The first time I witnessed a ‘missing man formation’ was at the funeral of my grandfather, who flew the B-25 Mitchell during World War II. After his service in the Army Air Corps, he became a commercial pilot for TWA and then ventured into private flight. He died in an airplane crash at the age of 74 and my family gathered with his aviation community at Santa Paula Airport for his memorial.
At the ceremony, we looked to the sky as a group of planes from the Condor Squadron flew overhead. One of the planes banked away, leaving an empty space in the formation.
The symbolism was not lost on me.
Four F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing conduct a missing man formation flyover during the POW/MIA ceremony at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, Sept. 19, 2014.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Jenne)
It’s a powerful visual, and a traditional salute to military aviators.
The “missing man formation” has evolved throughout history, but today, there are two main variations.
The first is the one held at my grandfather’s memorial: a group of planes roars low overhead, then one pulls up spectacularly from the rest, leaving his or her space in the formation empty to represent the fallen pilot.
The “missing man formation” has always held a special place in my heart, perhaps because flight, for me, feels synonymous with freedom. The notion that a pilot might slip “the surly bonds of earth” for the final time is one that brings me comfort, and therefore saying goodbye to those who love the “vastness of the sky” in this way is a bittersweet moment.
Watch the video below to see a “missing man formation” in action:
Just days after the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, Peter Conover Hains graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. At a time when officers and cadets were deserting the U.S. military in favor of serving their home states, especially those who seceded from the Union, this Philadelphia native stayed put — and the U.S. Army would get their investment back in spades.
After 26 of his 57 classmates left to join the Confederacy, Hains became an artillery officer, firing off the first shot of the Battle of Bull Run. There, he fought bravely, even though the Union Army lost terribly. After as many as 30 smaller combat engagements, he eventually found himself in the Army Corps of Engineers and the United States would never be the same.
During the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, the Union’s Chief Engineer fell ill and was unable to fulfill his duties. So, the responsibility shifted to then-lieutenant Hains. The engineering at Vicksburg would be crucial to the Union victory, so there could be no mistakes. The 12-mile ring of fortifications and entrenchments around the city kept the 33,000 Confederate defenders bottled up and isolated from the outside world. The surrender of Vicksburg, after a 40-days-long siege, along with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg sounded the death knell for the Confederacy.
Grant promoted Hains to captain for his work.
In the postwar years, he was appointed Engineer Secretary of the U.S. Lighthouse Board and his constructions were so sound that many still stand to this day, undisturbed by rising sea levels or tropical storms. He also fixed the foul-smelling swamp that was Washington, D.C. by designing and constructing the Tidal Basin there, a sort of man-made reservoir that flushes out to the Washington Channel.
Still in the Army by the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, he served as a brigadier general of volunteers, but no known record of deploying to fight exists. Before and after the Spanish-American War, Hains served on the Nicaragua Canal Commission and was responsible for successfully arguing that such a canal should be built in Panama.
He retired from the Army in 1904 — but the Army wasn’t done with him. World War I broke out for the United States and in September, 1917, Peter Conover Hains was recalled to active duty one last time. For a full year, he managed the structural defenses of Norfolk Harbor and was the district’s Chief Engineer. At age 76, he was the oldest officer in uniform.
His sons and their sons all continued Hains’ military tradition, attending West Point and serving on active duty. He, his sons, and his grandson are all interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
The war in Afghanistan began in October of 2001 following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Since then, approximately 2,300 American service men and women have fallen in the line of duty while protecting their great country.
The memories of those who died have existed mostly in the hearts of their friends and family — until now.
Navy veteran and two-time USA memory champion Ron White decided to put his unique talents to good use and pay a special tribute to those who died while serving in Afghanistan.
After returning home from Afghanistan in 2007, White began to form the idea of creating a unique tribute as his way to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The general public has no idea the scope of the sacrifice that so many families and heroes made,” White patriotically states.
On Feb. 28, 2013, White began handwriting every single troop’s name he had memorized (including rank, first and last name) in chronological order of their untimely deaths using a white marker — accumulating over 7,000 words.
“Every few hours, somebody will walk by that wall and remind me, this is just not 7,000 words,” White admits. “This is their son or daughter.”
The Texas native’s primary reason for him paying this special tribute is to honor the memories of fallen which he states has made him a better person by learning about all the various stories behind the names — the selfless acts of heroism.
