Marine Who Won VA Coverage for Camp LeJeune Water Dies

Photo courtesy: The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten web site.

Photo courtesy: The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten web site.

A Marine who challenged and finally won his VA disability claim that his breast cancer was linked to Camp Lejeune contaminated water died just months after winning his claim according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Tom Gervasi, a veteran who won his protracted disability claim fight with the government over the rare cancer he contracted during his service, died Tuesday at home in Sarasota.

He was 77.

While serving in the Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1956, Gervasi was exposed to contaminated water that caused breast cancer, which rarely affects men. For the last decade, he fought with the government over medical coverage for him and other veterans.

After repeated denials, he finally received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs in April confirming that the contaminated water had in fact caused his cancer.

Read the full Sarasota Herald-Tribune article here.

In March, the VA started reaching out to former Marines and families who lived at Lejeune during the period of contamination. Details on eligibility and a list of illnesses covered by the VA such as breast cancer, bladder cancer and female infertility are available here.

If you served at Camp Lejeune during the period of contamination, August 1953 through 1987, and have health problems, you may be eligible for VA benefits. Details are available here.

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Final Tribute Congressman Young Made Honorary Marine

US Marines carry the casket of Congressman Bill Young into his memorial service.

US Marines carry the casket of Congressman Bill Young into his memorial service.

He served more than half-century in public office including 43 years in Congress and chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. So, it’s difficult to measure the scope of Congressman Bill Young contributions to the Bay Area, Florida and the nation.

Young was laid to rest Thursday at Bay Pines National Cemetery – a place he visited often especially for the Veterans’ Day ceremony.

A salute as Congressman Young's casket passes.

A salute as Congressman Young’s casket passes.

On the stage at his funeral service at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, a smiling portrait of Bill Young looked out on the audience of more than 1,000 people. One could almost detect a twinkle in his eye as he was remembered for creating the national bone marrow registry and for his unwavering support for biomedical research.

Yet what was mentioned the most was his dedication and personal support of members of the military – especially the wounded and their families.

“It’s a strange thing to owe your life to somebody,” said Marine CPL Josh Callihan. Listed as a member of the Young family, Callihan credited the congressman and his wife Beverly for his recovery from a spinal injury.

Callihan was one of countless wounded troops visited by the Youngs at Walter Reed and other medical centers in the Tampa Bay region and around the world.

Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies salute the arrival of Congressman Young's casket.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies salute the arrival of Congressman Young’s casket.

“I know that Bill would want me to say to the military that he loves so much, God Bless to all those who serve especially the wounded and their families and the fallen and all who stand the watch of the day,” said former Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England.

He then read from a condolence letter sent by former President George W. Bush to Young’s widow that noted the congressman’s devotion to veterans and the military.

One need look no further than MacDill Air Force Base and the joint commands, US Central Command and US Special Operations Command, to measure his influence said State Rep. Ed Hooper of Clearwater.

“Bill Young with what he has done with MacDill Air Force Base to keep that open, putting the world center of national defense. He is clearly that person that we owe that gratitude to,” Hooper said.

There are countless veterans who can personally thank Young and his congressional staff for helping with paperwork snafus at the VA. Vietnam veteran Randall McNabb, a local leader of the Patriot Guard Riders, said Young helped him back in 1977 with a GI Bill snafu.

Dozens of Patriot Guard Riders escorted Congressman Young from the church service to Bay Pines National Cemetery.

Dozens of Patriot Guard Riders escorted Congressman Young from the church service to Bay Pines National Cemetery.

McNabb worries that Young’s replacement will not have the same enthusiastic support for veterans.

“They don’t have the same knowledge,” McNabb said. “They don’t understand a lot of the issues especially of those who have been to war.”

Young served nine years in the Army National Guard and six more years in the Reserves. Yet at his funeral, members of the US Marine Corps are the ones who carried his casket and formed the honor guard.

And Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos made Young an honorary US Marine delivering the news to his widow, Beverly Young, an hour before the funeral service.

“While he was physically absent during my remarks with Beverly and their family he was most assuredly there in spirit,” Amos told the audience. “To the men and women who wear my cloth, this is the absolute very highest honor that we could have bestowed upon this valiant warrior. While his heart was always with his Marines, he is now officially one of us.”

Dozens of motorcycle deputies and Patriot Riders await Congressman Bill Young's escort to Bay Pines National Cemetery.

Dozens of motorcycle deputies and Patriot Riders await Congressman Bill Young’s escort to Bay Pines National Cemetery.

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.

How the 99 Percent Can Support Military Service Members

Lest we forget, here’s a photo to remind us that U.S. Marines and their working companions are hard at work daily in Afghanistan as are all U.S. Armed Forces.

Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Corps military working dog with a Marine special operations team, takes a break with his handler after successfully searching a build site for an Afghan Local Police (ALP) checkpoint in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 30, 2013. The ALP complemented counterinsurgency efforts by assisting and supporting rural areas with a limited Afghan National Security Forces presence. (DoD photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released)

Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Corps military working dog with a Marine special operations team, takes a break with his handler after successfully searching a build site for an Afghan Local Police (ALP) checkpoint in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 30, 2013. The ALP complemented counterinsurgency efforts by assisting and supporting rural areas with a limited Afghan National Security Forces presence. (DoD photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released)

Currently, only 1 percent of Americans serve in the Armed Forces.

If you are part of the other 99 percent, here’s a chance for you to support those service members and their families.

A number of community-based organizations, listed below meet a number of criteria from OurMilitary.mil , which can be found here.  Click on the type of support you would like to offer for a list of organizations that can help you get started:

 

Gen. Lloyd Austin Takes Command at U.S. Central Command

Members of the joint U.S. Central Command stand at attention as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and CENTCOM commanders do the ceremonial "Passing of the Colors."

Members of the joint U.S. Central Command stand at attention as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and CENTCOM commanders do the ceremonial “Passing of the Colors.”

The man who led the troops into Iraq and then oversaw their withdrawal in 2011 is the new commander at U.S. Central Command based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base.

General Lloyd Austin, III, officially took control at CENTCOM Friday during a ceremony officiate by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

“With his calm demeanor, strategic vision, regional experience and knowledge, and proven judgment,” Hagel said, “I am confident General Austin is prepared to lead this command at a time of dramatic change, challenge, and turmoil in its area of responsibility.”

Central Command is responsible the “central area” of the globe including 20 countries from Afghanistan and Bahrain to Uzbekistan and Yemen.  Ambassadors from Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates attended the formal ceremony. Continue reading

Marine Gen. John Allen to Retire, Turns Down European Post

Gen. John Allen, ISAF Commander. Photo courtesy of the DoD.

Gen. John Allen, former ISAF Commander. Photo courtesy of the DoD.

Citing his wife’s poor health, Marine Gen. John R. Allen asked President Obama to remove him from consideration for supreme allied commander in Europe according to the Washington Post. He plans to retire.

In a statement, Obama said he had granted Allen’s request. “I told General Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the United States Marine Corps,” the president said.

Allen was the longest-serving leader of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and directed the shift from counterinsurgency operations to training Afghan and local forces. During his command forces were reduced by some 33,000 U.S. troops.

The four star general told the Post that his decision to retire had nothing to do with the investigation into his email correspondence with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. However, Allen said that investigation did take a toll on his wife.

Five Myths About Women in Combat by a Marine Major

Maj. Jane Blair Photo credit JaneBlair.com

Maj. Jane Blair Photo credit JaneBlair.com

The old myths started swirling as soon as word got out that women would be allowed to serve in combat roles. You’ve heard the fears – the questions:

  • “I just hope they don’t lower the standards to let women in.”
  • “Will women HAVE TO serve in combat?”

“The answers are no and no.

But, those fears and comments will only come faster and with more fervor as the Pentagon makes it formal announcement today, Jan. 24, 2013.

So, I want to share an opinion piece published in 2011 in the Washington Post, Five Myths About Women in Combat. I found it enlightening.

It’s written by Maj. Jane Blair, a Marine Corps reservist, the author of “Hesitation Kills: A Female Marine Officer’s Combat Experience in Iraq.”

Blair takes on the top assumptions on why women should not serve in combat in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post:

1. Women are too emotionally fragile for combat.

This myth is based on cultural stereotypes and Hollywood hype. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that women are any more susceptible to combat stress than their male counterparts…

2. Women are too physically weak for the battlefield.

While it is indisputable that the average man has more upper-body strength than the average woman, women have different physical abilities that enable them to offer unique capabilities in combat…

3. The presence of women causes sexual tension in training and battle.

 This notion insults men as much as women. For nearly 10 years, the U.S. military has been fighting two wars with a majority of units that include both men and women. Why hasn’t supposed “sexual tension” undermined the stellar performance of gender-integrated units? …

4. Male troops will become distracted from their missions in order to protect female comrades.

This myth conjures an image of a heroic soldier, attacking the enemy and about to win, until catastrophe strikes: He spots a wounded woman on the battlefield and abandons his assault to save her life, costing his side the battle. It’s the “women and children first” argument translated to the battlefield…

5. Women can’t lead men in combat effectively.

Why not? Across the planet, women have proven their worth as leaders as diplomats, heads of state and corporate titans. This is no less true in the military and in combat. In history as well as ancient mythology, women have often emerged as heroic leaders of men and women in battle, with Joan of Arc and the Assyrian queen Semiramisjust two of the most notable examples. In the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been countless women who, often unrecognized, have served as leaders of military men and women…

You can read the full opinion piece by  Marine Maj. Jane Blair here.

Author Maj. Jane Blair in Iraq. Photo credit JaneBlair.com

Author Maj. Jane Blair in Iraq. Photo credit JaneBlair.com

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