Due to American Rescue Plan, copayments paid April 6, 2020, to present will be refunded
In March 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and President Joe Biden signed it into law. As a result, all copayments for medical care and pharmacy services provided during the period of April 6, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021, are canceled, along with any fees or interest.
VA wants you to know that supporting your financial well-being is one of our top priorities.
Key facts on how the ARP will impact Veterans:
Cancel copayments for medical care and pharmacy services incurred on and after April 6, 2020.
No assessment of copayments for medical care and pharmacy through Sept. 30, 2021.
VA is working quickly to process those cancellations and refund Veterans who have been making payments on their accounts for medical services received during this period.
Continue to send statements for information only through Sept. 30, 2021. These statements keep Veterans informed of their balance, which will be due when collections resume in October 2021.
The mailing of patient statements and collection of copayments for health care and prescriptions will resume on Oct. 1, 2021.
Your VA health care continues
There will be no change in the quality and availability of VA health care during this time. You can schedule appointments and communicate with your providers in the same manner you have been.
If you are concerned about copayments you owe for health care and pharmacy provided prior to April 6, 2020, you an apply for a debt relief program.
VA will work with all Veterans who apply for debt relief to determine the best possible solution.
For information on charges owed for care and prescriptions prior to April 6, 2020, debt relief options and/or account number information, Veterans can call the VHA Health Resource Center at 1-866-400-1238.
John Cornelius believed we should always honor our Veterans for their commitment and sacrifices. Cornelius was an Army WWII Veteran who earned two Bronze Stars. He began a fundraiser over 15 years ago for hospitalized Veterans of Northern Arizona when he was 87 years old.
That fundraiser continues to this day.
He raised $7,600 the first year, over $23,000 the second year and more than $30,000 the third year.
“Through the years, the money has been donated to our health care system. As a result, we’ve been able to purchase items for inpatient Veterans to help make their lives more comfortable,” said Paul Flack, voluntary service assistant, Northern Arizona VA Health Care System.
Gifts for inpatient Veterans’ birthdays
“Some of the items purchased are welcome kits, newspapers, prepaid phone cards, flowers, get well cards and special items that can be used for Veterans birthdays,” Flack said.
Cornelius (center) is pictured above in 2016 with Jake Weber and Wendy Hepner. Weber owned a local IGA grocery store; Hepner is a former hospital associate director.
Multiple news articles have published through the years about Cornelius and his contributions to help fellow Veterans. At the time of his passing on April 5, 2017, just a few days shy of his 99th birthday, he had raised more than $200,000 for Veterans.
Cornelius started the John Cornelius Raffle for Hospitalized Veterans of Northern Arizona. The charity is dedicated to raising money to support Northern Arizona Veterans.
“Honored to have known John”
The annual raffle begins every year on Dec. 7 (Pearl Harbor Remembrance). The 2020 raffle brought in $13,000 to the Prescott VA Medical Center.
“Our health care system is honored to have known John and had the opportunity to work with him and his cause,” said Carol Lynn Powell, a volunteer at Northern Arizona VA Health Care System. “We are honored to see the results of his efforts continue to live on for so many years.”
It’s unusual to find someone as charitable as Cornelius. He started fundraising at age 87 and made it a priority until his passing at age 98.
To say that Cornelius has been successful in his efforts is an understatement. “We have seen the benefits of his efforts live on with the donations made to our medical center in his honor,” said Flack.
A former VA Secretary stated in a February 2016 letter written to Cornelius before his passing: “You are indeed a great American hero. You have touched so many through your service to our nation and your devotion to our community.”
Intense humidity, leeches, and snakes were just a few of the dangers our Vietnam Veterans faced while in the jungle — besides getting shot by bad guys. In all, 2.7 million Americans suited up for The Nam, and the average age of an infantryman was just 19-years-old.
And every single one of them at one time or another claimed the title of “f*cking new guy,” or “FNG.”
Patton, Schwarzkopf, and Mattis didn’t start out on day one of their military careers by making all the right decisions, they had to learn from their mistakes time and time again, adapting to them before ultimately succeeding.
Like every story, every man whose served has a beginning — a seed.
“I didn’t know squat, I wasn’t prepared for this,” Larry “Doc” Speed, a Combat Medic from 173rd Delta Company, explains in an interview about his first few days in the bush.
Entering the grunt world as an “FNG” is a stressful time in every new infantryman’s life.
Having to prove your worth from the moment you step onto the battlefield was just as difficult as shaking off those first dramatic moments of being pinned down by accurate enemy gunfire. Until you prove yourself, you’re just another blood bag with a name stenciled on a uniform.
“It’s a different world when you’re brand new, you’re just scared,” Jesse Salcedo, an M60 machine gunner admits. “It took three or four firefights before I could function before I could see the enemy.”
