Pedal Pushing for Student Veterans of America Starts June 1

Photo provided by Kiersten Downs.

Photo provided by Kiersten Downs.

Tomorrow (June 1, 2013) on the streets of San Francisco, University of South Florida doctoral student and Air Force veteran Kiersten Downs will begin a journey of 3,800 miles with a push of a single pedal.

The applied anthropology doctoral student is biking across America this summer to heighten awareness and to raise money for the organization Student Veterans of America.

Downs fell in love with cycling with the gift of her first two-wheeler, a little pink bike with streamers and training wheels.

Now, she rides an aluminum bike so she can carry packs.

She fell in love with road cycling when she moved to Tampa in 2011 to work on her doctorate.

Kiersten Downs at the USF student recreation center preparing for her cross-country journey.

Kiersten Downs at the USF student recreation center preparing for her cross-country journey.

For the past year, Downs could be found spinning her wheels almost daily at USF’s student recreation center as she trained for the cross-country ride.

“In all honesty the physical aspect is not what makes me nervous,” Downs said. “The most challenging part will be to stay mentally focused and mentally strong.”

As she cycles from San Francisco to Washington D.C., Downs plans several stops like in Pueblo, CO and Clemson, SC where student veterans will meet up and ride with her for a stretch.

You can check out her route or contribute to her cause on her website: bikingusa.net.

Kiersten Downs "takes the wheel."

Kiersten Downs “takes the wheel.”

Downs’ goal is to raise $10,000 for the SVA which has more than 800 peer-run chapters. She said the organization is focused on helping veterans transition into college, navigate VA benefits and to offer the camaraderie that they all knew while in the military.

“Not everybody has transition challenges,” Downs said. “The people in our (USF) SVA just have fun. We get together. We work-out. We hang out. It’s a very positive atmosphere.”

The two-month journey will be documented by Downs’ friend, a documentary film maker, who will share driving duties in the support vehicle with Downs’ mom, an experienced nurse.

The MTV college channel, MTVU, also is tracking her ride. An MTV host surprised Downs with a gift of a mobile camera, a GPS device and a $1,000 gas card for her mom.

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Downs talked with reporters on the USF Tampa campus prior to leaving for San Francisco to start her journey.

And Downs will bring along play-lists contributed by student veterans from several chapters to keep her company on the long and sometimes lonely stretches of road.

Downs plans to ride into Washington D.C. with dozens, possibly hundreds, of veterans on August 5, 2013.

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Senate and House Differ on How to Clear VA Claims Backlog

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (L) with Sen. Bernie Sanders (R), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (L) with Sen. Bernie Sanders (R), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Last week, Florida Cong. Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, called for the formation of a task force to investigate the huge backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But his senate counterpart thinks such a move is unnecessary. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Independent chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, is cited in the Washington Post:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.), said a presidential panel, which has been pushed by the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, would likely not help solve the problem, which he said has already been studied thoroughly.

“You bring these people together for 18 more hearings, and in the real world, that slows down the progress you’re making,” Sanders said.

Sanders made his comments during an interview taped Thursday for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers”

The VA has a backlog of more than 830,000 disability benefits claims and a vast majority (about two-thirds) have been waiting more than four months for action.

Sanders did call on President Barack Obama to resolve the disagreement between the VA and the Department of Defense over what electronic system to use for medical records that will be compatible with the DoD and VA.

Really? One hopes that for the good of the active-duty and veteran alike that the two departments make that compatibility a priority.

Memorial Day: Remembering Military Working Dogs

Military Working Dog Bak as a "sniper"

Military Working Dog Bak as a “sniper”

Blogger Kevin Hanrahan‘s tribute to those “battle buddies” who are killed in action  but go unrecognized – Military Working Dogs.

Last week I brought you the heart wrenching story of Military Working Dog Bak’s Memorial Service at Fort Stewart Georgia. MWD Bak was killed this past March in Afghanistan.

As a tribute to MWD Bak on Memorial Day, here is his story.

There was nothing better than seeing those Afghan mountain peaks slowly turning from brown to white. It seemed that, as the snow melted away, US Army Sergeant Marel Molina and his Military Working Dog Bak’s time remaining in Afghanistan withered away day by day.

But Sergeant Molina couldn’t think about going home today, even though he was a short two months away. He had work to do.

