Tag Archives: military life

A Home of Their Own

165492_1739178126037_5694844_nThough it shouldn’t, the lengths people will go in their get rich quick schemes and scams still amazes me. The very idea that they will use servicemembers, veterans and their families disgusts me. Everything from false injury notifications to obtain credit card information to fake charities that prey on America’s love for its military has been tried. The latter are some of the most heinous as they take monetary donations from caring people and then use that money as their own. It makes it hard for a person to know who they can trust to use their donation in the manner in which it was intended. This lack of trust created by continuing news stories of these fake charities or even real charity organizations who misuse funds can make it harder for those groups who operate with integrity. Today, however, I want to share with you a group that really “puts their money where their mouth is” and I pray they always will.

According to their website, Operation Homefront “assists military families during difficult financial times by providing food assistance, auto and home repair, vision care, travel and transportation, moving assistance, essential home items, and financial assistance.” They also list a number of other programs. I don’t claim to know everything about this organization, but if they are pocketing money for themselves on the sly then they must receive record donations. I’ve heard complaints against large well-known charities that actually provide very little actual assistance to those they claim to serve. Operation Homefront (OPH) is not one of them. How do I know? Because I have seen what this group has done for just ONE military family.

My son-in-law joined the Army in 2009. The past seven years have been filled with the usual ups and downs that most military families can expect; deployments, sick children, births, and the death of family members far away. Through all of this, OPH has stood behind them. For this article, I asked my daughter if she could list everything they have been provided by OPH. She just laughed and said she would try. Here is the list, short one item, this one family received from OPH:

High chair
Electric breast pump
$500 in designer baby clothes
$50 gift card for Toys R Us
200 diapers
Christmas toys every year for 3 years
Christmas dinner every year for 3 years
$20 Wal-Mart gift card for Christmas ham every year for 3 years
Plane ticket home for a morale and welfare leave
Spouse night out which included dinner, pampering and a goodie 2 years
Back to school supplies 2 years

In itself, that is one impressive list, but you may have noticed that I had said this list was “short one item”. That’s because one item that this ONE family received deserves a discussion all its own. On 13 December 2016, this family will be presented the keys to a mortgage-free home. Now, as my son-in-law transitions out of the military and back to civilian life their biggest concern is no longer a worry. The monetary value of the gift is, of course, extraordinary, but that pales in comparison to the piece of mind and continued sense of stability this gift gives to this veteran family. That is a gift beyond measure and shows that OPH understands the true needs of our veteran population.

So how did they get a house and how can you get one, too? Visit Operation Homefront’s website at http://www.operationhomefront.net/howwehelp and check out their “Homes on the Homefront” program. It’s open to most veterans not just those transitioning from active duty. Look at the homes they have available and read up on the rules and such. It’s an amazing program.

Come on out to Mooresville, Indiana, on December 13th and join in the celebration as this family receives their house keys! Come out and support this organization that is doing great things for veterans and is deserving or your support. Hope to see you there!

For the Love of this Country

Johnny Clem

Johnny Clem

When I was a little girl, two of my favorite things to do with my stepdad were to go to yard sales with him on Saturday mornings followed by a stop at the donut shop, and listen to Paul Harvey’s program, “The Rest of the Story” on the radio. Now that I’m a mom and grandma, I’ve continued this yard sale tradition with my own family though I have trouble finding Paul Harvey anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, while “saleing” with my daughter, I came across a fascinating book called, A Treasury of Civil War Tales: Unusual, Interesting Stories of the Turbulent Era When Americans Waged War on Americans by Webb Garrison. (Rutledge Hill Press, 1988) One of the stories in this book was about the young drummers and buglers on both sides of the war that served during the American Civil War. All of these boys were under 18 with one very special one being only nine years old. Here is his story…

After being told that the U.S. Army was not “enlisting infants”, John Lincoln Clem went from command to command in his attempt to serve his country. He finally found a home with the Twenty-second Michigan unit not as a member but as a mere tagalong. The men liked the boy though and before long they were “passing the hat each month to collect thirteen dollars for Johnny’s pay.” The men even found him an old drum and Johnny “became a Union drummer boy in every respect except for official enrollment.” However, once the real fighting began and by the time of Shiloh, he was enrolled. The newspapers made Johnny famous calling him “Johnny Shiloh”. Before long “Johnny Clem came to be admired throughout the North and hated everywhere in the South.”

