A Cross-Country Freedom Ride for Wounded Warriors

Air Force Academy graduates Steve Berger and Craig Anders co-founded the Project Road Warrior Ride.

Air Force Academy graduates Steve Berger and Craig Anders co-founded the Project Road Warrior Ride.

There’s nothing quite like the freedom of the road and the adventure of discovering what’s around the next turn. That independence is what inspired two Air Force Academy buddies to plan a cross-country motorcycle ride next month.

But the Project Road Warrior Ride is unique because most of the riders are military members from the Care Coalition, an organization that cares for wounded, ill and injured members of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Air Force Academy graduate Craig Anders now serves with the Care Coalition.  He’s a former pilot who as he put it “suffered one too many concussions” which led to a seizure and epilepsy.

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A Can-Am Spyder, a three-wheel roadster motorcycle. The company is providing eight Spyders for the wounded warriors to ride from Seattle to Tampa in June.

“That immediately disqualified me from ever again flying for the Air Force,” Anders said. “That was tough, that was really tough and being that it was a seizure it also disqualified me from driving a car for a while. My wife had to drive me to work and my friends had to drive me to work and for a long time you kind of feel you’re more of a burden than of use.  That’s a hard thing to get past for a lot of folks.”

Anders said one day he’d had enough. To recapture a measure of independence, he bought a bicycle and began riding 15 miles each way to work.

“Then, I went and found a friend to take me flying again and we went skiing again,” Anders said. “I’m lucky. I had my seizure. I got stabilized on medicine and eventually I was able to do many of the things, except for flying, that I used to be able to. For some folks, they’re not that lucky.”

Now, his mission is to help other injured military members regain their sense of control. So, Anders teamed up with his Air Force Academy buddy Steve Berger.

Their first idea was to ride in the Scooter Cannonball Run from Alaska to New Orleans.

The Spyder's controls are in the handles making it easier for riders who don't have use of their legs.

The Spyder’s controls are in the handles making it easier for riders who don’t have use of their legs.

That idea morphed into a fund-raiser. Then, they decided to invite members of the Care Coalition to ride along. They finally decided on establishing their own ride that would start in Seattle and finish in the Tampa Bay area, home to the Care Coalition and two of their major sponsors, Barney’s Motorcycle and Marine and Quaker Steak & Lube in Clearwater.

Anders and Berger co-founded the non-profit organization, Project Road Warrior. For their first event, they will take along eight riders from Care Coalition, travel across 12 states, over two mountain ranges, touch two oceans and the Gulf and all  in 10 days.

“People don’t really realize how rehabilitation can be in the form of adventure,” Berger said. “We’ve got some of these type-A personalities. They’re thrill seekers, they want to do something that’s extreme. They want to do something that is over the top. And riding 10 days across the United States, yeah it’s on Can-Am Spyders, but that’s still going to be a challenge.”

The Project Road Warrior tent, courtesy of Barney's Motorcycle and Marine, was one of the popular spots during bike night at Quaker Steak & Lube in Clearwater.

The Project Road Warrior tent, courtesy of Barney’s Motorcycle and Marine, was one of the popular spots during bike night at Quaker Steak & Lube in Clearwater.

Barney’s Motorcycle helped bring aboard the national company Can-Am that is providing the Spyders, three-wheel motorcycles.

Berger is a civilian now who organizes auto shows for Motor Trend. But he’s looking forward to getting to know the eight coalition members on the ride.

“I was a rescue pilot in the Air Force. So anytime I was doing work in combat it was because someone was having a really bad day. They got shot or they got hit by an IED and we’re flying them to get the care that they need,” Berger said. “So for me personally, I think I’ve seen a lot of these people on the worse part of their day. I want to leave that behind me and find them on some of the better parts of their day the better parts of their lives.”

Beyond helping his fellow troops, Anders also hopes to dispel the impression held by some that injured members of the military are somehow broken.

Selling the Project Road Warrior t-shirts was one way they funded the cross-country trip for eight members of the Care Coalition.

Selling the Project Road Warrior t-shirts was one way they funded the cross-country trip for eight members of the Care Coalition.

“These kinds of events help people see that they’re resilient. They’re capable,” Anders said pointing to the Project Road Warrior poster that features the eight riders. One is a soldier who lost both his legs to an IED but continues in active duty with the Army, another is partially paralyzed, still others have balance issues because of head injuries.

“You have guys like Anthony (Radetic). He was hurt, he was injured. He’s in a wheelchair, but he’s also the first guy to land a back flip on a sit-ski,” Anders said.

Project Road Warrior plans to leave Seattle June 5 and arrive in Tampa June 14, 2014. You can follow their route and adventures on their website.

In between, the group plans to ride the back roads through Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and then make three stops in Florida.

