Air Force Trains Advocates for Sexual Assault Victims

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

The Air Force has taken a page out of the civilian court handbook by creating advocates for victims of military sexual trauma (MST).

The hope is by providing an advocate – Special Victims’ Counsels (SVC) – victims will be more willing to report assaults and testify in military court according to NPR’s Larry Abramson.

“We know 85 percent of our victims don’t report,” Lt. Gen. Richard Harding says. “Maybe if they understood the value of an SVC, some of them might feel a little bit more comfortable about reporting.”

That’s the long-term hope for the Special Victims’ Counsel program, which is currently limited to the Air Force but could expand to other services. The immediate goal is to train around 50 lawyers who will help victims get through the legal process.

You can listen to the full NPR story here.

The Department of Defense has a three-part Safe Helpline campaign to help any military member who has been the victim of military sexual assault. Continue reading

American POWs Released from North Vietnam 40 Years Ago

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

On Feb. 12, 1973, more than 140 American prisoners of war were set free.

One of them was Lee Ellis, a retired Air Force colonel, a fighter pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam and spent more than five years as a POW in the downtown prison nicknamed – the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“It’s a French prison built in the early 1900s. It occupies an entire downtown block,” Ellis said. “The walls are 15 feet high, 5 or 6 feet thick, guard towers at all the corners so impossible to escape from.”

Likening their prison to a “hotel” was part of the gallows humor that Ellis said got him and others through their captivity and torture. Ellis turned the experience into a book: “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hotel.”

Ellis said his fellow POWs and the military leaders at the Hanoi Hilton like the senior ranking officer, Lt. Col. Robbie Risner, helped him recover and learn to deal with the torture.

taps-on-the-walls_custom-9849ed78ea79f780d11f6dcb5812fa93223db8af-s2“He said we just need to bounce back. He said be a good American, live by the code of conduct. Take torture to resist only up to the point of where you don’t lose physical or mental damage,” Ellis said. “Then, go ahead and give in, give as little as possible and ready to bounce back.”

Another among the men to start the long journey back home that day was John Borling.

An Air Force fighter pilot, Borling was shot down on his 97th mission over Vietnam. He spent the next six years and eight months in the “Hanoi Hilton,” a place of torture, deprivation and often solitary confinement.

Borling spent much of his time there just trying to survive. He also composed poetry — in his head, without benefit of pencil or paper.

NPR interviewed him about his book of poems written and memorized during those years, Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton. It’s a tribute, as he told NPR, to the “power of the unwritten word.”

A list of Florida POW/MIAs is available here.

Drone Pilots Are Experiencing Stress Without Being There

Drone pilots fight a war from the safety of bases in the U.S. but confront some of the same wartime stresses as their comrades on the battlefield. Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP.

A new report shows that 17 percent of active duty drone pilots surveyed are thought to be “clinically distressed.” That means they’re so stressed that it affects their work and family lives.

Reasons for Pilot Stress

A report from National Public Radio states that the different realities of surveying a combat zone and then going home to family causes unique psychological stress. Secondly, the drones operate 24 hours a day which has meant extended time for drone pilots at the controls.

More Eyes in the Sky – Reuters

Although the United States formally ended the war in Iraq last week and is gradually drawing down in Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean demand for drones will decline. Indeed, the opposite appears likely.

“As you lose eyes on the ground, you may want more eyes in the air,” Lieutenant General Larry James, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said.

Although combat was not reported to be one of the main “stressers” for any of those surveyed, it had affected some drone crews – who witnessed, and maybe even participated in, some of the most grizzly aspects of war from afar.

The bulk of what drone crews do is surveillance, monitoring suspects or compounds. But they also sometimes take out targets. – Reuters 

Last U.S. Troops Leave Iraq, But 16,000 from State Remain

Watch the footage from a predator drone as it monitors the final convoy to leave Iraq. There is no audio, just the silent black and white video that lasts under two minutes.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator provides over-watch as the last convoys cross the border out of Iraq at 11:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). U.S. Air Forces Central Command provided more than 14 Air Force and U.S. Navy aircraft to ensure safe passage for more than 125 vehicles filled with Soldiers and Airmen as they make the historic trek across the border.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait — The last U.S. troops crossed the border out of Iraq shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday, officially ending a war that gave rise to a fledgling and still unstable democracy in Iraq but also cost almost $1 trillion and the lives of some 4,500 American service members.

The troops crossed a berm at the Kuwaiti border that was lit with floodlights and ringed with barbed wire, and were met by Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who until Friday was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The convoy’s arrival in Kuwait, after a week of ceremonies in Baghdad marking the end of the war, was kept shrouded in secrecy to protect the almost 500 troops and more than 110 vehicles that were part of the last convoy. – Washington Post

As the final U.S. troops leave Iraq, they leave behind the largest U.S. Embassy in the world.

There will be about 16,000 people working for the State Department at the embassy in Baghdad and consulates elsewhere in Iraq.

At least 5,000 of those in Iraq will be private security contractors, and there are lots of questions about whether the State Department is ready to run such a big operation in such a volatile country. – NPR.

 

Air Force to Cut 100 Civilian Jobs from Hurlburt Field

Senior Airman Payne, a combat controller from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, serves as Air Traffic Control for Hurlburt Field, Florida. (US Air Force Photo by Airman First Class Kimberly Gilligan)

Hurlburt Field announced Thursday it will eliminate 100 civilian positions with the Air Force’s special operations command according to a report from Associated Press.

Base officials, in a news release, said more than half of the jobs are already vacant and will remain unfilled.

Other layoffs are expected at nearby Eglin Air Force Base. Nationwide the Air Force plans to trim 9,000 civilian jobs as part of ongoing cost cutting measures.