Look, it is easy, and deeply enjoyable, to give Oscar Mike host Ryan Curtis boatloads of crap for the shenanigans and mannerisms (shenannerisms?) he regularly deploys in the line of duty. It’s easy because he’s a good sport. It’s enjoyable because, well:
But credit where credit is due, it is no easy thing to drop in on a recording studio unprepared, be played a brand new beat, compose a non-wack verse and then get into the booth and spit your best whiteboy flow in front of a hot producer and a rapper at the top of his game.
TMR served 10 years in the Middle East as a Marine Corps combat correspondent, ala Joker from Full Metal Jacket. Though he started rapping young, he found he had to put his passion on ice during active duty — no time to think, let alone rhyme.
When he finally left the service, the transition was rough.
“It was a reality shock. I didn’t know where to go. You’re like, ‘I have all this time on my hands,’ and you get to thinking… ‘I was such a super hero in the military, but now I’m just a regular civilian. Nobody cares about me. I’m nothing now. Why should I even live?'”
Finding himself in a dark headspace familiar to many vets exiting the military, TMR did a hard thing: he asked for help.
With the assistance of the VA, he was able to reorient, finding an outlet in his long-dormant passion for rap. He now lives in Hollywood, CA, cutting tracks and shooting music videos to support his budding career as a musician.
And, no joke, in a single day of working together, TMR, producer Louden and the Artist Formerly Known as Ryan Curtis may just have succeeded in dropping the U.S. military’s first ever chart-topping hip hop track:
It’s a lock for New Oscar Mike Theme Song at the very least.
Watch as Curtis looks for lyrics in a Magic 8 Ball and TMR proves there’s no room in his game for shame, in the video embedded at the top.
There’s not a lot a veteran won’t do for his buddies, especially if they’re still in the service and the veteran is out. This is particularly helpful for troops who are deployed because their buddy back home knows exactly what they need. And you know what people fighting a war could use more than anything else? A beer.
John “Chickie” Donohue set out to get a few beers to his best Army buddies — while they were fighting in Vietnam. That’s one hell of a beer run.
In 1967, the war in Vietnam was heating up. Unbeknownst to the U.S., the Tet Offensive was still to come, but that didn’t mean the fighting was inconsequential. More than 11,000 American troops would die in the fighting that year. The largest airborne operation since World War II happened in February, 1967, the 1st Marine Division was engaged with the Army of North Vietnam, and the U.S. Army was chasing down Viet Cong south of the DMZ — in short, it was a busy year.
M113 armored vehicles advance in Vietnam during Operation Junction City, 1967.
Donohue had already served four years in the Marine Corps and was working as a sandhog — a kind of miner — for the city of New York. He was a native of Inwood, a Manhattan neighborhood at the very northern tip of the island. As 1967 progressed, he saw many, many funerals of Inwood natives who were killed in Vietnam. Meanwhile, he grew sick of antiwar protestors who criticized troops who were sent there.
One day, Chickie Donohue was at his local watering hole when the bartender remarked that troops over in Vietnam deserved a pat on the back and a cold beer. Donohue agreed. He agreed so much that he took a gig as a merchant seaman on a ship taking supplies and ammunition to Vietnam. He packed a bag and a supply of beer and set sail.
Chickie Donohue worked as an oiler aboard the Drake Victory steamer.
The trip took two months and Donohue actually drank all the beer he brought along. But he grabbed more upon arrival and set out to find a half dozen of his old friends who were stationed in country. His first stop was actually where his ship docked, Qui Nhon harbor, where his friend Tom Collins was deployed with the 127th Military Police Company.
“I said, ‘Chickie Donohue, what the hell are you doing here?'” Collins told the New York Times. “He said, ‘I came to bring you a beer.'”
That wasn’t his last stop. He journeyed throughout the country to bring cold ones to his old friends fighting a war that Americans back home were increasingly hostile toward. His friends, who sometimes just happened to bump into Donohue on his trek to see them, were amazed.
Beer run recipients in Quang Tri Province, 1968.
Donohue even took fire from the enemy a few times.
For his friends, Chickie was a sight for sore eyes. A New York Times reporter documented their reactions to the retelling of Donohue’s story when they were interviewed for the book about Chickie’s biggest beer run. It even helped some of them get through the war and work on their post-traumatic stress.