They’ll conclude with a big fund-raiser and party at Quaker Steak and Lube. The trip is funded minus things like a communications system which Berger would like to get for safety reasons. But they’re also looking to build funds for next year’s ride and other adventures like maybe a Jet Ski trip around Florida.

You can listen to the story at WUSF News or download the podcast.

Government Shutdown Forces 1,500 MacDill Furloughs

MacDill Air Force Base Commander Col. Scott DeThomas briefs reporters on the shutdown impact to civilian workers and military families outside the main gate.

MacDill Air Force Base Commander Col. Scott DeThomas briefs reporters on the shutdown impact to civilian workers and military families outside the main gate.

Here’s the breakdown of civilian defense workers furloughed from commands at MacDill Air Force Base: 95 percent of the civilians working at U.S. Special Operations Command; 33 percent of U.S. Central Command civilian workers; and about 30 percent of civilians with MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing command.

In all, more than 1,500 civilian defense workers at MacDill are without paycheck due to the federal government shutdown.

MacDill base commander Col. Scott DeThomas said most of the civilian workers have already had to take six unpaid workdays because of sequestration.

“These civilians have been going through this since 1 March (2013),” DeThomas said adding that the shutdown is even more unnerving because it’s open-ended. “Think about that. Think about the impact of not knowing how many days of furlough, how much pay you may or may not lose.”

DeThomas said the furloughed civilians will only receive a half-paycheck next week and then that’s it. It will mean a cumulative loss of $400,000 a day in salaries.

Traffic is a lot lighter outside MacDill's main gate since 1,500 workers were furloughed Tuesday.

Traffic is a lot lighter outside MacDill’s main gate since 1,500 workers were furloughed Tuesday.

“That’s going to have an impact on mortgages, credit cards, car bills, all those things that we take for granted some times,” DeThomas said. “What I’ll ask, is for our financial community to be proactive in reaching out to those folks.”

The base commander already has reached out to more than 30 local bank executives to ask they be flexible with the civilian defense workers especially because a bad credit report can directly affect security clearances for defense workers.

“Most of us carry security clearances. Security clearances are the difference between being qualified for a job and a lot of times not being qualified,” DeThomas said. “If you lose your security clearance, I can release you from that job. That’s critically important.”

A couple of banks have set up loan procedures, so called “check-loans”, for furloughed civilian defense workers so they can receive the dollar amount their pay should have been.

And furloughed workers are not restricted from taking outside employment if they can find it.  But DeThomas said they should notify their supervisor.

While some folks call the back-and-forth in Washington government dysfunction, the MacDill Base Commander called it democracy.

“Frustration? Of course we want to be able to do everything in our power to make the mission go. We want to never allow folks to be furloughed, I got that,” DeThomas said Wednesday at a news conference outside the base gates. “But the reality is: what you’re seeing play out in the political realm is of value to democracy. And I’m fairly certain, a lot folks around the world – yeah they might throw stones – but they’d love to have a piece of that.”

Service members in uniform are still getting their paychecks, but many will have to work longer hours to fill in for the civilians who are now on furlough.

Women in Combat Roles to Become a Reality Jan. 1, 2016

A cadet at the graduation ceremony for U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., listens to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' remarks, May 23, 2009. Of the 970 cadets, 144 are women. Photo courtesy of Army.mil.

A cadet at the graduation ceremony for U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., listens to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ remarks, May 23, 2009. Of the 970 cadets, 144 are women. Photo courtesy of Army.mil.

It’s official.The Department of Defense plans to integrate women into combat positions they previously could not hold because of the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment.

But not all positions are open as of yet. For example, Admiral William McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, submitted a three part proposal to determine if women can serve in the small, elite teams like the SEAL Teams, the Ranger Regiment and Special Forces Groups among others.

His plan for USSOCOM: Part one, an analysis with emphasis on “gender-neutral training standards” of entry courses and an evaluation of facilities.  Part two: research into the social and psychological impacts of integrating women into the teams. And part three: commission an independent study by RAND Corporation looking at those same topics.

Reports from all three parts are due July 2014. Then by April 2015, USSOCOM will submit to Congress a list of positions and “occupational specialties” open to women. And, at that time some units and specialties still might request an exemption from including women.

Full implementation by the services should occur by Jan. 1, 2016. The following are links to the individual plans:

On Jan. 24, 2013, former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey initiated the call to lift the ban on women in combat.

MacDill Air Force Base Memorial Day Ceremony

Units from the MacDill 6th Air Mobility Wing, Central Command, Special Operations Command and the Joint Communications Support Element come to attention during the morning ceremony.

The wail of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.” The sharp crack of three rifle volleys being fired. The playing of “Taps.”  All the traditional Memorial Days moments were present at the MacDill Air Force Base Memorial Day ceremony.

Also there in full dress uniform: units from Special Operations Command, Central Command, the Joint Communications Support Element and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

Military families and dozens of civilians, invited by MacDill Air Force Base Commander Col. Lenny Richoux, sat on folding chairs under the morning sun.

Memorial Day 2012 wreath at MacDill Air Force Base Air Park.

Richoux said Memorial Day is equally important to respects to the fallen but also remember their families.

“We want them to know that their loved one’s service was for the right causes and the right reasons,” Richoux said after the 30 minute ceremony. “We thank them and we remember them and we stand with them as they continue to grieve the losses of their loved ones.” Continue reading

Video: Int’l Special Operations Forces Mock Exercise

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, in the khaki slacks and black shirt, being “rescued” by international special forces Wednesday during a mock demonstration at the Tampa Convention Center.

One highlight of the International Special Operations Forces week in Tampa was a mock hostage rescue and capability exercises featuring special forces from 10 different countries.

From the land and water, the teams assaulted a fake village – set up outside the Tampa Convention Center – to rescue Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn who volunteered to be the “hostage.”

Continue reading

Special Operations Forces Show Off Their Skills in Tampa

An international team of special operations forces approach the shore of the Tampa Convention Center during a “mock hostage rescue” of Mayor Bob Buckhorn during International Special Operations Forces Week.

Special Operations Forces like to be known as the “Quiet Warriors.” Yet, it was anything but quiet Wednesday as special forces teams from several countries held a “hostage rescue” demonstration as part of the International Special Operations Forces Week in Tampa.

“Obviously getting to fire a 50 caliber was pretty cool, the ultimate boy-toy,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said after volunteering to be the “hostage” during a mock rescue by dozens of special operations forces.

Special forces come ashore in a mock demonstration at the Tampa Convention Center.

Arriving in fast boats and unloading with weapons drawn, the international team stormed a fake village built in front of the Tampa Convention Center for the exercise. They retrieved the mayor, returned to the boats and sped off down the channel.

“It is a lot of fun, more importantly I got to be with these guys and I got to see what they do first hand,” Buckhorn said after returning to the dock. Continue reading

Military Guests to Join the First Lady for State of the Union

First Lady Michelle Obama

 

An Army sergeant, an astronaut and retired Navy captain, the commander of the nation’s special operations forces, and a colonel whose same-sex partner helped her make history are the invited guests of First Lady Michelle Obama for Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by Pres. Barack Obama.

 

  • Army Sgt. Ashleigh Berg is from Malibu, Calif., and joined the Army in July 2004. She has been stationed in South Korea and Germany, and has served two tours in Iraq. Her husband, Army Sgt. Matthew Berg, is deployed to Afghanistan on his third combat tour.
  • Retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly is an astronaut, best-selling author, and an experienced naval aviator who flew combat missions during the Gulf War. He became the center of international attention after the January 2011 assassination attempt on his wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
  • Navy Adm. William McRaven commands U.S. Special Operations Command. McRaven has commanded at every level within the special operations community, including assignments as deputy commanding general for operations at JSOC, commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group 1, commander of SEAL Team 3, task group commander in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, task unit commander during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, squadron commander at Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and SEAL platoon commander at Underwater Demolition Team 21/SEAL Team 4.
  • Air Force Col. Ginger Wallace is an Air Force intelligence officer who has led airlift and intelligence operations during operations Southern Watch, Provide Relief, Uphold Democracy, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. She lives in McLean, Va., with her partner of more than a decade, Kathy Knopf.

You can read more about each military guest HERE.

Airfest 2011 this Weekend at Tampa’s MacDill Air Base

The USAF Thunderbirds. Photo courtesy of the Air Force website.

The USAF Thunderbirds. Photo courtesy of the Air Force website.

The KC-135 Stratotanker is an everyday sight at Macdill Air Force Base, home to the 6th Air Mobility Wing. But, this weekend the C-135s will have company. The skies over Tampa will be filled with demonstration flights by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, a B-25 Mitchell Bomber and a P-51 Mustang among other aircraft.

It’s the annual MacDill AirFest is Saturday and Sunday. The gates at Dale Mabry Boulevard and MacDill Avenue open at 8 a.m. to the public with opening ceremonies planned at 9 a.m. both days. Once the spectator parking is full, the gates will close however and the base will only be accessible for the general public by foot or on public transportation.

There’s also a schedule of events. Some highlights:

  • The Thunderbirds perform both days at 2:30 p.m. both days
  • A U.S. Special Operations Command Jump at 9:05 a.m. and Parachute Team Demo at 2 p.m. both days
  • A KC-135 Stratotanker fly-over at 10:20 a.m.

