An Army Family Prepares for Deployment

The Colors are Cased – a battalion ritual as soldiers prepare to deploy. Photo by Stanley Leary.

By Dorie Griggs

The last few weeks have been full of rituals and changes.

October 12-13 was Parents Weekend at The Citadel. My son graduated in 2011, but I am still in touch with quite a few families with cadets there. It is fun to relive the fun weekends through their stories and photographs. Since the first year cadets or knobs are promoted and the seniors receive their rings this weekend, it is a very happy time to visit the otherwise serious campus.

This year, I will admit to spending a bit more time looking at Facebook photos of this fun weekend. It was a great fun way to escape the ritual our family was about to begin. . . deployment.

Our oldest son is about to deploy to the Middle East. He was home in early October for his pre-deployment leave. He spent most of that time living it up with good friends. We saw him for a couple of meals and a going away party his father and step-mother threw for him. It was tough not having more time just to visit, but I was very happy to see him enjoying all his friends. Continue reading

Memorial Day: An Army Mom’s Reflection

Army Mom Tracie Ciambotti and her son, Josh.

I awoke this morning thinking about how different this Memorial Day is from 2011’s.  I recall—all too well—the dread that plagued me this holiday weekend last year as my son was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in early June.  Those last couple weeks prior to his departures are always difficult with the constant anticipation of having to say good-bye looming.

This year I am so thankful to have him home on American soil and relieved that my daily battle with the worry and fear that accompany his deployments has ended too.

Many of our nation’s sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers have come home from war over the past year.  Sadly, some will forever be remembered as fallen heroes; others are now wounded warriors fighting to recover from severe injuries or missing limbs; many are struggling silently to reintegrate into non-war life and regain some sense of normalcy—if there is such a thing.

Thousands of service members are currently deployed in war zones; others have just begun their tours of duty; some are now preparing for an upcoming deployment.

I doubt we will we ever know the full impact of war on our military families. Continue reading

PTSD: An Army Mom Says “Above All Else, Do No Harm”

Photo courtesy of the VA.

One day last week, I was on Facebook and noticed a string of heated comments on the group site, Army Moms, about a Dr. Phil show titled Heroes or Monsters. I don’t watch Dr. Phil so I did a little checking. It turns out the show was about returning veterans with post traumatic stress and the difficult challenges for the veteran and their families.

The topic is an important one. We all need to learn more about the various physical and mental stresses our veterans can potentially come home with. But by using the title: Heroes or Monsters, the Dr. Phil show chose to sensationalize the topic and in the process upset scores of veterans and their families.

The show violated the maxim adhered to by the medical profession of Do No Harm.

Continue reading

Military Base Housing Adapts for Wounded Warriors

Retired Army Capt. Alvin Shell was one of several advisers on the design of the Wounded Warrior Home Project in Fort Belvoir, Va. Soon 19 more innovative homes will be built to accommodate wounded active-duty personnel. Photo by: Kainaz Amaria/NPR

Pair a few severely injured soldiers  with a renowned architect confined to a wheelchair and a design firm with a Vietnam Veteran as a partner and you get the team that designed the new wounded warriors’ housing at Army’s Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

National Public Radio took a tour of the new adaptive housing. It was created by architect Michael Graves who was left unable to walk after a bad infection and the design firm IDEO with partner David Haygood who  served in Vietnam and now lives with Parkinson’s Disease after being exposed to Agent Orange.

“When I was interviewed, I rolled in, in my wheelchair,” Graves says, “and I thought I had a pretty good chance of beating out the competition, because I was with the Wounded Warriors.”

From automated door openers to adjustable stove heights, the innovative home addresses a wide range of disabilities. There are obvious fixes such as wider hallways and doors to accommodate wheelchairs. But, there also are subtle design changes to help with the invisible wounds or emotional scars.

Huge windows and French doors are everywhere, so a resident can observe the surroundings, inside and out. That’s important for soldiers struggling with post-traumatic stress.

View a slide show of the adaptive housing and listen to the NPR story HERE.

Third Veterans Court to Open in South Florida

Image by Salvatore Vuono (Free Digital

Florida will soon be getting another Veterans Court, this one is scheduled to open this spring in Broward County. Chief Judge Peter Weinstein is leading the effort according to the Sun Sentinel:

“These soldiers are coming home to rebuild their lives and some will have difficulties. Often the horrors of what they saw at war can end up playing a heavy role in their conduct,” said Weinstein. “They served this country and we want to treat them with respect and get them the help they need. We have tremendous resources to help to put them back on the right track. We want this to be a therapeutic court.”

A planning session was held in December, and Weinstein has visited the Palm Beach Veterans Court, which opened almost 15 months ago. In March, the Miami-Dade Drug Court launched a similar specialized track for veterans.

The Florida lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow the establishment of a Veterans Court in each judicial circuit. The Sun Sentinel reports that the bill was unanimously passed in House Appropriations Committee and similar bills are being considered in the Senate.

Veterans Courts: Making the Case for the Growing Trend

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Judge Robert Russell discuss the veterans treatment court program. Photo courtesy of the Erie County Veterans Service Agency.

Veterans’ Courts appear to be a growing trend. Currently, Florida lawmakers are considering legislation that set up a system for state circuit courts. Although, some such as Brevard  County have already established a Veterans Treatment Court.

Local criminal courts elsewhere across the U.S. are developing similar, targeted justice systems that get services and support to veterans charged with minor offenses.

One of the first Veterans Court was established by Buffalo, NY Judge Robert Russell with cooperation from the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies.

The Daily Record reports this week on a similar set-up in York County, PA:

The program is similar to Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD, a probationary program that can result in an expunged criminal record. If a veteran offender is approved by the district attorney’s office and the probation department, they’ll meet once a week in a courtroom with Judge Craig Trebilcock.

