone say ‘you’re adding an element that makes [the loss] a little more palatable… the work you’re doing is helping me make sense of the tragedy I have to go through.'”
There’s increased incidence of ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — among veterans of all wars, from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
This week, Marine Corps veteran Roger Brannon reached the two-year anniversary of a life-altering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosis, a milestone that many in his position will not live to see. ALS is an incurable, neurodegenerative disease that progresses rapidly.
(Courtesy of the Brannon Family)
Over 80 percent of those diagnosed die within two to five years. Military veterans are two times more likely to develop ALS than those who’ve never served. It was once thought that increased incidence of ALS was limited to veterans of Vietnam and the first Gulf War, but it’s now striking Enduring Freedom vets who served in Afghanistan at the same rates. Despite this, there’s a surprisingly low amount of awareness of the disease among the veteran community.
Roger Brannon and his wife Pam are on a mission to change this. Up to to 95 percent of veterans who develop the disease are diagnosed with sporadic ALS — which means there is no family history of the disease and doctors unable to precisely pinpoint a cause.
(Courtest of the Brannon Family)
“They can’t tell us why we have it, what we did to get it, and that’s very unnerving because you can’t tell any other veteran or friend what to do to not get ALS,” Roger says.
What Roger and Pam are doing is sharing what they know: resources, coping strategies, and VA benefits. Veterans actually have far greater available to them than the average ALS patient in America. For example, Radicava, the first drug treatment specifically for ALS approved since 1995, was made available to VA hospitals before more widespread distribution – and the Department of Veterans Affairs has automatically assumed, since 2008, that a veteran’s ALS is service-connected.
ALS is a terminal disease but early diagnosis can slow its progression and knowing about it increases the likelihood of identifying it quickly. All veterans and their families can do is arm themselves with the best information on how to deal with what lies ahead. With a pre-teen and teen at home, the hardest thing for Pam Brannon is not knowing if they will ever live out the family’s dreams.
“Will there be a next birthday? A next anniversary? Will Roger live to see a graduation?” Pam asks. “At the end of the day, there’s no book for when you’re diagnosed with a terminal disease.”