Silhouetted palm trees dotted a creeping sunrise to the east, and a waning moon hung in the black sky above the Pacific Ocean at 5 a.m. Friday morning as 22 current and former Reconnaissance Marines stood on the San Onofre Beach shoreline aboard Camp Pendleton, California, waiting to start a grueling day.
“Three! Two! One!” a Marine yelled, starting the 2021 Recon Challenge.
Competing in two-man teams, the Marines took off over sand and slick rocks, rifles slung across their backs and carrying rucksacks weighing at least 50 pounds. Without hesitation, they waded into the surf, shrinking smaller and smaller until they disappeared in the waves.
Competitors put their strength and endurance to the ultimate test during the punishing, daylong contest. Each Recon Marine wore the name of one of his fallen brothers on his pack, and the Gold Star families of the fallen were on hand to observe the commemorative event throughout the day. They cheered competitors on at several of the challenge’s 10 events and welcomed the Marines at the finish line.
The teams raced through Camp Pendleton’s hilly terrain, rucking from event to event and logging roughly 25 miles with many steep climbs along the way. They overcame obstacles such as underwater knot-tying, casualty evacuation drills, and live-fire marksmanship drills. While the morning started out cool, the Southern California sun beat down brutally, and afternoon temperatures reached as high as 90 degrees.
“It is an honor to put our bodies through that grueling pain and shared suffering so that we remember our fallen and feel them with us as we move through that route,” said Gunnery Sgt. Frank Simmons, an instructor with Reconnaissance Training Company (RTC) and one of the lead coordinators for the 2021 Recon Challenge.
Team 8, consisting of RTC Executive Officer Capt. Benjamin Lowring and Basic Reconnaissance Course Instructor Staff Sgt. Andy Meltz, took a strong lead from the beginning of the competition, only to be overtaken late in the day. The team took a wrong turn on their way to the eighth of 10 events, losing precious time and allowing Team 11 to close distance.
The second-to-last event of the challenge sealed Team 8’s fate. The Marines struggled with the task of moving a massive tire from a 7-ton truck from the deep end of the Camp Horno Pool up and over a 9-foot ledge to the shallow end. The Marines resurfaced over and over, experimenting with different strategies and techniques before finally succeeding after more than 15 minutes. By the time they managed to heave the tire over the ledge, RTC Senior Enlisted Advisor Master Gunnery Sgt. Cory Paskvan and RTC Commanding Officer Maj. Morgan Jordan — Team 11 — had caught up.
After quickly shedding their rucks and stripping down to swimsuits, Team 11 jumped in the pool and went to work. They wasted no time, using a rope to pull the tire to the surface and bobbing it across the water with ease. They hurriedly applied a topical aid to sore muscles, dressed, and stepped off in hopes of a come-from-behind victory. A poorly timed leg cramp helped them leapfrog Team 8, and Paskvan and Jordan took the lead going into the final stretch.
Once in the lead, Team 11 maintained a strong but manageable pace as they made the final push across the roughly 5 miles of hilly terrain that remained between them and the finish line.
Nine hours and 27 minutes after first plunging into the cold Pacific, the pair walked under the Recon Challenge banner and hung Lt. Col. Kevin Michael Shea’s dog tags on a battle cross staged there. The Marines’ loved ones, fellow service members, and the honored Gold Star family members cheered wildly.
With a combined age of 84, Paskvan and Jordan were the oldest team in the challenge, competing against Marines as young as 25.
“There’s not a lot of competitors coming out to run it this late in their career,” Jordan said.
Scott Gardner, a retired Force Recon Marine, was the oldest competitor in the challenge at 47. Gardner and his teammate, Staff Sgt. Gabe Gillespie, finished the event toward the middle of the pack.
Among the competitors’ many impressive feats was the 3rd place finish of Gunnery Sgt. Joshua Kovar and Marine Recon veteran George Briones of Team 10.
Kovar, who serves as a Ranger Instructor at the Army’s Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, finished third in the Recon Challenge just two weeks after finishing second overall in the 2021 Best Ranger Competition, an annual US Army competition that’s comparable to the Recon Challenge and considered one of the most physically rigorous endurance events in the military. Competitors are tested in a nonstop series of events that are meant to push them both physically and mentally while judging their ability to execute a variety of military skills.
“Gunnery Sgt. Kovar embodies the Recon Creed by forever striving ‘to maintain the tremendous reputation of those who went before’ him and ‘exceeding beyond the limitations set down by others,’” Simmons said, praising Kovar’s performance in the challenge.
As senior leaders of RTC, Paskvan and Jordan took on the challenge as an opportunity for them to lead by example and “defy the odds.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Paskvan said. “I’ve been coming out here since 2015 trying to win one of these. I’ve gotten a fair amount of second places, but this is the first time I’ve actually won.”
Paskvan said he’s served with many of the fallen Marines whose ID tags competitors carried during this year’s challenge and in challenges past.
“It’s very humbling,” he said.
Even more humbling was knowing Shea’s widow was waiting at the finish line. After completing the challenge, Paskvan and Jordan were able to give her the flag they carried throughout the race in remembrance of her husband.
