Florida Guard: Coming Off Active Duty, Looking for Work

Finding a job is a concern for many Floridians with the state’s unemployment rate above the national average. But, the jobless rate is even higher among returning National Guard members and Reservists according to the Florida National Guard.

Members of Florida's 53rd Brigade returned in December 2010 having been deployed to Iraq and Kuwait since January.

About 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Brigade returned home in December after serving a year in Kuwait and Iraq. And many will transition from military service to looking for a job.

Ron Tittle, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard, was there when Florida’s governor asked how many in the 53rd would be unemployed and  looking for work when they came off active duty. Tittle estimates 30-to-40 percent raised their hand.

“Now as far as the numbers, I think its settled down to somewhere around 20 percent of that deployed unit,” Tittle said. “That’s kind of a sense across the board what we’re dealing with and trying to address. You know we’re just trying to reach out and lean forward to make sure we’re doing all we can do to make jobs available.”

So the Florida National Guard cosponsored a military job fair for veterans and returning Guard and Reservists.

But its tough in the current job market.

A recent report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee found unemployment highest among the most recent veterans:

  • Veterans who served on active duty since September 2001 have the highest unemployment rate. In 2010, the unemployment rate for these veterans averaged 11.5 percent, compared to the overall veteran-unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, and 9.4 percent unemployment rate for nonveterans.
  • New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the unemployment rate of Post-9/11 veterans at 10.9 percent in April, 2.2 percentage points lower than it was one year ago.

A recent New York Times article cites critics who say proposed changes in labor laws to require better reporting and collecting of veteran hiring data does not do enough. A Department of Labor web site is taking comments on the proposed changes through July 11th.

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A Military Mom Meets Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, IV

Bill Maddox greets Lt. Gen Caldwell.

Every once in a while I have the opportunity to meet some interesting and sometimes very important people.  Today  (Tuesday) was one of those days thanks to an Atlanta Press Club luncheon.

The guest speaker was Lt. Gen William Caldwell, Commander, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan/ Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan.  I attended because of my growing interest in all things military.  Now that my son is a second lieutenant, I take any opportunity I can to learn more about our involvement in conflict areas. I arranged to meet some friends there one who used to serve with the General 30 years ago when they were both Captains.

Dorie Griggs with Lt. Gen. Caldwell.

I arrived early to stake out good seats.  Fortunately, it worked and we sat very close to the podium.  While the guests waited for the arrival of Lt. Gen Caldwell, we all began to visit.  I had the pleasure of riding the elevator with retried General Burba who it turns out was the top person at Ft. Benning where my son is now in training in the Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course. At our table, I met John King, who it turns out is not only the Chief of Police for the City of Doraville, GA, but is a Colonel in the U.S. Army having served in Iraq Afghanistan with the Lt. Gen.

North Georgia College and State University helped to sponsor the luncheon and several of the Army ROTC staff members from the school attended. I made sure to say hello to them and tell them of how impressed I was by their cadets when I met them at the funeral for Spc Gary L. Nelson, III a few months ago.

Dorie Griggs holding her Challenge Coin, Police Chief John King (left) and an aid to Lt. Gen Caldwell (right) .

The General and his team arrived and began to mingle with the guests. My friend, Bill Maddox, went to say hello. It had been 30+ years since Bill and Lt. Gen Caldwell served together, but they greeted each other like it was yesterday. I snapped a few photos for Bill, then he returned the favor by introducing me to the general.  I told the general my son is a graduate of The Citadel and is now a second lieutenant.

The general is really big on using social media. I thanked him  for his work in that area then told him how great it has been as the mom of a new 2LT to follow the Armor BOLC training via their Facebook group.  Bill snapped a quick photo of us together before the official luncheon began.

The Challenge Coin given to Dorie by Lt. Gen. Caldwell. Photo courtesy of Stanley Leary.

Lt. General Caldwell educated the gathering about the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The Vision as stated in his PowerPoint presentation is as follows “An Afghan National Security Force that transitions to full security lead in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.” He explained that the training of the police, Army, Air Force, medical staff and other services are key to transition.

Only 1 in 10 Afghan citizens is literate which means they need to educate people in basic reading and counting before they can take on certain tasks like inventory and training and eventually leadership.  So far, the NATO efforts there have brought 100,000 Afghans to some level of literacy –  50 percent of the military and police are now literate.  In answer to a question about whether the people of Afghanistan want them there, he replied, “They want  us there only as long as needed to help them take the lead.”

Flip side of the Challenge Coin. Photo courtesy of Stanley Leary.