“At Chickamauga, Johnny was a sight to see,” said an aide to Major General George H. Thomas. “When we decided to move in and break the Confederate siege, Johnny rode a caisson to the battle line. He waved a musket that someone had trimmed down to size for him…a Rebel chased the piece of artillery on which Johnny rode…he (the Rebel) shouted out, ‘Surrender, you damned little Yankee!’ Johnny Clem didn’t say a word. He just raised his sawed-off musket and took the fellow down.”

Now Johnny was touted as the “drummer boy of Chickamauga”.

Perhaps he had had enough of the horrors of battle and bloodshed, but a few months after this battle, Johnny left the field to become “a courier for the rest of the war.” When the war was over, Johnny applied to West Point “but couldn’t qualify because his education had ended during the third grade.” Never one to give up, Johnny appealed this decision.

When “General U.S. Grant, who had been Johnny’s commander at Shiloh” and was now the U.S. President heard of Johnny’s plight, he personally “bypassed the U.S. Military Academy” and gave him a Presidential appointment to “second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in December of 1871.”

In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, “and now, the rest of the story”…

The nine year-old drummer boy who just wouldn’t quit spent fifty-five years in the uniform of a United States soldier. He retired in 1916 as a Major General.

Fireworks and This Combat Veteran

fireworksOk. I was wrong. The conclusion of my last blog has been blown out of the water. To be honest, I’m glad. I’m glad that most people are not living in fear and jumping at every car backfire.

As a combat veteran, there is a special way I go about enjoying fireworks every year with my family. It has a lot to do with grounding myself in reality and in the present. To do this, I use what I call a “grounding point”; something, anything that did not and could not have existed during my combat service. When I’m feeling uncomfortable, I reassure myself by looking at this thing.

This year my grounding point was my youngest daughter. To know her is to know happiness and joy. She has a smile for everyone. But the best part about her? She did not exist and in no way reflects my combat service. Therefore, if she is with me and I can see her, then I am grounded solidly in the present.

The fireworks this year started like any others. They were beautiful and one even looked like Saturn! How they do that is beyond me. Anyways, things were good. I had a little trouble, as always, with the flash bangs, those that go up and then just boom with a bright ball of light, but my daughter casually reached over and held my hand. A little extra “grounding”. And then, toward the end of the fireworks, someone thought it would be funny to set off some kind of firecrackers in the parking lot. Whatever these firecrackers were, they sounded exactly like automatic rifle fire. And they were coming not from the fireworks in front of me but from my right flank. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I freaked and all thought of any “grounding point” was gone.

I immediately began to assess the threat when I realized that my family was with me. What the hell were they doing here? Total confusion set it. The soldier in me wanted to move toward the threat to better assess yet the parent in me wanted to get my family out of there. How in the hell could I be both at the same time? All my life the two things had been separate. Any threats I had faced had been oceans away from my family. Two different worlds.
I looked around at the people around us only to find them happily watching the continuing fireworks show. No one else appeared threatened. As I was trying to process and understand this observation, the finale began. The continuous booms and flashing lights left me a huddled, confused mess on the blanket until it ended. I do believe we were the first ones out of the parking lot.

Once home, my daughter came in to talk to me. She told me that after those firecrackers in the parking lot, she couldn’t enjoy the rest of the show. She said that with everything going on in the world, she just felt like a target sitting out there on the grass.

So the threats aren’t oceans away anymore. They are here and her fear is real though it saddens me. No one else seemed concerned. Have I done this to her? And now I have to also wonder…how will I be able to continue to take my family to public places while the soldier wars with the parent leaving both unable to function?

And back to therapy I go…..

Veteran’s Day

The daughter of my daughter in my story. At the age of 5, she is welcoming home her daddy from his most recent deployment. She is as tough as her momma.

The daughter of my daughter in my story. At the age of 5, she is welcoming home her daddy from his most recent deployment. She is as tough as her momma.

As we honor our veterans today, let us also remember that November is the National Month of the Military Family. Personally, I think that’s awesome timing.