“It’s not every year that you get out, make a relationship with a family that you’re running on behalf of,” Jordan said. “Really, we do it for them.”
Army Special Forces veteran Tyler Grey is definitely what you would call an “operator.”
A Ranger, a sniper with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and a combat veteran, Grey has served his country well.
He knows the meaning of sacrifice, perhaps more than most. In 2005, he was blown up in a raid in Sadr City, Iraq, which nearly cost him his arm. But the experience gave Grey an evolved sense of perspective.
We Are The Mighty sat down to talk with him about how music had an impact on his career and his life, and what he had to say was pretty insightful.
“The journey isn’t that you never have a problem. The journey is overcoming problems. The music I like is about people who are honest and open enough to share a problem, to share a weakness, to share an experience that affected them, and then how they overcome it.”
We also asked Grey to make a Battle Mix — a playlist of power anthems — with songs that held significant meaning throughout his life. He didn’t disappoint.
The world is an ever-changing place and future American policy planners will not only need to keep up with the pace of change, they’ll need to know the past events that shaped the world.
America’s national security policy relies on an intelligent and skilled workforce that values diverse backgrounds and experiences in areas that are critical to national defense.
With this in mind, few are better suited to bolster national defense than veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. With experience performing in the command-and-control structure of the government’s uniformed services to specialized training and security clearances—many veterans find their post-military calling supporting national defense.
International relations and global security is more than just how countries interact in the context of globalization. It’s also about how past events or conflicts lead to the breaking news of the day. The policies set by governments and nongovernment actors are a reflection of regional values, economies and cultures—creating interdependencies that can lead to war or peace.
How will the United States navigate its obligations as a global superpower while looking out for its own best interests? What effects will it have on America’s partners or enemies? Who will be impacted by geopolitics in the future? You can learn how to analyze these risks and conflicts, and develop the critical thinking and policies to increase prospects for sustainable peace in hotbed regions.
Strategic, operational and tactical intelligence is harnessed around-the-clock by every military branch. The Department of Defense taps into a vast network of military intelligence servicemembers to inform its command. It’s why a large cadre of veterans transition into the intelligence community after active duty service—and they come from a variety of military backgrounds.
At AMU, students explore intelligence operations, counterintelligence, collection methods and even gamification. The incorporation of social media into intelligence collection provides real-world application, now more than ever. It’s an impactful data source, which the intelligence community continues to refine how it collects and analyzes communications across the proliferation of social platforms.
AMU’s homeland security program was established before 9/11 and continues to prepare national security and public service professionals who want to safeguard the Nation as a first line of defense. But homeland security doesn’t begin and end at the borders, ports or airports. It means securing critical infrastructure, retaining interoperability across agencies, and serving as first-responders when fellow citizens need them the most—after a disaster.
AMU’s homeland security discipline explores the legal and ethical issues behind why national security policies are in place, finding areas most at risk from foreign threats, and most importantly, having the know-how to protect the people and critical infrastructure that keeps this country running.
If the Coronavirus pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the whole planet was unprepared for how bad it could get. And yet, veterans were on the frontlines of this epidemic, from medical staff to logistics, to public health warnings. Public health isn’t just about curing diseases, it’s about addressing the systemic causes of disease and other ailments that plague countries and regions of the world. Public health professionals conduct scientific research and educate populations with the goal of preventing disease and illnesses.
Public health workers aren’t only doctors and nurses. They have to be capable administrators and managers, well-versed in policy and the law surrounding their field. AMU’s experienced public health experts design their curriculum to help students apply emerging practices to prepare for whatever comes next.
Cyberattacks are a global threat, but hardening and safeguarding our national data infrastructure begins on U.S. soil. With the growing power of AI and disinformation campaigns, cybersecurity is a mission-critical discipline that deserves your attention. From the battlefield to the boardroom—AMU’s veteran community is actively strengthening the cyber “warrior” for the future.
The university is also part of the accredited American Public University System, which was designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. The center provides oversight and guidance to enable AMU to craft multidisciplinary cybersecurity education that reflects the trends and strategies used in the field today.
Space isn’t just the realm of NASA anymore. With space entrepreneurism exploding—think SpaceX and Blue Origin—the next frontier of space is already here. Add the new U.S. Space Force to the mix and America’s national security apparatus spans Earth’s orbit and includes a wide range of military and federal agencies, private contractors, and multinational corporations working together.
AMU’s space studies program was designed with input by former astronauts, NASA engineers, aerospace leaders, and more. It provides a unique approach that integrates space exploration, aerospace science, astronomy, and policymaking from both federal and space industry perspectives.
For the astronomy purist, AMU built a space observatory atop its Information Technology building, which houses a 650-pound reflective Planewave CDK24 telescope that is fully remote-controlled to capture and share celestial imagery for research and education at a distance.
