A Thank You To All Who Served Including My Dad

I’m thankful this Memorial Day for many people including my younger sister, Pat O’Brien Turner, who today visited our father’s grave at the U.S. National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

Navy WWII veteran Robert Joseph O’Brien spent D-Day off-loading troops on the shores of France. He was part of a naval landing-craft crew that made numerous trips back and forth to the coastline for the first two days of the invasion.

My father talked to me about his service just once. And that’s only because I was with my husband, also a WWII Navy veteran.

Like many of his generation, he didn’t like to recall the war. I think in part, it’s because he was assigned burial duty after the beach was secured. It was a heart-wrenching assignment that I know he carried out with the same care and dignity he would afford his own loved ones.

Today, I think of my father and all the families of those killed on the beach that day, those who died in WWII and all who have fallen while serving their country.

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Memorial Day 2019 at the U.S. National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

 

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‘A Little Pink’ Always Colors My Memorial Day

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The American Flag flies above the US American Victory Museum & Memorial Ship, Tampa, FL.

Through almost 40 years of reporting – there are stories and people that never leave you.

A Little Pink In A World Of Camo, a military wife’s blog, is where I discovered such a heart-captivating story titled: I Will Always Be A Marine Wife.

I just need to share some sad news with all of my blog friends.

Sad isn’t even the word to describe it, but honestly at this point I can’t find the words to describe it. Angry, empty, crushed, confused, shocked, alone, unglued, hateful, depressed, beaten down… none of these words can do justice to my feelings.

I am being forced to do something that no 23 year old woman should ever have to do. I am being forced to do something that no one should ever have to do, not at this early in life, especially. I am being forced to lay the love of my life, my saving grace, my entire world to rest. …

– Rachel Porto –

And after reporting on their family’s loss, Ariana Porto, her mother Rachel Porto and grandmothers Evelyn Jewell and Rachel Bernaby (Porto’s mother) forever became a part of my Memorial Day remembrances.

I never met him and Corporal Jonathan Porto never held his daughter Ariana.

The closest he got was kneeling down and talking to her through Rachel’s pregnant belly on the day he deployed. An iconic photo of that moment was snapped by another Marine wife. Rachel was unaware at the time, but she ended up featuring the picture at the top of her blog: A Little Pink in a World of Camo.

Porto was one of 10 men killed in his battalion, the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment from Camp Lejeune, while deployed to Afghanistan. He died in March 2010 just shy of his first wedding anniversary.

What will always stay with me is that photo of Jonathan talking to his unborn daughter and the power of Rachel and Jonathan’s relationship. Jonathan made Rachel promise “no moping” while he was gone. And as difficult as the hours, days, months and years may have been since his death, Rachel continues to keep her promise to Jonathan. And she’s continued to write earning a masters’ degree in writing.

Please on this Memorial Day, keep the promise made by President Lincoln, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” So, take a moment to remember those who have fallen in service to our country.

My eternal appreciation to all who have allowed me to tell their stories.

 

Cigars, Rough Riders And Sandwich Link Tampa To Cuba

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Photo by Bobbie O’Brien/WUSF Public Media

Tampa is linked to Cuba by more than early Spanish fishermen, migrating cigar workers and the 1960s missile crisis. Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders used the city to train and then launch their 1898 foray into Cuba during the Spanish American War.

But a sandwich became the most recent Cuban battleground between the communities in Tampa and Miami: The Cuban Sandwich Crisis.

As a result, Tampa City Council named the traditional Cuban Sandwich of sweet ham, mojo-marinated roast pork, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, mustard and Genoa salami as the city’s “signature sandwich” in April 2012.

Tampa’s Cuban Sandwich Festival on Saturday, March 30, features a taste from a 170 foot-long Cuban sandwich, music and a junior chef’s showdown. Sunday, March 31, is the 8th annual International Cuban Sandwich Festival where teams from South Korea, England and California will compete for the title of Best Cuban Sandwich.

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Keystone View Company. Roosevelt’s “Rough Rider’s”sic arrival at Tampa, Fla., U.S.A. Florida Tampa, ca. 1898. Meadville, Pa.: Keystone View Company manufacturers and publishers.

And if you’d like some additional visuals, while munching on your Cuban sandwich, here’s a short film of Rough Riders at drill in Tampa on the Library of Congress website.

Registration Deadline For Veterans Outreach Court In Tampa

Here’s an opportunity for veterans living in Hillsborough County to resolve outstanding misdemeanor warrants, fines, legal fees and ordinance violations.