No, that wasn’t right.  He and MWD Bak had work to do.

Keeping his Green Beret team alive was hard work.

What Molina could not prevent was an attack by an Afghan local policeman who turned his AK-47 on the Americans .. he was sounded in the neck and his MWD Bak was shot…

Molina and Bak - battle buddies.

Molina and Bak – battle buddies.

Sergeant Marel Molina received lifesaving surgery at Bagram Airbase Afghanistan, was evavced to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and then to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC. He has moved from crutches, to a cane, to walking on his own. He has high hopes for being completely off aids soon and is very close to a full recovery.

Physically he will heal, but mentally he will never be the same. He will never forget his battle buddy Military Working Dog Bak and the images of him lying on that chopper, bleeding out, and Molina powerless to help him.

Bak wasn’t a piece of equipment, and he wasn’t just a dog, Military Working Dog Bak was a fellow soldier, who died fighting for this country.

Sergeant Molina and many other soldiers are alive today because of their fellow soldier, Military Working Dog Bak.

As a country we celebrate Memorial Day to remember the men and women who fought and died for this country. But for those that fought beside them, we also think of our four-legged soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Please remember Military Working Dog Bak and the others like him who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

You can read the full account on Kevin Hanrahan’s blog.

Also killed in this incident was:

CPT Andrew M. Pedersen-Keel, 28, of South Miami, Fla.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.

SSG Rex L. Schad, 26, of Edmond, Okla.  He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga

Son of a Soldier Pays Tribute: The Path of the Warrior

Christopher Buck courtesy Humanity Healing Intl

Christopher Buck courtesy Humanity Healing Intl

Christopher Buck, CEO Humanity Healing International

I grew up in a military family. My father and grandfathers served. Every couple of years we would move to a new base and start the process of finding new friends and sometimes finding old ones from earlier postings.

I was 8 years old when my father went to serve in Vietnam. I was too young to understand the politics at the time, but I remember being angry at people I saw on television saying that soldiers in Vietnam were bad people. MY Dad wasn’t. I remember being afraid when I saw the green military sedan driving past and we would stop playing and watch to see if it was going to someones house the green sedan stopping meant somebody’s father was dead or hurt. I remember not knowing what to say to a friend that had lost his father and feeling guilty because I was so happy it wasn’t my Dad.

I have long wanted to do something to honor, not only my father and all those that have served their country in the military, but also the families that stay behind and wait. This video, The Path of the Warrior, is a small token of my respect and gratitude. I hope you will forward this letter, or at least the video link, to all those you know who either serve in the armed forces or wait behind.

What will I do this Memorial Day? I have not been to a parade since my children were little. In truth, I will probably be working on one of Humanity Healing’s projects and it is a good excuse for a barbecue; but at some point during the day, I will send a prayer of protection to those currently serving and their families, I will say a Blessing to those who did not return and a pray of comfort to their families, and I know that the fears of my eight year-old self will well up from the part of my soul they are hidden and I will say a prayer of gratitude that my Dad was one of those who did return.

A Heartfelt Thank You to All the Volunteers

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013. Photo via Twitter VAAdaptiveSport

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013. Photo via Twitter VAAdaptiveSport

I don’t personally know who might have placed a flag on my father-in-law’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

He and my mother-in-law are buried in the columbarium wall. So, I’m unsure if they even have an individual flag at the stone carved with their names.

What I am sure of is that even though I am unable to visit today they will be honored by all those who attend ceremonies and visit Arlington.

I am sure of the same for my father buried at the Dayton National Cemetery. He is buried on a small hill next to a young tree that surly has grown deep roots since his service.

Today, I want to thank the VA volunteers, the Boy Scouts, the various veterans organizations, all those who honor the more than three million military members buried in graves at national cemeteries.

You honor our family members who served and by doing so you honor your nation and me. For that, I am sincerely grateful.

 

Memorial Day Events: Many Ways to Remember

flags-multiple-in-groundMemorial Day is an opportunity to remember all  those who died while serving the United States of America in all wars.

National Cemetery Ceremonies

An easy reference for all Memorial Day ceremonies at National Cemeteries throughout the United States is available HERE. This listing is in alphabetic order by state. Note that there is not a VA national cemetery in every state.

