Father Pledges to Honor His Children’s Lives and Memories

Calyx Schenecker, 16.

The following is a statement released by the Schenecker Family on Jan. 31, 2011:

Colonel Parker Schenecker has returned from his deployment and is grieving with family and friends.  He is devoted first and foremost to honoring the lives and memory of his beautiful children, Calyx and Beau. Parker and his family have been touched by the overwhelming support from the community both near and abroad. Arrangements and details are still being finalized with regard to the services to be held for Calyx and Beau.

Beau Schenecker, 13.

Tampa law officials say Julie Schenecker, the children’s mother and colonel’s wife, reportedly admitted shooting her two teenage children, Calyx and Beau, Thursday night. Col. Schenecker is assigned to MacDill’s Central Command and was deployed in the Middle East at the time.

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Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

The cadet leaders of The Citadel at a the Corps Day parade.

The Citadel is a “Leadership College.” I wasn’t sure what that meant until well into my son’s first year.  I went to a liberal arts university and the whole military college experience was foreign to me.  As I mentioned in my first entry, The Making of a Military Mom, when I don’t understand something I read about it and learn as much as I can to help take away the mystery so it ideally becomes less scary.

Senior Cadet Nelson Lalli leads the Bravo Company cadre into the barracks to meet the new cadet recruits.

During his first year, if I dared to question why something was done a certain way my son would reply, “Everything has a reason,” then he’d rattle off a list of things they do and the reason behind it.  Many of the tasks are designed to help them with skills they will need later in their careers. Memorizing certain facts and being able to report them at a moments notice in a military situation can be very important.

Between reading and talking with the parent volunteers with the Citadel Family Association, I started to gain insights into the leadership training model used at The Military College of South Carolina.

Another helpful experience was attending the Ethics Seminar my son attended Sunday mornings instead of chapel.  All first year cadets, or knobs as they are called, attended a religious service of their choice or they could attend the Ethics Seminar.  Our family belongs to a Presbyterian Church, and I am a seminary graduate. My son decided that first year at The Citadel that the Ethics Seminar was his choice.

On Parent’s Weekend that first year, when everyone was attending chapel or religious services with their son/daughter, I attended the Ethics Seminar with my son.  A retired Marine officer led the discussion that morning.  They discussed events of the past week. The cadets were asked to give examples of a situation with an upper class cadet officer and why they thought it was a good or poor example of leadership.  I was impressed with the level of thoughtful discussion and engagement the cadets had in the discussion.

Bravo Company cadre and the new cadet recruits march to their first meal in the Mess Hall.

When second semester started I began to learn about the cadet leadership model and how they go about becoming cadet officers.  The book “Sword Drill” by David Epps was very helpful for me understanding the thought process a cadet goes through when challenging themselves to reach for a position in the chain of command.

A real understanding hit me at the end of that first year.  My daughter and I went for a weekend visit.  We took my son and a friend out for brunch.  Toward the end of the meal my son and his friend began to discuss their week ahead.  They talked about the rank board meeting, the meeting where they are asked why they want to be a certain rank, their schedules, and how they had to proceed.  As I listened to their conversation it hit me.  These two college freshman were discussing their schedules like two young business men.  They weren’t talking about parties, or what class they would skip, but rather when the review board was rumored to be and what they had to do to prepare.

In the years after that first year, I’ve observed each new class go through the process of growing up and taking responsibility for their path at The Citadel. Not everyone wants to rise through the ranks. Some are senior privates.

The cadet leadership of Bravo Company signing up a new cadet on Matriculation Day.

Most cadets, even the ones who do not have rank, take on some type of leadership role during their time as cadets. They may be athletes,  involved with an academic or professional society, participate in an ROTC activity or other campus activites.

The graduates of The Citadel leave the school prepared to take on life’s challenges. As stated on the Leadership & Ethics section of their web site, “Graduates of The Citadel succeed because they know what it takes to meet a challenge in any field: “patience and persistence, discipline and determination, teamwork and hard work.”

Dorie Griggs has contributed previous blog entries about her journey as the mother of a Citadel cadet. You can read her previous submissions:

The Making of a Military Mom

Mom Readies for Son’s Military College

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

 How the Citadel Ya-Yas Came to be

Everybody Processes Grief Differently

“Everybody processes grief differently” some need to talk, others need quiet. As a journalist, I needed to acknowledge the tragedies of this week and find resources to help.

That wisdom comes from my friend with a masters in divinity, Dorie Griggs. I emailed her Friday looking for guidance on my reporting after learning the news that a mother and military spouse was accused of killing her two teenage children while her husband was on an overseas assignment.

The Tampa Bay community was already raw with emotion.

