A “Former” Wounded Warrior and Silver Star Banner Day

Silver Star Families of America photographer Shawn Johnson.

May 1st is Silver Star Banner Day – a day set aside to honor combat wounded military members and their families.

The Silver Star Families of America was formed to recognize, remember, honor and assist those combat wounded, ill and dying armed forces members.

The organization has several projects listed on its website such as collecting used sports equipment and MP3 players for  injured service members and a free prayer blanket for wounded warriors in Hospice care.

How do you “define” a Wounded Warrior?

For most, it is a military service member injured during combat. The wounds can be visible or invisible, but the service member is changed.

But, is it fair to label that warrior as “wounded” – forever – despite visible wounds? One soldier doesn’t think so and is redefining how civilians and his fellow soldiers should think about those injured in combat. The Stars and Stripes has his profile:

Is Army Capt. D.J. Skelton a wounded warrior?

It sounds like a trick question. Insurgents attacked him in Iraq with a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. His face and body were permanently damaged. The loss of his left eye is Skelton’s most visible injury, but in many ways it’s the least of his physical concerns. He’ll be going to hospitals and doctors for the rest of his life. His scars will always form part of new acquaintances’ first impressions.

“So I spend the rest of my life bumping into things on my left,” he said. “So what.”

It’s an accomplishment just that Skelton is still on active duty. He returned to the infantry last year after more than six years away. He served as a company commander in the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Panjouway district, Afghanistan.

He was selected for promotion to major last month and will head to China this fall as a foreign-area officer.

You can read the full profile of Army Capt. D.J. Skelton HERE.

Beyond the Battlefield: Vets Stories, HuffPost Win Pulitzer

Pulitzer Prize medal.(AP Photo/ho)

There are as many stories as there are veterans and wars. And, the Huffington Post winning a Pulitzer Prize is a credit to those wounded warriors and their families who were willing to tell their story. My congratulations to the military families and to the HuffPost.

The Huffington Post followed the life-stories of severely wounded veterans after returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 10 part series, Beyond the Battlefield, chronicles the struggles of once powerful warriors and their loved ones to adjust.

July 4, 2010, was a bad day for Tyler Southern. He dreamed he was with his older brothers, playing sandlot football, running and laughing, horsing around just like they used to when they were together as kids in Jacksonville, Fla.

In his dream, he was whole again.

Then he awoke in his hospital bed at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and reality came flooding back. Both of his legs and his right arm were gone, blown off in Afghanistan two months earlier by an improvised explosive device so powerful that only bits of his legs and boots were ever found. The explosion left one remaining limb, his left arm, broken and mangled.

You can read more of Beyond the Battlefield HERE.

Post 9/11 Veterans: What Will Be Their Legacy?

Eric Greitens testifying before congress, March 27, 2012.

Will society focus on the strengths that returning warriors bring as they transition into civilian life, work and school? Or, will the heightened awareness of PTSD and record number of suicides overshadow the contributions from Post 9/11 Veterans?

Those are the questions posed by the founder of The Mission Continues, CEO Eric Greitens, when he testifed before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee for Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, March 27, 2012.

“The story of this generation of veterans is still being written. Some have a tendency to rely on PTSD figures on unemployment statistics and suicide rates to tell us how our veterans are transitioning,” Greitens told congressmen. “But these statistics do not tell the whole story. These statistics do not capture a veteran’s continued desire to serve and their willingness to lead in communities upon their return.”

Greitens said that the returning wounded warriors he’s talked to tell him the same thing:  “I want to return to my unit.”

A former Navy SEAL who served four tours, Greitens, started his national, non-profit organization to help injured Veterans do just that. Their service continues by working in local non-profit organizations that coordinate with Greitens’ organization.

Continue reading

Darkhorse Battalion Marine Amputees Focus on Rehab

After losing his leg, Chischilly underwent rehabilitation in San Diego. He uses a recumbent bike equipped with hand pedals. He finished 16th in the wheelchair portion of the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 30 in Washington. Photo by David Gilkey/NPR.

Thirty-four of the Marines who were with “Darkhorse” Battalion are amputees. The injuries and deaths incurred during their seven month deployment to Afghanistan gave the 3/5 the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the past 10 years. In his ongoing series, National Public Radio’s Tom Bowman brings us the stories of the long road back for some Marines who are adjusting to life as amputees.

Sixth of seven parts

Jake Romo loved running.

“Running was my favorite thing to do. I can almost say that I loved running more than my wife and kids,” he said. “I would run with weights. If I was just running with shorts and a T-shirt, I could run all day. I would run and run and run and not stop.”

But these days, he can’t run. Wounded in Afghanistan, Romo’s legs are now just stumps, wrapped in khaki fabric.

Romo, a lance corporal, is one of dozens of Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment — known as “Darkhorse” — who have come to the Balboa naval hospital in San Diego, Calif., for rehabilitation work after the serious injuries they suffered in southern Afghanistan. A total of 34 Marines lost limbs.