“Seeing Chick gave me a lot of encouragement that I was going to make it back,” said Bob Pappas, who was a communications NCO in Long Binh. Pappas was demoralized after hearing about the deaths of longtime Inwood friends. Donohue’s cold one gave him a little hope.
But even local residents of Inwood who knew Chickie Donohue his whole life couldn’t believe the story of his beer run. For decades after, New Yorkers and fellow sandhogs alike told him he was full of it. But in March, 2017, he released his book about the trip, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A True Story of Friendship Stronger Than War,” and held a book signing with recipients of the beers present.
“For half a century, I’ve been told I was full of it, to the point where I stopped even telling this story,” he said. But still “I didn’t have to buy a beer for a long time in Inwood.”
A meditation company with an iTunes app is offering free downloads to veterans. Meditation Studios has developed 200 meditation tracks that can be downloaded through their app in the iTunes store.
Through a recent partnership with Give Back, the company created the Veterans Collection, a unique series of meditations that are designed to help veterans improve their focus, relieve stress, and encourage better sleep.
In a statement to We Are the Mighty, Meditation Studios said:
Please enjoy these complimentary meditations from Meditation Studio App. For more from this collection, download the app. The guided meditations in the Veterans collection will help to improve focus, relieve stress, encourage better sleep and generally bring more peace of mind. The mind can be a great source of distress when it’s out of control. When we can relax, pause or slow the mind down, it becomes a source of consolation and peace.
As we learn to meditate, we learn to recognize emotions, thoughts and sensations without reacting to them. It helps us to respond more thoughtfully, without impulse or overreaction. This can be very comforting, giving veterans more control over the thoughts and emotions that accompany a return from deployment.
The downloads are available through the app, or through SoundCloud. The app, which is $3.99 and has high ratings, features unlimited access to all of the company’s meditations and courses; population and situation specific mediations; step-by-step “courses” with instruction on proper meditation; meditations in various lengths to fit into busy schedules; a section for tracking progress, scheduling meditations, and an in-app calendar.
An uncontrolled study published in Military Medicine in June, 2011 found that meditation among Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom combat veterans with moderately severe post traumatic stress “may have helped to alleviate symptoms of PTSD and improve quality of life in veterans of OEF/OIF with combat-related PTSD.”
A similar study by the Army in 2013 determined that meditation could have a positive impact on PTSD, and noted that more research was needed.
The VA notes that meditation, when combined with other treatments, may “improve outcomes” of treatment.
That satisfying “Ping!” of bullets on target is as regular as a metronome when former Green Beret sniper, Aaron Barruga, is running tactical marksmanship drills on his home turf in Santa Clarita, CA. With his company, Guerrilla Approach, Barruga trains civilians, military, and law enforcement in proper and effective tactical firearm deployment.
The man does not miss.
“Oscar Mike” host Ryan Curtis paid a visit to Barruga’s training facility to bone up on his sharpshooting and found himself in good hands, drilling shoulder to shoulder with this veteran entrepreneurial success story. Barruga’s advice?
“I would definitely say that, if they have the opportunity, use that G.I. Bill. Get that piece of paper that says, “I’m smart and employable.” And just grind away, basically. You gotta hustle.”
As the day progresses, the sweat beading on Ryan’s brow is a testament to his hustle, if not his dead shot accuracy. And when he challenges Barruga to an Old West-style duel, our host quickly learns what high noon looks like at the Less-than-OK Corral.
Watch as Barruga makes plinking targets look easy, and Curtis proves his monkey is definitely the drunkest, in the video embedded at the top.
“I don’t know what story you can write about me except that I’m here,” quipped the dapper 78-year-old during an interview in his modest apartment just off the Clemson University campus. Dressed in his typically stylish manner, with dress slacks, a button-up shirt and fine leather shoes, Williams certainly doesn’t look 78 and, as a college sophomore studying computer information systems, doesn’t act 78 either.
But there’s nothing extraordinary about that, he says. He isn’t back in school in his late 70s because of some insatiable zest for life. He just needs a good job.
“Everything I’ve done in life I’ve done late. I’m the only clown in my whole family that didn’t get a degree,” he said. “When they started dying on me I said I’d better get back to school.”
Both of his parents and his only sibling, a younger sister, have passed away, and since he’s fairly new to the Upstate he doesn’t have any close friends in the area.
“Basically, I don’t have anybody,” he said matter-of-factly. “Let’s face it, it’s all up to me now.”