For the MacDill Air Force Base “family” of military and civilian personnel, the cavalcade of events started a week ago Friday with the loss of Col. David Haar, commander of MacDill’s 6th Air Mobility Wing Maintenance Group. His death was from natural causes, but it was unexpected. His loss came just as his MacDill team was starting a week-long exercise on Operational Readiness.

The community was further impacted by Monday’s shootout in a St. Petersburg neighborhood that left two police dead, a U.S. marshal wounded, the suspect dead and a house destroyed.

Just as the St. Petersburg officers were being memorialized, across the bay authorities were releasing details about Julie Schenecker who reportedly admitted to deputies that she shot and killed her two children, Calyx Schenecker, 16, and Powers Beau Schenecker, 13. Their father, Army Col. Parker Schenecker, is assigned to MacDill’s Central Command and was in Qatar at the time.

I could see people trying to make sense out of these unexplainable events as they wrote comments on local blogs and Facebook pages. Here again Dorie offered me balance.

“A lot of things just don’t make sense” and trying to apply reason to an illogical act can be frustrating, time consuming and unsuccessful.

What got lost in this week’s tragic events – Friday marked the 31st Anniversary of the sinking of the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn as the buoy tender was leaving Tampa Bay. The Coast Guard lost 50 crew members that day, Jan. 28, 1980.

Dorie’s specialty is working with reporters who cover traumatic events. I was not traumatized, but I was concerned that my reporting not add to the community’s  open wounds. She warned against speculation especially as people seek to find a motivation or reason for events. More importantly, Dorie assured me that it’s okay to not have the answers.

Bottom line, everyone is going to have to deal with these tragedies individually. My instinct as a journalist is to find resources for people who may need help dealing with this collective loss.

The VA offers advice on The Effects of Community Violence on Children.

Dorie pointed me to The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma which offers a wealth of material:

Resources for journalists covering violence

How news coverage of trauma impacts the public

Violence: Comparing Reporting and Reality

Unraveling Media and Trauma Connections

And there’s a Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard report on Trauma in the Aftermath.

Oprah, First Lady Focus on Military Families

Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey, courtesy of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

The number, 5, 892 deaths, and the longest war in American history: two facts Oprah opened her January 27th show with.  This show was aptly titled “The Bravest Families In America.”  Tom Brokaw started his portion of the show with a simple statement, if you don’t know someone fighting then you can’t care and you don’t think about the sacrifice these families are making.

It’s true. How could you possibly understand the sacrifice when you hear the statistics, less than 1 percent of our population is bearing 100 percent of the battle.  This number is astonishing to me. I suppose that may be because I have been surrounded with the 1 percent my entire life.

Corey and Jenny, courtesy of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

On the Oprah Show, we first meet Corey Briest and his beautiful family.  Corey was wounded by an IED and three of his fellow soldiers did not survive the attack.  This family is living every military family’s nightmare.  My tears flowed freely as Corey’s wife Jenny explained that Corey used to read to their daughter, but now she reads to him.  I imagined what if this were Brian and of course my tears flowed with even more force.   Jenny said, “This is the love of my life and I am going to do anything for him.”  With that one phrase, Jenny Briest summed up every military spouses’ feelings precisely.

Throughout the program my phone chimed several times, my fellow spouses texting me, asking if I was crying as hard as them. My friend Alaina saying, “They are ‘ARMY STRONG’ amazing.”  I couldn’t help but smile.  She is right. They are a great example of what our Army’s slogan represents.

Every few months Theresa visits her son's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

Then there was Theresa, who will never stop mourning the loss of her son Michael.  When she pulled “Corduroy” out to read to her son, my heart sank.  My mom read that book to me and I read it to my babies.  I will never again read my girls that book without think of the young fallen hero who rests in section 60 of Arlington, the saddest acre in America.

I was happy that Oprah finally called some attention to the things military families endure. However, why did it take Tom Brokaw coming to her to dig deeper?

In order to cover all the bases, the show also portrayed a blue star family, the Blackmore’s.  I was thankful they included this aspect, as I can relate deeply.  Carmen Blackmore is involved with her FRG (Family Readiness Group) and has moved  a good number of times.

The Blackmore family's home is any where the Army sends them.

When Carmen showed her “Home is where the Army sends us” sign I actually looked at my mom and told her how cute it was.   I felt for Carmen, when she said they want a third child but they are going to wait because her husband is deploying and if they got pregnant right now he would miss the first year.

My husband has missed the first year for both of our children.  This is our reality. With all of this said, this segment left me very frustrated.  They just scratched the surface of what blue star families endure.  I think Oprah could probably produce an entire mini series showing the ins and outs of military families’ daily lives and how we are one huge family helping each other through everything.

