Medal of Honor Recipient Leroy Petry Is on A New Mission

MSgt. Leroy Petry (right) took time to greet everyone who stood in line to meet him and take a photograph.

MSgt. Leroy Petry (right) took time to greet everyone who stood in line to meet him and take a photograph.

Living Medal of Honor recipients are somewhat rare. There are only 79 living out of nearly 3,500 recipients since the highest military honor was created during the Civil War.

So, it was no surprise that 200 students, veterans and members of the public came out to hear Medal of Honor recipient Master Sergeant (Ret.) Leroy Petry deliver the keynote address at the University of South Florida Veterans Day Ceremony in Tampa.

An estimated crowd of 200 helped celebrate Veterans Day on Tuesday at the University of South Florida.

An estimated crowd of 200 helped celebrate Veterans Day on Tuesday at the University of South Florida.

After his 20 minute speech, numerous veterans stood in line waiting patiently to greet the Army Ranger personally, shake his hand and take a photo with him. Later the Medal of Honor recipient visited with members of the USF football team to talk about resiliency.

Resiliency is something Petry knows about.

On May 26, 2008 as a weapons squad leader in Afghanistan, Petry was shot in both legs as his unit was clearing a courtyard. Two Rangers, wounded by a grenade, were next to him.

Petry saw a second grenade near his men. He picked it up to throw it clear and the grenade exploded severing his right hand. Petry’s training kicked in. He applied his own tourniquet and then got on the radio to call for support. Later, he refused medical care until medics cared for the other wounded first.

Petry retired just a few months ago. And like many of the student veterans in the audience, he is taking on a new mission college and spending more time with family.

Army Ranger MSgt. Leroy Petry.

Army Ranger MSgt. Leroy Petry.

“I have served eight tours and I know that sounds like a lot, but I’d love to be nowhere else but with my guys right now who just returned from trip number 17 overseas,” Petry told the crowd. “They want and are still making a difference.”

He said in an interview afterward that the toughest part of transitioning into civilian life is balancing his drive to be with his battle buddies versus spending time with his family.

“I had an opportunity to go overseas with some guys and it was over Halloween and this might be my son’s last year trick-or-treating,” Petry said. “I had to choose one or the other.”

He chose to spend Halloween with his youngest son.

The hardest part of his retirement as a Medal of Honor recipient has been managing his time. He has to balance requests for appearances with time for his family and education.

The Color Guard opened the Veterans Day Ceremony at USF sponsored by the Student Veterans Association and Office of Veterans Services.

The Color Guard opened the Veterans Day Ceremony at USF sponsored by the Student Veterans Association and Office of Veterans Services.

“I know this award has kind of put me in a different spot where that will come first. But I don’t want to be known only as ‘Leroy Petry Medal of Honor recipient,” Petry said. “I want to be known as ‘Hey! That’s a good guy over there just helping me out,’”

Petry starts a new chapter this January when he heads back to college to study economics.  He will still do public appearances. And he’ll shake hands – with his prosthetics hand – and take photos with all who ask – just like he did with countless veterans and students at USF.

You can listen to MSgt. Leroy Petry’s full speech here.

More U.S. Troops Headed to Iraq to Advise and Train

An F/A-18 Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the ship conducts flight operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Oct. 27, 2014. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex King

An F/A-18 Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the ship conducts flight operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Oct. 27, 2014. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex King

Based on a request from the Iraqi government and a force assessment from US Central Command, additional American troops are headed to Iraq according to a report in the New York Times.

President Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 American troops to Iraq in the coming months, the Defense Department said on Friday, a move that will double the number of those sent to advise and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the battle against the Islamic State.

The Pentagon also said that American military advisers would establish a number of additional training sites across Iraq, in a significant expansion of the American military campaign against the Sunni militant group in Iraq and Syria. Officials in the office of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that a number of American military personnel would deploy specifically to Anbar province.

The new forces will be sent in two groups, one to advise Iraqi commanders and the second to train Iraqi soldiers.

The Department of Defense News reports there has been “significant” progress three months since the start of U.S. airstrikes against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) forces.

“I think we’re having a significant effect on the ISIL element,” Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, told an audience at the Atlantic Council. “The question is, how soon can we get the Iraqis to develop a capability to do what they need to do to sustain the effects and conditions that we’re going to create.”

Art Therapy in Action at Veterans Open Mic Night

Veterans Open Mic night with co-hosts playwright Linda Parris-Bailey (center) and Andrea Assaf (right).

