Tampa Museum of Art Military Appreciation Day

Tampa-Museum-1-e1368197135143It’s a special day and a special offer for active-duty military, veterans and their families at the Tampa Museum of Art, 120 W Gasparilla Plaza
Tampa, FL.

The museum is offering  free admission to Military Appreciation Day for all military families with identification.

Some special events planned for the day:

  • Docent tours (11 am and 1 pm) 
  • Drop-in children’s art activity (11 am – 2 pm)
  • In honor of Military Appreciation Day, the museum will be creating a special project: Picturing Our Heroes, commemorating everyday military heroes through mixed media exploration stations.
  • Live music by Acho Brother (noon – 3 pm) 
  • Scavenger hunts 
  • Gelato tastings

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Pentagon Reports Soldier Suicides Soar in July

More than once a day a soldier is suspected of killing himself according to the most recent data released by the Department of Defense. A total of 38 suicides are under investigation or confirmed in July.

Among active duty soldiers, there are 26 “potential” suicides, nine in the Army National Guard and three in the Army Reserve.

Time magazine reports that Army experts cannot account for the surge in suicides.

Retired Army colonel Elspeth Ritchie, once the service’s top psychiatrist and a key warrior fighting Army suicides, fears the toll won’t abate any time soon. “One of the risk factors for suicide is getting in trouble at work,” says Ritchie, now a Battleland contributor. “As the Army downsizes, the getting in trouble may translate into more soldiers facing discharge and possible unemployment,” she says. “Another risk factor is trouble with relationships. After a decade of war, going from having a spouse away most of the time — to being at home all the time — actually may make things worse. Especially if the spouse is underemployed.”

You can read more on the Time cover story- Grim Record: Soldier Suicides Research New High.
There is help for any family, veteran or active duty member:
  • Trained consultants are available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Or visit website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
  • Military One Source toll-free number 1-800-342-9647
  • Defense Center for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Outreach: 1-866-966-1020

If you need help or know someone who does – call one of the numbers above and talk.

Military Mom Goes Airborne, to First Jump and Graduation

The first of jumpers for Airborne leave the plane over the Drop Zone. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Hurry up and wait.  At this point in my son’s career with the U.S. Army, that is how we feel. He completed his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC) in early October.  He gave up his spot in Ranger school, but was to begin Resilience and Surveillance Leader Course. When he and a few ABOLC friends reported, it turned out the course was over booked. For about 48 hours, it was unclear what would be next. He sent a text a few days later to tell me he was going to Airborne School.

My son’s time at Airborne School was an interesting experience for me. I didn’t hear much from our son since he was kept very busy with his training.  I found the web site for Airborne School through the main Fort Benning website and a Facebook group titled, U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, that was very helpful.  Through the group, I met a number of other parents, spouses and girlfriends of members of Bravo Company.

A Soldier floats to the Drop Zone during the First Jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Airborne school begins with Ground Week. The second week is called Tower Week. The third and final week is called Jump Week.

A friend and veteran of the Army told me about that family could attend the jumps made during Jump Week.  The website also gave instructions on how to get to the Drop Zone (DZ) and Facebook group posted maps in their photos. I suggest calling the number listed on the Jump Week page prior to your trip to get information about your soldiers “drop week”.  They can tell you about the weather conditions and the scheduled jump times.

Since our son’s Jump Week was right before Thanksgiving the first two jumps were scheduled for Sunday, then two on Monday with the third and final jump on Tuesday. We made the two-hour trip to Fort Benning on Sunday to watch the first jump. I let my virtual friends on the Facebook group know we would be there Sunday and I’d try to post updates and photos.

The Drop Zone is on the Alabama side of Fort Benning, just south of the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery off of Alabama Highway 165. We stayed at a hotel in Phenix City, AL to be closer to the entrance to Fort Mitchell where the DZ is located. It was still about a 25 minute drive.  Once there, you will see bleachers and a concrete block rest room building. Be sure to pack drinks and snacks. If the winds pick up and are stronger than 12 knots the drops will be delayed.  You could wait quite a while.

