CENTCOM Sends Thanksgiving Turkeys to Troops

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7 enjoy a Thanksgiving Day meal featuring turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pumpkin pie in the dining facility at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2012. Credit Cpl. Timothy Lenzo / U.S. Marine Corps photo.

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7 enjoy a Thanksgiving Day meal featuring turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pumpkin pie in the dining facility at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan, Nov. 22, 2012.
Credit Cpl. Timothy Lenzo / U.S. Marine Corps photo.

Currently, troops in Afghanistan must eat a prepackaged MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) for at least one of their three daily meals to use up supplies as the war winds down.

Even the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., is eating an MRE a day.

So the Thanksgiving turkey dinner will be a welcomed relief.

U.S. Central Command, based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, has made certain the troops in Afghanistan will have that special meal according to Scott Anderson, Deputy Director of Logistics and Engineering for CENTCOM.

Anderson is in charge – on the civilian side – of making sure troops are properly supplied.

“The last I saw, we were nearing 100 percent ready for Thanksgiving. That means all the turkeys are there for our troops so they’re ready to have a Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving,” Anderson said. “And we’ll turn to and get ready for Christmas. There are some special meals that we make sure our troops are taken care of.”

Anderson served 30 years as a Marine Corps officer and knows how special a  turkey dinner can be to the tens of thousands of service members on the front lines.


Write Letters for Homefront Hugs’ Thanksgiving Tradition

Photo courtesy of Operation Thanksgiving Hugs.

Photo courtesy of Operation Thanksgiving Hugs.

Here’s a tradition to share with your family after your meal is consumed – Operation Thanksgiving Hugs – from the folks with Homefront Hugs USA:

This Thanksgiving, after your warm delicious meals, after your pumpkin pie …gather your “troops” around to write some letters or cards to our wounded and sick vets in hospitals for our mission Operation Healing Angel.

Or write a note or card for a deployed hero far away from loved ones.
Just let us know which card is for whom:

  • Are your cards for our wounded warriors or their hero medical staff of Operation Healing Angel or for our deployed heroes of Homefront Hero Hugs.
  • Just add  somewhere on your cards or letters or drawings from the kids : ” for a Wounded Hero”, “for a Hero Nurse”, “for a Hero Physician”,  ”for a Hero Chaplain”, ”for a Hero med tech”, ” for a Hero psychiatrist or Social worker” or ” for a Hero Deployed Soldier”

Lifting troop morale helps fight depression, isolation and yes, even PTSD triggers.

  • Drawings and photos are welcome they make it feel like a real hug from home.
  • Don’t just sign the cards or notes add a personal touch even a joke or prayer, a riddle or photo or story about your dog or crazy family capers on “turkey day” and  your city and state !

Do this at your Thanksgiving celebration, then send your cards later to:

Homefront Hugs USA
1850 Brookfield Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Invite as many people to this event as possible and remember this event is at YOUR THANKSGIVING TABLES this coming Thursday November 28th !

We are out of cards of support, so this is our Turkey Day mission with all who support our troops without conditions.

Hope we get thousands of RSVPs here and everyone joins in so we can remind our wounded and deployed troops they are NEVER forgotten.


An Iraq War Vet: My Name Is on a Monument, Am I a Hero?

The Cape Coral, FL Iraq War Monument.

The Cape Coral, FL Iraq War Monument.

By Alex Cook, an Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars

My name is on a monument that claims I’m a hero.

Cape Coral just dedicated a new Iraq War monument on Veteran’s Day.  I avoided the dedication ceremony, worried about just how publicly my heroism might be extolled, but snuck over with my girlfriend on a quiet Saturday afternoon to check it out.  The large stone star, emblazoned with the words “Iraq War Heroes” sits in the shadow of even larger monuments dedicated to the veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  The top of the star is lined with dog tags bearing the names of local veterans from every service who deployed to Iraq.  I had to gently brush aside a rose someone had placed over the names to find mine.  And there I am, among the “heroes.”