Malcolm Williams, 78, a rising sophomore at Clemson University studying computer systems, in his apartment in Clemson.
Williams has a tendency to downplay his life and didn’t particularly relish telling his story, but as he talks it becomes clear that, despite what he may think, he is quite extraordinary.
Born in 1939 in Highland Park, Michigan, his mother, Esther, was a substitute teacher, and his father, David was a graduate of Columbia University who spent 50 years working at Ford Motor Company.
Because of his father’s position, Williams enjoyed a privileged upbringing and could rely on support from his parents throughout his life. Nevertheless, he joined the Army in 1956 straight out of high school and served in both Korea and Vietnam as a surgical technician and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles.”
He experienced the South for the first time when he was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, for medical training. It was his first time away from Michigan.
“When I got to Fort Sam, I had never seen signs that said ‘Black Only’ or ‘White Only’,” he said. “It was a real eye-opener. I said, ‘Oh mercy this is going to be pure hell and it was.'”
Williams was sent to a Nike missile base in Illinois, and then to Fort Campbell, Tennessee. They gave him the nickname ‘Doc.’ One night he went to a local bar with two dozen soldiers from his company and experienced a scene right out of a movie.
“The guy behind the bar looked right at me and said ‘I don’t serve n——’,” calling him a racial slur, recalled Williams. “The guys in my group said, ‘You ain’t going to serve who?’ They said, ‘Well guess what – if you don’t serve Doc you won’t serve any of us. We all walked out together and never went back.'”
That was his first taste of a brotherhood that would follow him all the way to Clemson.
Williams attends an introduction to sociology class in Brackett Hall.
Williams’ Army career took him all over the country and the world. He was stationed with the 249th Surgical Detachment at a mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) in Korea, and then in the U.S. Army 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon, Vietnam. All told, he spent six years in the Army caring for soldiers.
He downplays that too, balking at being called a hero, or even a veteran.
“I never saw war,” he said. “I got to Korea after the war, and then I got to Vietnam before the war, so I’m a peacetime veteran.”
His fellow veterans disagree with that assessment.
“The military needs all sorts of people doing all sorts of jobs to make it work,” said Sam Wigley, a Marine veteran, Clemson graduate and outreach director for Upstate Warrior Solution, a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans in the Upstate area of South Carolina. “I’m sure if Malcolm asked those wounded fellows he was working on if they thought he was an important part of the military and a veteran they would not hesitate to agree.”
Williams got out of the Army in 1962 as a specialist second class and spent the next few years trying to figure out what to do with his life. He describes a definitively 1960s Detroit existence during those years. He tells of dating songwriter Janie Bradford — who wrote “Money, (That’s What I Want)” and several other hits — while he was still in the Army. He said that while he was with her he became something of a fixture at Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. studio.
“Janie and I dated for four years. She had three secretaries at one time at the Motown office and I had to go through all three just to meet her for lunch,” he laughed. They also put him to work. At one point he was enlisted to chauffeur The Supremes to appearances.
“My dad had a convertible Thunderbird and [Motown founder] Berry Gordy would ask me to ride the Supremes around in it. I didn’t like him, but at the time The Supremes were struggling, so I said, ‘I can’t do this all the time, because it’s my father’s car, but I’ll take you around,'” he chuckled.
He landed work as a bartender in the Detroit club scene, where he rubbed elbows with people like Jackie Wilson and Dinah Washington. After that he moved to California for a time (“People are kooky there – I think they get too much sun.”), then returned to Michigan to attend college at Ferris State College in Big Rapids, where he became a charter brother of the school’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity chapter in 1966. He left before graduating when state funding to the school was cut, leaving him without the means to continue.
He spent the next portion of his life as an auditor for technology companies, which kept him moving around the country until an old Army friend convinced him to move to Greenville in 2001. He worked for Columbus Serum Company until the company was sold in 2008.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, he was 68 and unemployed. Retirement was not an option — that’s what old people do. It was time to figure out the next chapter. In the meantime, he found a place in the Brockwood Senior Living center.
“I didn’t like the ‘senior’ part,” he said. “Everybody there was just vegetating.”
Williams knew that he couldn’t become stagnant. He recalls Henry Ford II at his father’s retirement ceremony asking, “Well Dave, what are you going to do now?”
“My dad said ‘I’ll keep at it,'” said Williams. “But he didn’t. He only lived two years after his retirement. It was tragic. He was 72 when he died and he should have had all kinds of years left.”
Williams chats with a student on the way to class. “Apparently I’m an inspiration because of my age,” he told her when she asked why a photographer was following him around.
Already having outlived his father by several years, he enrolled at Greenville Technical College to avoid the same demise.
“I have a Ph.D. in dressing. I can tie a bow tie,” he said. “But I’m tired of just looking like I’m educated, so I enrolled because I want to be educated, not vegetated.”
After several semesters at Greenville Technical College, Williams decided to seek a four-year college degree. He set his sights just down the road on the home of the Tigers. He’d heard nothing but good things about Clemson since moving to South Carolina, so he figured he might as well go for the best.
He applied and, being an honor student at GTC, was immediately accepted. Now his only problem was getting to class. Clemson was an hour-long bus ride away, and that sufficed for a while, but it was exhausting. He needed to move closer, but he hadn’t worked since 2008, so he had no resources to make that happen.
That’s when his brothers-in-arms stepped in. When Wigley and the other administrators of Upstate Warrior Solution found out Williams was in need, they contacted the Clemson Student Veteran Association to help. On a cool and overcast Saturday in January 2018, a squad of Clemson student veterans, strangers until that moment, showed up at Williams’ apartment in Greenville. They loaded his belongings into their cars and moved him to an apartment they had found for him in Clemson. He was one day away from the end of his lease.
Williams with the group of student veterans that moved him into his new apartment.
It was a reminder from his fellow veterans that, even though he might feel alone sometimes, he is not and never will be.
“This is anecdotal evidence of what every veteran knows: that the bond between service members transcends race, gender, generational gaps, political affiliations, military branches and occupations, and even wars,” said Brennan Beck, Clemson’s assistant director for Military and Veteran Engagement, who was one of the vets that helped Williams move that day. “Despite all of our differences, we’re connected by what unites us: our sworn service to defending and serving our country in the U.S. military. That’s the strongest bond.”
Williams said those student veteran Tigers probably kept him from becoming homeless that day. He’d had a few reservations about coming back to the American South, where he first experienced blatant racism, but those fears abated as his fellow vets and the greater Clemson family welcomed him with open arms.
Williams adjusts his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity hat in his apartment in Clemson.
“I did have a few unpleasant thoughts about coming back to the South,” he said. “However, while I have struggled to adapt to university life, Clemson’s administration and its faculty continue to encourage me and treat me with dignity and respect.”
Now, Williams gets up every day and goes to class like very other student and hopes to become a consultant after graduating two years from now at the age of 80.
“I used to say, ‘Oh well I’ve got time,'” he reflected. “Well, you don’t have time. Believe me. You get to be 20, all of a sudden you’re 30, then all of a sudden you’re 40. Hey, time flies. Next year I’ll be 79 and I’m still trying to get an education.”
Williams has taken up studying German in his spare time and likes to recite his favorite quote: Wir werden zu früh alt, schlau zu spä.
“It means ‘We get old too soon, smart too late,'” he said, nodding gently. “Don’t I know it.”
Whether he knows it or not, he’s having an impact on the people around him just by being here.
“He inspires me,” said Ken Robinson, associate professor of sociology, anthropology and criminal justice and a charter member of Clemson’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. “To hear his story is very encouraging. I was introduced to Malcolm by a graduate student who knew that he was an Alpha and recommended that I meet him. Well, I reached out to Malcolm and I’m very pleased that he’s here. I think it’s really good for his fellow students to interact with him and to learn from his rich experience.”
Williams remains nothing if not pragmatic about what lies ahead for him.
“I’m going to stay with it until I graduate, if I live,” he said, pensively. “When I dress up I want that big Clemson ring on my hand. Dylan Thomas said ‘Don’t go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ That sticks in my mind all the time. If I go out of here I’m going out kicking and screaming, and that’s a fact.”
Monty Hutson knows a little something about post-traumatic stress. Hutson served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne, and while he was in, he studied language patterns and hypnosis in order to better communicate with others. By the time he got out, he was starting to develop his own method of helping veterans deal with the psychological demands of military service. Now, with his non-profit, For Veterans Sake, he is able to take his efforts even further for a new generation of veterans.
The newest division of For Veterans Sake is its service dog division. It’s well-known to many by now that man’s best friend is one of the veteran’s most powerful guides on the road to post-traumatic stress recovery. Monty Hutson not only recognized this too, he added it to his non-profit.