Veterans Open Mic night with co-hosts playwright Linda Parris-Bailey (center) and Andrea Assaf (right).

Beyond the battlefield and the barracks, some of Florida’s 1.5 million veterans have had trouble transitioning to civilian life. Yet, there are signs that poetry, art, music and performance are helping veterans adjust.

With Veterans’ Day approaching, we bring you their stories this week in a special edition of Florida Matters.

These are highlights from the October 2014 <a href=”http://art2action.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/veterans-open-mic-flyer-2014-vfp.pdf”>Veterans Open Mic Night</a> at Tampa’s <a href=”http://www.sacredgroundstampa.com/”>Sacred Grounds Coffee House</a>. Military veterans meet there every first Sunday to share their talents and stories.

Cheldyn Donovan is a Vietnam Veteran who has experienced homelessness, PTSD, social phobia, but he finds playing the guitar eases his symptoms.

Cheldyn Donovan is a Vietnam Veteran who has experienced homelessness, PTSD, social phobia, but he finds playing the guitar eases his symptoms.

The WUSF <em>Veterans Coming Home</em> project partnered with <a href=”http://art2action.org/veterans-in-tampa/”>Art-2-Action Tampa Veterans</a> to bring you this evening of poetry and music with military veterans.

The emcees for the evening were Andrea Assaf, director of Art-2-Action, and guest playwright Linda Parris-Bailey who wrote the play, Speed Killed My Cousin, about returning veterans.

The highlights feature veterans Charla  Gautierre, Cheldyn Donovan and Marc Reid. Listen below to the Florida Matters 30-minute special show featuring the veterans as performers which aired Nov. 4 and Nov. 9, 2014.

 

VA Secretary: Our National Cemeteries Should Be Shrines

Patriot Plaza at night. Photo by Steven Brooke courtesy of The Patterson Foundation.

Patriot Plaza at night. Photo by Steven Brooke courtesy of The Patterson Foundation.

There’s one section of the VA that gets really high marks. The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) is ranked first in the American Customer Satisfaction Index which surveys private businesses as well as other government agencies.

There are 131 national cemeteries. Florida has seven — with others on the way.

Just one of dozens of photographs showing service members from the Civil War through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Just one of dozens of photographs showing service members from the Civil War through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

But VA Secretary Bob McDonald said the Sarasota National Cemetery is a showcase among VA cemeteries because of Patriot Plaza. The $12 million amphitheater and art installations was funded by The Patterson Foundation of Sarasota. The hope is that it will become a model for other communities to turn their veteran cemeteries into a place of honor and contemplation.

“We want our national cemeteries to be shrines,” McDonald said, “Shrines that really demonstrate the care of our American people for our veterans.”

McDonald believes the Sarasota National Cemetery is such a showcase, or shrine, with its Patriot Plaza Amphitheater and numerous art installations worth $12 million, all privately funded by the Patterson Foundation based in Sarasota.

“They have done an outstanding job choosing the artwork in that facility,” McDonald said. “There are photographs- for me as veteran, an airborne ranger, that capture many of the situations I’ve been in.”

The stone plinths that hold the photographic exhibit are carved from the same marble as the veterans' headstones.

The stone plinths that hold the photographic exhibit are carved from the same marble as the veterans’ headstones.

The Patterson Foundation funded Patriot Plaza and the public art to create a place for “deep experience” at the Sarasota National Cemetery, said Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of the Patterson Foundation.

“By having Patriot Plaza, those who come to visit family, those who come now to visit the art, they will each have their own private time and space for reflection and experiencing and affirming why we live in the greatest country on the globe,” Jacobs said.

The Patterson Foundation partnership with NCA is the first of its kind among the 131 cemeteries run by the VA. Jacobs hopes Sarasota’s Patriot Plaza will serve as a model for others to follow.

One of the eagle sculptures that guards a side entrance into Patriot Plaza. Just beyond are the seals for all branches of the Armed Forces.

One of the eagle sculptures that guards a side entrance into Patriot Plaza. Just beyond are the seals for all branches of the Armed Forces.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, called it a “perfect partnership.”

“That facility down there from start to finish was magnificently designed. And then, to have an organization to come in and put the money behind it, a private organization,” Miller said. “Public-private partnerships work.”

Miller added that Patriot Plaza gives people an opportunity to learn about freedom and the sacrifice of those who serve to defend the country.

To celebrate Patriot Plaza and in honor of Veterans Day, the Patterson Foundation is sponsoring a national, Veterans Legacy Summit Nov. 14-15 which is designed to build connections for veterans and military families.