How does it make me feel?

Honored: No matter what I feel about my military service, the merits of the war, or whether I was right or wrong to enlist, a group of people got together to say “thanks” and call me a hero.  They don’t know what I experienced over there.  They don’t need to.  The fact that I went is enough for them.

Hypocritical: Who am I to have my name emblazoned on a monument which dubs me a “hero?”  I didn’t have a combat job.  I don’t recall doing anything very heroic.  I faced a little danger, I did my job, and I couldn’t wait to get home.  I’ve spent way too much whining about it since.  So many others are more deserving of the title “hero” than I.

Alex's tag on the Iraq War Heroes monument.

Alex’s tag on the Iraq War Heroes monument.

Nostalgic:  I always knew I’d never miss my days as a soldier.  I can’t say I miss them, exactly, but fond memories managed to slip in here and there.  I got to know some amazing people.  I had some unique adventures.  I’m amazed that I can get a little misty-eyed thinking about GOOD times I had in the army.  But I can and do.

Hopeful: I remember how I felt when I first exited the army.  I thought everyone could tell I wasn’t a normal person, that I didn’t belong in civilian society.  I tried to suppress every emotion and memory from that time, trying to “start over.”  The past few years have seen slow progress as I struggled to accept and then embrace my past.  Now I can see my name on a monument of heroes and not be filled with rage and disgust.  I went to war for my country.  Not everyone can say that.  And if that’s something worth honoring, I’m ok with that.

When last I wrote for Off the Base, I described a PTSD treatment study that I took part in. I wrote my entries from my little brother’s old room in my parent’s house.  I was unemployed.  Some days I didn’t leave the bedroom, let alone the house.  I’d come a long way in coming to grips with my military service, but I still had a long way to go.

The monument is being covered replicated "dog tags" with the names of Iraq War veterans.

The monument is being covered replicated “dog tags” with the names of Iraq War veterans.

I’m writing this entry from the little place I share with my loving and supportive girlfriend, just a short bike ride from my full time TV news job.  I’m living a pretty good life.  I’m not defined by my time in the army, but it’s very much a part of me.  I’m not perfectly happy, but who is?  I have my dark days.  I get past them.  To my fellow vets, who may be struggling to come to grips with your service: keep moving forward while accepting and embracing what you’ve been a part of.  It’s not easy.  It gets easier.  Let people love you and don’t give up.  Keep living.

And if someone wants to put your name on a monument, go ahead and let them.  It’s pretty cool.

Alex Cook is a former intern with WUSF Public Media who now works for WINK in Ft. Myers, FL. Here’s a link to his experience as a veteran as told to his current employer http://www.winknews.com/Local-Florida/2013-07-17/Iraq-War-Memorial-breaks-ground-in-Cape-Coral#.Uou-YMSsiSo .

The new Iraq War monument is located at the Four Mile Cove Eco Park, Cape Coral, FL and is still taking the names of local Iraq War veterans. Details on how to add a name to the monument are available on the website: http://iraqwarmonumentcapecoralfl.com/.

5 Things to Know About Suicide: #1 Ask Straight Out

Photo courtesy of DCoE website.

Photo courtesy of DCoE website.

They’re called “responders” – the folks at the other end of the Veterans Crisis Line. But they aren’t the only ones serving on the front-line of suicide prevention.

As a society, as colleagues, as friends, as family, we cannot leave the work of suicide prevention to the “responders” alone.

It is up to all of us to act or at least “ask” if we see someone unduly stressed according to psychologist, Dr. Caitlin Thompson, deputy director of suicide prevention at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“If worried – asking people straight out saying, ‘I’m so concerned about how you seem to be, have you been thinking about suicide at all?'” Thompson advised. “It’s just that simple really to just ask the question that can be a very scary question.”

It’s time to stop being “scared” and start becoming informed.

Here are tips from the Defense Suicide Prevention Office website:

How to ask the question

There is no evidence to suggest that asking someone if they are having thoughts about hurting themselves causes suicide. When asking about this, be direct – for example, ask “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are things so bad that you’re considering suicide?”

