No Veteran Left Behind Moves Forward with Smart Bikes

Navy veteran Rob Walker of No Veteran Left Behind shows a video promoting the Smart Bike developed by his organization and teens from the South-side of Chicago.

Navy veteran Rob Walker of No Veteran Left Behind shows a video promoting the Smart Bike developed by his organization and teens from the South-side of Chicago.

Bringing together veterans’ service organizations to share ideas and create networks was one of the goals of The Patterson Foundation’s Veterans Legacy Summit that concluded last weekend in Sarasota.

It brought one veteran to Florida to share how he’s using his mechanical background to inspire kids on Chicago’s South-side.

Rob Walker was a mechanic on a nuclear submarine before he left the Navy and became a lawyer. He’d just finished a big case and was on hiatus when he heard an NPR story by David Schaper in March 2011.

It detailed how the non-profit group, Leave No Veteran Behind, was providing safe passage to high school students on some of Chicago’s more menacing streets.

Two teens on the promotional video working to rebuild a bike.

Two teens on the promotional video working to rebuild a bike.

“I thought, you know what, I’m a Southside vet. I want to make my neighborhood better. I want to be part of the solution,” Walker said. “So, I reached out to them (No Veteran Left Behind) and I started out on a ‘Safe Passage’ route just like everybody else.”

Education is part of the Leave No Veteran Behind initiative as is using each veteran’s assets and training to benefit the community. So eventually, Walker developed a new program.

“Now, we’re doing a program where we’re teaching STEM or we like to call it STEAM where it’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics,” Walker said. “We’re taking these kids and we’re giving them skills they’re not getting from their typical education.”

And Walker’s teaching tool is not typical, but it is plentiful supply.

An instructor shows Chicago teenagers details on bike rebuilding as part of the No Veteran Left Behind Smart Bike Project.

An instructor shows Chicago teenagers details on bike rebuilding as part of the No Veteran Left Behind Smart Bike Project.

“We’re showing them how to take these abandoned, rusty bikes that are still all over our city and turn them back into state of the art machines with brand new componentry(sic),” Walker said.

The Smart Bike design has several high-tech features. One, the NuVinci N360, makes shifting gears as easy as “turning the dial on your stereo.”

It’s also tricked-out with a generator hub that powers an LED headlight and taillight as well as a USB port on the handlebars. So, once the bike is up to speed, you can charge your cell phone.

“While teaching these kids, we often heard they don’t have a place to plug in their cell phones,” Walker said. “So, the kids wanted a place to charge their phones.”

The promotional YouTube video, produced by Walker, touts that they teach more than science. They teach recycling “Southside style” and find potential anywhere.

Walker came to the Veterans Legacy Summit in Florida to network with other veterans’ organizations. He said the Leave No Veteran Behind Smart Bike program could be expanded beyond Chicago. The only drawback is money.

He said it can be expensive. The first Smart Bike cost $4000 to develop. But now that they have the prototype, Walker said the cost should drop by half. He has started a crowd-source campaign and produced the 2-minute YouTube video to promote the program.

The prototype Smart Bike developed by No Veteran Left Behind and South-side teens.

The prototype Smart Bike developed by No Veteran Left Behind and South-side teens.


A West Point Band Concert in the Sky

The West Point Band plays on stage at the Saturday national ceremony, Veterans Legacy Summit, at Sarasota National Cemetery.

Why is it that the “behind-the-scenes” stories captivate and entertain us sometimes more than the “real event?”

The West Point Band was a major participant in this weekend’s national celebration of Patriot Plaza at Sarasota National Cemetery. They played during the two-hour Veterans Legacy Summit program Saturday and again on  Sunday in a free concert.

Their music was as artistic and engaging as the artworks and architecture of their venue. And there was toe-tapping and clapping in unison from an entertained audience.

But what many there might not have known is that as the band was flying from New York to Florida, their pilot found out the musicians were aboard. They were then asked and agreed to play for their fellow passengers.

Here’s a YouTube video of that plane ride:

As much as I enjoyed the West Point Band’s music at Patriot Plaza, I love the fact that they shared some of that artistry with fellow travelers.



Afghanistan Combat Veteran Commemorates Patriot Plaza

wes_moore_croppedSaturday in Sarasota they’re holding the national commemoration of Patriot Plaza. It’s the 2800 seat amphitheater and art installation built to honor veterans and their families at Sarasota National Cemetery.

The keynote speaker for the capstone event is best-selling author Wes Moore – a former paratrooper and veteran of the Afghanistan War.

His book is titled “The Other Wes Moore.” He wrote it after discovering another young man by the same name, from the same city, with a similar background and about the same age. But instead of receiving a Rhodes Scholarship like he did, the other Wes Moore was sentenced to life in prison for murder.

He wanted to know why their similar lives were so divergent.