As the old adage says, “Those who don’t learn from history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” Military history draws many veteran students with an interest in analyzing technological advances or strategic turning points in wars with an eye on learning from history to prevent future conflicts.
AMU students learn from the towering figures of military history, analyze historical battles and determine how they shaped the future, and explore the past philosophies or war and military strategy. They learn how military spending can advance human development, launches new technologies, and impact societies as a whole.
America needs skilled, experienced professionals at every level to guide the country forward. Decisions we make in the near future will be informed by the next generation of graduates who have the knowledge and expertise required to make the tough calls. AMU’s mission is to help educate and prepare those leaders to meet that challenge.
UAP recently sat down with U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet, a MARSOC Special Operations Independent Duty Corpsman (SOIDC) and veteran of the Marine Reconnaissance community as a Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman (SARC).
Gilmet was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is married to Mindy Gilmet and they have three beautiful young children. Gilmet enlisted in the Navy on 3 September, 2002, and his personal decorations include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and three Combat Action Ribbons.
Enjoy this exclusive interview with Chief Gilmet, a trained lifesaver and Special Operations medic.
Why did you join the military and what led you to eventually pursue being a SARC and SOIDC?
I was in my senior year of high school – about halfway through. I had already applied for college. I got accepted to Western Michigan University. Then one day there was a Navy recruiter at the school, and I talked to him a little bit and then went to the recruiting station. I’ve always been interested in medicine because my mom is in the medical field.
The recruiter told me about Navy Corpsmen and about how the military can help pay for college. Paying for college was actually one of my fears at the time. I had slacked off a lot my senior year, and I didn’t want to just go there and waste all of my money and my parents’ money.
So, I signed up that day and I went home and told my parents about it. They were kind of stunned, but either way, the whole premise was to come in, get money for college, go to college, and then eventually maybe become a doctor.
After I joined, I realized I didn’t know a lot about the military at all. When I was in basic training, our equivalent of a drill instructor talked about Corpsmen and how they can go work with Marines. I had no idea before that. I asked him what it was like and he said, “it’s a living hell” (laughs).
And for some reason that just caught my attention and that’s what I wanted to do. That really changed my outlook on what I wanted to do as far as my career. I really enjoyed being on the combat side of medicine and doing things along that line of work, although that wouldn’t come until a little later.
I was around 24 years old when I was about ready to get out of the Navy. I had already started my final physical, and something inside me was just telling me, there’s more that you need to do. And I just didn’t want to look back on my life and be disappointed that I didn’t take the opportunity to try to become a Recon Corpsman.
So, I stopped the process of getting out and reenlisted. In February of 2009 I began the Recon Corpsman pipeline and that’s how I got on the path to where I am today.
In your experience, what was the most difficult military school – or aspect of your training as a SARC or SOIDC – that most people wouldn’t be aware of?
I actually really enjoyed all the schools to become a Recon Corpsman. I enjoyed all of them. I feel like I did pretty well in most of them, but the one I struggled with a great deal was actually dive school. You know, to be able to do PT (physical training) and workout on land, it’s totally different than being in the water.
A lot of people don’t realize that it’s so physically and mentally demanding. I struggled with that a good amount. But I was able to push through and obviously finish it, but that was definitely the most difficult portion of the training for me.
What part of your training came most naturally to you, and why do you think that was?
I think it would be the combat medicine portion of the medical courses that we go to. I believe most Corpsmen who attend that course excel in that area because we have already learned the basics of that stuff earlier on. We have a good base before we attended the special operations medical course.
I already had some real-world experience too – I spent three years in the infantry and done a few deployments – so I felt confident in my skills. I’m more of a hands-on learner anyways.
It’s interesting that the first part of that training is all didactic learning, which is very strenuous in how much information they give you in a short amount of time. A lot of people, I think just struggle with that. Not necessarily their ability to learn the knowledge, but their ability to retain a lot of knowledge in a very short amount of time and then remember that for a test it’s very, very difficult. But I always appreciated and enjoyed the hands-on portion of medicine.
What are some of the traditions or history from the Navy Corpsman community that more people should know about?
One thing that’s interesting about Navy Corpsman history is that there are more Corpsmen who have received the Medal of Honor than any other job in the Navy. And, you know, that has to do with the fact that we are on the ground, fighting alongside Marines.
I think that’s something that’s interesting that people don’t really know about. There are at least 23 recipients that I am aware of, and that of course includes several Corpsmen who went on to join the Navy SEAL community at some point in their careers.
History and traditions are definitely a big thing in the Navy, especially for Chief Petty Officers. Chiefs are tasked by the Chief of Naval Operations to maintain and teach our history and heritage to junior sailors. Even before I became a Chief, naval history was just something I liked anyways. And I take that responsibility very seriously because it is important to know our history and where we come from and the things that people have done before us. It lays a good foundation of principles for us, as sailors.
