Looking For Future Air Force Leaders In Technology

Middleton High School JROTC cadet Lt. Col. Carlos Martinez and Coast Guard pilot Justin Neal during STEM Day at MacDill AFB.

Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base put on an impressive show of skill and threw in a bit of fun for some 1200 school students who visited the base this month to check out military careers linked to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Never before in our nation’s history have we depended more on technology and the application of technology to win – not only in the air – but in space and in cyber space,” said MacDill Commander Col. April Vogel. “You know our mission is to fly, fight and win. So, we need to create people who can do that. And there are some amazing young minds here today which is why this is so special.” Continue reading

A Girl Scout Who Does More than Sell Cookies

Jacqueline Parker with her "Veterans Heroes" project that earned her the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor given by the organization.

Jacqueline Parker with her “Veterans Heroes” project that earned her the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor given by the organization.

A love of flying isn’t the only thing that links an 18-year-old Tampa Girl Scout and an Air Force Brigadier General who retired here.

Ben Nelson Jr.’s dad flew B-29s, B-17s and B-24s for the Army Air Corps in World War II. So it’s not surprising that he ended up in the pilot’s seat for the Air Force flying more than 200 combat missions in Vietnam.

“We all got shot up every once in a while,” Nelson said in a recorded interview for the “Veterans Heroes” project. “I’ve got a picture of me standing and a hole in my wing looking up through it. You know sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not.”

Nelson’s luck held for a full and distinguished career in the Air Force. He retired as a brigadier general in September 1994 as deputy commander of NATO’s 5th Allied Tactical Air Force, Vicenza, Italy.

Air Force Brigadier Gen. Ben Nelson Jr. Credit: Dept. of Defense

Air Force Brigadier Gen. Ben Nelson Jr. Credit: Dept. of Defense

Nelson is one of 12 veterans who shared their military stories for Jacqueline Parker’s Girl Scout project “Veterans Heroes” that earned her the highest award given by Girl Scouts, the Gold Award.

The interviews she collected became part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and are also available at the St. Petersburg Museum of History and Girl Scout Leadership Center.

Parker is proof that Girl Scouts do more than sell cookies. The Plant High School senior said scouting gave her the foundation to try things like Junior ROTC where she will serve as the executive officer this school year. She’s also deputy commander of the Civilian Air Patrol at Plant.

“My main goal is to be in the military but also preferably as a pilot,”

It’s an interesting choice because no one in her immediate family is in the military and most of her high school friends aren’t interested in serving.

“My friends respect the fact that I want to do this. I’ll tell them about a camp I went to and they’re like ‘you actually did that?” Parker said.

Jacqueline Parker holds a "dummy" M16 while at the Marine summer leadership camp 2013.

Jacqueline Parker holds a “dummy” M16 while at the Marine summer leadership camp 2013.

This summer,  besides participating in Girls State and a cross country camp, Parker was one of 500 chosen  nationally to attend the Marine Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy held at Quantico.

“We were wearing full Marine uniform. It was as if we were deployed,” she said. “Each squad was 12 people approximately. My group didn’t do so well. We quote-unquote killed our civilians. We had dummy M16s and if you wanted to shoot you go bang, bang, bang.”

She said the course was designed to help the squads learn from unpredictable situations.

“It was very hands on and if you were to do something wrong, you weren’t penalized for it. It was okay here’s how you fix it, now do it right,” Parker said. Whereas in high school, you do something wrong then it just effects your grade and it just tumbles down from there.”

At yet another camp, this one was a week at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., she learned she could tolerate a “boot camp” setting with yelling instructors and tough physical training.

Her love of flying is in full display as Jacqueline Parker enjoys one of her "orientation" flights with the Civil Air Patrol.

Her love of flying is in full display as Jacqueline Parker enjoys one of her “orientation” flights with the Civil Air Patrol.

She survived and even thrived in that environment where she was  treated like a swab, an incoming Coast Guard Academy freshman. It strengthened Parker’s confidence that she belongs in the military.

She applying to the Coast Guard and Air Force academies.

“I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to have a regular college experience if I go to an academy, but because I am giving that up I’m getting something much better,” Parker said.

Her definition of “much better”: “an opportunity to lead others and help this nation be a better place to live.”

You can listen to the WUSF radio story featuring Jacqueline Parker HERE.

An Untold 9/11 Story from New York City’s Waterfront

9-11_screenshot_croppedOne of the little known stories of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City took place on the water.

All access to Manhattan was shut down after the attack. The tunnels. The bridges. The subways. The airports.

That left just the water surrounding the island. Some people reportedly started jumping into the river.

Boat captains from private vessels to public ferries responded.

Then a Coast Guard vessel put out a call for any available boats to come help evacuate the tip of Manhattan.

Within 15 minutes, a hundred vessels were on the horizon.

The water evacuation on September 11, 2001 of New York City is estimated to have been twice as big as the sea rescue at Dunkirk when an estimated 330,000 Allied troops evacuated from the beach during World War II.

Here’s an inspiring video featuring the voices of some of the seamen who came to the rescue.

My thanks to the crew of Tampa’s WWII SS American Victory Mariner’s Museum Ship for sharing this video that demonstrates the marine community’s strength and bravery in a time of need.

Student Veteran Dedicates Ride Day to Sean Coleman

Sean Coleman, Military Cycling Team captain. Credit: Twitter

Sean Coleman, Military Cycling Team captain. Credit: Twitter

We’ve been following University of South Florida student veteran Kiersten Downs as she cycles across the country to raise awareness for student veterans. She’s linked up with other cycling veterans during the journey and visited several VFWs along the way.

On Thursday, Kiersten dedicated her ride to a fellow cyclist back in Florida who died from a heart attack during a training ride last week.