Remember, if you never ask, there is no way to intervene and get the person help. Even if they aren’t thinking about it, they will know you are concerned about them and what they are going through.

You don’t need to be an expert

A common myth about suicide is that you can’t do anything if someone is suicidal because you’re not an expert. This isn’t the case. You don’t need to be an expert in psychological health to recognize when someone you care about is having a hard time.

Know the warning signs

The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize troubling signs. Some of the most common warning signs to look for in an individual include:

  • Expressing hopelessness, like there’s no way out
  • Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
  • Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep
  • Neglecting personal well-being
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in day-to-day activities
  • Frequent and dramatic mood changes
  • Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame
  • Feelings of failure or decreased performance
  • Feeling like there’s no reason to live
  • Increased alcohol or drug abuse
  • Talking about death

Learn what to do

If you don’t ask, there’s no way to intervene and get help. Experts suggest the following advice for family and friends who suspect someone is suicidal:

  • Trust your instincts that the person may be in trouble
  • Be willing to listen
  • Ask direct questions without being judgmental (“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Have you ever tried to end your life?” or “Do you think you might try to kill yourself today?”)
  • Determine if the person has a specific plan to carry out the suicide
  • Don’t leave the person alone
  • Don’t swear to secrecy
  • Don’t act shocked
  • Don’t counsel the person yourself
  • Get professional help on the phone or escort the person to a counselor, chaplain or other professional mental health provider
  • Remove potential means of self-harm

Know how to get help

Free, confidential help is available 24/7 through the Military Crisis Line (also known as the Veterans Crisis Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 800-273-8255 (military members and veterans press 1).

You can also online chat with a Military Crisis Line responder or send a text to 838255.

Even if there’s no immediate crisis, trained counselors can offer guidance on how to help someone and point you to services (for mental health and substance abuse) and resources (suicide prevention coordinators).

A lot of circumstances can contribute to mental health issues, but there’s help online.

A New HBO Documentary – Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1

vet crisis lineEvery day, 22 veterans take their own lives.  That’s according to a report released earlier this year by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  And that number could actually be higher.

The rate of veteran-suicide is much higher than for the general population.

The Veterans Crisis Line was established six years ago to try and slow the flood of veteran suicides.

A new HBO documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, takes us past the cubicles and down the hallways at the Veterans Crisis Line Center based in Canandaigua, N.Y.

There, you hear the piercing ring of telephone and catch snippets of conversations with the first responders trying to nudge that suicide rate down:

“Thank you for calling the Veterans Crisis Line, my name is Lewis. How can I help you?”

“… I know you said you have a knife nearby you. Do you agree to not use that knife while I put you on hold?”

“… What you’re telling me is that people have to do something drastic before they get help.”

Responders answer calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The hotline is not just for veterans considering suicide. Any veteran experiencing any kind of distress can call at any time.

“Whether they’re dealing with relationship issues, problems finding work, problems just adjusting back into civilian life, there’s a ton of things they could run into and they need to understand they’re not alone and these things can be worked out,” said Jason Edlin, an Army veteran who has worked as a Veterans Crisis Line responder for almost five years.

Edlin was there when HBO filmed the documentary. He isn’t in the movie but says it delivers a message the public needs to hear.

A display table featuring key chains and kitchen magnets with the Veterans Crisis Line was set up this week for student veterans at the University of South Florida by staff at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

A display table featuring key chains and kitchen magnets with the Veterans Crisis Line was set up this week for student veterans at the University of South Florida by staff at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

I hope that people can better understand what veterans go through,” Edlin said.

The Veterans Crisis Line fields more than 22,000 calls a month.

Since 2001, more veterans have died by their own hand than in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while suicide has been increasing, the deputy director of suicide prevent at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Caitlin Thompson, likes to point out some distinctions.

