Some Military Families Get Little Help After Moving Disasters


Movers unpack a van at Sarah Taranto’s house in May 2017. Many of the Tarantos’ possessions arrived damaged, while other had been stolen during the moving process.
Photo Courtesy of: Sarah Taranto

Carson Frame reported the following story for the American Homefront Project.

The average military family moves every two to three years. Their household goods are supposed to move with them, but that doesn’t always happen … and some families say the military doesn’t do much to help.

Sarah Taranto’s forehead knots with frustration as she looks through old photos on her laptop. She’s an amateur photographer who loves to capture images of her life with family and all the places they’ve been stationed with the Army.

But she never expected to need the photos as documentation.

The Tarantos moved from Grafenwoehr, Germany to San Antonio in May 2017. The Army paid for their move and selected the moving company. But when their furniture and household items arrived in Texas, somebody had ransacked the shipment. Continue reading


Florida National Guard Deploys To Southwest Asia

FL national guard 3rd 116th

Florida National Guard Soldiers with 3rd Battalion, 116th Field Artillery, participate in range qualifications, March 22, 2013, at Camp Shelby, Miss. (Photo Credit: Spc. Lam Phi Nguyen)

Some 120 guardsmen from the Florida 3rd of the 116th Field Artillery Battalion are deploying overseas to support Operation Spartan Shield, a combined forces contingency operation designed to deter and react to possible threats within Southwest Asia.

The unit will be deployed for an entire year.

In addition to family and friends, Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans to attend the deployment ceremony scheduled Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, Joker Marchant Stadium, located at 2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd, Lakeland.

Operation Spartan Shield is part of U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Field Of Honor Ceremony For Military Killed In Last 3 Months

The Field of Honor where names of the fallen are etched at the Hillsborough Veterans Memorial Park.

The Veterans Council of Hillsborough County holds a brief ceremony every three months to read aloud the names of the fallen and to mark their contribution and sacrifice in the fight against terrorism. To be recognized on Jan. 13, 2018, are those who were killed in October, November, and December of 2017:

  • Four personnel killed during Operation Inherent Resolve (Iraq, Syria and Yemen)
  • Four personnel killed during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (Afghanistan)
  • Three sailors lost in a C-2A Greyhound transport plane in the Philippine Sea
  • Four Special Forces soldiers killed in Niger
  • 74 previously unidentified remains of military members from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam (military personnel formerly listed as missing-in-action now identified through advancements in mitochondrial DNA research).

The tribute also will include law enforcement officers lost in the line of duty.

The ceremony is planned Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at 10 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park and Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr. Veterans Museum, 3602 U.S. Highway 301 N., Tampa, FL.

Plans for the public event include a banner presentation by Blue Star Mothers of Tampa Bay Inc., the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club color guard, Missing Man Formation flyover by Ye Mystic Airkrewe, Gold Star Families, patriotic music by Cody Palmer/VFW Post 8108, and a traditional rifle salute and taps by the Sgt. Walter P. Ryan Detachment 1226 Marine Corps League of Riverview.

Details are available by calling the Veterans Memorial Park and Museum at (813) 744-5502 or (813) 246-3170.

Military Retirees – Valued State Assets

afd scott neil points to glass wall separating distillery from restaurant

Retired Green Beret and co-founder of the American Freedom Distillery, Scott Neil, points to the framework that will become a glass wall separating the distillery from the restaurant.

States are competitive whether they’re vying to keep their military bases or to attract new corporate headquarters. And now, there’s a new tug of war over military retirees who come with pensions, health care and are a proven workforce.

Florida, already a retirement haven, is adding veteran specific programs to entice even more military retirees to the Sunshine State.


Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speaking at the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation conference in 2016 on the military and veterans economy.

“It means that if you are processing out of the military and you want to build your business here in Florida – we’re going to waive the application fees on almost every occupational license that’s out there,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at a business conference last year. “It means if you’re applying for a concealed weapons license, you’re going to go to the front of the line and it’s going to be expedited in less than two weeks.”

Florida officials like to brag that they’re the most veteran friendly state in the nation. So, there’s no ambivalence – if you’re retiring military – Florida Wants You!

That message was not lost on Hillsborough County Judge Daryl Manning when he retired after 30 years of service in the Army and Reserves. He settled in Tampa, his final post, over other places he’d served like Fort Bragg, Fort Hood and Norfolk.

“Of course, it’s the beautiful weather. It’s also the military climate that’s here. Not only for active duty military but for retirees, the community is so welcoming that it was hard not to be a part of it,” Manning said.


In Afghanistan, Ed Drohan worked as a civilian contractor with the Department of Defense after retiring from the military, but he eventually settled on Tampa as his final home.

In Florida, there’s no state income tax, so no tax on military pensions.  And because the state has 20 military installations, retirees have easy access to on-base amenities like golf courses, health clubs, and tax-free shopping.

More than a dozen other states have passed laws exempting military pensions from state taxes – as they too try to lure retired service members.

“Just the idea there’s a steady income. They know there’s that pension coming in,” said Air Force retiree Ed Drohan who came to Tampa to work at James A. Haley VA. “They’re more likely to be self-supporting, self-sufficient and able to support the local economy as well.”