Sean Coleman was a reigning age-group state champ with several appearances at the World Military Cycling Championships to his credit reports the Tampa Bay Times.

Coleman, 46, of Land O’Lakes, who died of a heart attack on a training ride last Wednesday, was a Coast Guard senior chief petty officer stationed in Clearwater.

A 27-year veteran with a crucial job — supervising the mechanics who maintain the station’s rescue helicopters — he took on a volunteer duty that was almost as demanding.

As a director and co-founder of the U.S. Military Cycling team, he courted sponsors, recruited riders, traveled to training camps and races, and spent long hours at home doing administrative grunt work, said his wife, Sharon, who helped with the team.

Formal services were held for Coleman on Monday and Saturday there was a memorial ride that attracted some 300 riders according to the Times.

Kiersten is continuing her progress toward Washington D.C. despite four flat tires. She’s currently in Tennessee and has cycled 2,500 milies with 800 more to go.


Kiersten Downs holding on to her fourth “blown” tire – waiting for assistance from her road crew shortly after noon – Thursday (18 July 2013) – outside Waverly, TN.



Sequestration: The Day the Coast Guard Music Died

The Armed Forces Medley

The Armed Forces Medley

The entire Southeast Tour by the US Coast Guard Band, all eight concerts, has been cancelled due to sequestration.

“In this difficult budget climate the service’s primary objective is to preserve our ability to meet the highest-priority mission activities, including search and rescue, critical security operations, and emergency response,” is part of a statement from the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Public Affairs.

The band tour was to start Thursday evening in Florida:

  • Thursday at 7 p.m. at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, FL
  • Friday at the University of South Florida School of Music, Tampa, FL
  • Saturday at the Riverwalk Pavilion, Bradenton, FL

Appearances were also cancelled:

  • March 10 at Valdosta High School Performing Arts Center, Valdosta, GA
  • March 11 at Mobile Civic Center, Mobile, AL
  • March 12 at The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
  • March 13 at Germantown Performing Arts Center, Germantown, TN
  • March 14 at Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oxford, MS

The Coast Guard Band calendar still shows concerts scheduled in April, May, June and through December 2013, but all of them are performed at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.

The cancellations are in line with other military cutbacks.

The Navy cancelled four appearances by the Blue Angels in April at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa; Corpus Christi, TX; Vidalia, GA and Beaufort, SC.

Coast Guard: 100th Anniversary Tours and Family Benefits

US Coast Guard Cutter Tampa will be in the Port of Tampa this weekend to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The 100th Anniversary of the Coast Guard Cutter TAMPA will be celebrated in Tampa with public tours of the vessel Saturday.

The first USCGC TAMPA was launched in 1912 and then based in Gibraltar during World War I. While escorting a convoy in the Bristol Channel on September 26, 1918, the TAMPA was sunk. There were no survivors: 111 Coast Guardsmen, 4 Navy men, a captain and ten seamen of the Royal British Navy, and five civil employees, a total of 131 persons, lost their lives according to the USCGC TAMPA History.

The crew of the fourth Coast Guard Cutter Tampa is based in Portsmouth, Va. However, they’re bringing the cutter to Tampa for the 100th anniversary celebration.

WHO: Crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa.

WHAT: Will host public tours.

WHEN: Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.

WHERE: Tampa Port Authority, berth 269, cruise terminal three, 815 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Fla., 33602.

When it comes to military families, the Joining Forces folks want to make sure Coast Guard spouses understand the benefits and resources available according to an article by Military Homefront:

One example of this innovative approach targets families who do not have access to a military child development center. In this case, the Coast Guard provides a child care subsidy to families so they can use child care in their local area. Within the past year, the Coast Guard child care subsidy program was expanded to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for Coast Guard families. Now, more than 550 Coast Guard families nationwide participate in the subsidy program, a 40 percent expansion since 2011.

You can read more about the White House Joining Forces initiative and focus on Coast Guard families HERE.

Pat Tillman Military Scholars Paint the VA Garden

Pat Tillman Scholars paint the garden gazebo at the Haley's Cover Community Living Center.

It was not what one expects at a typical gathering of “scholars,” but these were Pat Tillman Military Scholars chosen for their military service, academic excellence and community involvement.

Music blared from the covered porch at Haley’s Cove Community Living Center – a long-term care facility for veterans at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

Looking out beyond the patio to the enclosed garden – your eye is drawn past the raised planting boxes and barbecue grill to the gazebos – a hub of activity. The Tillman Scholars and friends were giving the weather-worn gazebos a fresh coat of white and green paint.

Coast Guard veteran Josiah Hill is a 2011 USF Tillman Scholar.

“The point is to not only raise awareness for veterans education, but also to promote service within the community. Which is why we’re here at the VA hospital right now,” said Josiah Hill, a Coast Guard veteran and one of four USF Tillman Scholars.

There are 171 Tillman Scholars nationally. Those living in the Southeast Region are gathered this weekend at the University of South Florida for leadership training as well as the community service project.

Hunter Riley is director of programs for the Pat Tillman Foundation based in Tempe, Arizona. He also helps select which applicants receive the scholarships worth up to $8,000. He said they look beyond someone who has excelled academically or excelled in their military career.

Hunter Riley is director of programs for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“We’re looking for someone who has a transformational story, someone like Dave (Warden) who has had something really change his life at a young age and how he’ll be able to move on,” said Riley.

“That transformational story and what someone has done with that,” Riley said. “The story of grief or joy whatever it is, whatever experience you’ve had and are doing something now with it.”

In addition to helping active-duty and veterans with their education, the Pat Tillman Foundation works to bridge the gap between the civilian and military worlds.

Riley was pleased that civilians made up about 25 percent of the audience who came out to hear Pat Tillman’s widow, Marie Tillman, Friday night at USF.

%d bloggers like this: