The Story of the All Female Unit That Served with SOF

Ashley's_War_book_coverGayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of Ashley’s War, a book on the women who served with Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, is speaking Monday, May 18, 2015 at 3:30 pm at the Port Tampa Library,  4902 West Commerce Street, Tampa, FL

Good Reads calls Ashley’s War “a gripping story of a groundbreaking team of female American warriors who served alongside Special Operations soldiers on the battlefield in Afghanistan—including Ashley White, a beloved soldier who died serving her country’s cause.”

Lemmon’s discussion is sponsored by the Women In International Security Florida WIIS. It will be followed by a book signing.

In Ashley’s War, Lemmon uses on-the ground reporting and a finely tuned understanding of the complexities of war to tell the story of CST-2, a unit of women hand-picked from the Army, and the remarkable hero at its heart: 1st Lt. Ashley White, who would become the first Cultural Support Team member killed in action and honored on the Army Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor alongside the men of Ranger Regiment with whom she died on mission.

Lemmon also shared details about the book during an interview with National Public Radio in April. You can listen to that interview here. She also authored the New York Times bestseller, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.

The author is also scheduled to appear a the US Special Operations Command celebration of the Global SOF (Special Operations Forces) Foundation One Year Anniversary Celebration at the Tampa History Center at 7 pm on Monday, May 18, 2015.

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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.

Researchers Work to Prevent Neglect Felt by Past Veterans

U.S. Marines Cpl. Ryan L. Avery, left, a crew chief and Lance Cpl. Michael J. McGrath, a CH-53E Super Stallion mechanic, both with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 (HMH-462), provide aerial security over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2013. HMH-462 supported Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, during an interdiction operation in Gurjat Village. (Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

U.S. Marines Cpl. Ryan L. Avery, left, a crew chief and Lance Cpl. Michael J. McGrath, a CH-53E Super Stallion mechanic, both with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 (HMH-462), provide aerial security over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2013. HMH-462 supported Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, during an interdiction operation in Gurjat Village. Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

An estimated 2.3 million men and women have served during the nation’s 12 years of war. And as they transition out of the military, the veterans will need care for immediate and long-term conditions like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

And many from health care professionals to retired military are concerned that the neglect of past veterans is not repeated with this new generation.

Troops in WWII came home in 1945 and went right back to work and college. There was no re-integration, no recognition of post-traumatic stress. So many WWII vets had to find their own ways to cope with the trauma of war.

“I never saw my father go to bed – in my entire life – sober. I never saw him go to work drunk,” said retired Lt. Gen. Martin Steele. “I always saw this tortured man with the self-discipline and commitment and resolve to live life one day at a time.”

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 29, 2013) Engineman 1st Class Kevin Ives, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), embraces his sons during a homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Princeton conducted maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 29, 2013) Engineman 1st Class Kevin Ives, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), embraces his sons during a homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Princeton conducted maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Farrington

Alcohol was how Steele’s step-father, a WWII veteran, dealt with his trauma of having his fighter plane shot down, spending a year in a Prisoner of War camp and being tortured by the Germans.

His step-father’s story of survival transfixed Steele who joined the Marines at age 18 and served two tours in Vietnam.

“Many of my generation in Vietnam struggle every day. They’re not coming out,” said Steele, who retired as a three-star Marine Corps general.

Yet only recently, did two of his closest buddies from Vietnam confided to him that they suffered from post-traumatic stress. Steel said they told him in the hope that current PTSD research could possibly help them.

Steele now serves as associate vice president for Veterans Research at USF – home to several veterans health initiatives for treatment of Military PTSD. One example is Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). Dr. Kevin Kip, head of research for the College of Nursing, runs the ART program.

U.S. Army Pfc. Rohan Wright, center, a cavalry scout with a personal security detachment with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to fire an M203 grenade launcher at the weapons range at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktia province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller

U.S. Army Pfc. Rohan Wright, center, a cavalry scout with a personal security detachment with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to fire an M203 grenade launcher at the weapons range at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktia province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller

“We do have a new study starting up for post-traumatic stress disorder many of whom the veterans will be treated at the C.W. Bill Young Building on campus,” Kip said.

The goal of academia is to apply the research as quickly as possible according to Interim Vice President of USF Health Dr. Donna Petersen.

“We simply can’t wait for the usual trickle down of our scientific papers and years later becoming accepted practice,” Petersen told a gathering at USF’s national conference on veterans health.

But research is just the first step in caring for the new generation of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.

“This population that we now have who have served in this 12 years of protracted war that we have to have a net for them,” Steele said. “Yes, they have to take care of themselves but we have to have a net for them to be able to welcome them with open arms and provide all the resources this nation can bring to bear to ensure that they have a quality of life.”

And Steele added that caring for today’s veterans will help mitigate the lack of services provided to veterans of WWII and his generation from the Vietnam War.

You can hear the radio version of this story at WUSF News.org.

Veterans Group Plans Should VA Checks Stop

Photo courtesy of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Photo courtesy of the Wounded Warrior Project.

The Florida-based Wounded Warriors Project (WWP) plans to open its coffers should the congressional stalemate continue and VA payments cannot  be made to veterans with disabilities and families of fallen service members.

The non-profit organization – which has assisted some 40,000 injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war – has committed $20 million to help its alumni according to the WWP website.

WWP is prepared to send you a $500 check if the government does not come to a resolution in time for the November payment. These funds are to assist with expenses during this payment gap, and WWP will not ask for reimbursement. While this action would not solve all financial hardship, we are committed to helping our warriors, especially in time of crisis.

Many news reports are quoting veterans who are anxious and angry about the looming threat that there will be no money for VA compensation checks and benefit payments.