You can read the full Daily Record story HERE.

The Atlantic makes the case in its December issue, “Why Veterans Should Get Their Own Courts.”  It reports there at least 80 Veterans Courts currently operating.

Three Tuskegee Airmen Tell Their Tales, P-51 Fly-By Video

Some of the Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group were known as Red Tail Angels because the tail of their P-51 Mustang fighter was painted bright red. This one was flown by famous Tuskegee ace pilot Lee Archer and now resides at the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City, FL.

The large open hangar at the Fantasy of Flight aviation attraction was a perfect setting for the three WWII veteran pilots who are all in their 80s. The Tuskegee Airmen were surrounded by vintage aircraft like the P-51 Mustang fighter.

Leo Gray, 87, of Ft. Lauderdale, George Hardy, 86, of Sarasota and Daniel Keel, 89, of Leesburg sat behind a table on an elevated platform looking out at an audience filled with high school students, veterans and members of the community who came to meet them.

All three men are members of the famous African-American air corps that trained in Tuskegee during WWII. Their collective story of battling against the segregated military so they could “go to war” has been told in literature, in documentary films and on Hollywood’s big screen.

Keel talked about one of more memorable moments when he was with the first group of black officers to arrive at a Texas Army base for additional training on bombardiers. He said they were greeted by a white lieutenant colonel who laid down some rules.

Tuskegee Airmen Daniel Keel (L), George Hardy (C), Leo Gray (R) received a standing ovation from the crowd of high school students, veterans and members of the community as they entered for the symposium at Fantasy of Flight.

“One we could not eat in the officers’ mess, two we could not go in the officers’ club, three if we go to the base theater we couldn’t sit in the officers’ section and four, if we go to town, we had to ride in the back of the bus,” Keel said. “I knew I was in trouble as soon as he said that.”

Keel and the other two Tuskegee Airmen are participating in additional public symposiums scheduled Friday and Saturday at Fantasy of Flight at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. just off Exit 44 on Interstate 4.

I’ll have more of their stories over the next few weeks. All three men said they continue to do public forums with the hope of invigorating the younger generation to strive for lofty, worthwhile goals.

P-51 Fly-By Video

If you want to see the P-51 Mustang fly – click HERE. The owner of Fantasy of Flight took the fighter plane up for a fly-by to honor his guests. Unfortunately, I was inside doing interviews and missed the demonstration, but we heard it. Leo’s eyes lit up when he heard the distinctive roar of that Merlin engine roar by outside. The Red Tail pilot called its sound as sweet as honey.

The P-51 Mustang on display outside after the fly-by.


Tweeting with the Tuskegee Airmen at Fantasy of Flight

TUSKEGEE, Ala. -- Maj. James A. Ellison returns the salute of Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio, as he passes down the line during review of the first class of Tuskegee cadets; flight line at U.S. Army Air Corps basic and advanced flying school in 1941. Partial three-quarter left front view from low angle of Vultee BT-13 trainer at left. (U.S. Air Force photo)

They’ve been lionized in literature and films, most recently “Red Tails,” and now Thursday morning several members of the original Tuskegee Airmen will be in Polk City, Florida at Fantasy of Flight for a public forum.

And I will be there too to cover the event live via Twitter. If you can’t make it to the aviation museum to meet these distinguished WWII veterans in person, you can follow their comments and interaction with the audience at the special Twitter hashtag: #TuskegeeTales.

The Tuskegee Airmen scheduled to speak are Leo Gray, 91, of Ft. Lauderdale who served as a consultant on the movie “Red Tails;” Daniel Keel, 89, of Leesburg;  George Hardy, 88, of Sarasota.

The African-American Airmen will talk about their experiences flying bomber cover during WWII while serving in a segregated military. And, they will take questions from the public. Be sure to join me Thursday at 10:30 a.m. (EST) on Twitter at #TuskegeeTales.

Additional forums are planned at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at Fantasy of Flight, 1400 Broadway Blvd. S.E. Polk City, FL. 33868 (863)984-3500.

Wounded Warriors Get Help Calculating Compensation

Image: Graeme Weatherston /

The special compensation for wounded service members can now be calculated on a website set up by the Department of Defense.

The Special Compensation for Assistance with Activities of Daily Living stipend calculator is similar to the Pentagon’s Basic Allowance for Housing calculator.

The site allows troops to input their ZIP code and level of care they receive to retrieve a monthly payment amount.

Details are available through

Military Dogs Breeding Program Turns Puppies into Troops

Bernadine Green, deputy director for the Defense Department's Military Working Dog Breeding Program, cuddles with a puppy. DOD photo by Linda Hosek

Nothing warms a heart quicker than a cuddly puppy. At Lackland Air Force Base, those cute bundles of fur are being trained to become the military working dogs of the future.

Armed Forces Press Service reporter Elaine Sanchez has a full story on the program. You’ll also find several adorable photos of the puppies and dogs in training.

The Defense Department’s Military Working Dog Breeding Program breeds, trains and raises Belgian Malinois to serve alongside other military working dogs. The program has three  stages: whelping, foster family care and then adolescent training. At 12 months old, the dogs are evaluated for entry into the military working dog program.

Trainers look for characteristics such as an inquisitive nature, eagerness to play and socialize, not afraid of noises and not overly aggressive.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Russell Minta, senior non-commissioned officer for the Defense Department's Military Working Dog Breeding Program on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, plays with a puppy. The program provides working dogs to every service branch and numbers among the largest military breeding programs in the world. DOD photo by Linda Hosek

A non-profit organization, K-9s for Veterans, is based in Tampa, Florida and recently received a remodeling thanks to The Mission Continues and Home Depot.

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