This is the second year that the Veterans Outreach Court is offering low income and homeless veterans a chance to clear up their court record.

Close to 100 veterans got help with their minor legal issues during the one-day outreach court last year.

Cases the outreach court will not hear:

  • domestic violence
  • child support
  • active felony warrants
  • cases already pending in Veterans Treatment Court

But to take advantage, veterans must act because today, October 26, 2018, the deadline to register.

The 2018 Hillsborough Veterans Outreach Court is free and scheduled in two weeks, Friday, November 9, 2018 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital Primary Care VA Annex, 13515 Lake Terrace Lane, in Tampa.

Online registration is available for veterans at the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court website: www.hillsclerk.com.

All qualified participants will receive a notification by mail.  Veterans can also view their case online at www.hover.hillsclerk.com.

Using A Military Mindset To Create Business Start Ups


Alex Hill, right, and Justin Duhe, left, walk through the coconut groves at Coco Rico, Homestead, FL.
Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

As he transitions out of the military this fall, Justin Duhe is going into business for himself. The 28-year-old Army linguist and cyber specialist bought a five acre coconut grove in Homestead, Fla. last year – sight unseen. He knew nothing about coconuts at the time.

“I farmed before in Texas, but it was all vegetable farming, nothing like this,” Duhe said. “But I saw the potential of money, you know, that they were growing fruit and it was an investment.”

Justin Duhe bought his 5 acre coconut farm as an investment as he transitions out of the Army.

But while his new career running Coco Rico Farms will be vastly different from what he did in the Army, Duhe said his military experience will still be an asset.

Noting that he learned Farsi in 47 weeks in the Army, Duhe said he’s not afraid of challenges. And his time in the military has helped him build a business network. He wasn’t in Florida long before crossing paths with a veteran in the food business who was looking for a fresh coconut supplier. The two Army men bonded instantly.

“That’s part of the military mindset,” Duhe said. “You see each other and you pick up your battle buddy and they pick you up and you both have a vision, a goal and you keep on moving forward.”

Duhe and Alex Hill, owner of Florida Coconuts, became “business” battle buddies – not partners, but supplier and vendor.

Alex Hill, Army veteran and owner of Florida Coconuts, met Duhe online while searching for a new supply of fresh Florida coconuts.

Hill, who was in the Army Airborne, sells fresh coconut water to tourists along the beach. He said it’s not the first time he’s done business with other people who’ve been in the military.

“They have a similar work ethic as you and also uphold those similar values that you have. It’s hard to find people that have the same values outside the military,” Hill said.

Green coconuts are the best source for fresh coconut water.

Agencies target “Vetrepreneurs”

About 2.5 million veterans own businesses. According to the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, veterans own 13 to 15 percent of small businesses, though they’re only eight percent of the population.

Women veterans are driving the trend, according to Misty Stutsman, the director of entrepreneurship and small business at the institute.

“Women veteran entrepreneurship has grown over 300 percent since 2007, which is insane,” Stutsman said. “If you look at these entrepreneurs, not only is the start-ups great, but they’re out earning their civilian counterparts.”

To offer veterans the option of self-employment, the Institute developed several entrepreneurship programs including some that are specifically for women veterans, active-duty, and military spouses.

“Communities are investing in these programs to make sure that the next generation of entrepreneurs is supported,” Stutsman said.

Alex Hill, second from left, accepts his $7,500 second place winnings at the first Veterans Florida “Batttle of the Pitches.”

Veteran-owned startups have attracted the attention of states, universities, and other agencies.

The success record among veteran-owned startups has attracted the attention of states, universities, and other agencies.

The US Small Business Administration Veteran Business Outreach Centers offer a range of resources and training in conjunction with more than 20 partners. There are non-profit organizations like Bunker Labs, created by military veterans for veterans interested in a start-up.

Veterans Florida – a non-profit corporation created by the state of Florida – offers free classes, mentors, and an annual “Battle of the Pitches” where “vetrepreneurs” compete for cash prizes.

Florida Coconuts, Hill’s company, won second prize – $7500 – at the 2018 competition. The first prize was awarded to Axon Motor Company in Clearwater, Fla.

Hill’s prize came at a good time. A drop in the coconut supply and a seasonal dip in tourism hurt his business, so he’s pursuing a new entrepreneurial idea. He is working to design a better coconut opener.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

A VA Suicide-Reduction Program Not Reaching Vets In Need

Last year, the VA began offering mental health treatment to vets who don’t normally qualify for VA care. Since then, fewer than 200 people have used the program. Steve Walsh with the American Homefront Project reports.