For Veterans Sake pairs a veteran up with a dog, then specially trains the animal to respond to the unique needs of the veteran. The vet will train the service dog, who will be able to recognize the scent of a veteran who is being triggered and often responds to the veteran’s need before the vet even knows what’s happening. Best of all, For Veterans Sake uses many, many dogs from shelters and kennels, giving the animal a purpose and a much-needed and much-appreciated pal for life.
Hutson and his service dog.
Monty Hutson is uniquely poised to help our nation’s newest generation of veterans with not just PTS, but what he calls “the Military Condition” – a unique and demanding lifestyle that starts with your recruiter and continues through our time in service. For this and PTS, he developed a unique treatment called Neuro-Traumatic Resourcing (Non-Therapeutic). For Veterans Sake is founded on dealing with both PTS and the Military Condition and helping veterans improve their quality of life.
The help (of dogs) Hutson and For Veterans Sake offer American veterans is free of charge. But his organization, like every non-profit, runs on donations. Check out what Monty Hutson is doing for his fellow vets and maybe drop by his donation page and send him what you can spare. Remember, you’re also rescuing dogs – how can you go wrong?
If you’ve ever worked a job that you hate, you know how unfulfilling it can be spending hour after hour trying to stop day-dreaming scenarios in which your life hadn’t led you to this point.
A couple of years ago, Ben Owen and Brolen Jourdan found themselves in just this situation. Both veterans with history in the food service and hospitality industries, the office job life just wasn’t providing the stimulation or reward they were used to. Together, they decided to do something about it, and in July 2016, they opened the doors to their cafe, Liberation Coffee Co. in Coppell, Texas.
“We liberated ourselves from lives we were unhappy with and followed our dreams to open a shop,” says Owen, who in addition to needing a career change, saw a need within his community as well. “I live in the area and was always on the hunt for a craft shop that was convenient. It was a tough ticket to fill, so we built one.”
Our shop is pretty straightforward, with no frills, doing our best to do a few things well.
Like many veterans, Owen’s experiences in the armed forces — he served both in the Army and the Air Force — have informed much of his worldview, including his philosophies on running a business.
“I think that my years in the service come through in our model quite a bit,” he says. “Our shop is pretty straightforward, with no frills, doing our best to do a few things well.”
The craft coffee industry can feel a little over-the-top, Owen says, sometimes sacrificing form for fashion. While latte art and trendy aprons can do plenty to garner the attention of consumers, they can act as a deterrent to people seeking a plain cup of coffee. He hopes he can bridge the disconnect he perceives between craft coffee and vets.
“I can’t speak for all vets, but I think there is definitely a disconnect between the veteran community and craft coffee shops,” Owen says. “We’re used to function over form, so a lot of folks don’t know what they’re missing. Using my veteran status, I hope to alleviate that disconnect and bring other vets some quality coffee they might not otherwise seek out. We offer a military discount, and I’m always up for talking shop with my fellow servicemen and women.”
This philosophy of function over form is evident upon entering the space. Absent are the forests-worth of wood, exposed brick walls, and upcycled furniture composing the aesthetics of many DFW specialty cafes. In their place are comfy armchairs, tasteful light fixtures and Ed Sheeran on the sound-system.
Despite these “second-wave” aesthetics, the underlying care for the craft of coffee is apparent from the Kalita Wave pour-over drippers on the shelves to the coffee taster’s flavor wheel poster displayed prominently on the wall.
Liberation’s coffee is courtesy of Eiland Coffee Roaster’s, which, as one of DFW’s oldest specialty roasting companies, has been producing traditionally roasted coffees in Richardson since 1998. A variety of blends and single-origin offerings are available as both drip and pour-over, and while the espresso is dialed in, the milk could use some work.
In addition to coffee, a variety of pastries like a rosemary-provolone scone ($3.50) and blueberry bread ($2.59) are available from Zenzero Kitchen Bakery, as well as macarons in flavors like espresso, strawberry and honey (all $2) from Joe the Baker.
The food and coffee menus cover all the necessary bases for coffee-house expectations without complicating things too much, making decisions quick and easy. Drinks come out quickly as well, so if you’re in need of a commuter-cup in the morning, don’t let the absence of a drive-thru fool you into thinking you don’t have time to pop in and out.