All the summit events are free from the film festival and discussion panels to performances by the West Point Band and the keynote address by best-selling author Wes Moore. However, registration is required for the Veterans Legacy Summit.

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

Patriot Plaza is integrated into the pastoral setting of the Sarasota National Cemetery.

Patriot Plaza is integrated into the pastoral setting of the Sarasota National Cemetery.

Seeking Solutions to Veteran Suicide

crisis_line_veteransVeteran suicide is a real and present problem in the community. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that on average 22 veterans die by suicide every day.

That’s a straightforward statistic for a very complex problem.

Calling it a growing and troublesome trend, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor of Tampa organized a roundtable to discuss what is being done in the Tampa Bay area to prevent veteran suicide.

“The suicide rate among veterans age 18-24 has skyrocketed 70 percent during the past three years,” Castor told a gathering of about 50 mental health experts, researchers and veteran advocates at James A. Haley VA Hospital.

One thing Castor said she learned is that the group needed to be broadened to include active-duty military to help fight the stigma associated with asking for help.

Depression, financial debt, domestic disputes, a traumatic combat experience – any number of problems can contribute to a veteran feeling that suicide is the only way out.

Carmen Genovese, a licensed professional counselor with the Haley Suicide Prevention Team, said studies have shown that only 10 percent of veterans who commit suicide have been in combat and only 40 percent had deployed.

“The biggest problem I would say that keeps veterans from calling the Crisis Line is that they think they have to be suicidal or homicidal to call,” Genovese said. “That’s why they changed the name a few years ago.”

Genovese was among the mental health experts who attended the roundtable. Prior to coming to Haley, he worked at the Veterans Crisis Line in upper New York state.

Another item Castor gathered from the discussion is that the crisis line is for families and friends trying to get help for a troubled veteran.

“Families have got to understand where they can turn and it may not be a suicide. But it might be some economic challenge or a health challenge and there are folks who can assist,” Castor said.

She called on the attendees to share ideas and stay connected so they can maximize efforts to let veterans, active-duty military and their families where to get help.

Listen to a story from November 2013 featuring the HBO documentary that went behind the scenes at the Veterans Crisis Line and talked with the responders who field the calls for help.

Camp Leatherneck Transfered to Afghan National Army

Marines and sailors with Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan load onto a KC-130 aircraft on the Camp Bastion flightline, Oct. 27, 2014. The Marine Corps ended its mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, the day prior and all Marines, sailors and service members from the United Kingdom withdrew from southwestern Afghanistan.

Marines and sailors with Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan load onto a KC-130 aircraft on the Camp Bastion flightline, Oct. 27, 2014. The Marine Corps ended its mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, the day prior and all Marines, sailors and service members from the United Kingdom withdrew from southwestern Afghanistan.

Another chapter in the Afghanistan War closed today as U.S. Marines, sailors and British forces left Helmand Province and transferred Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion to the Afghan National Army 215th Corps.

Regional Command Southwest is the first of the International Security Assistance Force commands to transfer authority to the Afghan national security forces as ISAF moves toward the Resolute Support mission that begins in 2015 according to a Department of Defense news release.

During the past year, Bosnia, Estonia, Denmark, Georgia, Jordan and Tonga ended their operations in Regional Command Southwest.

A 93-Year-Old Veteran Turned Away at Early Voting

vote-hereWith stricter voting identification laws in place, an election judge in Texas reports he had to turn away a 93-year-old veteran because his driver’s license was expired and the veteran had never applied for a VA identification card, according to a report from Think Progress.

Election judge William Parsley on Sunday said he has only seen one potential voter turned away at his polling location, the Metropolitan Multi-Services Center in downtown Houston.

“An elderly man, a veteran. Ninety-three years old,” Parsley, an election judge for the last 15 years, told ThinkProgress. “His license had expired.”

Under Texas’ new voter ID law, one of the strictest in the nation, citizens are required to present one of seven forms of photo identification to vote. The identification can be a Texas-issued driver’s license, a federally-issued veteran’s ID card, or a gun registration card, among other forms. Licenses can be expired, but not for more than 60 days.

… And though he had “all sorts” of other identification cards with his picture on it, they weren’t valid under the law — so the election judges told him he had to go to the Department of Public Safety, and renew his license.

“He just felt real bad, you know, because he’s voted all his life,” Parsley said.

It was earlier this month that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the new, Texas voter ID laws to stand.

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