After the Q&A period my friend Bill wanted to thank the general.  I stayed to take more photos. As it turned out, the general took photos with both of us.  He thanked me for coming to the luncheon and supporting my son.  I told him about Off the Base and the creator of the blog Bobbie O’Brien and her fellowship with the Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Program.  When I told him I am on the board of  the nonprofit, Care For The Troops, and that after getting my master of divinity I found my calling is to educate people about traumatic stress, he told me his wife also has her M. Div. degree.

That is when something really neat happened.  He reached into his pocket and asked me if I knew what a military coin is.  I said yes. He then said, “You tell your son I gave this to you for supporting him.” He handed me a coin that reads:

For Excellence

Presented by

Commander

NATO Training Mission

Afghanistan

Yes, some days I have the opportunity to meet some very interesting and important people.  Today was one of those days.

Military Base Schools: 3 out of 4 in Disrepair

A deteriorating roof at Clarkmoor Elementary at Fort Lewis, Washington. Emma Schwartz/iWatch News

Cockroach infestations, overcrowded classrooms are just two of the poor conditions found by reporter Kristen Lombardi who looked at  schools on military bases run by the Department of Defense. Three out of every four schools were found  in disrepair or beyond renovation.

The learning environment is important because many of those military children attending the schools also live with the reality that at least one of their parents will deploy – more than once. A new Rand study finds that longer, multiple deployments can affect student test scores.

You can read Lombardi’s full story HERE.

You can access the list of Pentagon rated schools HERE.

The project comes from the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News. Reporting included visits to two dozen base schools around the world and interviews with nearly 200 teachers, administrators, parents, students, Defense Department officials, researchers, and other sources. Thousands of pages of school and Pentagon documents, including facility assessments, deployment studies and reports to Congress, also opened a window on conditions and consequences for students.

Military Mom Collects Prayer Patches for Military Families

Military Families Ministry  (MFM) does a variety of projects to support service members and their families.  One of my favorite projects is our prayer patch ministry which is quickly spreading to a national effort.

A prayer patch is a small knitted or crocheted cloth that we send to our heroes, their families, and our chaplains as a reminder that people are praying for them.  Service members carry the patches in their pockets to remind them of God’s love and protection as they serve–I gave my son, Josh, a brown patch with a cross sewn on it the day he left for Afghanistan.

A prayer patch made by Sandy in Pennsylvania.

Family members carry the patches as a reminder of God’s peace and comfort as they await their loved ones return from war zones–I carry a red, white, and blue patch in my purse.  Chaplains use our prayer patches to encourage and comfort service members in basic training, war zones, and counseling situations.

We have individuals and groups across the country knitting and crocheting prayer patches for us.  Each patch is prayed over  by one of our MFM groups prior to shipping.  So far this month (June 2011), MFM has sent almost 800 prayer patches–most of which went to the chaplains we support.

Prayer patches made by groups in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Our Colorado group is sending prayer patches to Josh for his entire platoon and we have already sent cards and patches to the wives of the married soldiers in Josh’s squad.

I have recently connected with a chaplain who is currently serving in Afghanistan.  He and nine other chaplains are ministering to over 4000 soldiers for a year-long deployment.  MFM is taking on the challenge of getting 4000 prayer patches so every soldier these chaplains have contact with can carry a prayer patch.  If you knit or crochet–will you help us?  Visit our website to view the guidelines and download a pattern or email me at tracie@militaryfamiliesministry.com.

12 Organizations Working to Raise PTSD Awareness

Monday, June 27, is PTSD Awareness Day established by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

If you’re a member of the civilian community, here is a list of 10 things you can do to help raise understanding of PTSD.

If you know a combat veteran in need of help, the VA has a myriad of resources:

  • VA Office of Mental Health Services
    Provides a range of information on depression, substance abuse, and other mental health problems, to improve the health and well-being of Veterans through excellence in health care, social services, education, and research.

The VA also offers a list of collaborators willing to help veterans living with PTSD.