One notable Medal of Honor recipient was a Corpsman (Hospitalman) named John Kilmer. He was from the Korean War era. At one point in my career, I was stationed in Texas, and we did Recon Corpsman screeners for reserve Corpsmen that wanted to try to get into that pipeline. On the last night of it, during the final exercise, we would always complete it by going to a local cemetery in the middle of the night where John Kilmer was buried.
I would read his Medal of Honor citation out loud to the group and it was actually very emotional. Every time we did that, we just went through this, you know, long two days of land navigation, running around and getting yelled at, and having to do all these physically demanding things. And then we would always point out while at Kilmer’s gravesite that, while what each participant just went through was difficult, they should think about what John Kilmer had to go through, how he lost his life.
It was just a powerful way, I think, to finish the exercise. It was this tiny, tiny headstone. Nothing elaborate or anything. You literally would not see it unless you stumbled across it by accident or knew exactly where it was. Just this tiny little gravestone on the ground, but it was so powerful.
Is there a moment or accomplishment that you’re most proud of in your military career?
For me, it was becoming a Recon Corpsman. I wanted it really bad. That was probably the most satisfying moment in my career.
There are only about three hundred SARCs in the Navy/Marine Corps, and it was just a difficult process.
What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?
Well, I think I’m a good dad (laughs). I’m not perfect – that’s for damn sure – but I like to think that I’ve done okay with that in spite of the challenging circumstances involved with being in the military.
What’s your favorite thing to do in your spare time?
It would have to be woodworking – whether it be making wooden American flags or furniture – and stuff like that. Mixology would be another one.
For me personally, when it comes to a hobby, I like to do things that will take my mind off of everything else going on in my life and just be able to focus on the now. For me it is carpentry and mixology.
A few months ago, I made some new mobile woodworking benches in my garage and bought some new tools and stuff like that. I love it.
The Military Influencer Conference, held in Dallas, Texas, from Oct. 22 to Oct. 24, was organized by recently retired Army 1st Sergeant Curtez Riggs, who dreamed of designing a conference that merged entrepreneurship, military spouse networking, and the blogging community into what would ultimately become the Military Influencer Conference.
The event was supported by major sponsors, including USAA and National Geographic, which helped contribute to its massive success.
We Are The Mighty was there and we were blown away by how great the event was — but don’t take our word for it. Here are 18 sources who will back that up:
Lakesha Cole, entrepreneur, blogger, and military spouse, explains how the Military Influencer Conference “reset the standard moving forward” for all other military oriented conferences. Diversity and the ability to network are just two of the things Cole found to be game changers for future conferences.
Shiang-Li and Miranda from The Hive and Co. were motivated to find different content than they normally see at conferences. Their thoughts on whether you should attend the conference next year? “You won’t be disappointed.”
Pilcher’s in depth focus on TNT, or Trust, Need, and Transparency, explains how Military Influencer Conference founder Curtez Riggs was able to put together this explosive conference in only months. A little help from Philip Taylor — (PT Money and founder of FitCon) — and a whole lot of elbow grease, and Riggs set the whole place on fire.
Dan Dwyer, owner of Vet2BizLife, LLC, recognized the passion, motivation, and ambition of the attendees at the Military Influencer Conference, and he has 10 tips on how to keep that ambition moving forward after the fact. His 10 tips will help you solidify “an action plan that you’ll be able to execute once you’re recovered, reinvigorated, and ready.”
Founders Dave and Sharon Gran both had two very interesting things to say about the Military Influencer Conference. Sharon: “The Military Influencer Conference is the only conference around for military spouses, veterans, and active duty members who blog, write, speak or own businesses in the military space to come together and learn from each other.” Dave: “The conference is not only a venue to hear the stories and advice from successful entrepreneurs, but an opportunity to network and build relationships.”
Retired Air Force veteran and founder of the Unconventional Veteran Bernard Edwards praised the Military Influencer Conference in its hands on approach and ability to relate to the typical veteran (who is, apparently, not a general or a pilot).
Global business advisor Ed Marsh outlines what made the Military Influencer Conference different from most conferences, and how that difference is what made the entire experience worth him waiving his normal speaking fees and travel costs. Calling the attendees “Quiet Professionals,” Marsh notes that “there was the quiet confidence of a group that knows they’ll win. They may not yet be sure how, and may not even yet be clear on what challenge they’re facing — but experience tells them that their grit, determination, doggedness, ingenuity, and flexibility will enable them to prevail.”
Founder of GreenZone Hero John Krotec writes “I can’t ever recall experiencing anything like it at any of the professional conferences that I’ve attended throughout my thirty-plus year business career. Honestly, it was electric.” His observations of the Military Influencer Conference are a must read.
Nicole Bowe-Rahming, aka “The Fortitude Coach,” notes that the Military Influencer Conference elicited moments of “aha!” and humility, as well as a need to get back to the harmony between being an entrepreneur and an influencer. Her biggest “aha” moment? When Daniel Alarik, CEO and founder of Grunt Style, said “You can’t, but WE can.”
