A meeting with Mikal Vega will surprise you. Upon first glance, he fits every vision one might have of a Navy SEAL veteran. He towers over most people in size and in energy. There’s a confident air about him which screams “military.” You might be surprised to find this SEAL was once the creative glee and drama club teen from a troubled home who never thought about joining the military until he joined the military. As Vega says, the amount of creative in you will attract an equal darkness.
“When I was six, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I would beg my grandmother to send me to acting school,” Vega says. “I started to make movies with an old Super 8 my grandmother gave me. All through Junior High and High School I performed. In drama and in glee club. I was a zit-faced, curly headed glee club kid. I was always into art, I draw and paint, anything creative.”
Vega joined the Navy at 17 as a kid with little or no direction. He went into Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) at first, but found he didn’t fit the EOD culture. Even though it took six years to get into the program, he knew he wanted to become a SEAL.
“My Dad was a SEAL but he wasn’t around and wasn’t a good influence, to say the least,” Vega recalls. “So I had my grandmother and then these Navy EOD guys. They became that family for me. They played that role in my life. But once I put my package in to become a SEAL, the mood changed, friction started. They felt like I was a traitor.”
Without question SEAL training is difficult. Of the 183 men who went to Vega’s training class, only 11 of them graduated. Once he became a SEAL, his life began to change.
“We started doing personal security detail missions just to get into Iraq,” Vega says. “I was what you call a shit magnet. I attracted action and everyone wanted to be on my assignments because they were hungry, they wanted to prove themselves, to do what we trained so hard to do. I think everyone in the military is like that. Our task group was responsible for 143 missions over six months.”
Everyone with Vega was happy to be in the fight but things didn’t always go as his team planned. One night, he was part of a convoy on a direct action mission on a black route (a route that hadn’t been cleared or is unknown since the last clearing) when his Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED), a signature attack of the Iraq War. As his convoy approached the IED in the dark, Vega remembers seeing the flash of the explosion. Luckily it was a low-order, which means it didn’t explode to its full capability.
“The IED didn’t function properly, luckily for me and for a lot of guys. What it did do was slam me over the top of the Humvee,” he says. “The next day, I started getting what I thought was muscle pain and ear issues. It would be another five years before I realized I had a cracked neck, and over the next few years, the symptoms were becoming unbelievable. I went to pain clinics and doctors offices here and there, but eventually they’ll pull you out of the fight if you go too often. Like a lot of the guys out there, I would try to go outside the military system, or get under the table help from the corpsman. No one wants to get taken out of the fight.”
When he returned home, he faced many of the issues experienced by many returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. He wouldn’t sleep for days at a time. He had trouble readjusting. All he could think about was getting back to Iraq.
“Five years later, I’ve lost 80 percent of my grip, my pecs atrophied, I lost full range of motion in right arm,” Vega says. But that was just the beginning “In the military system or the VA, the drugs they give you for post-traumatic stress don’t address the hormone imbalance post-traumatic stress causes in veterans. This makes us irritable, it makes it difficult to reach deep sleep or sleep at all, memory loss… these are the symptoms of PTSD! So I revolted against the system and started doing these things that unwittingly rebalanced my hormonal system. I didn’t realize until the doctors started asking me how I made so much progress. This is a scientific method of increasing the power of the central nervous system to offset the destructive powers of war.”
Vega’s revolt took him on a healing alternative journey, starting with rolfing (a kind of structural body therapy) to acupuncture, to meditation, to Kundalini yoga, and finally to teaching Kundalini yoga — a class he gives to veterans and their families for free every Sunday at 11am at the Rama Yoga Institute in Venice, California.
That’s how Vega came to found Vital Warrior, a nonprofit veteran’s resource philosophy is to provide clients with non-pharmaceutical solutions to healing, including hands-on-therapy, knowledge and skills to regaining a re-connection from within through hormonal re-balancing. His goal is to develop decompression centers within close proximity to military bases to provide alternative therapies in an effort to address trauma on a brain-body basis. When it comes to post-traumatic stress, Mikal Vega does not associate it with a disorder.
“Post-traumatic stress isn’t a disorder,” he says. “It’s a normal response to abnormal conditions. Any job or event that exposes you to high stress environment, you’ll develop these issues. But we as veterans have to take responsibility for our own experiences, we had to make sure we handle our symptoms and the deeper physiological and psychological issues we face.”
In 2014 Vega’s mission to get veterans off pharmaceuticals was recognized by the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights as one of four outstanding individuals presented with the 2014 CCHR Human Rights Award.
Vega was also featured in a series of short films produced by Craftsman, We Are The Mighty, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), showing how IAVA empowers veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
“I want this to be the Starbucks of healing,” Vega says. “I want buses to bring this to remote areas. I want to visit men and women downrange. I want to teach these techniques in boot camp that they can use throughout their career. We can be proactive and not reactive.”
Vega is now an actor, producer, and President at AK Waters productions as well as working to get Vital Warrior where he wants it to be. Their next film, 9 Line, is set to release this fall. For any returning veteran, especially creatives like himself, his advice is to consider if you are where you should be.
“Why do you want to do what you do?” Vega asks. “Is it what you’re supposed to be doing? Do you know how to find out what youre supposd to be doing? No body teaches us how to look inside ourselves for this answer. We will pay other people a lot of money to tell us whats in our own mind. Consider how to get rid of the garbage and connect with yourself.”
For many, the opportunity to pursue education and training beyond high school is not easily within reach. When military members are asked why they serve, the available GI Bill® education benefits are often one reason why.