“The military for me was a remarkable experience. I grew in the military. It helped to change me, shape me and help me immeasurably,” Moore said. “Some of my fondest memories in my life thus far happened not when I was in a suit, or wearing jeans, but when I was wearing the uniform of the United States of America.”

Curiosity led the decorated combat veteran and White House Fellow to reach out to his Doppelganger. Their correspondence became the backbone for his book. And he said the best way to honor veterans is to do the same thing, reach out and ask about their individual stories.

One of the dozens of photographs depicting U.S. troops on the battlefront and the home front at Patriot Plaza, Sarasota National Cemetery.

“Often times what ends up happening in the fear of saying something incorrect, you end up saying nothing. No conversation takes place but the interpretation in the veterans’ community is that you don’t care,” Moore said.

That’s why he became executive producer of the PBS series “Coming Back with Wes Moore” – to tell some of the stories of struggle and success as wounded veterans work to find a new mission in civilian life.

The three part series, currently being broadcast on WUSF-TV, Channel 16, at 10 p.m. Sundays, shows how some veterans fight through physical pain and emotional setbacks.

“That’s what warriors do,” Moore said in the series. “It is what makes us different.”

And he told WUSF that veterans want to make a difference.

Part of the photographic art installations at Patriot Plaza, Sarasota National Cemetery.

Part of the photographic art installations at Patriot Plaza, Sarasota National Cemetery.

“We believe we have a lot to contribute. We believe that often times people look at the veteran community as if we’re challenges or as if we’re things that have to be solved,” Moore said. “We view ourselves very differently. We really do look at ourselves as assets that need to be leveraged.”

That’s the message that Moore will deliver Saturday at Patriot Plaza. He’s excited about revisiting the artwork there because it triggers an emotional response – that’s different for every individual.

The Patriot Plaza Celebrate Service & Sacrifice ceremony is scheduled at 2 p.m. and includes a speech by Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, the West Point Band and Moore. It’s free and open to the public, however, registration is required.

The WUSF Veterans Coming Home project also will be there as part of the Veterans Legacy Summit “Legacy Zone” at Patriot Plaza from 12:30-4:30 p.m. No registration is required. Stop by and see us.

WUSF Veterans Coming Home is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


A Belated Veterans Day Message from Overseas

Courtesy USMC

Courtesy USMC

I am sharing a message from one of my favorite Marines (and I know I’m not supposed to have favorites … but). He  is now in the private sector and currently overseas working with a private contractor.

Because he is not in the U.S., it makes his message even more powerful to his fellow Marines and the general public:

I wish all my fellow Veterans a great and safe Veterans Day and may you all take a few minutes to reflect on they days of past and really look at what you have and how if not for those that came before, we may not have those things today.

Every day I see Americans take the freedom they have for granted.

All I ask is for you to take a minute or two to reflect on sacrifices made by those who answer the call to serve. I’ll stand and fight with my fellow warriors so my family, friends, and our way of life will never cease to exist.

Fly those Flags everyday and paint our country in those beautiful colors.

SEMPER FI devil dogs happy belated birthday and to my brothers and sisters in other branches push on and never give up.

I too owe a belated 239th Happy Birthday to the U.S. Marine Corps.

10 Ways to Recognize Veterans’ Day

flag_homeHave you missed the Veterans’ Day parade or the ceremony at your local VA National Cemetery?

Well, there’s still time to show your appreciation for the men and women who have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Here are a few suggestions you can practice year-round:

  1. Fly the American Flag outside your home.
  2. Teach your children or grandchildren a patriotic song like America the Beautiful.
  3. Volunteer at your local VA facility.
  4. Write a letter or make a card to be delivered by Operation Gratitude which sends messages to active-duty deployed troops as well as veterans.
  5. Accompany a veteran on an Honor Flight, or be there to greet the veterans when they return.
  6. Participate in the Veterans History Project – the Library of Congress makes it easy with a step-by-step process.
  7. Visit Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Veterans Wall, or any of the other War Memorials or spend a quiet hour at your nearest National Cemetery.
  8. Sponsor a wreath for a veteran’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery for its 150th Anniversary or at your local VA cemetery through Wreaths Across America.
  9. Post a message of appreciation or photo from your Veterans’ Day on the WUSF Veterans Coming Home Welcome Wall.
  10. Check out the Military Avenue link on 101 Ways to Thank a Veteran.

A bonus suggestion: if you live with a veteran like I do, give him or her a hug and make their favorite meal for dinner.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s 100 Day Message

Newly appointed Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald, posted this YouTube video to talk directly to veterans about his first 100 days in office. He spent much of that time touring VA clinics, hospitals and other facilities to listen directly to veterans and staff.

His one conclusion, “There is no substitute for the VA.”

McDonald also appeared on the CBS show 60 Minutes:

Scott Pelley: How many employees do you think should be fired based on what you know?

Secretary McDonald: The report we’ve passed up to the Senate Committee and House Committee, has about 35 names on it. I’ve got another report that has over 1,000.

