Florida Governor Honors Vets with Service Award

Florida First Lady Ann Scott and Gov. Rick Scott presented service medals to the veterans living and working at the state veterans nursing home in Land O'Lakes.

Florida First Lady Ann Scott and Gov. Rick Scott presented service medals to the veterans living and working at the state veterans nursing home in Land O’Lakes.

Florida is home to around 1.6 million military veterans. That’s a point of pride among state officials — who like to say Florida is the “most veteran-friendly state in the nation.”

Florida offers a number of tax breaks and services to veterans — and now a new honor. Governor Rick Scott has created a state medal to recognize their service.

“The freedoms and opportunities that were afforded by the American dream were paid for by the service and sacrifice of our brave veterans,” Scott said. “That’s why it’s so important that we frequently honor and give thanks to our veterans. Our heroes have made countless sacrifices for our Florida families. That’s why we don’t just wait for the holidays to thank our men and women.” Continue reading

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Growing Up Military Overseas Meant Certain Change

I’m pleased to introduce a former WUSF colleague who grew up in a military family with three sisters and both parents serving as officers. I asked her to reflect on growing up overseas.

By Natasha Samreny

In 2001, my dad retired from the Air Force, and CENTCOM activated my mom around 9/11. We stayed in Tampa, and any dreams of returning to life overseas faded more every year.

My mom dressed us up in coordinating outfits for every major out-of-country flight. We were easier to spot in case we got separated.

I liked moving. We PCS’d (Permanent Change of Station) when one or both of my military parents were assigned or offered new jobs in another location. They decided based on their professional goals, our family’s input, and of course where the government said they were needed. But for my sisters and me, the moves ensured change and growth: traveling, making new friends and adventures in another country.

I never thought of the U.S. as home, I was young when we left for Panama. Happiness meant playing with my sisters in the tropical rains. Our tan bodies and sun-bleached hair thrived on mangos and pineapple juice. Germany was colder, and “home” changed from a two-story house-on-stilts to a modest apartment converted from old Army barracks. But we adjusted because that’s what we knew.

Two major factors eased the moves: my parents, and base living.

My mom immigrated from Ecuador as a child, learning English on the fly. My dad grew up in Pittsburgh’s mixed Hill District, where Saturday morning bakery and sandwich-shop aromas carried countries through the streets. Both educated dreamers from loving families, when they sat us down to talk about our next trip, challenges became “opportunities”. We spent holidays trekking through Europe, catching our fondest memories.  Bases overseas offer ready-made community living for American families relocating to foreign countries. We all came from somewhere else. Like kids at summer camp, our time was short, so we made the most of it.

When we returned to the States, a decade passed before I called it home. I felt like I was betraying everything I knew; if I accepted this final destination, I accepted the suffocating thought that I didn’t know how to change or start again without relocating. This was the normal I had come to expect and need from life.

A Marine Mom: Paris Island Graduation Day

By April Agle, a new Marine Mom

We were allowed on base for family day on Thursday, November 4, 2010, starting at 5:30 a.m.  I was so going to be there and we were.  We were not the only families anxious for a peek at our Marines. 

Paris Island was April Agle's first time on a military base.

This was also my first time on a military base. 

Even though 5:30 – 6:00 a.m. seems early to us, the base was a bee hive of activity.  There were Marine recruits everywhere and in different weeks of boot camp.  They all looked the same.  How were we going to find Jared?  And would we even recognize him?

Jared’s graduating class had a morning run that we watched and we had no idea which Marine was Jared.  Then, we all had to go into this huge metal building where bleachers were set up.  We were told that the Marines would file in.  They would be dismissed, but they had to stay on base and they had to report back by 4:00 p.m.  We were to make sure they were not late. 

The anticipation was killing me.  The Marines filed in and we were all looking for Jared trying to figure out which one he was.  They really and truly all looked the same.  So handsome in their uniforms.  I teared up with pride for them all.  There were hundreds of them and they were all so young.

And then chaos.  The Marines were dismissed.  The families in the bleaches converged on the Marines and the Marines were converging on their families in the bleachers.  People everywhere and everyone looking for their families. 

Marine Mom April Agle with her newly graduated Marine, Jared, and daughter, Rylee.

Jared was able to find us.  I was so proud of him.  He looked absolutely amazing.  We hugged each other and cried.  Everyone’s emotions were high.  I had such a lump in my throat.  My son was a Marine.  How awesome. 