As a part of their earned benefits, active duty men and women can also transfer all or part of their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouse and/or dependent children. This is called Transfer of Entitlement (TOE). Those wishing to transfer entitlement to a dependent must be sure to do this while still on active duty.
The option to transfer education assistance to dependent family members provides them with the financial means to pay for their education and training. However, until recently, this benefit was not available to all dependent children. With the recent passing of the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, commonly referred to as Isakson and Roe, beginning January 6, 2021, service members can transfer all or part of their Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlement to their ward or foster child. This new law changes how VA administers education benefits, and more importantly, is a major step in recognizing the diversity of the Nation’s military families and their unique needs.
According to the Department of Defense, more than five million people are part of today’s military family. The men and women who serve in our Nation’s armed forces are a diverse group. So, too, are their families, to include spouses, children and other family members who represent varying demographics, experiences and needs. With the implementation of Isakson and Roe, VA is able to address the needs of more families and ensure that the GI Bill’s purpose is further realized.
Now, even more military dependents can receive help paying for tuition, books and housing using Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits. Eligible dependents, who are pursuing a degree or certification in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field, can maximize their benefits through the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship. To help pay for higher out-of-state, private or graduate tuition that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover, the Yellow Ribbon Program provides additional assistance. In addition to education and training, GI Bill benefits can provide other assistance to eligible students, such as help with paying for certain test fees and help with deciding on the right school or program, using the GI Bill Comparison Tool.
The spring months provide the Nation with an opportunity to celebrate those who serve and their families. As we celebrate service members and their families during Month of the Military Child in April and Military Appreciation Month in May, this is also an opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness of military families. In continued celebration of our Nation’s military families, VA will continue to do its part to acknowledge the differences that make them unique, while ensuring that their unique needs are also met.
Social isolation and feelings of loneliness are associated with suicidal thoughts. Consequently, the more people feel disconnected from their friends, peers and colleagues, the more isolated they become.
One antidote for social isolation is social connectedness. That is, people coming together and interacting. But there’s been little research on suicide prevention programs that target social connectedness.
Dr. Jason Chen of the VA Portland Health Care System is leading a study to establish a stronger sense of social connectedness for Veterans at high risk of suicide. He’s doing this by increasing their participation in community activities.
Chen and his team have been identifying the community engagement needs and preferences of Veterans who have been hospitalized and evaluated for psychiatric conditions. Specifically, the team interviewed participants within a week of their discharge from an inpatient psychiatric unit. They discovered Veterans analyzed for psychiatric conditions, such as PTSD, are at much greater risk than other cohorts of taking their own lives within three months after leaving the hospital.
Social connection could decrease suicidal thoughts
“When working with Veterans, I noticed that many didn’t have social connections,” Chen says. “We know that feeling connected to others can be a form of protection against suicide. So I thought to myself, if the Veterans I work with don’t have many connections, perhaps we could help them create new connections through community activities. My hope is that by helping Veterans increase their engagement in community activities, they’ll feel a stronger sense of social connection that will, in turn, decrease their level of suicidal thoughts.
“The first part of our study was to learn more from Veterans about what gets in the way of connecting. For example, we interviewed 30 Veterans to learn about their past experiences connecting to the community and their thoughts about what would get in the way in the future. Our Veteran sample varied in age from their 20s through their 70s. The average age was 48. We wanted to understand a broad range of experiences across different eras of conflict and generations.”
Suicide prevention is VA’s top clinical priority
Eventually, Chen and his colleagues plan to create clinical toolkits for VA and community figures. The toolkits will focus on increasing social connectedness for Veterans in this vulnerable population.
VA considers suicide prevention its top clinical priority. The most updated analysis of Veteran suicide rates, issued in 2016, notes Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults. This compares with 22% in 2010.
Chen and his team have identified patterns of Veterans’ needs and preferences for social connectedness.
“Veterans appear to be interested in a broad range of activities,” he says. “However, they noted having difficulty knowing how to access these activities and how to make new social connections. Within our sample, Veterans have discussed needing more hands-on support for engaging in community activities. They generally value and believe these activities are important for their wellness and recovery. But they could use extra support for navigating logistics and interactions with new people. We plan for this support to come from a Veteran peer support specialist. That is a Veteran who has undergone his or her own mental health recovery and is now helping support other Veterans with their experiences.”
Working with communities
Researchers are partnering with communities to provide a broad range of activities tailored to the interests of Veterans who are at high risk for suicide. These activities include engaging with Veterans or non-Veterans in the Chinese martial art tai chi or outdoor activities, such as fly fishing or playing music.
“We do not have good evidence that any one type of activity is more protective than another,” Chen says. “They’re worthwhile as long as folks develop a sense of belonging and feel like they’re giving back to others.”
In March of 1968, SEAL Team TWO Detachment Alpha had been operating in the area of My Tho, in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, since the previous year. The commander of 7th platoon, Pete Peterson, along with assistant platoon commander Ron Yeaw, led SEAL operations out of My Tho, targeting Viet Cong forces in the area. The platoon’s senior enlisted man was SEAL Senior Chief Robert T. Gallagher, who Peterson described recently — on the occasion of Gallagher’s passing away this month at the age of 83 — as SEAL Team TWO’s gold standard as far as how to be a warrior in those early days of the SEAL teams.
According to the citation that accompanied Gallagher’s award of the Navy Cross — the nation’s second-highest award for valor — on March 13th of that year, Gallagher distinguished himself while acting as the Assistant Patrol Leader for a night combat patrol of 7th platoon SEALs. The patrol infiltrated at least two miles into a Viet Cong battalion-sized base camp area and located a barracks building housing approximately 30 armed Viet Cong insurgents. Gallagher and two other SEALs, while attempting to infiltrate the barracks, were discovered by a sentry, and the whole patrol became engaged in a fierce running firefight with the superior force.