On this day, Romo is doing an upper-body workout. A physical therapist helps one Marine with weights. Just outside, another Marine who lost a leg is now climbing a rock wall.

“We have to hold these guys back,” said Michael Podlenski, a physical therapist at Balboa who works with as many as 30 amputees each day. “All these guys are very motivated. They wanted to be running yesterday.”

Romo, 22, was on his first deployment when he lost his legs in February.

You can read the full story and hear Tom Bowman’s story HERE.

The Mission Continues for Wounded and Disabled War Vets

Eric Greitens in Fallujah. After he returned from Iraq, Greitens founded the nonprofit group, The Mission Continues. He is author of the new book, The Heart and the Fist. Photo courtesy of the author.

After the United States entry into WWI, there was a song that focused on returning veterans. The refrain: “How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?”

A century later there’s a different refrain being repeated by many of the wounded or disabled war veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan: ” .. an unwavering desire to continue serving (their) country, even if (they can) no longer do so in the military.”

That’s a void being filled in part by Eric Greitens, author of  the new book, The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL.

Greitens talked with NPR’s Scott Simon on why the author believes humanitarianism and military missions need each other and that knowledge of local cultures is a key to the effectiveness of any operation.

A former U.S. Navy SEAL who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Greitens founded a group called The Mission Continues, which works with wounded or disabled war veterans to contribute to their communities at home.

An Army Spouse on “Dusting Off My Perspective”

Anastin Dorr showing off one of Mom's hair ribbons.

I spent a good few hours this morning making ribbon and fabric rosettes for a headband for a dear friend of mines soon to be born daughter. I logged into Facebook to post the pictures for her, so I could pack them up for their long journey to Europe.

Just as I posted them to her profile, a title of a recent note she posted caught my eye, “New Perspective”. Hmmmm, I know she has had a high-risk pregnancy so I anticipated this had something to do with it, and clicked on the link to read her note:

“Just had my whole day put into perspective. As I was waddling down the hospital hall just a bit ago, I was about to open my mouth and complain about some minor pregnancy ache. I turned and looked right and saw a soldier still in ACU (Army Combat Uniform) pants fresh from the battlefield missing most of his right arm. He wasn’t complaining, or sad-looking. He was smiling and having a nice conversation with his nurse. I am gong to make it a point from here on out to live like that young man, to smile and laugh even when faced with hurt and sadness.”

Paisley Dorr wears a patriotic hair rosette for her father's homecoming in March.

My heart almost stopped beating, my eyes filled with tears. What a brief note yet so touching. While it does in fact give you a new perspective, it gives you insight into the daily life of military families and members. It got me to thinking of the many families who sent a loved one to war, not knowing what situation would return.

When I lived in Texas, the clinic I was assigned to was BAMC (Brooke Army Medical Center). BAMC is home to the burn unit, and is a stop that many wounded warriors make on their long road to recovery. I remember being sick with a cold wishing I would just die, as to not feel the misery that was the virus infecting my body, and it never failed I would have a wake up call much like my dear friends.

I would round a corner and see a young soldier (no more than 19 years of age) missing a leg and burned very badly. They never looked sad, more often than not they were joking with the hospital staff, that no doubt they know very well by the end of their stay. I always took it as God giving me a sign showing me to be appreciative, and that while even if it feels like the cards are stacked against you, you can always see the beauty in life.

Thank you dear friend, thank you for sprucing up my perspective.

New Veteran and Military “Friendly” Laws in Florida

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation to help military spouses get temporary health care licenses and certificates from the state.

In Florida, there are several new laws benefitting veterans, their families and active duty military spouses. One new law aims at helping with the unemployment among military spouses.

Active-duty military families move about every two years which makes it difficult for military spouses especially those with a career in health care because most states require a license. Florida is home to 58,000 active duty military and many have spouses.

“Military spouses because they didn’t have Florida licensure, professional accreditation, they were unable to be in the job market here in Florida,” said Steve Murray, director of communications for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

With the new law (HB1319), if a spouse of an active duty military member holds a health care professional license in another state and relocates to Florida, they can get a temporary license here while waiting for a permanent one.

To honor the former head of Florida’s VA, the temporary certificates for physicians in critical needs areas are named after retired Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr., who was killed last year while cycling.

Some 1.6 million veterans live in Florida. Other new laws aimed at making Florida the most veteran and military “friendly” among states:  the creation of  a Veterans Hall of Fame at the state Capitol Building, property tax cuts to deployed servicemembers, free admission to state parks for Gold Star parents and establishing specific “Wounded Warrior Special Hunt Areas” in Florida’s state forests.

Military Spouse Magazine annually ranks the most military friendly employers – see who made the list in 2011.

Federally, the Department of Defense is operating a military spouse internship program.