National Moment of Silence

On Memorial Day at 3 p.m., local time around the nation, Americans will pause for the annual Moment of Remembrance to reflect on the sacrifice of America’s fallen warriors and the freedoms that unite Americans. The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains approximately three million gravesites at its 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.

On Memorial Day at 3 p.m., local time around the nation, Americans will pause for the annual Moment of Remembrance to reflect on the sacrifice of America’s fallen warriors and the freedoms that unite Americans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains approximately three million gravesites at its 131 national cemeteries and has the potential to provide six million graves on more than 19,000 acres in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.

To learn more about the history of Memorial Day, visit VA’s Memorial Day page.

– See more at: http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/2013/May/Memorial-Day-When-America-Remembers.asp#sthash.tyM8C7bQ.dpuf

On Memorial Day at 3 p.m., local time around the nation, Americans will pause for the annual Moment of Remembrance to reflect on the sacrifice of America’s fallen warriors and the freedoms that unite Americans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains approximately three million gravesites at its 131 national cemeteries and has the potential to provide six million graves on more than 19,000 acres in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.

To learn more about the history of Memorial Day, visit VA’s Memorial Day page.

– See more at: http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/2013/May/Memorial-Day-When-America-Remembers.asp#sthash.tyM8C7bQ.dpuf

An Online Memorial

If you do not have time this weekend to visit a national cemetery or personally thank a military veteran for his or her sacrifice after more than 10 years of war, take just a few minutes and look into their faces. The 100 faces in 100 hours is a project of CNN.com and features photos and bios of 100 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Washington D.C. Ceremonies

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY – Monday, May 27  at 11 a.m. a Presidential Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath-Laying Ceremony is set at the Tomb of the Unknowns, to be followed by an observance program hosted by the Department of Defense in Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater. A prelude by the U.S. Air Force Band will begin in the amphitheater at 10:30 a.m. Attendees are encouraged to be at the Tomb of the Unknowns or seated in the amphitheater by 9:30 a.m.

NATIONAL PARADE – Monday, May 27, beginning at 2 p.m.
The parade of Marching Bands and Veterans units from all 50 states steps off at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 7th Streets, NW and proceeds along Constitution Avenue, past the White House, ending at 17th Street. The National Memorial Day Parade is sponsored by the World War II Veterans Committee and includes patriotic floats and helium-filled balloons.

WOMEN IN SERVICE MEMORIAL – Monday, May 27, at 4 p.m. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial, located at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery, will hold a ceremony that includes formal military honors, a keynote address, wreath-layings and the Memorial’s signature event, the scattering of rose petals in tribute to departed comrades. Members of the public are invited to join in the personal tribute segment of the program.

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Honza Bear Is Asking for Your Vote to Become a “Hero Dog”

Honza wearing his doggie goggles or "doggles."

Honza wearing his doggie goggles or “doggles.”

There’s still time to vote in the 2013 American Humane Association’s annual “Hero Dog” competition.

I confess. I have a bias in the military dog category for Honza “Bear.” I fell in love with Honza and his story the first time I read about him on Kevin Hanrahan’s blog which was long before the Labrador was up for this award.

If you need incentive, know that Honza completed over 250 combat missions in Afghanistan with 14 confirmed finds of explosives weighing over 400lbs.He is credited with saving the life of his handler and many others numerous times. But, Honza didn’t stop there. If he wasn’t taking the lead on combat missions, he was visiting wounded troops and lifting morale among all the soldiers.

honza-dog-bronze-star

Moments after receiving the Bronze Star, SGT Nolan knelt down and pinned the medal on Honza.

You can vote for Honaz “Bear” to be the 2013 Military Hero Dog here.

If you need some convincing, here’s what Hanrahan wrote after having lunch with Honza’s handler, SGT Nolan:

U.S. Army Sergeant John Nolan told me a great story. When he received his bronze star right before redeploying from Afghanistan he ripped it off his own chest and placed it on his military working dog, Specialized Search Dog Honza “Bear”.

He told me that Honza Bear had done all the work, he’s the one that found all those Improvised Explosives…….Honza Bear is the reason John Nolan and many of the Green Beret Team members are alive today.

Since military working dogs cannot receive military awards, Hanrahan and Nolan hope Honza Bear will receive the American Humane Society Hero Dog Award.

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