During the battle, both SEAL officers Peterson and Yeaw were wounded, as was the platoon’s Vietnamese combat guide and interpreter, Minh. Gallagher took command of the entire force, and though suffering a number of his own wounds, including in both legs, managed to lead the patrol a half-mile through enemy territory, with wounded SEALs in tow, to an open area that would facilitate helicopter support. Gallagher then repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire while coordinating helicopter attack and evacuation assets.
Wounded yet again, Gallagher continued to lead the patrol, and through his actions, facilitated their safe extraction, including all of the wounded members, each of whom survived the operation.
Platoon Commander Peterson is one of those who survived that operation, and who also wrote the citation for Gallagher’s Navy Cross, and who is still with us today. He recently recounted how Gallagher was approached about the award many years later, and the possibility of it being upgraded to a Medal of Honor.
According to Peterson, Gallagher responded by saying that “if I was not deserving of a Medal of Honor then, nothing is different now.”
Peterson went on to recount how Gallagher, after he felt he had recovered sufficiently from his wounds received that night in the Mekong Delta, snuck out of the Naval hospital in Yokosuka, stole a navy chaplain’s uniform, and hopped a flight back to My Tho to rejoin the platoon. Gallagher would serve five total combat tours in Vietnam, according to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, and was also awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and five Purple Hearts for his actions there.
Gallagher was also a part of one of the SEAL Teams’ first Mobile Training Teams, in 1962; an early manifestation of what would later come to be known as the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission. In that role, as a Chief Petty Officer, he helped train the Turkish navy’s very first frogmen, and according to multiple of Gallagher’s former teammates, the man remains revered within the Turkish SEAL community to this day. They call him the “Father of the Turkish UDT,” according to one former teammate.
Rick Woolard, a former ST-2 teammate of Gallagher, and later Commanding Officer of the team, described how Gallagher acquired his nickname, “The Eagle.” According to Woolard, Gallagher’s gaze was piercing, and behind his eyes was a fierce intensity. Gallagher himself told Woolard that it was because he had unusually sharp vision, both day and night, but Woolard was sure it was more than just that.
As the SEAL community continues to lose its last few remaining Vietnam-era heroes, it is worth paying special tribute to this icon of SEAL Team TWO, and the Teams writ large. Along with Rudy Boesch, few other men stand as one of the earliest legends of the then-new unit of SEAL Team Two “devils with green faces.” Fair winds and following seas, shipmate.
Not too long ago, WATM ran a story featuring a TV show host who wanted to know what it felt like to carry the typical combat load a Vietnam War GI would haul. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, click here: This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man
Many members of our loyal audience took the opportunity to chime in after reading the article and commented about what the heavy equipment they had to lug around during their time serving “in the suck” and here’s what they had to say.
1. The veteran grunt
2. The motivated Corpsman
3. The usual checklist of gear for this grunt was…
Seven decades ago, Army 1st Lt. Ralph Puckett knew his outnumbered Ranger Company had to defend a hill in northern Korea against hundreds of determined Chinese infantry.
In below-freezing temperatures, Puckett led the men of the 8th Ranger Company to repel five enemy assaults against their perimeter on Hill 205. He was wounded three times but still managed to call in artillery on the enemy shortly after the position was overrun.
For his bravery on Nov. 25-26, 1950, President Joe Biden will upgrade the 94-year-old retired colonel’s Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor. The news was first reported by The Washington Post.
Biden called Puckett at home in Columbus, Georgia, on Friday to tell him of his decision to approve the award, John Lock, a retired Army officer who began petitioning the service in 2003 for reconsideration of Puckett’s actions, told the Post. Lock confirmed this to Military.com Monday.Advertisement
Puckett led his 51 Rangers and 9 South Korean soldiers across 800 yards of frozen rice paddies to seize the enemy-held “Hill 205” on Nov. 25, he described in an oral history project on witnesstowar.org.
“We came under mortar and machine gun fire as soon as we jumped off the tanks which had carried us from behind [another] hill out onto the rice paddy,” Puckett recalled.
During this operation, he “deliberately exposed himself to enemy machine-gun fire” so his men could spot the weapons’ locations, according to Puckett’s Distinguished Service Cross citation.
Once the company seized the hill, the unit immediately prepared to defend against enemy counterattack from any direction.
“We always defended 360 degrees because we were always alone,” Puckett said in the oral history. “Tonight was to be no different; the closest U.S. Army unit was over a mile away, so we’ve got to look after ourselves.
“We were hit by a mortar barrage and automatic weapons fire and, shortly thereafter, a shower of hand grenades,” he said. “I called in artillery, got artillery … and that stopped the assault.”
The Rangers took casualties, including Puckett, who was wounded in his right shoulder. Refusing evacuation, he continued to direct his company through “four more counterattacks by a numerically superior force who advanced to within grenade range before being driven back,” according to his citation.
Puckett’s Rangers put up a stiff fight, but he also credited the artillery support they received.
“It saved our necks. … We were getting more and more pressure; we had more and more people wounded,” Puckett said.
At roughly 2:30 a.m. Nov. 26, the Chinese bugles again blasted through the darkness.
“I ran back to my foxhole and called for artillery, but the artillery officer said, ‘I can’t give it to you,'” Puckett said. “They were firing another mission. I said, ‘We have got to have it. … We are under great pressure. We are crumbling. We are being overrun.'”