On Wednesday night before family day, a Marine was set up in the hotel lobby for families to ask questions.  He made the suggestion that we might want to bring a picnic lunch because the restaurants would be packed.  We would waste a lot of our visiting time waiting in line and for food. 

It was a great suggestion.  We bought sub sandwiches, chips, sodas, cookies and munchies.  I had asked a Marine on base where there was a playground picnic area on base and he gave us directions.  That worked out great.  It was somewhat away from everything going on and the kids had a playground to play on and run around. 

Marine Graduation Family Day Jared Agle poses with his sister and cousins from New York and Georgia who came to down for his graduation.

My emotions were all over the place.  Jared was so different, but the same.  He seemed very stiff.  He almost seemed uptight, like he was not relaxed.  I thought, how am I supposed to talk with him.  He was not at ease, but almost formal.  I was concerned, but tried not to think about it.  I was thrilled to see him eat. 

We took pictures until I’m sure Jared thought his face was going to fall off.  Jared told us the plan for graduation.  He was going to go directly back to his barracks and get his sea bag.  Roger was to meet him by the flag pole and they would head to the car.  That would allow us to get off base as quickly as possible.  It seems Jared wanted off Paris Island as soon as possible.

April's daughter Rylee stands on the "infamous" yellow foot prints to Marines training at Paris Island.

Friday, November 5th – Graduation Day.  I can’t explain it other than to say – WOW.  Hundreds of Marines marching in formation and all in dress uniform.  It was an impressive sight.  I was so proud of them all.  There were men and women Marines graduating.

We finally got Jared and made our way off Paris Island and to the hotel.  I still felt that Jared was very formal or reserved.  It took another day for Jared to finally start to ‘decompress’ or something. 

The only thing I can think of was that Jared had been under a microscope for 12 weeks.  He was judged each and every minute of every day.  I guess maybe he had to figure out that he was not being judged anymore.  He had to maybe tell himself it was okay to relax.  As the days went on, he became less reserved and formal.  He started to joke around and argue with his sister.

Rylee and my niece Madilyn had used car chalk on all of our vehicles for Jared’s graduation.  The cars now proclaimed USMC graduate Paris Island.  On our drive home, it was so great, cars would pull up next to us and beep the horn and give a thumbs up.  Jared thought that was cool.  I think he was still trying to absorb that he was a Marine. 

We were driving down the interstate into Florida and a police SUV started beeping its horn and continued beeping as it passed us.  My guess is that he was a Marine and was letting us know he too had experience with Paris Island.  Jared was now part of a brotherhood that only another Marine would understand.

April Agle works in WUSF’s business office and among her many duties, she helps me and other staff with Human Resource issues. Her other contributions:

Former First Lady Deserves Credit

Rosalynn Carter, provided by The Carter Center.

Rosalynn Carter deserves credit for this blog. No, she’s not a contributing author. But, my “Off the Base” blog is a direct result of her dedication to improving news coverage of mental health issues.

In my case, Mrs. Carter and her advisory board selected me as a 2010-2011 Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism in part because of my  focus on covering the stresses and successes of military families undergoing multiple deployments.

I was already reporting on military life and veterans issues before blogging. But as a general assignment reporter at WUSF 89.7, Tampa’s NPR affiliate, I also have to cover a lot of other topics. The journalism fellowship that Mrs. Carter created gives me the time, financial resources and access to mental health experts to improve and expand my reporting.

I’m only a few steps into the yearlong fellowship.  Yet, I have met some incredibly resilient veterans and some passionate active duty military and their families. I am learning and sharing information on research into PTSD, TBI and other issues. And there’s much more to come.

Just taking a moment to share my thanks and the credit with Mrs. Carter who beyond my selection as a fellow sponsored the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy  in November,  A Veterans Journey Home: Reintegrating Our National Guard and Reservists into Family, Community, and Workplace. She’s given voice to veterans, to active duty, to families, to those dealing with mental health issues and to reporters.

And, she asked for no credit.

Serving on a Combat Stress Control Team

I met Cheyenne Forsythe at the Florida Ride 2 Recovery– a cycling event for wounded veterans. He was riding for soldiers with “invisible wounds,” those living with PTSD or struggling with issues like depression and substance abuse. Cheyenne is a University of South Florida student and a 6-year Army veteran who served with the 85th Medical Detachment. He was on one of the first Combat Stress Control Teams sent to Iraq’s frontlines in 2003 to help soldiers with combat stress symptoms while still “in country.” After surviving two IED attacks, Cheyenne now lives with PTSD as well.