2LT Nelson Lalli runs by the observation area with an Airborne School classmate to report in after his first jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The day we arrived the winds were low and the sky was pretty clear. A few other family members and friends were waiting as well. We enjoyed talking with them and learning about their soldiers.

The first jump was scheduled for 9:00 AM. They were delayed by the brief increase in wind speed.  Once they did begin, it was quite a sight. On the ground we could see several white trucks scattered on the Drop Zone. One young lieutenant who was waiting with us explained they are out there to monitor the landings and help if anyone needs it.  They also release smoke to help the jumpers know the wind direction.

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Crisis Line for Service Members, Veterans, Family, Friends

My reporting and this blog have brought many military families and their friends – both active duty and veteran – into my life. I was contacted recently by one of those individuals in need of support – more support than what a friend can provide.

It made me realize – I need to mention more frequently – there is help for family and for friends of military members.

If you know and love a veteran, a veteran’s family member or friend – please note this number. Post it on your refrigerator door, in your mobile phone contact list or personal address book. You may not need it, but someday someone else might.

Another 24/7 resources is offered through The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). You can get information and find resources about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and psychological health.

The DCoE services are open to everyone – according to the website:

  • Service Members
  • Family and Friends
  • Military Leaders
  • Clinicians
  • Educators
  • Veterans
  • Support Personnel
  • Clergy
  • Researchers
  • Deployed Government Civilians

Information is provided for free by phone, email or online: 866-966-1020, e-mail at resources@dcoeoutreach.org, or you can also go toDCoE Outreach Center Live Chat.

Former College Student, Now Army Wife After 9/11: I Get It …

The Dorr family when Jackie's husband returned from his fourth deployment in their five years of marriage.

Today is September 11, 2011. Ten years ago I was standing in my dorm room at the University of Florida, getting ready for my first class of the day, with the Today Show on in the background. I watched in disbelief as the first plane flew into the first tower. Like many Americans my first reaction was to pick up the phone and call someone, I called my mom. She was equally as shocked. Then there it was, a second plane. It’s a day my children will learn about in history class years from now, much like Pearl Harbor Day, yet they will never grasp the immense devastation this nation felt.

My father was still active duty at the time, and my family lived on Keesler AFB, a mere six hour drive from UF. My brother was still in high school, and he described that September day to me once I came back for a visit. School buses were stopped at the gates in backed up traffic, students were being checked for ID cards. Armed airmen patrolled the neighborhood by foot, etc.

Knowing that war was inevitable, I had made a decision that I wouldn’t ever marry anyone in the military. The future was uncertain, but one thing I think most people knew was that this wouldn’t be a quick fight, it would last a while.

My husband enlisted into the delayed entry program in 2002, a few years before we met. So here I am in a life I swore I wouldn’t live, raising children with a soldier, realizing that it is mission first. Being around the military changes your perspective on things, and last night couldn’t make that more clear.

Last night was date night, so Brian took me to the movies. I got dressed up, as did he and we made our way to the now outrageously overpriced movie theater. We had already decided weeks ago that we wanted to see “warrior”.

The main character is a Marine, and we find out later in the movie he deserted his unit in Iraq after being the only survivor of a friendly fire attack. The actual movie was naturally more drawn out and much more dramatic than that tiny snippet but that part resonated in my head. When you hear deserter you get mad, one thinks of a coward, traitor…. Right?

Paisley Dorr holding her and her sister's Daddy Dolls as she waits for her Daddy to come home March 2011.

I felt for him, on the drive home Brian and I discussed it, we understood it, did we think it was okay? No, of course not, but we got it. It reminded me on some level of a time when Brian was heading back after his R & R and there was a soldier who was catching a flight, but was meant to catch one on the previous day. I struck up conversation with him, while we stood in line at security. His family clung to him, much like I was clinging to Brian. I asked why he had missed his flight the day before, and he began to tell me how it was intentional.