As a combat veteran myself from a war that did not result in the institution of a draft, all the praise and “thank you’s” honestly make me a little uncomfortable. I’m a veteran of an all volunteer military force. I LOVED my job. Yes, I chose to do that job in service to my country. I love this country and was proud to serve it. Yes, I’m glad that there are people who couldn’t/didn’t serve who are thankful for the freedoms that we protect but when it comes right down to it, I could have chosen not to serve as well. That’s just one of the many freedoms we enjoy here in the United States of America. There is no compulsory service in peacetime as there is in other countries. As a matter of fact, our volunteer force is so large that you wouldn’t want to see the war that would require another draft.

BUT there is a group within the military community who don’t/didn’t have a choice. They are our children. They are the ones who deserve your thanks so much more. They give up their parents on a routine basis. Their dad or mom leaves for months on end and that child does not know if they will EVER see them again. Just imagine being that child. How would you tell your mom or dad “goodbye”? Well, I can tell you how mine did it. I was standing in the airport crying my eyes out as I was putting my little girls on a plane with their grandmother. As she was about to board the plane, my daughter came running back to me without a tear in her eye. I knelt down to her level, she put her little hand on my cheek and said these words…”Don’t worry about me, Mommy. You just go and be a good soldier.” With that she hugged me and ran back to board. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a hero.

So, the next time you see the child of a veteran, could you thank them, too? Let them know how much you appreciate that child’s sacrifice. A simple “thanks for supporting your mom/dad’s service” would mean an awful lot.

Amazing World of Service Dogs

service dogWhen I decided to write this blog on working/service dogs, I had no idea how little I knew about the subject. As a child, any thought of a working dog brought images of either a sheepdog watching his sheep (Sam Sheepdog with Wiley “Ralph” Coyote as they clocked in and out of “work” each day) or a Great Dane helping a bunch of meddling kids unmask the villain (you all know who that is). Probably, like most of you, this was the limit of my knowledge of working dogs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_u3YRZb74w

As I delved into the research for this project, I have learned that there is a difference between a service dog and a therapy dog with legal ramifications that would surprise you. A service dog is allowed to go everywhere and anywhere with its human while a therapy or emotional support animal (ESA) is not. They are two different things. First, only a dog may be recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a service animal. This grants that animal all the protections of the ADA. An ESA whether a dog or not may be prescribed by a doctor if the doctor thinks the individual would benefit from having a pet. According to www.servicedogcentral.org, some of the psychological benefits of having a pet are reduced stress levels, less loneliness, and better mental health overall. A doctor can write a request that the animal be allowed in residences where no pets are allowed. The animal can even fly in the cabin of an airplane even if it normally would not be allowed but that’s the limit. It can’t go in stores and restaurants with you. The rest of the world simply views your ESA as a pet.

Are you all indignant now? Upset and thinking that this just isn’t fair or right? Well, don’t be too hasty. This distinction is made to protect you, Joe and Jane Public. Let’s look at service dogs for a minute. What do they do?

” Effective March 15, 2011, under the Americans with Disabilities Act,

Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability…The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition

Service dogs have very specific tasks and are highly trained. For certification they must receive a minimum of 120 hours of training. That’s more hours than it takes to become a certified nurse’s assistant in the state of Indiana. And like a CNA, a service dog must pass a test to be certified. Part of that test is to have a big, juicy raw steak thrown at his feet and the dog has simply ignore it. Try that with your dog and let me know how it goes. This is to make sure that when you’re out in public, the service dog doesn’t lunge across the table to grab that ribeye off the next table and get little Timmy in the process. Emotional Support Animals (ESA) on the other hand only need to yearn for that ribeye from outside the restaurant. They actually need very little training. They have to be housebroken, non-threatening to others and not a nuisance (barking, destructive behavior).

For more information on the training that service dogs undergo, visit the link below:
http://www.iaadp.org/iaadp-minimum-training-standards-for-public-access.html

Since I have grown up, I have seen many more working dogs than just Sam and Scooby. Some good, some not so good. One that recently impressed me was at a convention on the convention floor. This dog stayed right next to its partner surrounded by hundreds of people and simply stared up at his human the whole time. The dog was wearing a service dog vest, I don’t know what his job was, but I could see that he was doing it diligently. NOTHING could distract this dog from what he was doing and what he was watching for. I was awed by such devotion and by a work ethic that hasn’t been seen since the 1950’s.