Speaking out on veterans’ issues has become his self-ascribed mission because as he puts it: “It’s just the right thing to do.” Here are a few vignettes of what it was like for him to provide help to soldiers while in a combat zone.

Cheyenne Forsythe at the start of the 6-day Florida Ride 2 Recovery which started at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base.

By Cheyenne Forsythe

Through creative leadership, I was able to help my Combat Stress Control Team be more effective treating soldiers in the combat zone. I made sure to volunteer for as many missions as possible so the troops around us would get to see us and respect us. Besides teaching coping skills, we went to the extreme of pulling honor guard on the body of a soldier, when the medics had been overstressed with high casualties. I made sure my team did a full 12 hour shift while waiting for mortuary affairs. 

We made sure the medics of the 126 Forward Surgical Team kept it light hearted. We were attached to that company for the first half of the tour. Their entire team was decimated by a mortar attack on movie night. The movie was “Major Payne” and that sounded awfully painful to me, so I went to the compound movie tent to watch another movie. Thirteen soldiers were evacuated home with shrapnel wounds. I usually sat in the front. The computer screen had a huge chunk of shrapnel sitting in the middle of it.

A Going Home Gesture – IED Attacks

Cheyenne Forsythe is a guest panelist for the upcoming Florida Matters show PTSD: New Hope that will air Dec. 7, 2010 at 6:30 p.m.

On my way out of country, in December 2003, we ran into two improvised explosive devices. On our way through Samarrah, to Balad, we hit the first improvised explosive device. One soldier who was a driver in a forward vehicle was killed. The next improvised explosive device went off two vehicles in front of mine, a few miles later. We stopped the convoy and formed a perimeter, stopping traffic in both directions of what would be comparable to I-75. One vehicle tried to go through our perimeter so we opened fire on it. I was the closest to the vehicle and had a good look at the occupants and called a cease fire. There were six gentlemen in the minivan. The two young adults up front were wounded, two young boys were unharmed, and two older gentlemen were also unharmed.

That’s my story of the spontaneous violence that was to be expected at any time. I counseled hundreds of other soldiers with similar stories. I even counseled soldiers who were in the same predicaments that I found myself in.

Why Some Soldiers Seek Help

As a therapist helping soldiers while still in a combat zone, Cheyenne Forsythe said it was important to go on missions with soldiers.

For example, there was the dud mortar round. On our way back to our living quarters after dinner in Tikrit, a mortar round came bouncing down the street next to me. It stopped with a thud at the back of a port-o-john where my future client was seated. He thought his buddies were playing a joke on him. I heard the whole thing on my way to my living quarters. We didn’t realize what had almost happened until a few minutes later when someone took a look at what made the thud. On the thought of his possible death the soldier tossed his dinner. He came to see me the next day. I had to repress my emotions to let him deal with his. That was the story for my whole trip. I was a tool, doing a job, keeping soldiers focused on the task at hand, despite the horrific waking nightmare all around me.

There was the couple that got hit with a mortar round while he was proposing to her on the Tikrit palace lake. They both walked into the aid station covered in blood. I counseled the female. She wasn’t sure if she should go on with the wedding.

Another soldier that stands out to me was in 1-10 Cavalry, 4th Infantry Division, the Buffalo Soldiers. He was grazed on the forehead with a small bullet and because I had volunteered to go on a mission, his buddies trusted me enough to have him get my opinion. He wanted to stay in Iraq after being wounded and wanted my opinion as to what he should do. All my hard work had paid off. Can you imagine how I felt to be included on a decision like that? I had broken down all the barriers and gotten the infantry to seek our help. 

You can hear Cheyenne Forsythe tell his story as one of the guests on WUSF’s Florida Matters program “PTSD: New Hope” which will be broadcast Dec. 7, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. 

Taking Heart in Afghanistan

SMSgt. Temple handing out pens at an Afghanistan school for girls.

That’s because while serving with an Embedded Training Team, Temple found that village children preferred being given a pen over candy because it represented education. A lover of learning himself, Temple started collecting pencils, pens and paper to distribute while on humanitarian missions.