Be sure to check the Frequently Asked Questions page for a list of suggested items to bring and what not to bring.

A Special Memorial Day for Special Operations Forces

A bronze statue of a special forces warrior keeps vigil at Special Operatons Memorial on MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes – the recent success of U.S. Special Forces taking out Osama Bin Laden is rooted in the failed attempt to rescue the  American hostages in Iran. That 1980 mission also created awareness of the need for better coordination of joint military operations.

In 1987, Congress created the U.S. Special Operations Command, SOCOM, based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. Its creation also cemented the mindset of the Special Forces warrior whether Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

They are known as the “tip of the spear” – the first to go into dangerous regions. While the world learned of the Osama Bin Laden operation – most Special Forces’ missions never become public.

Former special forces officer Geoff Barker oversees the memorial and raising money to keep it going.

A handful of military professionals wanted to assure that their fellow Special Forces’ comrades would not be forgotten. So they conceived of the Special Operations Memorial and raised money to build it.

“A special operations’ warrior is a volunteer, who has seen where the action is and wants to go into where the action is,” said Geoff Barker, who served with both British and U.S. Special Forces. “There’s a vast huge bond between all of the services and all of the special operation forces. We all work together.”

Barker is a co-ounder of the memorial and serves as president of the Special Operations Memorial Foundation. He carries with him a thick notebook that includes the names of all those killed, each has an engraved tile on the wall. He places each tile himself.

There also are tribute tiles – on the exterior walls for donors – the interior walls are only for those who have qualified as special forces.

One donor purchased tiles for Special Forces members he fought with in WWII, another for his Special Forces’ teammates from the Vietnam War.

The memorial’s first design had four walls clad in tiles. The four walls formed a square. In the middle was a bronze statue of a Special Forces’ warrior holding his weapon – at the ready – peering out to the street and further to the bay.

That bronze warrior is all that is left of the original memorial which held 306 names of special forces members killed in action or training  from 1980 through 9/11 including the name of one Special Forces officer who was killed on 11 September 2001 when the aircraft crashed in to the Pentagon.

But due to those very terrorist attacks, there’s been a dramatic increase in special operations and in the loss of personnel. It required a redesign so the memorial could hold more names.

The new design was completed in 2007. Its black walls now curve to form the shape of a spear tip.

A gray brick walkway forms the shaft of the spear. The bronze statue of the special ops warrior remains at the center. Behind him is the wall that holds the names of all Special Forces members who have been awarded The Medal of Honor or the Victoria Cross.

Three flags fly above – the U.S. Flag, the MIA/POW flag and the Special Operations Command flag.

“It’s a beautiful place and there’s a lot of beautiful people  on that wall,” Barker reflected pointing out friends and men he’d served with.

Since the 9/11 attacks,  441 names of lost special forces have been added to the memorial. There are 27 new names since last Memorial Day:

Army SGT Jonathan K. Peney

Army SGT Andrew J. Creighton

Army SPC Joseph W. Dimock

Marine SSGT Christopher J. Antonik

Army SGT Justin B. Allen

Army SGT Anibal Santiago

Army CPT Jason E. Holbrook

Army SSG Kyle R. Warren

Army MSG Jared N. Van Asist

Army SGT Andrew C. Nicol

Army SPC Bradley D. Rapphun

Navy SOC Collin T. Thomas

Army SPC Christopher S. Wright

Army SGT Martin A. Lugo

Air Force SrA Daniel R. Sanchez

Army SFC Ronald A. Grider

Navy LT Brendan Looney

Navy SO3 Denis Miranda

Navy CTRCS David McLendon

Navy SO1 Adam O. Smith

Army SFC Calvin B. Harrison

Air Force SrA Mark Forester

Army SFC Lance H. Vogeler

Army SSG Kevin M. Pape

Army SFC Daehan Park

Army MSG Benjamin F. Bitner

Marine Sgt. David P. Day

Their names will be read aloud at a ceremony Friday at the memorial for family, friends and Special Forces personnel.

Celebrating the Special Operations Command Memorial

Geoff Barker stands at the Special Operatons Memorial he helped to get built.

I had the privilege to spend part of my day with Geoff Barker. He’s a 73-year-old retired military officer who served in special operations with both British and U.S. forces. Now, he spends his days caring for the memories of all special operation warriors.

Barker was a co-founder and now serves as  president of the Special Operations Memorial Foundation. The organization raised money and built a  memorial to honor the special forces who have lost their lives in action and in training. It sits next to the Special Operations Command, SOCOM, based at Tampa’s  MacDill Air Force Base.

Names on the memorial date back to the 1980 failed hostage rescue in Iran – that was prior to formation of the Special Operations Command.

I will have more about the memorial and the warriors it honors later this week. A Special Operations Memorial Day service is planned Friday at the base.

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