The show repeatedly pointed out how isolated military families are and how blind a majority of America is to our lifestyle. This is a start, but there is still so much more to tell. The producers didn’t show a pregnant wife’s pride, crying during the National Anthem,  because her husband is part of the 1 percent.  They didn’t show the little kids who think their parent is just at “work” while they are thousands of miles away.

Oprah neglected to show how the military community comes together to help each other with the kids, the house and just daily life.  There was only a passing mention of how much military families give back to the civilian community.

Much of the show focused on wounded warriors and gold star families, as well it should. However, blue star families make up the majority of the military.  And while they mentioned there are problems other than physical wounds and/or death, they could have gone deeper.

How do we cope with the anxiety of our soldier coming home?  How do we work through PTSD etc.  Michelle Obama said that while on the campaign trail she was made aware of such families, and we became her mission. But, why did it take two years to launch this initiative?

First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah are working to raise awareness of the sacrifices military families make for the country.

Oprah and Michelle Obama asked the rest of the country to think about what they can do to help military families. Michelle Obama actually said people don’t know we need help because we don’t ask. I suspect she meant that it was a point of pride for military families to be self suficient, but that’s not the way it came off sounding to me.

I thought, do we really need help?  Awareness yes, kind thoughts and generosity sure, but help?  I guess there is always room for improvement, ha, higher pay, aid to military members who own homes in other states, better jobs for spouses, child care that is affordable so the spouse can work etc. Michelle Obama said she is trying to get military spouses better employment options.

But when Oprah asked what can American’s do to help us, Michelle Obama’ suggested “a girls night out” and “manicures.” While this show touched me, made me cry and made my heart ache, I also had a few “What the heck Oprah?!” moments.

Anyone wishing to show support for military families can go to serve.gov to learn more.

Jackie Dorr is an Army spouse, mother of two, president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and contributor to Off the Base.  Her other entries include:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

“I Love You the Mostest!” an Army Spouse Goodbye

The Day I Saw My Future Husband Cry

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

Meet a Member of the New, Greatest Generation

Whenever her spirits needed lifting, 1st Lt. Becky Heyse (center) would visit the girl's school in Zabul Province.

This week, the commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, wrote a letter to his troops. In it, he called them the New Greatest Generation. One member of that generation is 1st Lt. Becky Heyse who recently returned from a nine month deployment in Afghanistan.

Heyse always wore a scarf when she met with Afghan women as a sign of solidarity.

Heyse, formerly assigned to the MacDill Air Force Base Public Affairs Office, served on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in one of Afghanistan’s most conservative regions, Zabul Province. Her team worked with village elders and government appointed officials to improve infrastructure things like repairing schools and providing government services.

“That mentoring role, that really being on the frontlines in the sense of building the government and really helping them develop the government helping them develop their capabilities. It was very, very rewarding,” Heyse said.

Heyse and members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team meet with Zabul Province officials.

A member of an Air Force communications group, Heyse saw members of her PRT team, like computer network specialists, taking the lead on foot patrols. Two team members were killed by a suicide bomber during her tour. 

Like them, Heyse was trained and also went on foot patrols to get out into the villages where there was a strong Taliban influence. She said they did not anticipate the intimidation that villagers live with daily.

Heyse's PRT unit routinely met with villagers in Zabul Province to hear their concerns and learn their needs.

“My commander, he likened it to somewhat of a Nazi Germany paranoia where you don’t know exactly who is the Taliban,” Heyse said. “And so when the night comes and the Taliban comes into the villages, we knew that two kilometers outside of the capital city the Taliban went into the villages and pulled the people out of their houses and intimidated them and sometimes tortured, sometimes beat the elders.” 

The challenge for Heyse and PRT members was to help villagers overcome that intense fear. She said some days for every step forward there were five steps back. Yet, they had some successes. 

Interns hold up their training completion certificates. Heyse's PRT started the internship program in Zabul Province that trains and places English speaking, Afghan high school graduates in government agencies. A step toward getting Afghans to begin to trust their government.

They set up an internship program where young, English speaking, literate Afghan high school graduates were tested, trained and assigned to government agencies. She said it re-energized older government workers who had about an 80 percent vacancy in many agencies.

“One of the biggest and perhaps most unexpected was a way for the average Zaboli to connect to the government,” Heyse said. “These kids would go home to their parents and talk about what they were doing with the government.”

A look at the training - teaching interns customer service, how to analyze problems and respond.

There were 30 interns in their first class. The PRT were planning to hire 40 to 50 more in the second round. But, Heyse said more than 200 showed up to take the test which had to be administered in the parking lot of the governor’s office because they didn’t have big enough room. Heyse said that showed the younger generation’s enthusiasm for building a new government.

