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.

 

‘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.

 

Lest We Forget: D-Day June 6, 1944 – My Father Was There

June 6, 1944 D-Day. Credit: National Archives

My dad was in the U.S. Navy and a “motor mac” (motor machinist mate) on a landing craft delivering troops to the beaches during the first two days of the invasion.

Robert J. O’Brien never told his family, especially his daughters, about that D-Day. That is, until I married a Navy veteran.

Robert Joseph O’Brien as a young sailor. The red stripe on his uniform indicates he’s part of the engineering department.

My dad shared a few of his memories with my husband. That’s how I learned he was there on the beaches of Normandy. Toward the end of his life, my dad agreed to sit down with me so I could record his thoughts.

He was a man of few words who could say more with a look, a smile or a nod.

He was even more so when talking about WWII. His description was sparse – except for his admiration for the pilots and paratroopers who blackened the sky above his craft. And for the men he delivered to the shores of Normandy.

He saw no heroism – no extraordinary human effort in what he did. In fact, his favorite phrase was “I was just doing my job.”

So, today I pay tribute to all who were there and did their job during such a pivotal moment in history.

And a daughter’s love for a special dad who after two days of facing combat was assigned to the burial detail on the beach – the hardest job of all – that he did with dignity and respect toward the fallen.

National Air Guardsman Tapped To Lead MacDill AFB

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Lt. Gen. Samuel Cox, commander of the 18th Air Force, passes the 6th Air Mobility Wing guidon to the incoming commander, Col. April Vogel, during the wing change of command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., July 8, 2016.
Tech. Sgt. Krystie Martinez / U.S. Air Force

Commanding an Air Force Wing – like the 6th Air Mobility Wing in Tampa – is challenging enough.  Add to that being accountable for the security and daily operations of a high profile military base that is headquarters for U.S. Central Command, and those responsibilities grow “huge.”

That’s why the Air Force selected Col. April Vogel to take command at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa. Continue reading

7 Tips To Make A Military Move – PCS – Smoother

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense

We are smack dab in the middle of the peak moving season for military families. Traditionally, it’s May through August. And it happens every two to three years — to mostly all military families.

It’s called “Permanent Change of Station” or P-C-S.

It can be a stressful time, but one of the bright spots is that the military community has a strong network with plenty of moving experience to share.

Maggie Hahn is a retired Marine Corps spouse who has moved children, household goods and pets across the country six different  times during her husband’s military career and nine deployments.

And she kept a journal through it all. Hahn shares some of those ideas she jotted down to make each move a little bit smoother than the last.

  1. Create a “No Move Zone” in your home to get your children involved. It’s a place where they can place their special items they want to personally carry and not have packed in the moving truck.
  2.  Be proactive and start planning immediately as soon as you learn you have a Permanent Change of Station.
  3. Start putting money aside – a PCS fund if you will – for unexpected travel costs and things like rent and utility deposits at your next duty station.
  4. Carry your important documents with you in a fire-proof box — school and medical records, IDs and passports.
  5. Families should compare their current cost of living rate (BAH) with the rate for their new base because it will be different and affect their budget.
  6. Take photographs of your belongings in case something is lost or damaged and of things like stereo and TV connections so it’s easier to reconnect your electronics in your new home.
  7. Use the military’s Permissive Temporary Duty, leave to go house hunting at your new station.

Hahn said it’s important to get “boots on the ground” and “eyes in the field” when deciding where to live in your new duty station.

“I was looking for the little tykes’ play sets,” Hahn said. “I was looking for the big wheels, the bicycles, the parks. Did I feel comfortable in that neighborhood? Did I feel safe knowing that my loved one was going to be gone a lot of the time on deployment?”

Hahn works as an advocate with USAA, an insurance, banking and real estate company that caters to military and veterans. So, it’s not surprising that she recommends making sure you have renters or homeowners insurance that covers moving household goods and storage.

Her company’s website also offers a free, downloadable, 20-page PCS Guide. And USAA members can connect via social media for immediate feedback about their new duty station. And there’s a 16 point list of things to do for your next move.

A Way for Student Veterans to Help Their Families

Photo courtesy of the VA

Photo courtesy of the VA

Military service involves more than the person wearing the uniform – families are always a part of that equation.

A team of three University of South Florida psychology doctoral students and a graduate of the School of Social Work are conducting a research study looking at how reintegration affects military veterans and their children.

Their focus looks at how veterans are “reintegrating” to both civilian and academic life and also examines the student veterans’ well-being and that of their children.

The USF Coming Home Project is an anonymous online survey for student veterans who qualify:

  • You must currently be enrolled as a student.
  • You must be a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • You have children between the ages of 6 and 18.

The online survey only requires about 15-20 minutes and is anonymous. It examines the impact of deployments on children in military families.

Information about the Coming Home Project survey is available here.

You Are About to Reach the Half-Million Mark

Ana Dorr exploring her fathers combat boots. Photo credit: Jackie Dorr

Ana Dorr exploring her fathers combat boots. Photo credit: Jackie Dorr

Today, Off the Base is dedicated to those loyal readers and dedicated contributors who have helped the blog close in on 500,000 page views. Considering our humble beginnings, it’s quite an accomplishment.

To celebrate and mark the moment, I want to share a few of my favorite entries and some of the most popular since October 2010.

I remember as if it was yesterday when the blog was created. I was sitting in the living room of military spouse, fellow journalist and mentor Liisa Hyvarinen Temple. She taught me everything I needed to know about Word Press and then I dove in.

Number One – So, I’ll start the top 5 list with Liisa’s entry – a perennial favorite: What I wish I had known about military retirement.

Number Two – Dorie Griggs, a military mom, generated such a following with her insights into being a Citadel parent that she eventually created her own blog. Here is one of her more popular entries: The Citadel: Unofficial Tips for Families of Incoming Knobs.

Number Three Fast forward five years, two kids and four deployments later!  I have slept alone more often than I have next to my love. That sentence comes from the first contribution by military spouse Jackie Dorr who is not only a gifted writer but excellent photographer. Several of the photos, including the baby exploring the combat boot at the head of this blog, were taken and shard by Jackie. She’s also become a fast and dear friend.

Number Four – I learned so much about the strength required to be a military parent from my colleague at WUSF, April Agle. Her son joined the Marines and was picked up for boot camp two weeks before his 18th birthday. April wrote several blog entries. Here’s what she shared after receiving her first letter from her son Jared at boot camp.

Number Five – A former WUSF intern, Alex Cook, is also a friend and Army veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alex has such a kind heart and beautiful photographic eye. He struggled to reconcile his experiences while deployed. He won that battle. He wrote several entries to help me and others understand the journey: PTSD: An Army Veteran Writes to Find Peace.

There are so many more people and experiences captured in the past four years. I want to thank all who have made Off the Base a success including the The Carter Center and the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism – you made this all possible. I am humbled and ready to reach the 1 million mark.

Bobbie O’Brien – the spouse of a veteran and daughter of a veteran.

 

 

 

 

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