Anna Blanch Rabe, an Army veteran who’s worn so many hats she could open her own hat store, attended the Military Influencer Conference against her will after spending 4 months touring the country. She wrote of her concerns with attending the event: “I would regret not spending extra days in Washington D.C. with my husband after the Marine Corps Marathon.” Rabe soon found she was mistaken.
MadSkills co-founder Erica McMannes discusses three things that you missed if you missed this year’s Military Influencer Conference: how to perfect your pitch, the way the military spouse community was embraced as part of the group rather than just married to it, and how important validation is.
Air Force veteran and current military spouse Alana Wilson digs in to what it means to be a military influencer, and how impressed she was with the over-all community. She writes “My biggest takeaway is that I sit back in awe of the military community. Even after being in this community for 14 years now, I have a whole new wave of appreciation for the kind of people that make up this group. These people are some of the most creative, loyal, hard working, no-quite, all grit, give you the shirt off their back type of people.”
According to Fred Wellman, “It was hard to predict how the first MIC would go. It was clear something special was in the making, based on the incredible list of speakers and sponsors taking the leap of faith on a first-time event.”
And special it was. He listed big takeaways from the event, including the fact that sixty percent of the attendees were military spouses, proving what we’ve known for a long time: our families are a vital part of our military experiences and capabilities.
Hundreds of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, Army veterans, Pittsburgh-area officials, and Army leaders recognized U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker for his heroism April 5, 2019 — 16 years to the day after he was killed in action while serving in Iraq.
Booker’s mother and sister were presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor, during a ceremony at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood — near the University of Pittsburgh — as family, fellow soldiers, city officials and veterans watched.
“I am so honored … I am so proud of all my son accomplished,” said Freddie Jackson, Booker’s mother. “I didn’t realize how much my son did and how he inspired other people. Steve died for his country, not just for the Booker Family,” she said.
Booker died on April 5, 2003, while serving as a tank commander with Company A, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 34-year-old Apollo, Penn., native was killed in action near Baghdad while serving in Iraq during the “Thunder Run” mission as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Booker attended Apollo-Ridge High School, near Pittsburgh, and enlisted in the Army in June 1987, at age 19, shortly after his high school graduation. He was promoted to Army staff sergeant in February 2001 and deployed in March 2003 to Iraq.
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, left, deputy commanding general of Forces Command, speaks in Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, during the presentation of the Distinguished Service Cross to Freddie Jackson, right, the mother of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker for his 2003 heroism while serving in Iraq.
(Photo by Mr. Paul Boyce)
“We’re here to honor his service, his sacrifice and his heroism … as well as his Family” said U.S. Army Forces Command Deputy Commanding General Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson. “He gave his life for something bigger than himself; he gave his life for others. He’s a Pittsburgh hero, an Army hero and an American hero.”
Richardson attended Friday’s ceremony along with 3rd Infantry Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, the 3rd Infantry Division Band and two retired Army generals. Army and Air Force cadets from the University of Pittsburgh’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program participated and attended as well.
Veterans of Booker’s unit also travelled from across the United States to attend the medal-presentation ceremony, organized by the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga. The Army ceremony honored Booker for his heroic actions, personal dedication, and commitment to his fellow soldiers.
Booker’s platoon led a task force on April 5, 2003, along Highway 8 towards Bagdad International Airport. About 1.2 miles after the line of departure, the platoon came under heavy small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from enemy forces. Booker immediately communicated the situation to his chain of command, encouraged his crew, and returned fire with his tank-mounted machinegun.
“When both his and his crew’s machineguns malfunctioned, Booker, with total disregard for his personal safety, exposed himself by lying in a prone position on top of the tank’s turret and accurately engaged the enemy forces with his personal weapon,” according to the award’s summary. “While exposed, he effectively protected his platoon’s flank and delivered accurate information to his command during a critical and vulnerable point of the battle.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker.
Booker’s “fearless attitude and excitement over the communications network inspired his platoon to continue the attack and assured them and leadership that they would defeat the enemy and reach their objective safely,” the award’s narrative explains. “As he remained exposed, Booker identified an enemy troop carrier which was attempting to bypass his tank, but within seconds engaged the enemy vehicle and destroyed it prior to the enemy troops dismounting. Along the five-mile route he remained exposed and continued to engage the enemy with accurate rifle fire until he was mortally wounded.”
Army Col. Andrew Hilmes, Booker’s former company commander in Iraq, said the heroic staff sergeant prepared his crew well for that day’s battle. “His ability to train his soldiers saved a lot of lives. Not just his actions on April 5, but the training he put his soldiers through prior to the 5th of April paid off for the unit.”
Booker’s sister echoed their mother’s comments during a media conference attended by Pittsburgh-area news media prior to the awards ceremonies, which included a plaque dedication in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial’s Hall of Valor. “He’d be very proud. He’d probably be pumping his chest right about now,” said Booker’s sister Kim Talley-Armstead. “It’s a bittersweet moment, but we are extremely proud.”
After giving careful consideration and reviewing the recommendations from the Senior Army Decorations Board, Army officials said, the Secretary of the Army made the determination that Staff Sgt. Booker be awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross. In recognition of their gallantry, intrepidity and heroism above and beyond the call of duty, 12 soldiers recently received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for their valor.
Previously recognized for their bravery by awards of the Silver Star, the Department of Defense upgraded the soldiers’ medals as part of a 2016-2018 comprehensive review of commendations for heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Four soldiers are still on active duty; three are posthumous awards; three recipients have since retired and two recipients previously separated from the Army.
Military units are team-oriented by necessity and design, but when troops leave the service, they often find themselves isolated and working by themselves. The team dynamic is gone. Veteran service organizations are much the same way. Even with an incredible mission and the tools to serve veterans, everyone accomplishes more in a collaborative environment. NAVSO, the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations, was founded with that in mind.
NAVSO is out to change the landscape for veterans through further developing the veteran service organization marketplace. Whether public or private, any VSO is welcome to join the ranks and collaborate with like-minded organizations with similar goals. The idea is to improve efficiency and effectiveness while fostering innovation by working together.
In bringing together organizations like the Travis Manion Foundation, USAA, the Schultz Family Foundation, and the PsychArmor Institute, NAVSO has connected thousands of American veterans to other organizations dedicated to creating an environment where veterans and their families can live, work, and thrive.
Most importantly, the collaboration between organizations serving veterans can help identify gaps in services needed by vets and their families, then further identify how to address those gaps. NAVSO works to improve the lives of veterans through many different areas including education, employment, housing, healthcare, financial assistance, wounded warriors, and gold star families. It is the only organization working to change the landscape of the services available to veterans in both the public and private sector.
With more than 40,000 nonprofit organizations in the United States whose missions are focused on the lives of service members, veterans, and their families, it is increasingly important to build a community in which these organizations can collaborate towards the same goals instead of competing for the same funds. These organizations may simply be unaware of potential partners operating in the same space or may not know about resources available to them outside of their niche area.
NAVSO is a sponsor of the Military Influencer Conference.
“We’re geography agnostic, size and revenue agnostic, and specific military/veteran/family-serving mission agnostic – our tools and services can take VSOs at different stages of development from start to solvency, from solvency to sustainability, and from sustainability to growth and impact,” says NAVSO CEO Tim Farrell. “NAVSO is all about transforming the veteran-serving space, one organization at a time by helping them find funding faster and serve veterans better.”
Considering NAVSO’s dedication to collaboration, it makes sense that it would want to be a part of the 2019 Military Influencer Conference. The Military Influencer Conference brings together military and veteran professionals who are interested in developing their entrepreneurial acumen and build a better life for themselves and their families. The conference also brings together leading veteran entrepreneurs, startup accelerators, and – of course – veteran service organizations in the business development sector.
If you’re interested in starting your own business, check out MilitaryInfluencer.com for the next conference or just go check out all the VSOs and personalities involved. The Military Influencer Conference is a shining example of how collaboration makes everyone more efficient and effective.
On Sept. 6, 2005, Air Force Pararescueman Master Sgt. Mike Maroney plucked 3-year-old LaShay Brown out of flood-ravaged New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And for a decade after that, they lost touch.
At the time of the rescue, Maroney had spent six days on missions, and was battling post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When we were going to drop [Brown] off she wrapped me in a hug…that hug was everything. Time stopped,” Maroney said in a 2015 Air Force release. “Words fail to express what that hug means to me.”
The hug was captured in an iconic photo by Veronica Pierce, an airman first class at the time. Maroney didn’t know who Brown was, or how she’d fared.
The PJ went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, keeping the photo to inspire him during tough moments. But according to a 2015 Air Force release, he always wondered what happened to the girl, especially around the anniversary of the rescue.
In 2015, they were reunited after 10 years on an episode of “The Real.” Since then, they’ve have stayed in touch.
Two years later, LaShay, now a Junior ROTC cadet, invited Maroney to her school’s JROTC ball. And Maroney accepted.
“I’m going because I would do anything to repay the hug to LaShay and her family. They mean as much to me as my own,” Maroney told People.com.
LaShay has intentions of joining the military but hasn’t decided which branch she will choose, a decision Maroney supports.
“I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does,” he told People. “I think she understands service and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”
Together Rising is a non-profit organization that raises quick funds through “love flash mobs” — time-limited fundraisers where thousands of strangers give a maximum of $25 to meet a particular need in a matter of hours.
From the California and Australia fires to emergency relief in Puerto Rico to COVID-19, Together Rising donates 100% of every personal donation directly to an individual or a cause in need.
For Veterans Day 2019, Together Rising teamed up with the Kline Veterans Fund and gave back to more than fifty veterans, helping them find housing, buy food, pay bills, make vital repairs to their homes, and get counseling and other services. From elderly and disabled veterans to single mothers, the community came through.