Puckett was hit a third time and could no longer move.
Realizing that his company was about to be overrun and forced to withdraw, he ordered his men to leave him behind, according to the citation.
“Despite his protests, he was dragged from the hill to a position of safety,” it adds.
At the bottom of the hill, three tanks had come up but could not attack the enemy on the steep incline, Puckett recalled.
“I called for an artillery concentration with … white phosphorus and high explosive on top of the hill,” said Puckett, who was then loaded on the tanks and taken for medical care.
Following the Korean War, Puckett served for two years in the U.S. Army Infantry School Ranger Department. He would go on to earn a second Distinguished Service Cross while serving in the Vietnam War. His other decorations and awards include two Silver Stars, three Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars, the Commendation Medal, 10 Air Medals, and five Purple Hearts, according to his Association of the United States Army bio.
Over the years, Puckett, who retired in 1971, also became a respected mentor and “honorary colonel” for the 75th Ranger Regiment, according to the Post.
Puckett’s wife, Jean, told the paper that she hopes Puckett, who has health problems, will be able to receive the Medal of Honor.
“He is not the one who has been pushing it. It has been John and our immediate family, who want him to be able to receive it personally if he is going to be awarded that medal,” she told the Post, describing how her husband “felt the Distinguished Service Cross was honor enough.”
During the oral history, Puckett said he is still amazed that his small unit was able to stand against such a large force that night in Korea.
“How did that very small group do so well against what was officially estimated to be several hundred enemy soldiers?” Puckett asked. “They were highly skilled and physically, mentally, morally tough. Good training is the basis for success; without it, you’re not going to make it.”
Army veteran Ernesto Rodriguez finished his trek from Clarksville, Tennessee, to the California coast when he walked the last few miles and onto the Santa Monica Pier.
A police motorcycle officer led the way and a crowd of supporters followed as Rodriguez strode to the end of the pier with American flags protruding from his backpack.
“I’m freaking out, I’m overwhelmed,” he told KTTV. “It’s the culmination of everything I’ve done and it’s starting to hit me. I’ve tried to stay calm pretty much up until today but I’m getting to a point where my emotions are starting to hit.”
Rodriguez, who spent 15 years in the Army, said he got the idea for the journey after hearing about a 2012 study that said there were 22 veteran suicides a day.
“I could’ve been one of those 22 back in 2011,” he told the station. “I wanted to find a way to inspire those that are having dark days like that to just keep pushing forward. So I just started walking.”
The trek began on Veterans Day 2016.
“There’s been days I’ve wanted to quit,” he said. “There’s been days that I almost died, to be quite honest. When I was out in the desert it was rough — dehydration, heat exhaustion — but there were so many people that came out. I remember something as simple as somebody driving and finding me and bringing me water or Gatorade just to make sure I wasn’t dehydrated out there.”
“I’m so grateful for the kindhearted people that helped me get through this.”
Long before General James Mattis was canonized by his troops as Saint Mattis, patron saint of chaos, another legendary general was quietly immortalized in stained glass. His image atop one of his Third Army tanks shares a scene with one depicting the legend of Saint George slaying a dragon. Referring to it as the “Saint George Window” may make someone question which George is the saint in question – so they call it the Patton Memorial Window.
For decades, the Patton Family worshipped at the Church of Our Saviour, an episcopalian church in San Gabriel, Calif. The church itself was built in 1867 while the young Patton, born in 1885, was raised in what is now nearby San Marino. The window itself was commissioned by the Patton Family after his 1945 death.
The main subject is Saint George slaying a dragon but the rest of the window depicts the life and times of the four-star general. According to the Church, Saint George represents the general himself, while the dragon – complete with swastika-covered scales – is the Nazi regime he helped bring down.
Battles where Patton had command are depicted, including Metz, Coblenz, and Bastogne, also appear alongside towns he liberated from the Nazis. Those towns appear in the dragon’s claws.
Even though Patton’s remains are still interred in Europe, a statue of the man – hands on his famous ivory-handled revolvers – stands watch at the entrance to the cemetery, where other members of the Patton family were laid to rest.
If you want to make a Patton day of it, you can also visit the nearby Patton Tank Warfare Museum, just around the corner from the church.
Getting out of the military is a great day for most. You’ve been anticipating this day for years and it’s finally here — but now what?
Is it all peaches and cream once you’re on the other side? It might be, but there are some bleak possibilities that many veterans face on the other side of service. Now, we’re not here to frighten you, but these are things you should be aware of.
Sadly, homelessness is as real a possibility awaiting veterans as a life of prosperity. Homelessness in America is a serious issue — and the homeless population is about 11% veteran, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Of that total, 70% are on drugs, and 50% suffer from some type of psychological ailment.
There are programs in place to help, but you can only offer help to those who seek it, and there’s a general mistrust of these organizations in the veteran community.
Considering that the veteran population accounts for around 1% of the country, the amount of homeless veterans is extremely alarming. If you or anyone you know is homeless or on the verge of homelessness, there is help for you.
2. The mysterious misadventures of the VA
Going to the VA is a key part of post-service life. For many, it’s the only form of health insurance we have in the years immediately following service and is an absolute must if you experienced any adverse or lingering effects of service.
The VA is supposed to help, and for the most part, it does, but navigating the many avenues can be daunting. Hell, knowing where to start can be a task by itself. Setting up an appointment can take months and filing for your proper disability rating can take years… literally.
The best advice for dealing with the VA is patience and perseverance.
3. School daze
One of the best things about honorably serving your country is that you get the opportunity to go to school afterward (mostly) on Uncle Sam’s dime. But going back to school isn’t as easy as showing up for class and doing your assignments. Depending on where you land, you might feel like you stand alone as the only adult in an ocean of children.