Not only are military retirees often more self-sufficient – they’re often younger.

“I think a lot of people don’t know or don’t realize that the average officer is only 45 years old upon retirement from service So many times they have to go back into the civilian workforce,” said Jill Gonzalez is an analyst with the personal finance website, WalletHub. She wrote a study on the best places for service members to retire which ranked Florida at the top in 2017.

afd looking into distillery

The interior of a St. Petersburg warehouse, under construction, that’s being converted into the American Freedom Distillery and restaurant.

And Florida has made it a priority to help military retirees and veterans find a second career. Lawmakers created a grant program that reimburses businesses for half of their training costs for every veteran hired up to $8,000 per employee. And the state also started an entrepreneurship program just for veterans.

The Veterans Florida entrepreneurship program is one reason that persuaded former Green Beret Scott Neil, a recent retiree, to resettle in his native Florida.

“I was one of the first into Afghanistan, then to Iraq and then Africa. So I’ve been around the world,” Neil said. “And luckily for me, the headquarters of Special Operations is in Tampa when I decided where I should retire to, I chose my last assignment as Tampa, Florida MacDill Air Force Base so it naturally fit.”

afd exterior party deck side

The exterior, including a concrete party deck, of the American Freedom Distillery which is co-founded by Green Beret veterans in St. Petersburg, FL.

Another natural fit for Neil was starting his own business with some of his Green Beret buddies. They’re getting ready to open the American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg where construction is almost complete. Neil completed Florida’s entrepreneurship program which he says built a sense of community with other Florida vets.

“All the alumni, we continue to get together and talk about how far are you with your great idea and we motivate each other,” Neil said.

A Department of Defense report from last year shows more than 198,000 military retirees live in Florida – that’s second only to Texas. That means more than $5 billion in military pensions are coming into the Sunshine State every year.


Graduating JROTC Cadets Ready And Eager To Serve

JROTC retired Army Lt Col Mo Bolduc shows the display of ribbons and flags that adorn the JROTC room and computer lab

Newsome High JROTC instructor, retired Lt. Col. Mo Buldoc points out the display of ribbons and flags that adorn their computer lab and classroom.
Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

The teenagers graduating this spring were still in diapers when terrorists attacked the United States September 11, 2001. Yet, many of the high school graduates are stepping up to join the military despite the ongoing “war against terror” and recent tensions in Syria and North Korea.

Graduation starts today at Hillsborough County public high schools. First in line is Newsome High School,  southeast of Tampa in the suburban neighborhood of Fishhawk. As seniors cross the stage at the state fairgrounds to claim their diplomas – many are advancing to college, others moving directly into the workforce and still others are chosing military service.

WUSF talked with several JROTC graduating seniors from Newsome and Steinbrenner high schools about  about their choice of a military life during these times of heightened tensions with North Korea, Syria and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Toddlers in a Time of Terrorism

JROTC Walter Wahle

Newsome JROTC cadet Walter Wahle

“Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve been there since I was one,” said Walter Wahle, 17. “So, it’s kind of just, I guess my generation’s war. Like in the 60s it was Vietnam. So, that’s just where it is today.”

Wahle is enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, then heading to college, Hillsborough Community College and the University of South Florida, this fall after graduating from Newsome.

The military is the only life Wahle has known.  His dad is a Marine who’s served in Iraq twice.  And this summer, his father will be deploying to Kuwait while Wahle is in boot camp.

“People think that when you join the military you’re signing up to go fight and die” Wahle said. “Most people don’t fight in the military and they only die if they’re in harms’ way and today the number of casualties is so much lower than it has been in past wars and conflicts that people are going to serve, they’re not going to die.”

War Through The Hollywood Lens


Newsome JROTC cadet Destini Rainey

The 2005 movie Jarhead, a classic film that provides a deep look into a Marine’s deployment during Desert Storm, is how Destini Rainey was introduced to the military. As a child, Rainey remembers playing military games with her cousin after seeing the film.

“When I watched Jarhead, you see the infantry men shooting people and all the violent graphics,” Rainey said. “But now that I’ve matured, I don’t think that’s the scenario I’m going to be in. That’s kind of why I choose the Navy. They’re less combative than the Marines and Army. So. I’ll be more of the brains instead of the brawn.”

Rainey is scheduled to report on Christmas Day to become a Navy aerographer’s mate. They track the weather and oceans.

“Personally, I hope that we do not go to war,” Rainey said. “I have faith in the president and the other government officials that they make the right decision on what we do with North Korea and Syria. Not my place to say anything about it. So, just if we do go to war, then so be it.”

A Family Military Tradition


Steinbrenner JROTC cadet Nathan Egli

The responsibility of war is what Nathan Egli, 18, thought about when he considered his chosen career. He’s headed off to college at Miami of Ohio on a Marine ROTC scholarship. He plans to become an officer, just like his father.

“I’ve realized that wanting to be a leader of Marines in the future is going to be a very difficult task because I’m in charge of multiple things, multiple responsibilities and including other men’s lives. That’s a very difficult thing to grasp  because in the battlefield and just war in general, a lot of things can go wrong,” Egli said.

The Steinbrenner High School graduate said his father, who retired from the Marines in March, supports his decision to follow him in the military and so does his mother.

That support was common among all of the graduates we talked to. One Army recruit said his mom encouraged him to join.  Although she will miss him, she told him he’s doing something he needs to do.

Below are additional voices of young high school graduates who have chosen a military life. They were not part of the broadcast story. We invite you to listen to their thoughts on why they wanted to serve their country and protect all who live here.

VA Chief Resolves Billing Snafu For Up To 600 Vets

AmLegion Vets Roundtable

A Veterans Round-table discussion April 21, 2017 with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg held at American Legion Post 273 of Madeira Beach, FL.

A new administrator at the Bay Pines Healthcare System is being credited by veterans for resolving a paperwork snafu that had some low income VA clients being billed for medications they should have gotten for free.

And what’s worse, some of the low income veterans, who may have been unaware of the VA charges or thought they were a mistake, ended up having the money taken from their benefits checks, according Bill Dreyer, a veteran and peer counselor.

“I have a lot of problems with, right now, the billing system for the VA,” Dreyer told a veterans’ roundtable at American Legion Post 273 last week.

Dreyer described how a female veteran with military sexual trauma, who he is counseling, was charged for her VA medications, yet she never received a bill.

“The reason I found out about this is I’ve been counseling Megan for a while and she got a letter from the Treasury Department that said we are now docking your Social Security benefits,” Dreyer said.

An unidentified veteran in the audience chimed in, “I got one of those (letters) too.”

veteran red shirt day

American Legion Post 273 sells these t-shirts to remind people about “wear red” Fridays.

Unexplained charges for VA medications that are supposed to be free to qualified, low income veterans is not something new to veteran and advocate Randall McNabb, a ride captain with the Patriot Guard Riders.

McNabb said many low income veterans who qualify for free medications don’t know they are required to verify their income status every year. It’s known as a “means test.”

“If their means test goes out of date, it says they’ll be notified at their next appointment. That next appointment could be 10, 12, 14 months down the line,” McNabb said. “Meanwhile, they’re being charged for their medications unknown to them.”

If the veteran ignores the VA bill, thinking it’s just a mistake, it goes to collections. McNabb said that scenario was happening too often especially among veterans who had gone through the VA homeless programs.

“Most of the low income veterans mistakenly believe that it’s a mistake,” McNabb said “Instead of going and checking on it.”

So, McNabb started speaking up like at the quarterly town hall held by the Bay Pines Healthcare System last fall.

One of the people who heard him was Jonathan Benoit, the new, chief of health administration service at Bay Pines Healthcare Systems.

Benoit dug into the data and found 600 veterans who needed to renew their “means test”. But instead of waiting for the veterans to come in for their appointments, Benoit sent letters to all 600 immediately.

“What’s nice is we started with that 600 and in our recent run, I coincidentally saw the stack of letters and it’s only a little more than 100 right now,” Benoit said. “And that’s all the way out for the entire year and I’m hoping it gets lower and lower to a point where we’re on top of every single one of these veterans and they don’t have to experience that inconvenience of having to pay copays.”

McNabb mentioned Benoit’s efforts at the roundtable and said the solution should be shared nationally. Benoit is working on that.

“This is certainly something that I’m going to share with other chiefs and I actually just transferred from Eastern Colorado and I have already shared the process with them,” Benoit said.

He was gratified to see results within just a few months and he is thankful for the veterans’ feedback because he’s a veteran too. Now, Benoit is moving on to his next VA mission: fixing the scheduling system at Bay Pines.

World War I Veterans Remembered With Wreaths

American gunners battle through the Argonne Forest.
(NARA, 111-SC-95980)

I had an interview this morning at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA on a topic far removed from the United States’ entry into World War I.

But I couldn’t help but reflect on the 100th anniversary of the day the U.S. officially entered that global conflict in 1917. At the VA, I passed by the bus stop where two WWII veterans were waiting for a ride. They were easily identified by their ball caps declaring their veteran status.

I over heard one veteran say to the other, “Well they’re about to get back in it again over there, from what I hear.”

I can only speculate that the veteran was referring to Syria or somewhere else on the globe. But it reminded me that the subtitle to World War I was “The war to end all wars.” That’s a variation of an H.G. Wells’ article according to Mental

… the British futurist writer H.G. Wells wrote in an article titled “The War That Will End War,” published in The Daily News on August 14, 1914. Commonly cited as “the war to end all wars” or a similar variant, the phrase was quickly adopted as a slogan to explain British and later American participation in the war…

But no matter the war, there will always be veterans and casualties. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration is hosting wreath-laying ceremonies the week of April 6 to commemorate the 353,082 World War I Veterans interred in VA sites across the country. A list, by state, of the ceremonies planned at National Cemeteries is available here.

On April 6, 1917, Congress voted to declare war on the German Empire. When the war ended Nov. 11, 1918, more than 2 million Americans had served.

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