On the flip side, my mother told me about a convention she recently attended with a blind group. She used to take my grandmother and since she has passed away, my mom continues to go with her blind friend. My mom’s friend has a seeing eye dog who we shall call “Jazzy”. (Name has been changed to protect the innocent. The dog is the only one innocent in this story.) First, let me say that a service dog can be treated as a loved member of the family but only by the family and only at the direction of the dogs human partner. You see where this is going? My mom and everyone else in their group is always petting Jazzy, talking to her, etc. and Jazzy’s human allows this happen. This takes away Jazzy’s “edge” and dilutes what she has been trained to do by shifting her focus. At the convention, when it was time to head up to the rooms for the night my mom’s friend headed off with Jazzy. My mom happened to follow shortly behind. It was lucky she did. Jazzy led her partner to a downward staircase rather than to the elevator. It was really only a matter of time before it happened.

How you treat a service dog can have huge implications. When you come across one, you must remember that it is working. If you have small children, please instill this in their minds now while they are young. Never do anything that will interrupt a service dog while it is doing its task. Since you never know what that task is, like the dog I saw staring at its human, then please follow these simple rules:

Only speak to the person.
Do not touch, make noises at or even look at the service dog
Never ask if you or your children can pet the dog. Many people are just too nice to say “no”.
Never offer the dog food.

In closing, I’m going to take a minute to recognize one special working dog who represents the working dogs of the police and the military that we didn’t discuss. Those that risk their lives every day.

North at retirement with his human partner.

North at retirement with his human partner.

K-9 North retired on July 20,2014 after serving 8 1/2 years as a dual purpose patrol / narcotics detection dog. North, a black Czechoslovakian Shepherd and who is now ten years old, was forced into retirement due to recent health problems that affected his mobility. K-9 North, affectionately known by his fellow officers as “South” began active duty with his handler, Officer Mike Johnson on February 5, 2006. North’s career included over 1,000 drug arrests in which he was utilized for traffic, residential and school drug searches. North also made several felony tracking apprehensions of fleeing suspects sought by the department. He played a valuable role to the police department in the area of public relations by performing hundreds of K-9 public demonstrations for numerous school and civic groups.

By the way, I wasn’t slamming Certified Nursing Assistant’s (CNA’s) and certainly not specifically ones from Indiana as I was both. The work is hard, the pay is meager, that thanks are few, and the training I received was piss poor but that was also 22 years ago. I was just using it as a comparison.

Stolen Valor – Guest Blog by Russell L. Fisher, SSG, United States Army, Retired

DSC_0144Recently, I ran into an male in his early 40’s who was wearing a shirt bearing an image of a sight reticle from the scope of a rifle. Above this image was a slogan that read. “One Shot, One Kill”. Out of curiosity, I asked him if he was a pretty good shot. He said that he was, in fact, he had recently hit a beer bottle from 700 yards with his 30.06. Knowing this sounded pretty absurd, I asked “700 yards”? He replied, “Yes”. I asked him what power of a scope he had used. He responded that he hit it using open sights.

After 23 years of service, I have had my fair share of marksmanship training, and consider myself to be a decent sharpshooter though not anywhere near the expertise of a sniper. But I know that for someone to have hit a beer bottle at 700 yards, using open sights, then that beer bottle must have been 15 feet tall. I was afraid to ask the next question that immediately popped in my head, but I did. “Were you in the military?” I asked. I was expecting him to respond that he had been a sniper in the Marine Corps or United States Army and that he had 4,000 confirmed kills with a personnel file considered “Top Secret”. I was shocked when he responded that he had never been in the military at all. Feeling somewhat relieved, I told him to have a great day.

Although I felt his story of hitting a beer bottle at 700 yards using open sights was extremely exaggerated, he could have compounded it worse by telling me that he had been in the military along with some wild stories of hunting Osama Bin Laden, but he didn’t. Because there are individuals out there that have never served a day in the military yet try to pass themselves off as veterans; with Bronze Star’s, Silver Star’s, Purple Heart’s, Medal of Honor’s and other awards for Valor, Qualifications and Achievements. These individuals are known as Posers. Better yet, in the eyes of the law, many of these individuals are known as criminals. The Stolen Valor Act was created and signed into law by Congress to punish those individuals who are presenting themselves as something they are not.

The topic of Stolen Valor is a hot topic, particularly amongst veterans. There is an organization that has been a leader in publishing the actions of these posers. They do so on their Guardian of Valor website. (http://guardianofvalor.com) They also have a Facebook page entitled “Stolen Valor”. On their website, you will find their Hall of Shame. This area is reserved for some of the worst posers. The majority of the public that has never served in the military might not understand, but stolen valor is a hot topic amongst veterans?

During my 23 years of service, I never served one day in a combat environment though I served faithfully and honorably. I was part of a burial detail that conducted military burials for almost 5 years. I’ve seen the pain displayed by the family members of lost service members. To give one’s life in the service of their country is known as giving the ultimate sacrifice. I have had several brothers and sisters, with whom I served, deploy to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Panama, and Bosnia. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice, others are still suffering from the wounds they received. My own sister served in Kuwait during Desert Storm. Because of her service over there, she is still suffering medically. She has spent numerous weeks in VA hospitals trying to find out what is wrong with her. Finally, after years of pain and suffering, they have made a medical determination and she is receiving disability pay.

Understanding the pain and sacrifice so many have made is easy for me to grasp. When someone who has never spent one day in the military puts on a uniform and portrays themselves as a veteran, they are committing a criminal, fraudulent act in my eyes. They never spent a single day in a foxhole, never carried a 100 pound pack on their back during a road march, never ducked or jumped for cover with incoming rounds landing all around, never held the hand of a screaming soldier who had a leg blown off while waiting for a chopper, they’ve never faced the enemy in hand to hand combat and they have never even spent a year or more away from their family.

Why do these posers do it? For the most part, I think most of them do it for personal gain. The Stolen Valor Facebook page has a quote from George Washington that says “Guard against imposters of pretended patriotism”. That is what the Stolen Valor Act does. Want to know the saddest fact? Some of the posers don’t even bother to read the regulations to know how to wear the ribbons, medals, or other distinctive insignia correctly on the uniforms. You would think that if someone was going to try and commit fraud, they would want to do it right. Some of them look absolutely ridiculous.

Who are these posers? You wouldn’t believe who some of these people are. Candidates running for public office, and there have been several, are the ones that surprise me the most. If you’re running for public office and you are presenting yourself as something that you are not, wouldn’t you be concerned that your fraudulent act would be discovered? There have even been TV personalities on some of the survival skill reality shows that have been exposed.

Believe it or not, there are also posers within the military as well. I served with one such individual early in my career. About 10 years later we both ended up in the same unit again. This time he was wearing a Ranger Tab. I asked him when he went to Ranger School. He responded that he went in 1986. He even told me that he had participated in Operation Just Cause in 1989 with the 75th Ranger Battalion. I had my suspicions, but I let it go. One day, when we were getting ready to clear from a Field Training Exercise, I was collecting weapons and asked everyone to clear their weapon. As he approached me with his M16, he removed the magazine and pointed the rifle towards the ground and pulled the trigger. A round discharged. Immediately, I screamed some curse words and a brief investigation initiated. I began to question his Ranger Tab. I approached my First Sergeant and told him what happened, and that I did not believe this Staff Sergeant was, in fact, Ranger qualified. After contacting the Ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia, this Staff Sergeant was called in to the Commander’s Office and in front of the Commander, First Sergeant and Battalion Sergeant Major, he was ordered to remove the Ranger Tab.

Every real veteran that has served honorably knows what he or she has done in their career. Every real veteran knows what they have sacrificed. Every real veteran knows what it takes to serve honorably. Every real veteran knows what blood, sweat and tears they’ve shed. As for this veteran, when someone commits this fraudulent act, and they are exposed, it is a slap in the face to me and those that I served with. It is a slap in the face to those family members I remember seeing at the funerals, as we buried their loved one, and it is a slap in the face the one who gave that ultimate sacrifice.