The fun part comes when you realize that you’re closer in age to your classmates’ parents than your classmates themselves.
4. Unsure wonderland
Leaving the military is different for everyone. Some have planned for their exit for years; others never considered a life outside of the military. It isn’t uncommon for veterans to take a few years to get themselves truly together and on track.
Be ready for a period of self-reflection. Figuring out what you actually want to do can take more time than anticipated, and that’s fine. Try not to feel like you need to be at a specific point just because you’re a certain age or you’ve been through certain things. Trust me, I know this is easier said than done, but as long as you keep moving and searching, you’ll find your way.
During Women’s History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Helen Girardi Veshosky, who served as a nurse during World War II.
Helen Veshosky was born in 1919 in Williamson, West Virginia, as the seventh child in a family of Italian immigrants. After graduating high school, Helen attended the St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Huntington, West Virginia.
After the U.S. entered World War II, Veshosky completed her nursing training just as the military drafted several of her brothers. While there was plenty of nursing work to do in West Virginia, Veshosky was not satisfied staying home while her brothers served overseas.
“Her brothers inspired her to join the military,” her son, Gerard Veshosky, said. “She wanted to do her part too.”
Eager to make a difference, Veshosky volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps in 1944 and commissioned as a second lieutenant. After a brief training period, she deployed to England to begin her work as an Army nurse.
The voyage was tough for Veshosky. The trip was her first out of the country and also first on a boat. She once recalled, “sailing by ship to England was [my] most harrowing, seasick journey.” After arriving in England, Veshosky joined the 93rd General Hospital near the Welsh border. As opposed to the family medicine that she practiced in West Virginia, Veshosky treated trauma wounds in Europe. Despite the new environment, Veshosky adapted quickly. In the words of her son, Veshosky embodied the “bring ‘em back alive” mentality, and she worked tirelessly to save lives and rehabilitate wounded soldiers.
During her off-time, Veshosky enjoyed exploring the country., which she noticed had similar weather to West Virginia. She also frequently wrote letters to her family back home as well as to her brothers. Veshosky honorably discharged from the Army in 1947 as a first lieutenant.
She returned home to continue her career as a nurse. Her military experience prepared her for a multitude of challenges, such as when she selflessly saved several patients during a fire at the Lakeland County Hospital in Florida. Although forced to retire due to complications from the fire, Veshosky became a central figure in her family and was an icon for many of the women around her. She passed away in September 1999 at the age of 79.
Of the roughly 2.5 million service members who have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade, just 16 have received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor.
It’s not an award most aspire to. The criteria for receiving it are incredibly stringent, requiring significant risk to life and limb in direct combat and a display of “personal bravery or self-sacrifice so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades.”
But for some service members put into extreme circumstances, the daily grind can give way to moments of incredible bravery that warrants them the nation’s highest award. We’ve collected them here (in alphabetical order).
Cpl. Kyle Carpenter
On Nov. 21, 2010, then-Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter was providing security alongside his friend Lance Cpl. Nick Eufrazio on a rooftop at a combat outpost the Marines had established the previous day. It wasn’t long before the shooting started, forcing both to lie on their backs to avoid getting hit.
An hour later, Taliban bullets began getting closer to the compound, and under that cover fire, insurgents launched three grenades inside at the Marines. One landed in the center of the base, injuring an Afghan soldier. The second harmlessly detonated near a post that was destroyed the previous day. The last landed on the roof, dangerously close to both Marines.
“I only remember a few moments after I got hit,” Carpenter told me when I interviewed him for Business Insider. “But nothing before.”
An extensive investigation found that Carpenter had actually jumped on the grenade, absorbing the majority of the explosion. “The majority of the grenade blast was deflected down rather than up, causing a cone-shaped hole to be blown down through the ceiling of the command operations center,” his award summary reads.
Carpenter was severely wounded, with injuries to his face, jaw, and upper and lower extremities. Eufrazio received shrapnel to the head. Both were immediately evacuated and survived.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Carpenter said. “We’re both alive and we’re here and I’m fully appreciating my second chance.”
Award Presented: June 19,2014
Staff Sgt. Ty Carter
On Oct. 3, 2009, Carter was one of 54 members of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment defending Combat Outpost Keating in Nuristan Province. Shortly before 6 a.m., the remote base was rocked with blistering enemy machine gun and rocket fire. More than 400 fighters were attempting to overrun the base.
Then-Specialist Carter sprinted across open ground to join his fellow soldiers on the perimeter, then ran back again to gather up necessary supplies despite withering enemy fire. Later, Carter noticed his fellow soldier Specialist Stephan L. Mace was wounded.
While Larson provided cover fire from within a nearby Humvee, Carter stanched Mace’s bleeding and placed a tourniquet on his shattered leg.
He realized he couldn’t carry Mace while he had his weapon. He returned to the Humvee and told Larson his plan. Larson got out of the Humvee and provided cover fire while Carter returned to Mace, picked him up and carried him through the hail of bullets back to the Humvee, and went back to firing.
During the 12-hour long battle, Carter continued to give medical aid to Mace, engage the enemy, and communicate with his fellow soldiers to retake the base. According to the Army’s official narrative of the battle, “Carter’s remarkable acts of heroism and skill, which were vital to the defense of COP Keating, exemplify what it means to be an American hero.”
Award Presented: Aug. 26, 2013
Cpl. Jason Dunham
While his unit was engaged in a major firefight in Iraq along the Syrian border on Apr. 14, 2004, Dunham and his team stopped several vehicles to search them for weapons.