Former Marine Josh Onan talks with a mental health professional at the San Diego VA. Onan is taking advantage of a year-old program that makes VA care available to people with less-than-honorable military discharges.
Katie Schoolov / KPBS

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Onan was in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006 when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb.

“I remember laying down in the truck,” Onan said. “Waking up, there is dust and debris all over me, and there was an Iraqi colonel, and he’s just screaming, screaming and I don’t understand what he’s saying.”

Onan suffered a head injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. During the next year, he was in and out of trouble with military officials, mainly for small infractions, which he chalks up to the medications he was taking.  Then, while on leave, he was caught with a small amount of cocaine and was kicked out of the Marines.

Onan is one of the thousands of veterans who have other-than-honorable discharges. They don’t typically qualify for VA benefits, even though they have a high suicide rate.

To address that, the VA last summer started a new program. It allows that group of veterans to come into the VA and be treated for mental health issues at least for 90 days.

Onan is taking advantage of the program. After years of being rejected by the VA, Onan now is getting his PTSD treatment paid for by the agency, and he hopes it helps him get back to being the person he was before the injury.

I’m 32 years old now, and this guy is 20, and I look up to this guy,” he said as he looked at a old photo of himself. “I know it’s me, but I miss everything about him. Sometimes it’s hard to find this guy.”

Advocates fault VA for inadequate outreach

The VA says nationally 115 veterans have used the program, a figure that’s disappointing to veterans advocates.  They say it represents just a small fraction of the veterans who now qualify for mental health care. The VA last year estimated that more than 500,000 veterans have other-than-honorable discharges.

“It’s not possible that that’s the number of people who need help,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, an Iraq vet who works with the Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s a failure to contact them, to fully inform them, and to break the stigma.”

Vietnam Veterans of America lobbied the VA to help veterans with other-than-honorable discharges.

“It’s a program that most people who are eligible for haven’t heard of, and the reason for that is the VA refused to do any outreach,” said Vietnam Veterans of America Executive Director Rick Weidman.

Weidman said there was an internal debate over whether the VA could pay to reach out to veterans who normally don’t qualify for VA care.

Illness Related To Service

Of the 115 people who took advantage of the program, 25 were in San Diego, according to the VA.

“They came in saying they had an urgent need, and they were evaluated and received care for that urgent need – whether it was a substance use disorder or suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Neal Doran of the San Diego VA.

Earlier this year, Congress expanded the program to take in even more former service members.

Bi-partisan language inserted into a recent budget bill turned the VA program into law, making all vets with other-than-honorable discharges eligible for mental health care if their illnesses are related to their service.

The VA has not released details about how the new program will operate.

“VA is currently in the process of writing implementation regulations which will provide further guidance on expanding mental health care outreach to service members in need,” the agency said in a written statement.

The VA is also required to actively seek out the veterans who qualify.

But Onan said finding those veterans – and persuading them to seek out VA care – will still be difficult.

“I felt shunned. I still feel shunned,” Onan said.

He said treatment has been a lifesaver for him, but he fears the alienation he felt will make it difficult for other vets to seek help.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that a lot of them aren’t alive,” he said. “And the reason I say that, is without treatment and without proper care, even loved ones. I don’t think I could have done it without God and my family.”

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2018 North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC.

Thoughts On This Day: September 11th Anniversary

The Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 after the terrorist attack. Photo credit: Department of Defense

Sharing this simple, yet heartfelt message by DJ Reyes, a retired Army Colonel and Senior Mentor/Coordinator of the Florida 13th Judicial Circuit Veterans Treatment Court:

Friends: We all take pause today to not only remember what happened, but to reflect on the incredible impact the events had on our very Nation.  For many of us, it defined our military lives as we were totally immersed in fighting the Global War on Terrorism. It affected all of us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It affected our families and those we love.

It confirmed for many of us that words such as Duty, Honor, and Country are not bumper stickers – but a Code that we live and die for.

For our VTC team of mentors, judges, lawyers, VA, and community support:  We continue the Fight, but now we help many of those get whole again, and to return home with honor. I am very proud and humbled to be part of this incredible group of true Patriots right here in the greater Tampa Bay area.

We’ll celebrate and honor and remember more during our upcoming 4th Annual Heroes Gala Dinner/Awards Event next month and hope to see many of our community supporters that evening.

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