Shortly after  returning to MacDill, Heyse got a new Permanent Change of Station, PCS, to Hawaii. But, she’s pretty sure she will be re-deployed to Afghanistan in the future and will go willingly.

You can listen to Heyse’s interview on WUSF 89.7.

Petraeus, Mortenson Assess Afghanistan Progress

Gen. David Petraeus

“Hard-won progress” has been acheived in Kabul, Helmand and Kandahar Provinces states Gen. David Petraeus in a letter to the troops dated Jan. 25, 2011.

“To be sure, nothing about the past year’s achievements was easy,” Petraeus writes. “To the contrary, our successes entailed hard fighting, tough losses and periodic setbacks along the way.”

The three page letter is addressed to the Soldiers, Sailors, Mariners, Coast Guardsmen and Civilians of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It outlines their core objectives, strategies and accomplishments as well as laying out the road ahead.

“Your versatility, skill, determination and courage have truly been the stuff of history,” Petraeus writes ending with this paragraph, “As always, thank you for your extraordinary service, sacrifice, skill and resolve. Each of you is part of your country’s New Greatest Generation and it is the privilege of a lifetime to serve with you in this critical endeavor.”

Greg Mortenson with Afghan students in Wakhan, 2006.

Another sign of progress in Afghanistan came to light last week when best selling author, Greg Mortenson, visited Sarasota. Author of “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools,” Mortenson offered his assessment of progress in Afghanistan to the audience gathered to hear his lecture at the Van Wezel Hall.

“In 2000, there were 800,000 Afghan children, most of them boys, in school.” Mortenson said. “Now, there are 8 million and 2.8 million are girls.”

Mortenson’s non-profit organization, Pennies for Peace, has helped to build 174 schools in rural Afghan and Pakistan villages and several dozen temporary schools for children displaced by floods and other disasters.

National advocate for wounded troops to speak in Tampa

Lee Woodruff is a rock star in the military community especially among those who have followed her husband Bob’s amazing journey to recovery after the convoy he was in was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006.  The ABC News co-anchor and reporter was on assignment in Taji, Iraq, about 12 miles north of Baghdad when he suffered severe head injuries and wounds to his upper body.

http://vimeo.com/3008107

A national advocate for wounded servicemembers and their families, Lee will be in Tampa on March 10, 2011 to speak at a special conference for family and professional caregivers of polytrauma patients.

Lee Woodruff, author and co-founder of The Bob Woodruff Foundation and ReMIND.org.

Just a few weeks after my husband Rex returned from Afghanistan we got a call from the American Red Cross Tampa Bay Chapter asking if Rex could participate in this special conference. He immediately agreed and we’ve been helping out with organizing the conference ever since; Rex will serve as the event emcee. Now that event, the Second Annual Pathways to Resilience Caregivers Conference, is almost here offering various sessions and special presentations about intimacy, spirituality, coping and the reality of caregiving. The event is sponsored by the James A. Haley VA Hospital, the University of South Florida and the American Red Cross Tampa Bay chapter along with the very active American Red Cross student club at USF.

Lee co-wrote the best-selling book “In an Instant” with her husband Bob. This book is a compelling and at times quite funny description of her family’s journey to recovery. Along the way she and her husband started The Bob Woodruff Foundation (for more go to ReMIND.org), a national nonprofit that helps ensure the nation’s injured servicemembers, veterans and their families return to a homefront ready to support them. One the organization’s key goals is to educate the public about the needs of injured service members, veterans and their families as they reintegrate into their communities. Lee speaks to groups nationwide to raise awareness of traumatic brain injury and the sacrifices of our military and their families. And her husband Bob is back to work at ABC News and frequently covers the military in his critically acclaimed series Woodruff Reports.

This daylong conference will be held at the Marshall Student Center ballroom at the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus on March 10, 2011. To sign up, please follow this link.

Why have the conference in Tampa? Because Tampa is home to the James A. Haley VA Hospital where some of the nation’s most severely wounded servicemembers come to seek treatment at the Tampa Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center. It’s one of just four specialty facilities designed to provide intensive rehabilitative care to veterans and servicemembers who experienced severe injuries (including brain injuries) to more than one organ system.

Polytrauma is defined as two or more injuries sustained in the same incident that affect multiple body parts or organ systems and result in physical, cognitive, psychological, or psychosocial impairments and functional disabilities. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) frequently occurs as part of the polytrauma spectrum in combination with other disabling conditions, such as amputations, burns, pain, fractures, auditory and visual impairments, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions. When present, injury to the brain is often the impairment that dictates the course of rehabilitation due to the nature of the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral deficits related to TBI.

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