As he approached one of the vehicles, the driver lunged at Dunham’s throat and they fought in a hand-to-hand battle. Wrestling on the ground, Dunham then yelled to his Marines, “No, no watch his hand.”
The insurgent then dropped a grenade with the pin pulled. Dunham jumped on top of it, placing his helmet between his body and the grenade in an effort to brunt the explosion.
“He knew what he was doing,” Lance Cpl. Jason A. Sanders, who was in Dunham’s company, told Marine Corps News. “He wanted to save Marines’ lives from that grenade.”
He saved the lives of at least two Marines, and was mortally wounded in the blast.
Award Presented (posthumously): Jan. 11, 2007
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta
On Oct. 25, 2007, Giunta’s platoon was on patrol in Afghanistan’s deadly Korengal Valley when they were hit with a fierce L-shaped ambush from fighters only 10 meters away.
The 10 to 15 enemy fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades, machine-guns, and AK-47s, which immediately wounded two soldiers. With his team pinned down, Giunta left a covered position to give first aid to his wounded squad leader. He was shot twice — one hit the rocket launcher on his back, and the other hit him in the chest of his bulletproof vest.
Once he recovered from the shots, he got up and bounded towards the enemy in order to push them back. When he noticed two Taliban fighters dragging away one of the wounded soldiers, he chased after them, killing one and forcing the other to flee.
“If I’m a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero,” Giunta later told The Christian Science Monitor. “So if you think that’s a hero – as long as you include everyone with me.”
Award Presented: Nov. 16, 2010
Pfc. Ross McGinnis
As McGinnis’ platoon was driving through Adhamiyah, Iraq on Dec. 4, 2006, an insurgent on a rooftop tossed a fragmentation grenade into his Humvee.
McGinnis, who was in the gun turret behind the .50 cal, could have jumped out of the hatch and escaped the blast. Instead, he screamed, “grenade” to warn his fellow soldiers as he tried to grab it to toss away, but he missed.
From Command Posts:
He stood as if he were going to leap out of the top of the Humvee, but instead he dropped down from his fighting position into the truck. Newland thought McGinnis was trying to escape the grenade. But he wasn’t. McGinnis had realized that his teammates hadn’t spotted it, and so he was chasing it. Newland couldn’t move quickly enough to get out of the truck with its combat-locked doors, and none of the guys quite understood what was going on because McGinnis hadn’t dived out.
The soldiers watched as McGinnis threw himself on the grenade and took the blast. He gave his life to save the four men inside the vehicle.
Award Presented (posthumously): Jun. 2, 2008
Sgt. Dakota Meyer
On Sep. 8, 2009, Meyer was providing rear security as the four other members of his team (along with Afghan troops) headed on foot into the village of Ganjgal, Afghanistan to meet with village elders.
It turned out to be a trap, and they were ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and machine guns firing from high ground.
Listening on the radio to his team — who was now cut off — Meyer disobeyed orders to remain in place and manned a .50 caliber machine gun on a gun truck heading into the village. Despite being wounded and braving intense enemy fire, Meyer went in and picked up wounded Afghans and brought them to safety four times. On his fifth trip, he dismounted and recovered the bodies of his four-man team, who Meyer had been trying to save throughout the battle.
“I was a failure,” Meyer later told CNN. “My guys died. That was my whole team.”
Award Presented: Sep. 11, 2011
Staff Sgt. Robert Miller
On Jan. 25, 2008, Miller’s Special Forces team was on a reconnaissance patrol near the Pakistani border when they came under attack. The first attack was quelled after calling for close air support, but soon after, insurgents opened up with heavy machine guns.
Miller’s team captain was seriously wounded early in the battle. Completely disregarding his own safety, he ran into the hail of bullets from over 100 enemy fighters to give his team an opportunity to escape to covered positions.
Even after being shot in his upper torso, he ignored the wound and ran over open ground, ultimately killing at least 10 insurgents and wounding dozens more, according to his award citation.
“Five members of his patrol had been wounded, but his team had survived,” President Barack Obama said at the award presentation. “And one of his teammates surely spoke for all of them when he said of Rob, ‘I would not be alive today if not for his ultimate sacrifice.'”
While providing sniper overwatch in Ramadi, Iraq on Sep. 29, 2006, Monsoor and his SEAL Team eliminated insurgents that were planning a coordinated attack.
As the enemy activity ratcheted up, Monsoor took up a rooftop position to watch for more insurgents. Then a grenade bounced off his chest and landed at his feet.
From The Washington Post:
“Grenade!” Monsoor shouted. But the two snipers and another SEAL on the roof had no time to escape, as Monsoor was closest to the only exit. Monsoor dropped onto the grenade, smothering it with his body. It detonated, and Monsoor died about 30 minutes later from his wounds.
“He made an instantaneous decision to save our teammates. I immediately understood what happened, and tragically it made sense to me in keeping with the man I know, Mike Monsoor,” said Lt. Cmdr. Seth Stone, Monsoor’s platoon leader in Ramadi.
Award Presented (posthumously): Apr. 8, 2008
Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti
On Jun. 21, 2006, Monti’s unit established a small base on a ridge above a valley in northeastern Afghanistan to support troops below.
Later that evening, a group of at least 60 insurgents established two firing positions only 50 yards away and opened up on the team of only 16 soldiers.
“We were taking so much fire we couldn’t make out where the mortars landed. It was coming in so close that … you could hear it right over your head, just like whizzing through,” Private First Class Derek James told Stars Stripes. “They were so close at one point you could hear their voices.“
With soldiers killed and wounded, Monti called in artillery and close air support. But one of his soldiers was hit and cut off from the rest of the men.
He tried twice to make it to his wounded comrade, but intense enemy fire pushed him back. With his men laying down covering fire, he went once more, almost making it before being shot himself.
Award Presented (posthumously): Sep. 17, 2009
Lt. Michael Murphy
While leading his Navy SEAL team on Jun. 28, 2005 to infiltrate and provide reconnaissance on a Taliban leader, Murphy and the three other members of his team came under withering gunfire from 30 to 40 enemy fighters.
The fierce gunfight pitted the SEALs against insurgents on the high ground, and they desperately called for support as all four operators were hit by gunshots.
When his radioman fell mortally wounded, and with the radio not able to get a clear signal, Murphy disregarded the enemy fire and went out into the open to transmit back to his base and call for support.
From his Summary of Action:
He calmly provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force while requesting immediate support for his team. At one point he was shot in the back causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in.
“I was cursing at him from where I was,” Hospital Corpsman Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor of the battle, later told The New York Times. “I was saying, ‘What are you doing?’ Then I realized that he was making a call. But then he started getting hit. He finished the call, picked up his rifle and started fighting again. But he was overrun.”
Award Presented (posthumously): Oct. 23, 2007
Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry
After his platoon of Army Rangers jumped out of helicopters in Paktia Province, Afghanistan to look for a high-value Taliban target on May 26, 2008, they came under serious attack.
Spotting a nearby compound, Petry led his soldiers in clearing the courtyard which had three Taliban fighters inside. Despite being hit in both legs by gunfire, Petry pushed in and led his soldiers to cover and assess other wounded soldiers.
Only a short time later, both of his soldiers were wounded by a grenade thrown at them by one of the fighters, and then another landed nearby. That’s when Petry decided he would throw it back.
“It was almost instinct; off training,” Petry told the Army News Service. “It was probably going to kill all three of us. I had time to visually see the hand grenade. And I figure it’s got about a four-and-half second fuse, depending on how long it has been in the elements and the weather and everything and how long the pin has been pulled. I figure if you have time to see it you have time to kick it, throw it, just get it out there.”
Saving the lives of two soldiers, the grenade exploded just as he was throwing it, taking off his right hand. He then calmly placed a tourniquet on his arm as other soldiers neutralized the threat from the Taliban.
Award Presented: Jul. 12, 2011
Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts
On July 13, 2008, Taliban fighters attacked a small outpost in Wanat, Afghanistan in an attempt to overrun it, and almost immediately, a number of soldiers were wounded or killed in a blistering volley of rocket-propelled grenade fire.
“It was just a barrage of RPGs, and it was very disorienting,” Pitts told the Army Times. The first volley left Pitts’ lower body peppered with shrapnel, forcing him to crawl to areas where he could return fire. “I’d blind fire, spraying along the rock, and once I thought I had laid down enough suppressive fire, I’d pop up and try to take out whatever I could.”
Crucially, Pitts maintained radio contact between the OP and the command post as the battle progressed, warning of enemy movements. After fighting for over an hour despite being critical wounded, Pitts was medically evacuated.
Were Pitts not present at the Battle of Wanat, the outcome would have been significantly different.
Award Presented: Jul. 24, 2014
Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha
With only 53 U.S. troops at Combat Outpost Keating, Afghanistan, the early morning of Oct. 3, 2009 was quite different than what they had endured before.
Over 300 Taliban fighters were attacking from all sides with the goal of overrunning the remote base. But Romesha wasn’t going to let that happen. “We weren’t going to be beat that day,” he later said.
As fighters breached the perimeter of the camp, Romesha calmly rallied his men to repel the assault even after he was wounded. He personally played “peek-a-boo” with an enemy sniper, took out an enemy machine-gun position, and called in airstrikes that killed at least 30 Taliban fighters.
From The New York Times:
His bravery, Mr. Obama said, helped prevent the outpost from being overrun by Taliban fighters. He was wounded in the neck, shoulder and arms by shrapnel after a rocket-propelled grenade hit a generator he was hiding behind. Eight American service members were killed in the October 2009 battle, one of the most intense of the war.
Award Presented: Feb. 11, 2013
Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith
On April 4, 2003, after his unit briefly battled and captured several Iraqi fighters near the Baghdad International Airport, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith instructed his men to build an impromptu holding area for the prisoners in a nearby walled compound.
A short time later, his troops were violently attacked by a larger force. Smith rallied his men to organize a hasty defense, then braved hostile fire to engage the enemy with grenades and anti-tank weapons.
He then ran through blistering gunfire to man the .50 caliber machine gun on top of an armored personnel carrier to keep the enemy from overrunning the position, completely disregarding his own safety to protect his soldiers.
Smith was mortally wounded during the attack, but he helped defeat the attacking force which had more than 50 enemy soldiers killed, according to his award citation.
On Sept. 8, 2009 while assigned as a trainer and mentor to the Afghan border police, Capt. Will Swenson’s team was ambushed by a force of more than 50 Taliban fighters. With no reinforcements and repeated denials for fire support, Swenson repeatedly risked his own life to search for members of the team who were cut off.
With complete disregard for his own safety, Swenson voluntarily led a team into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on three occasions to recover the wounded and search for missing team members.
Returning to the kill zone a fourth time in a Humvee, he exited the vehicle, evaded a hail of bullets and shells to recover three fallen Marines and a Navy corpsman, working alongside then-Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer, who on Sept. 15, 2011, received the Medal of Honor for his own actions in the battle.