He had contemplated deserting, never returning, it was his fourth deployment and he was tired. His sense kicked in, realizing the punishment wouldn’t get him what he wanted either, which was to be with his family, watch his children grow, be with his wife day in and day out. I find myself wondering what happened to him, and remember the feeling of shock at the time as I heard his story, but now….. I get it.

Someday children will read about all of this in history books, much like I read about WWI, WWII, and Vietnam. However, history books can never capture the human life experience that is living it. A history book won’t make someone say “I get it…’

Volunteers Build an Iraq War Veteran a New Home in Florida

SSG Juan Roldan lost both his legs in an IED explosion in Iraq. While recovering at Walter Reed, he met Lt. Col. (Ret.) Andrew Lourake, who volunteered to help amputees because he too lost a leg but was able to remain on active duty.

Friday morning hammers began swinging as more than 100 volunteers started to build a house in Parrish, Florida for Army Staff Sergeant Juan Roldan. The non-profit Homes for Our Troops enlisted the local construction community to contribute materials and labor for the severely injured soldier’s home.

Red shirts handed out to the volunteer builders were everywhere. Their goal: to frame, side and roof the injured veterans’ new house in the Harrison Ranch subdivision by the end of Sunday.

The home’s interior will be finished over the next few months with large door openings, a roll-in shower and other adaptations for Army Staff Sergeant Juan Roldan, who lost both his legs in an IED explosion in Iraq.

“Nobody had any obligation building this house, nobody,” said a soft spoken Roldan who was overwhelmed by the response of volunteers. “But people chose to contribute in whichever way they could and for that I will be eternally grateful.”

He has spent the last four and a half years recuperating from his injuries, including Traumatic Brain Injuries, at Walter Reed Hospital. That’s where Lt. Col. Andrew Lourake met him.

The goal is to have the injured veteran's home framed, with siding and a roof within three days.

“Being an active duty person with an amputation, I was in the unique position to be able to go and mentor, counsel wounded coming back, showing life basically is not over just because you have an amputation,” Lourake said. Despite losing one of his legs above the knee, Lourake returned to active duty as a pilot. He now is retired to Florida.

Roldan said he’s looking forward to having his mentor over to his home soon and to having neighbors instead of roommates. And most importantly, his daughter will have her own room.

And Parrish will soon have a new family thanks to the generosity of Badger Construction, Taylor Morrison and the other contributors who signed on with Homes for Our Troops to build Roldan a new home.

Volunteers Work to Find Reservists, Guardsmen Jobs

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder will soon take on a volunteer post focused on finding jobs for National Guard members and Reservists and their family.

Many are concerned about finding a job in this economy, but it’s an even bigger battle for Florida’s Reservists and National Guard members returning from war. Their unemployment rate is around 20 percent versus about 11 percent for civilians in the state.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder has 29 years military service on active duty and in the Reserves. And he’s concerned about Reservists and National Guard members because of their unemployment rate.

“It’s double our state percentage for the rest of the population,” Holder said. “These men and women sacrificed much to serve their country. They’re exposed to unbelievable conditions. They come back and often times their position has been eliminated as companies have downsized.”

On Oct. 1st, Holder will become the volunteer, state chairman of the Florida Employment Support for the Guard and Reserve, the ESGR. It’s an unpaid position with an organization that coordinates with the Department of Defense.

The Florida ESGR has about 100 active volunteers doing outreach with Reservists, Guardsmen and their families to help them understand their benefits, find jobs and advocate with employers to hire returning veterans.

As chairman of the ESGR, Holder plans to recruit more companies to hire veterans, especially Reservists and National Guard members. He said there’s a rich tradition of Florida companies supporting veterans and that this fall the Jacksonville-based railroad company, CSX, will receive a national award for its program to hire veterans.

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