But their faith was shaken when initially death benefits were denied last week to families of  five service members killed in Afghanistan and to others who died while on active duty.

The non-profit organization, the Fisher House, stepped up to help pay the death benefit so families could deal with the sudden loss and plan funerals. Later in the week, Congress did pass a resolution funding death benefits.

Wounded Veterans Train to Combat Online Pedophiles

A photo of Justin Gaertner and his service dog Gunner during the HERO Corps training.

A photo of Justin Gaertner and his service dog Gunner during the HERO Corps training.

One retired Marine is using his battlefield training that helped him track terrorists in Afghanistan to find child predators back home.

Justin Gaertner joined the Marine Corps just days after graduating from J.W. Mitchell High School in New Port Richey. In five years, he did three tours, two of them in Afghanistan.

Justin Gaertner under fire from Taliban insurgents during his second deployment in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Justin Gaertner.

Justin Gaertner under fire from Taliban insurgents during his second deployment in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Justin Gaertner.

He was serving as a combat engineer, sweeping for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), when he was severely wounded.

“Honestly, I thought that life was over. When I got blown up in Afghanistan, I was like this is it I’m done,” Gaertner said. “I didn’t think I was going to live. I didn’t think I was going to walk again. I didn’t think I would ever do a tenth of the things I’ve done since I lost my legs.”

Justin lost both his legs and has other permanent injuries, but he has since become a world-class athlete with five gold medals in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games held this July in Tampa. And he recently cycled across America with a team of wounded veterans in 7 days, 12 hours and 21 minutes.

“The way it seems, I’ve done more things without my legs than I did with my legs,” Gaertner said. “I never thought that I would get the chance to walk again or get the chance to do something as great as being a part of the HERO Corps ever again.”

Justin Gaertner served as a combat engineer in Afghanistan where he searched for IEDs and the terrorists who made the improvised explosive devices.

Justin Gaertner served as a combat engineer in Afghanistan where he searched for IEDs and the terrorists who made the improvised explosive devices.

The HERO Corps is an acronym for the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Corps. It is a pilot program that is training wounded veterans to track down online child sexual predators and pornographers.

Justin is one of 17 wounded veterans from Special Operations currently training at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He’s learning computer forensic analysis and digital evidence collection to identify and rescue child victims of sexual abuse and online sexual exploitation.

“It’s just like being back in country. I mean, you’re using the same mindset to track one terrorist and moving to track a different terrorist because that’s how I view a pedophile or child pornographers,” Gaertner said.

The HERO Corps training is as rigorous as Gaertner’s Marine boot camp which required physical endurance, but this training requires mental toughness he said.

Justin Gaertner crossing the finish line - first in the 10K hand-cycling event during the 2013 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa.

Justin Gaertner crossing the finish line – first in the 10K hand-cycling event during the 2013 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa.

“It’s hard to mentally deal with what we’re dealing with here, because of the images and video that we’re viewing,” Gaertner said. “I mean what’s going on out there, the normal average American doesn’t realize how bad child exploitation is. The way I see it is I might be looking at this stuff everyday but the outcome of it is that I’m preserving our children’s future and the good thing about it is I can save a child’s life.”

A chance to save a life, to serve again, and to use his analytical skills developed on the battlefield drives Gaertner. He said that’s why the pilot HERO Corps targeted wounded warriors from  Special Operations Command and the Marines.

“The skills that we had on the battlefield we can put onto a new battlefield and that’s what it’s all about, getting back in the fight, Because everything I’ve learned about tracking down terrorists over in Afghanistan, I’m trying to use the same mindset here back on the home front,” Gaertner said.

Gaertner will return from his training in a few weeks to Tampa for a 9-month internship at the office of Homeland Security Investigations.

A Green Beret Busting Myths About PTSD

Saint Leo University veteran student Brian Anderson is willing to talk about his experience with post-traumatic stress to bust myths held by the general public.

Saint Leo University veteran student Brian Anderson is willing to talk about his experience with post-traumatic stress to bust myths held by the general public.

The U.S. military is downsizing. The war in Iraq is over, and combat troops are due out of Afghanistan by the end of next year. So more than 1 million service members are expected to enter the civilian workforce in the coming years.

That’s why two veterans are on a mission to help employers and the community in general separate fact from fiction when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder.

First, not every veteran has PTSD. It affects only an estimated 20 to 25 percent of combat veterans, according to Saint Leo University associate professor Dr. Jim Whitworth, a 21-year Air Force veteran with a Ph.D. in social work.

There’s a lot to understand about post-traumatic stress and the best teachers are those with the diagnosis. However, most veterans are not comfortable talking about their traumatic experiences.

That’s where the bravery of Brian Anderson shines through. He is willing to share what can be painful details so clinicians, the public and employers have a better understanding of returning veterans.

Anderson joined the military because of September 11th. His first hitch in the Army was as a photo-print journalist with the 82nd Airborne Division. Anderson then became a Green Beret.

“I killed my first man on Dec. 31st 2008. And, you know, at that point it was more of a high-five type experience.  I was psyched. I was really pumped about it,” Anderson said. “The second deployment, I went in, our very first fire-fight was eight hours long. And we killed 39 Taliban that day and we had a couple of our guys wounded. Continue reading

Army Mom Welcomes Home Son from First Deployment

What a delight to share this news. The son of our cherished Off the Base contributor, Dorie Griggs, has returned home from Afghanistan.

Dorie shares her anticipation and joy of the moment in this video.

Welcome home 1st Lt. Nelson Lalli who said the first thing he wanted was a trip to McDonald’s to get a Big Mac.

Dorie on the other hand shared the lessons she learned during her son’s deployment.

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