Scott Pelley: If 1,000 people need to go, give me a sense of what are some of the things that they did?

Secretary McDonald: We’re simplistically talking about people who violated our values.

You can watch that news segment here.

Florida Veterans Day Events 2014

Photo courtesy of United States American

Photo courtesy of United States American

Throughout Florida and the nation, events, special shows and business discounts are scheduled to recognize veterans, their families and those who currently serving. Keep checking back for updates.

A map of Veterans Day observances throughout the United States is provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs: Celebrate our Veterans this Veterans Day.  Participate in Veterans Day events across the country on Nov. 11, and join VA as we #ThankAVet on social media.

On the Washington D.C. Mall is The Concert for Valor at 7 p.m. It’s open to the public and free. You can watch it on HBO or take a photo of yourself with your hand over your heart send it to #TheConcertforValor.

Monday, Nov. 10, 2014

TAMPA – 10 a.m.– A tribute to those who have served is set at Joe chillura Courthouse Square, corner of Madison and Kennedy, in downtown. The keynote speaker is Vice Admiral Sean Pybus, U.S. Special Operations Command.

TAMPA – 1 p.m.Monroe Middle School, 4716 Montgomery Ave. Brigadier General Timothy McGuire, U.S. Army, is the guest of honor as students and staff honor veterans with a school-wide program. Robinson High School’s ROTC Honor Guard will participate as will the Monroe MS JROTC.

Tuesday, Nov. 11 – Veterans Day

ALL FLORIDA STATE PARKS – To celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, entry into all state parks is free to veterans and the general public as a tribute to Veterans Day. Here’s the list of state parks:

CLEARWATER – 9 a.m. – A dedication of the Clearwater Wall of Honor at the Clearwater Main Library, 100 N. Osceola Ave. The historical exhibit honors Clearwater’s World War I service members whose names were discovered during the renovation of the Capitol Theatre. Painted by hand on a bare brick face and sealed from view during the theatre’s original construction in 1920 and 1921. The Tampa Bay Veteran’s Alliance, Congressman David Jolly, Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos, City and Clearwater Library officials, members of the public and military veterans. Preceding the dedication ceremony there will be a special program sponsored by the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance.

TAMPA – 10 a.m. – James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Clinics, 13000 Bruce B Downs Blvd, host its 7th annual Veterans Day parade, classic car show and Welcome Home event on the hospital campus. It opens with a brief ceremony in front of the Fisher House followed by the parade with 70 units confirmed and grand marshall, U.S. Army Maj. Robert Kilmartin, awarded the Bronze Star Medal and two Purple Heart Medals. A cookout, sponsored by Operation Helping Hand, is planned afterward.

SARASOTA – 10 a.m. – The annual Veterans Day parade in downtown Sarasota to begin at Main Street and Osprey Avenue. At approximately 11 a.m., a ceremony at Chaplain J.D. Hamel Park, Main Street and Gulfstream Avenue, featuring keynote Michael Burns, a F-4 Phantom jet fighter pilot during Vietnam who was shot down and spent nearly five years as prisoner of war in Hanoi, Vietnam. The theme for the 2014 Veterans Day ceremony is “Honoring Those Who Served”.

ST. PETERSBURG – 11 a.m. – The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System will host its annual Veterans Day Ceremony at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center Campus, 10000 Bay Pines Boulevard North. Highlights: musical performances by the Keswick Christian School Choir; a special parade of colors; guest speakers U.S. Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, U.S. Central Command; U.S. Rep. David W. Jolly, and Suzanne M. Klinker, Director, Bay Pines VAHCS. A shuttle service will also be available to provide transportation for guest from parking lots to the ceremony area. For directions, click here.

SAINT LEO – 11 a.m. – A Veterans Day Commemoration, a free event open to the community, is planned at Saint Leo University, in the Student Community Center, 33701 State Road 52, four miles east of Interstate 75 (Exit 285) in the town of Saint Leo. The keynote speaker is K. Steven Collier, U.S. Army (Ret.), a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and upon retirement, Collier returned to Dade City and founded a company, Technology – Management & Innovative Solutions.

TAMPA – 11 a.m. – Veterans Day Remembrance at the Veterans Memorial Park and Museum, 3602 US Highway 301. Free and open to the public, the park includes memorials to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars among the many places you can pay tribute to those who have served.

TAMPA – 7 p.m. – Writers and U.S. Army veterans Brooke King and Lorie Jewell will read their prose and poetry at Inkwood Books, 216 S. Armenia Avenue. The reading is free and open to the public. King, an adjunct professor of English at Saint Leo University, served in the U. S. Army and deployed to Iraq in 2006 as a wheel vehicle mechanic, machine gunner, and recovery specialist. Jewell, of Land O’ Lakes, is a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Army and the Florida National Guard with three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.


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