“We’re finding that of those veterans and service members who die by suicide less than half of them have actually have been deployed,” Thompson said. “So, we can’t just put it on ‘well they were deployed and they all saw combat and that’s why they’re dying’ because that’s actually been shown to not be the case.”

Thompson said suicide is complex. Many veterans and service members have the same reasons as the general population for killing themselves such as financial and relationship problems. But military service can compound those issues.

“We’re working so hard at the VA and at the DoD (Department of Defense) as well in our suicide prevention effort,” Thompson said. “Another thing I want to bring up is the culture of using firearms in a veteran population. And it’s been shown that veterans die by suicide by firearms far more than the general population. Veterans and service members are very comfortable with firearms and so gun safety is also a very important consideration as we continue to look ahead.”

Thompson helped the Department of Defense set up their Suicide Prevention Office and she spent four years as one of the psychologists overseeing the responders, the people who answer the Veterans Crisis Line.

Some of the free paraphernalia used to promote the Veterans Crisis Line.

Some of the free paraphernalia used to promote the Veterans Crisis Line.

“It’s such a unique environment in that way. It’s a very emotional environment to work in. it’s very high stress,” Thompson said.

The HBO documentary shows  supervisors comforting  responders after some of the more difficult calls.

Thompson said that’s the value of the documentary. It shows veterans the compassion of the responders on the other end of the phone.

We want veterans and service members to pick up the phone and call and at times it may be very, very hard for people to do that,” Thompson said.”But I’m hoping that after seeing some of the faces on the other end of the phone and hearing some of the stories that that will help promote the crisis line as an option.”

That option also extends to family members and friends of veterans and to service members. The Crisis Line is open to them. And there is also live online chats and texting.

You can listen to the radio version of this story on WUSF 89.7 News.

The HBO documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, airs again Sunday at 6:00 a.m., 3:15 p.m.; Nov. 19 at 10:45 a.m. and Nov. 23 at 12:15 p.m. HBO2 playdates: Nov. 18 at 9:30 a.m. and Nov. 26 2:10 p.m.

President Signs Bill Renaming Bay Pines VA after Bill Young

The late Congressman C.W. Bill Young.

The late Congressman C.W. Bill Young.

There are two news reports out of Washington D.C. confirming that President Barack Obama signed a bill just hours ago, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, renaming Pinellas County’s Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Florida after the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young.

Young passed away last month while serving his 22nd term in Congress. He served nine years in the Army National Guard and six more years in the Reserves. In Congress, Young was a tireless advocate for veterans and the military.

Stars and Stripes White House, Capitol Hill and veterans reporter Leo Shane III posted the breaking news on his Twitter account, @LeoShane:

White House has officially signed into law renaming the Bay Pines VA center in Florida after the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

Another report of the bill signing was posted by Tampa Bay Times Washington Bureau chief Alex Leary.

Florida Inducts Six Veterans into New Hall of Fame

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

The late, former Congressman Sam Gibbons was a member of the U.S. Army’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He parachuted into Europe on D-Day and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was the third man to step out of plane #42, and dropping 800 feet to start what some have called ‘The Longest Day,’” Gibbons wrote in his World War II memoir I Was There.

Gibbons passed away peacefully in his sleep last year at age 92.

This week, Gibbons was posthumously inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. His son was there to accept the honor bestowed by Gov. Rick Scott.

In all, six Floridians were welcomed into the first class of the new Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame. They were given Hall of Fame Medals and Certificates.

1.            John R. D. Cleland, Major General (Retired), U.S. Army (Melbourne)

2.            The late US Rep. Sam M. Gibbons, former U.S. Army Major (Tampa) – represented by his son, Clifford Sam Gibbons

3.            John L. Haynes, Major (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Monticello)

4.            Robert F. Milligan, Lieutenant General (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Tallahassee)

5.            Jeanne Grushinski Rubin, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Sunrise)

6.            Robert J. Silah, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Tampa)

The Veterans Hall of Fame recognizes those who have made a significant contribution to the state of Florida after their military service.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

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