Freedom Is Not Free, Military Families Pay the Price Daily

On Monday, we celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence  on July 4, 1776 by delegates of the original thirteen colonies.  The first Independence Day celebration occurred on July 4,1777 although our freedom was not fully achieved until September 3, 1783 when the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris and ended the Revolutionary War.

America’s first freedom, the dissolution of Britain’s rule over us, was accomplished because men were willing to leave their families to fight and die for this great cause.    Now, 235 years later, every freedom that we cherish and sometimes take for granted  is defended by the men and women of our Armed Forces.  Without the sacrifices and selfless acts of these brave heroes, life as we know it would not exist.

My thoughts on July 4th were on the images of deployment day: the line up of duffel bags at Fort Carson representing families that were about to say good-bye, small children clinging to their daddy’s leg while he was giving mommy that last hug, my son’s final embrace with his wife just after he and I shared ours.

Deployment day at Fort Carson for Tracie's son.

I tearfully relive the moments standing side by side with Army wives as we watched our men disappear into that gym.  Our families are just a fraction of the many military families that are currently separated by deployments.

I am reminded of the anguish on the faces of two mothers on the day their fallen hero sons were laid to rest here in Denver.  I think of the two wounded warriors and their parents that are part of our Colorado Military Families Ministry group and what they have gone through.

July 4th is a day to celebrate our nation’s freedom, but let us not forget to honor the heroes and their families that endure the burden of defending that freedom.

A special thanks to all of our men and women in uniform and their families–you are the reason we celebrate Independence Day.

Deployment Week: A Mom’s Realities

Tracie Ciambotti with her son Joshua Nearhoof, an Army Sergeant out of Fort Carson.

As a military mom, the one thing you don’t want to see or hear the week your son deploys to a war zone is a story of a fallen hero or a wounded warrior.  Unfortunately, I have seen and heard both in the last few days. 

Saturday morning on the front page of the Denver Post was the picture of a mother and a father holding a small child as they sat on a horse-drawn carriage which held the body of their son.  The baby was the ten month old daughter of  Cpl Brandon Kirton who was killed in Afghanistan in May.  Tears streamed down my face as I read the story about this fallen hero.  He had only spent two weeks with his precious baby girl.     

As hard as I try to control my thoughts and emotions, I can’t help but think, this could be me.  This is a reality of life as a military mom, when your child is deployed in a war zone, you know that at any moment on any day you could be the one getting the knock on the door with news that will forever change your life.  It is a constant effort to manage these thoughts and not allow them to take over your day.

Yesterday morning, I received a phone call from a friend who is also a military mom and a member of my Military Families Ministry group in Colorado.  She received a call from her son, who is an Army staff sergeant from Fort Riley, Kansas, and currently deployed in Iraq.  His location was hit by mortar attacks overnight and he was injured in the attack.  He is now in Germany being treated and prepared for transport to the states. We are so thankful that he is alive and was able to make that call home–but we know he has a long road of recovery ahead of him.  He has a wife and two small children, who–along with his parents–wait anxiously to hear where he will be transported to so they can join him.  

These events are harsh reminders of the possibilities that exist this next year as my son serves in Afghanistan.  I could be facing either  of these situations; however, I must choose not to focus on the what-ifs because they are nothing but a trap for fear and heartache .

When War Gets Personal

Private First Class Tyler Smith serving in Afghanistan with the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany.

By Tracie Ciambotti

I saw a post on Facebook from Tyler Smith, one of the soldiers supported by our Military Families Ministry group in Pennsylvania.  He posted a link, At Frontline Hospital, Afghan War’s Toll Is Deeply Felt, and a comment, “get well soon brothers, the first round is on the house.”  As I read this story about the increased injuries and casualties with the start of the Afghan’s fighting season, I could feel the emotions rising inside me and tears in my eyes.  By the end of the article I understood Tyler’s comment on his post; the wounded warriors in the story were members of his unit, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany; serving their final weeks of a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. 

My tears were no longer confined to my eyes; they were rolling down my face.  I know Tyler personally; I have exchanged emails with him over the past year during his deployment.  I wrote a “hero spotlight” about him and his mother in our March newsletter.

Tracie Ciambotti's son, Joshua Nearhoof, Army Sergeant out of Fort Carson.

As the mother of a soldier, I rarely can read, hear, or watch anything about war that doesn’t bring tears.  When my son first deployed, I remember praying it wasn’t him each time I saw a news report of a casualty or war injury, but the reality that it is always someone’s child quickly became entrenched.

This particular story is very personal to me; I care for the young man who posted it and my heart breaks for him and those injured, and my son will be deploying to Afghanistan within the next 30-45 days.  As his deployment draws near I know it is time to gather my battle gear and prepare for my own war—the one that starts the day he leaves.

War was never personal to me prior to my son enlisting in the Army; I was always patriotic and grateful for the service and sacrifice of the men and women in our Armed Forces.  Honestly, I had no understanding of the burden placed on military families—until I became part of one.

Tracie’s previous blog post:

An Army Mom Connects Military Families, Churches

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