Establishing a specialty coffee presence in an area like Coppell can be challenging, but Liberation Coffee’s lack of pretension, cozy and casual environment and friendly staff all bode well for their success in the area.
“We want to make coffee accessible,” Owen says. “The community here is very locally focused, so for us, it’s important to do right by these folks. We try to offer the very best we can to continue to support that local mentality.”
The brand has plans for a small expansion within Coppell, in addition to simply growing their business in their current space. They may have forgotten about Zenzero when writing their Facebook bio claiming the title of “first specialty shop in Coppell,” but it’s great to see the coffee community growing in the area all the same.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has spent the last two years transforming how it interacts with veterans, taking the best ideas from all over (including the business world) to upgrade your customer experience. Here are nine improvements — big and small — you may not believe.
1. A new call number that’s easy to remember.
Can’t remember which of our more than 1000 phone numbers to call? Me neither. Now, we only have to call one phone number: 1-844-MyVA311. The number will route you to the right place. If you do know the right number to call, you can still call that number.
2. Someone to actually answer your call.
The only number I can ever remember is number for disability claims and other benefits. Believe it or not, people are actually answering the phone now, on average in under five minutes. Employees in some of our contact centers report veterans temporarily forgetting why they called because they are stunned by how quickly someone answered the phone.
3. One call does it all.
Veterans in crisis are no longer asked to hang up and dial the Veterans Crisis Line. This month our medical centers, benefits line and MyVA311 will automatically connect callers to the Veterans Crisis Line if they “press 7.”
4. Total online resource.
Working toward one website and logon – Vets.gov – that now lets you discover, apply for, track, and manage the benefits you have earned, all in one place. One site, one username, one password. Track the status of your disability claim, apply for your GI Bill, and enroll in health care, on a site that’s mobile-first, accessible (508 compliant) and designed based on Veteran feedback. All Veteran-facing features will be migrated to vets.gov by April 2017!
5. Now you can actually find your service center.
Have you ever tried to use the VA.gov facility locator? If you have, you know it was essentially an address that you had to copy and paste into Google maps and hope for the best.
Now, we have one on Vets.gov that uses Google maps — and provides an initial set of VA services at those facilities. Try it here.
Additionally, maps are notoriously bad at being accessible to screen readers, but the Vets.gov facility locator is accessible and has been tested with blind and low vision veterans.
6. There’s an app for that.
Veterans can call or text the VCL with just one click from a mobile device using vets.gov.
7. No more waiting.
When you’re sick or in pain, you really want to see a doctor that day and now you can. Same-day appointments in our clinics are available when a provider determines a veteran has an urgent or emergent need that must be addressed immediately.
8. Claims are processed faster.
In 2012, some received disability claim decisions after more than two years. Now, after a series of people, process and technology changes, claims take an average of 123 days to complete. But VA is taking it a step further, looking at how it can improve veterans experiences around the compensation exam.
9. Taking out the middleman.
Need hearing aids or glasses? No need to see your primary care physician just to get a referral. Go ahead and make an appointment directly with both optometry and audiology.
These are just nine ways the VA is joining the modern world to better serve you. Watch for more.
Victor Medina has an actual video of the moment that changed his life forever. One day, his unit in Iraq was forced to take a detour around its planned patrol route. It was June 29, 2009, and Sgt. 1st Class Medina was the convoy commander that day. After winding through alleyways and small villages around Nasiriyah, his convoy came to a long stretch of open road. That’s when an explosive foreign projectile struck the side of his Humvee.
He was evacuated from the scene and diagnosed with moderate traumatic brain injury, along with the other physical injuries he sustained in the attack. It took him three years of rehabilitation, and his wife Roxana became a caregiver – a role that is only now receiving the attention it deserves.
The footage of the attack in the first 30 seconds of the above video is the moment Sgt. 1st Class Medina was hit by the EFP, a rocket-propelled grenade. There just happened to be a camera rolling on his Humvee in that moment. The TBI that hit Medina affected his balance, his speech, and his ability to walk, among other things.
“It’s referred to as an invisible wound,” Victor says, referring to his traumatic brain injury. “In my case, you can’t see it, but I feel it every day.”
Since 2000, the Department of Defense estimates more than 383,000 service members have suffered from some form of traumatic brain injury. These injuries range in severity from ones caused by day-to-day training activities to more severe injuries like the one suffered by Sgt. 1st Class Medina. An overwhelming number of those come from Army personnel. Of the 225,144 traumatic brain injuries suffered by soldiers, most are mild. But even a moderate injury like Victor’s can require a caregiver for the veteran.