  • afterdeployment.org
    A mental wellness resource for Service Members, Veterans, and Military Families.
  • BraveHeart Welcome Back Veterans Southeast Initiative*
    Our mission is to offer veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war and their families: education about PTSD, self-assessment and support resources, and assistance in accessing treatment services in the southeast.
  • Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury
    Provides authoritative information and resources 24/7 to Service Members, Veterans, and families, and those who support them.
    Contact: resources@dcoeoutreach.org or 1-866-966-1020.
  • Home Base Program
    The Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program provides clinical care and support services in New England area to veterans of the current conflicts, who experience combat stress and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI); counseling for families including parents and children; education for clinicians and other community members; and research in the understanding and treatment of PTSD and TBI.
  • International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS)
    ISTSS is an international, interdisciplinary professional organization that promotes advancement and exchange of knowledge about traumatic stress. This knowledge includes: Understanding the scope and consequences of traumatic exposure, preventing traumatic events and ameliorating their consequences and advocating for the field of traumatic stress.
  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network
    A Center to improve access to care, treatment, and services for children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events and to encourage and promote collaboration between service providers in the field.
  • National Resource Directory
    A tri-agency Web portal that connects wounded warriors, Service members, Veterans, their families and caregivers with those who support them. Links to 10,000+ resources.
  • Office of Recovery Act Coordination U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
    Recovery Act-funded programs are being invested in improving health and human services, including areas such as community health services, research, prevention and wellness.
  • Real Warriors Campaign
    The Real Warriors Campaign is a multimedia public education campaign sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury to encourage help-seeking behavior among service members and veterans with invisible wounds.
  • Veterans on Deck
    This is a 501c3 nonprofit designed by VA PTSD clinicians and researchers to compliment evidence based psychotherapy with opportunities for social interaction and community reintegration of PTSD and MST Veterans through team sailing with PTSD clinicians.
  • Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)
    The VVA is a congressionally chartered not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to improving the condition of Vietnam-era Veterans and their families.
  • WarriorCare.mil
    A blog that provides wounded, ill, injured and transitioning Service members and their families with information on programs and initiatives that affect them.

Air Conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq Costs $20 Billion

This NPR story caught my attention because I just reviewed my own power bill which has increased dramatically due to a hotter than normal May. And the troops spending summer in Afghanistan and Iraq certainly need cooling more than I.

KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq -- Master Sgt. Herman Kremkau, 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, hoses down an air conditioner unit in Tent City. Kremkau and the rest of the HVAC team clean more than 300 air conditioners every other week to ensure base residents have a cool environment to sleep in. Kremkau is deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion.

That’s more than NASA’s budget. It’s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It’s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.

“When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we’re talking over $20 billion,” Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus’ chief logistician in Iraq.

Why does it cost so much?

To read the entire story or listen to in online, click HERE.

An Army SGT Recovering from TBI, Works to Stay in Uniform

A young Army sergeant who was selected to train as an explosives expert is now in a fight to stay in uniform.

Earlier this year, 22-year-old Army SGT Amber Greer was looking forward to settling in at her new post, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida’s panhandle and beginning training as an Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) expert.

Army SGT Amber Greer helps show off Haley's new Polytrauma Unit equiped with flat screen TVs, private rooms and showers.

March 30th she was driving through a thunderstorm on I-10. Her vehicle hydroplaned. She lost control and hit a tree.

Greer was in a coma for eight days. When she awoke, it took a couple more weeks for her to grasp what happened.

“I literally felt like I was in some dream for a few weeks,” Greer said. “It was like – ‘I’m going to wake up and I’ll have my hair back,’ They had to shave my head for a procedure they had to do so I could live.”

Greer showed me a photo of her with strawberry blonde hair below her waist. But, hair grows back. She had a bigger worry right after her accident.

“The big shock to me was ‘why am I not at work? Why can’t I go to work? I don’t understand why I can’t be around people I served with.’” Greer said. “It was a huge shock to me and something that was so foreign to me. I probably cried for about a week that I couldn’t go to work.”

Greer is recovering at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital. She arrived with several skull fractures, Traumatic Brain Injury, three broken ribs, collapsed lungs and both hips fractured.

She’s expecting a 100 percent recovery and feels fortunate. Greer has been in the Army almost four years is a veteran of the Iraq war and also deployed to Kuwait from her first post in Hawaii.

Right now Greer’s fight is to stay in the Army.

“Due to my brain injury, I cannot do EOD anymore.” Greer said, confessing that her mother is relieved that she will not be an explosives disposal expert. Greer is disappointed but hopeful she will find another specialty. “I cannot be exposed to blast waves for the next year or so due to my injury, but that’s okay I’m going to be picking another new job in the Army and still staying in that uniform hopefully.”

I talked with Greer three days after she officially put back on her uniform more than 10 weeks after her accident.  She’s in Haley’s transition unit and volunteered to talk with reporters who came to the VA to cover the opening of a new Polytrauma Unit. Greer is anxious to help in any way she can.

“I absolutely love serving my country and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life,” Greer said that’s what got her out of bed every morning and into rehab.

I share Greer’s story because it goes to the heart of who is serving in our country’s military ranks – young women and men of courage, determination and dedication to their country.

Here’s hoping Greer’s wish of a full recovery and staying in uniform comes true.

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