Military Retirement = Going Back to School for Both of Us

Rex Temple and Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, April 22, 2010, the day he returned from a year's deployment in Afghanistan.

When they tell you retiring from the military is a gateway to a whole new life – they mean it. These last few months going through my husband’s separation from the United States Air Force after 28 years of service has at times felt like we moved to a new country and learned a whole new society and a language – and we stayed in the same town where we’ve been since 1996!

I am the first to say we are incredibly blessed to have awesome retirement benefits. But learning to navigate them has been quite interesting. Just getting my husband’s entire medical record transferred from the military to the Veterans Administration has taken months coupled with multiple medical evaluation appointments. Fortunately my husband is currently using his educational benefits and attending graduate school fulltime so we don’t have to worry about taking time off from a civilian job to go to all these appointments. He also transferred 28 months worth of educational benefits to me so I will be able to go back to school and update my skills. That transfer will not only pay for my tuition and help with my books but it will also pay a housing allowance, which will help with our mortgage payment. (The housing allowance varies based on location and is higher if you attend a physical “brick and mortar” school versus take courses just online.)

Being able to access your spouse’s educational benefits is a great benefit for military spouses who may need updated skills to help spruce up a resume that reflects all those mandatory PCS (Permanent Change of Station) moves as they followed their spouse from one duty station to the next. (For more information about transferring education benefits to your dependents, check here: http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2009/0409_gibill/ ) Keep in mind also that this fall you can use these benefits to pursue non-college degrees, on the job and apprenticeship training, flight programs and correspondence training.

(More on that here: http://www.gibill.va.gov/benefits/post_911_gibill/Post911_changes.html – be sure to scroll down the page to heading “Effective October 1, 2011)

SMSgt. Rex Temple with his parents, Raymond "Skip" Temple and Maxine Temple, and his wife, Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, during his retirement ceremony, April 6, 2011, at the MacDill Air Force Base Officers' Club.

The hardest part about retirement is of course deciding what you will do now and where you will go. Many retiring military families face the decision about whether to stay in the area where their last duty station is at or moving to someplace else – for example closer to their families. In our case my husband has not been home for Christmas in 26 years and ultimately it would be nice to get closer to his family (my family lives overseas in a very cold climate so that’s not an option).  But mix in the current tight job market and the high unemployment among veterans – and deciding where you will enjoy your retirement is not so simple. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for veterans who have served since September 2001 was 13.3% in June, up from 12.1% the month before. In June 2010 it was 11.5%.

Another hurdle has been dealing with friends and family. Retirement is a difficult process for anyone who has had an active career – whether it’s a civilian career or one in the military. Making the transition can take an emotional toll especially these days when you may have “survivor’s guilt” for being able to leave the service and your buddies and their families are still facing many more deployments and night and days filled with worry and separation from their loved ones.  Many friends and family are eager to spend time with you and constantly ask what your plans are for the future. When you don’t have an answer, having that conversation gets old quite quickly.

One of the most amazing blessings about retirement has been the ability to spend true quality time together. We recently were separated for 15 months when my husband first trained for a deployment out-of-state and then spent a year in Afghanistan. Although my husband returned from Afghanistan in the end of April 2010, life has not really returned to “normal” until a few weeks ago. Decompressing as a couple after a combat tour takes time and getting used to being together is also a time-consuming process. We have enjoyed gourmet cooking together, going on long walks with our dogs and getting into a routine of working out together at the gym.  Surprisingly this last deployment brought us much closer together as a couple because it was so incredibly demanding on our relationship and it’s been great to build on that strong bond even further. Now we get to go back to school together although we are studying vastly different subjects. But it will be fun to see just who has the higher GPA!

Emotional Cycles of Deployment: An Army Mom’s Overview

Contributor Tracie Ciambotti and her son Josh on his deployment day, June 2011, at Fort Carson, CO.

Every traumatic event we encounter in life triggers a cycle of emotional responses; military families experience this emotional roller coaster continuously due to the frequency of deployments.

The Army’s website, US Army Hooah4Health, outlines the following 7-stage cycle that military families go through with each deployment:

Stage 1 – Anticipation of Departure: Begins when the service member receives an order for deployment and ends when he or she actually leaves.

Stage 2 – Detachment and Withdrawal:  Final weeks prior to deployment

Stage 3 – Emotional Disorganization:  First six weeks of the deployment

Stage 4 – Recovery and Stabilization:  Two months into the deployment to a few weeks before the end of deployment

Stage 5 – Anticipation of Return:  Final weeks of deployment

Stage 6 – Return Adjustment and Renegotiation: First six weeks post deployment

Stage 7 – Reintegration and Stabilization: Up to six months post deployment[1]

This model was updated in 2006 by Jennifer Morse, M.D., Navy CAPT (Ret), San Diego, CA because of the increased occurrence of deployments that military families experience.

Josh and Alison, his wife, when he returned from his second deployment in Iraq--August of 2009.

The detailed description provided in this model pertains to the service member and his or her spouse and children—there is no mention of parents in this emotional cycle.  As the mother of an Army sergeant, currently serving his third deployment, I can personally testify that parents go through an emotional roller coaster too.

Through a series of posts on this topic, I will share a personal look into the stages of the deployment cycle from the perspectives of various members of my military family: a mother, a wife, and the soldier.  I hope to generate an understanding of the challenges faced by the entire family as we experience deployments together.


[1] Morse, J., (2006).The new emotional cycles of deployment. Retrieved pdf June 28, 2007 from the U.S. Department of Defense: Deployment Health and Family Readiness Library: San Diego, CA

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