This video is part of a series created by AARP Studios and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, highlighting veteran caregivers and the vets they care for. AARP wants to let families of wounded veterans know there are resources and support available through AARP’s Military Caregiving Guide, an incredible work designed to start your family off on the right foot. Some of you reading may not even realize you’re a veteran’s caregiver. Like Victor Medina’s wife Roxana, you may think you’re just doing your part, taking care of a sick loved one.
But like Roxana Delgado, the constant care and support for a veteran suffering from a debilitating injury while caring for the rest of a household, supporting the household through work and school, and potentially caring for children, can cause a caregiver to burn out before they even recognize it’s happening. It took Roxana eight months to realize she was Victor’s full-time caregiver – on top of everything else she does. It began to wear on her emotionally and strain their relationship.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Roxana Delgado and Victor Medina before his deployment to Iraq in 2009.
With AARP’s Prepare to Care guide, veteran caregivers don’t have to figure out their new lives on their own. The guide has vital checklists, charts, a database of federal resources, including the VA’s Caregiver Program. The rest is up to the caregiver. Roxana Delgado challenged her husband at every turn, and he soon rose to the challenge. He wanted to get his wife’s love back.
Before long, Victor was able to clean the house, make coffee in the morning, and generally alleviate some of the burdens of running their home. After 10 years in recovery, Victor Medina has achieved a remarkable level of independence, and together they started the TBI Warrior Foundation to help others with traumatic brain injuries. Roxana is now a health scientist and an Elizabeth Dole Foundation fellow. AARP Studios and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation are teaming up to tell these deeply personal stories of caregivers like Roxana because veteran caregivers need support and need to know they aren’t alone.
Almost 42 years after the Vietnam War officially ended, veterans of that unpopular campaign in Southeast Asia will finally get some official recognition.
Thanks to the efforts of Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and his colleague, Indiana Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly, Congress recently passed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, and it is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump soon.
On March 26, Toomey hosted a conference call with reporters to discuss his legislation.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner was awarded a Silver Star for his service as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
The Toomey-Donnelly bill also designates March 29 as “National Vietnam War Veterans Day.” March 29 marks the anniversary of the day that combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam.
The Senate approved the bipartisan bill Feb. 8, and it was approved by the House on March 21. It’s now been on President Trump’s desk since March 23 awaiting his signature.
“In many cases, Vietnam veterans did not receive the warm welcome they deserved when they came home,” Toomey said. “It’s time we put a heartfelt thank you to Vietnam veterans into law.”
He added that all Americans should be grateful to those who served in Vietnam.
Toomey was joined on the call with Harold Redding, a Vietnam veteran from York who came up with the idea for the legislation, and John Biedrzycki, a Vietnam veteran of McKees Rocks and past national commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Redding said he worked on getting the legislation passed for 27 months. He thanked Toomey for his efforts in seeing it through.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me and all Vietnam veterans,” Redding said.
Biedrzycki said the legislation was long overdue.
“Every day is Veterans Day,” he noted.
Toomey said he would like to see more public recognition for Vietnam veterans, such as at civic events. Those veterans should be emphasized in our classroom as well, he believes.
“Teachers should teach about the Vietnam War,” the senator explained. “These were difficult times in our history.”
In a news release issued by Toomey’s office after the Senate approved the measure, Donnelly said, “This bipartisan bill would help our country honor this generation of veterans who taught us about love of country and service and who deserve to be honored for their selflessness and sacrifice.”
Here’s what other veterans groups had to say about the legislation:
— Steven Ryersbach, past state Commander/AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania: “It’s outstanding that Sen. Toomey is working to support and honor our Vietnam vets. Sen. Toomey’s overall work on behalf of veterans is commendable and we thank Sen. Toomey for all his efforts.”
— Tom Haberkorn, president of Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America: ” The Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America supports the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of those who answered our country’s call and served, with honor, in Southeast Asia.”
— Thomas A. Brown., Pennsylvania VFW State Commander: “All Vietnam War veterans deserve high honor and respect that many of them did not get when they returned home from war. Designating March 29 of each year to say ‘welcome home’ and ‘thank you’ to our Vietnam War veterans is a strong signal that America appreciates the service of these special patriots of freedom.”