“This award was earned with a team, a team of our finest: Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy and our Afghan partners, standing side by side,” Swenson told reporters after his award ceremony. “And now that team includes Gold Star families who lost their fathers, sons and husbands that day. This medal represents them. It represents us.”
Award Presented: Oct. 15, 2013
Sgt. Kyle White
On Nov. 8, 2007, Kyle White repeatedly ran through intense enemy gunfire to get to wounded troops, called in steady reports and air support to beat back Taliban fighters, and directed medical evacuations for the dead and wounded, Army Times reports.
“An RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] hit right behind my head and knocked me unconscious … it was just lights out … when I woke up, I was face-down on a rock,” White told Army News Service, recalling that as he came to, an enemy round fragmented near his head and sent a shower of broken rock chips and debris into the side of his face. “I didn’t feel pain at all, just numb like when you go to the dentist.”
With chaos all around him, White realized that 10 of those with his 14-man team embedded with Afghan soldiers had been forced to slide more than 150 feet down the side of a rocky cliff. As one of four soldiers left above (and closest to enemy fire), White tended to a wounded soldier for some time before seeing a Marine on the team lying wounded out in the open.
White then ran through blistering enemy fire to reach wounded Marine Sgt. Philip Bocks, but unfortunately his injuries were mortal. “I worked on him until he was no longer with us.” Remarkably, White was never hit by enemy fire during the 16-hour battle, although his pack, weapon, and equipment were hit multiple times.
As night fell, White — now suffering from two concussions — directed Afghan Army soldiers to set up a defensive perimeter as he kept a badly-wounded Spec. Kain Schilling from falling asleep and marked a landing zone so helicopters could land and bring the soldiers out.
The Battle Creek VA Alive and Running VA5K for Veteran Suicide Prevention Awareness kicked off in a different fashion this year. Instead of having hundreds of participants together at once, the kick-off was done on Facebook live. The runners and walkers will be doing their part virtually to help raise awareness.
While it may be too late to register for a T-shirt and medal, it is not too late to do your part. Everyone can still participate virtually by walking, running or sharing information to raise awareness for Veteran Suicide Prevention.
Packets were distributed on Sept. 19, which would have been the normal day of the event.
“While this is not how we pictured our 8th Annual Alive and Running VA5K… we are so grateful we can come together like this to support our Veterans and Service Members while raising awareness for suicide prevention,” said Lindsey Cord, suicide prevention coordinator.
In the photo above, suicide prevention coordinator Mathew Raad presents a VA5k bib and medal to Jennifer Quinn.
You can participate until October 3
Even if you weren’t able to register for this event, you can still participate with us and go run, walk or ride 5K until Oct. 3. Tag our Facebook page and Hashtag #BeThere #AliveandRunningVA5k.
“Our team is focused on the community health approach to suicide prevention.” said Michelle Martin, medical center director. “Together, we can all Be There for Veterans. We appreciate the help of individuals, groups or organizations who help us raise awareness on this important topic.”
The Alive and Running VA5K is another way that the community can be involved. The event organizers hope to return to an in-person event next year but did not want to lose momentum on this important topic. Suicide is preventable. Together, we can all make a difference.
Google has long been on the forefront of new advancements in technology and products. Now, they are using their massive platform to support veterans in need.
With America quickly approaching 20 years at war, the needs of her veterans continue to rise. With the added stress of the pandemic, things are at a critical point. Post-traumatic stress diagnosis’ are rising and veteran suicides continue to dominate headlines. Google wanted to do something to combat those numbers and give back to those who served. The company began working with veteran employees as well as outside stakeholders and nonprofits to create a site dedicated to veteran resources.
“Men and women who served should be able to find help when they need it. We hope this website will provide helpful, authoritative information on mental health for veterans and their families,” Jose Castaneda, Google Spokesperson, said. It is with this in mind that the “Serving Veterans” initiative was created.
The site itself will be specifically geared toward veterans and their families. With minimal clicks, the search engine will bring them to the resources that they so desperately need. Google also formatted the site to include personal stories and videos from a broad and diverse group of veterans, which include well-known military leaders. The aim is to demonstrate that seeking help shouldn’t cause hesitation and that recovery through support can happen.
Code of Support Foundation CEO Kristina Kaufmann was thrilled with the program Google created. “The Code of Support Foundation is thrilled to see a global leader in technology like Google prioritize the needs of our nation’s veterans, their caregivers and their families with the launch of the Google for Veterans program,” she said.
The Wounded Warrior Project recently released a survey reporting that COVID-19 has significantly impacted veterans specifically, causing 52 percent to report that their mental health is even worse with the pandemic. The military itself has also stated that suicides have risen by 20 percent in 2020, which can most likely be attributed to the pandemic. All of this was fuel for Google to quickly assemble support for America’s veterans.
Recently, The Bob Woodruff Foundation shared that, “The COVID-19 pandemic creates at least three conditions: emergent trauma, loneliness due to social isolation and unplanned job or wage loss that could culminate in a “perfect storm,” threatening the mental health of many veterans.”
“We are proud partners in this effect to reach and serve more of those who served our country. This launch represents a shared commitment by Google and Code of Support to ensure veterans and their families can easily find and connect with local community-based resources for mental health, addiction, and suicide prevention at a time when these numbers are rising tragically,” Kaufmann said.
Google has put much of their focus in recent years in serving the military community with tools for transitioning and employment. This appears to be one more way for them to continue its commitment to give back to the 1 percent of America’s population that swears to defend and protect us all. By creating an easily accessible site to help veterans and their families find the support they continue to honor that commitment. One veteran at a time.