He shared details on his blog: Afghanistan My Last Tour and his efforts quickly turned into a fulltime School Supplies Drive managed by Temple and his wife, Liisa Hyvarinen Temple. Their efforts have not stopped since his homecoming nearly six months ago. In fact, they’ve intensified.

Liisa Hyvarinen Temple and SMSgt. Rex Temple watch as WUSF All Things Considered Anchor Joshua Stewart tries on the combat armor.

Temple is still active duty assigned to MacDill Air Force Base, but he spends part of his time showing slides and sharing details about his Afghanistan experience with U.S. school children, community groups and businesses.

And, he delivers more than a briefing. Temple brought a 30 pound armored vest and a helmet for WUSF staff to try on during his presentation at the station Wednesday.

WUSF Morning Host Carson Cooper tries on Temple's combat gear.

Like many listeners, the staff felt as if they knew Temple personally because of my weekly stories with him during the deployment. And just like his schools supplies drive, our talks together will continue as part of this blog.

In the meantime, if your organization, church group, business or school would like SMSgt. Temple to visit you can contact him at trexinafghanistan@gmail.com or call MacDill’s Public Affairs Office.

Home from Afghanistan, the Ups and Downs

By Bobbie O’Brien
TAMPA (2010-9-2) – With combat troops officially out of Iraq, attention is now on Afghanistan. So, WUSF checked in with Tampa airman, Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple. He’s been back from Afghanistan for four months and is experiencing the highs of being home and the lows of having spent time in a war zone.

“It’s so great to be back just to see something like this, seeing my boys out here playing, chasing the ball,” Temple said Wednesday morning at the Davis Islands dog park.

Playing with his dogs is one of the many things he missed while away for a year in Afghanistan. His golden doodles, Sam and Charlie, were happy to see him. But, Charlie still doesn’t like the sight of Temple’s duffel bag which he associates with Temple leaving.

SMSgt. Temple tosses the ball for his goldendoddle Charlie.

Temple celebrated his homecoming with a visit to his parents in Pennsylvania and a couple weeks of hiking with his wife in Maine. But, he’s also paid a physical price for a full year of wearing combat gear that weighs about 70 pounds.

“It’s taken a toll on my body,” Temple said. Since coming back, he’s had foot surgery and is going through physical therapy for his shoulder. “It’s a combination of wear and tear. And I’m just getting a little bit old too.”

For a year, Temple and nine other airmen were embedded with the U.S. Army. They trained Afghan soldiers, supplied combat outposts and conducted medical missions to outlying villages.

An encounter with a village boy prompted Temple to start a school supply drive. Before leaving, Temple’s team distributed more than 700 boxes of paper, pens and other school materials. (The school supplies drive continues – for more information click here.)

SMSgt. Temple enjoys a morning workout with his goldendoodles, Charlie and Sam, at the Davis Islands Dog Park.

Temple also kept a daily blog, Afghanistan – My Last Tour, and talked weekly with WUSF about his experiences. Since his return April 22nd, he has stayed in contact with the other nine members of his Air Force team and with his Afghan interpreter. Omid gives him updates on Afghanistan and Temple follows online news accounts like the Taliban’s recent use of poison to try to shut down girls’ schools.

“It really hits home. Sometimes I wish I was still back there to try to make a difference,” Temple said.

SMSgt. Temple at daybreak at the Davis Islands Dog Park.

This weekend, Temple will meet up with one of his former colleagues, Kit (Christopher) Lowe, a specialist with the Georgia Army National Guard who was wounded August 2009 in a firefight.

“I haven’t seen him since the day he was shot and departed the country. So, I’m really excited to drive up to Georgia this weekend and see him,” Temple said.
Since he’s returned, Temple has had time to reflect. During his conversations with WUSF from Afghanistan, he rarely talked about his faith. But now he says that’s how he and his team made it home.

Temple's team in prayer before mission in Afghanistan March 2010.

“We had a unique practice, a unique custom, every time before left for a mission we would say a prayer,” Temple said. “It was voluntary. But everybody on my team would participate and I just attribute it to my faith in God and bringing me back to my wife and my dogs.”

WUSF will continue to check in on SMSgt. Temple as he nears retirement and also plans to follow other active duty military, veterans and their families as they handle the day-to-day challenges of multiple deployments in wartime.

To listen to the related radio report, please click here.

To see Temple’s homecoming video, click on the icon below.

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