When “A” (names are changed for privacy reasons) was evicted from her rental home with little notice, Together Rising and the Kline Veterans Fund stepped in to help her find a new place to live “so that she could move forward with safety and stability.”
A’s displacement came shortly on the heels of saying goodbye to her service dog, a devastating loss for any pet owner, but one that could be even more troubling for a disabled veteran who relies on her service dog for assistance and companionship.
Small donations were able to help Together Rising transform “heartbreak into action,” one of their mottos.
“L” lost her husband earlier in 2019 and struggled to care for her 12 year-old son. After receiving a shutoff notice for her power bill, Together Rising contributors stepped in to pay her bill and support her as she sought more affordable housing.
The Kline Fund reported that, after an initial investment, less than three percent of the veterans need additional help. Sometimes we all just need a little support from our community to get back on our feet.
“S” is a decorated Navy veteran who suffered severe PTSD and depression — not from war, but from surviving a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Her daughter was shot twice and though she survived, S was traumatized; she missed work and lost her job and then was given a five-day eviction notice.
Because her suffering wasn’t service connected, she was ineligible for Veterans Affairs benefits. Within 48 hours, Together Rising and their supporters were able to “hire movers, secure a truck, rent a storage unit for S’s belongings, and settle her into a safe and secure temporary apartment. One week later, [Together Rising] secured a zero-deposit arrangement and paid for two months of rent to allow S time to get back on her feet.
“Incredibly — because of her heroic determination — S secured employment within one month, and is now able to pay her rent and utilities without assistance. She is also working with a mental health counselor.”
From helping a soldier find a place to live after being homeless to securing transportation for a Lt. Col. starting a new job to paying vehicle registration and finding transitional VA housing for a Marine, these are just a few of the lives touched by a community of support.
Leave it to military veterans to make one of Earth’s last tests of human endurance that much more difficult. It’s a 6,000-mile bike ride from the town of Jonkoping, Sweden, to the base camp of Mount Everest. Former Swedish paratrooper Goran Kropp knew how far it was as he packed up his bicycle with 200-plus pounds of gear and departed on that trip in 1995.
His first summit of a major mountain came when he climbed the highest peak in Scandinavia with his dad – at just six years old. Although he indulged a rebellious streak as a young man, the experience of that first climb never left him, and he soon found himself in thin air once more.
Kropp grew up as a hard-partying punk rocker but soon joined the Swedish paratroopers. This was the event that would shape Kropp for the rest of his life. He met his climbing partner while in the army and moved from an apartment to a tent pitched in a gravel pit that was close to his barracks. While still in the Swedish military, he would test himself through different climbing endurance challenges. The two paratroopers even made a list of progressively higher mountains.
Until it was time to go climb them.
He soon earned the nickname “The Crazy Swede” and became known for his insane feats. The first major peak he summited was Tajikistan’s Lenin Peak, far below the 8,000-meter “Death Zone” of mountaineering, but still a great place to start. What made his summit of Lenin Peak special is that he set the record for it at the time.
The hits just kept coming. Kropp was the fourth climber ever to conquer Pakistan’s Muztagh Tower in 1990. He was the first Swede to summit K2, a much deadlier mountain to climb than Everest. One of every ten people who climb Everest will die there. On K2, the fatality rate is more than twice that. Climbers of K2 regularly face life-threatening situations that end their trip before it begins.
On Kropp’s first attempt at a K2 summit in 1993, he stopped to help rescue Slovenian climbers stranded at a high altitude. His ascent on K2 would happen a week after this aborted attempt, but danger didn’t always stop Kropp. That’s why it took him three attempts to summit Everest.
Kropp leaving Sweden for Nepal in 1995.
Kropp left Sweden on his 8,000-mile journey to Nepal in October 1995 and arrived at base camp in April 1996. He wanted to make the ascent without the use of oxygen tanks or assistance ropes. His first attempt saw him struggle to make it to the south summit in waist-deep snow, but his slow pace meant he would be descending in the dark, a risk he was not willing to take. So, he turned around to climb another day.
As Kropp recovered at base camp, a blizzard killed eight trekkers making a descent from the summit, in what became known as the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster. It was the deadliest climbing season on Everest to date. Kropp joined the relief efforts as he recovered, but it was during this deadly season that Kropp summited the mountain, without oxygen and without sherpas.
Then, he rode his bike 8,000 miles home to Sweden.
In later years, Kropp and his wife skied across the North Pole ice sheet, attempting to reach the North Pole. He had to back out, however, due to a frostbitten thumb. It was on that trek that the press turned against him, claiming he was a poacher for shooting a Polar Bear that was stalking him and his wife during the expedition. As a result, Kropp left Sweden for Seattle.
It was in Washington State that 35-year-old Kropp died an ironic death. After making so many miraculous summits and life-threatening firsts, he died climbing a routine 70-foot rock wall near his home after two safety rigging failures.