Tweets for the troops: Robots saluting service members (USA Today)
With our heads in our phones, laptops and TVs, some of us rarely send handwritten letters anymore, let alone to thank servicemen and women around the world. Two companies are partnering for Military Appreciation Month with our technology-centered lifestyle top of mind and a goal to help our troops feel appreciated. KIND Snacks is teaming up with technology company Bond to create handwritten notes of thanks for servicemembers. Bond is home to almost 50 robots that hold pens and have the ability to write letters in more than 1,000 different handwriting styles. “We know the personal touch really means a lot to people,” says Bond founder and CEO, Sonny Caberwal. During May, the Bond robots will be turning tweets with the special hashtag #thankskindly, into notes that will be hand delivered to veterans and military personnel around the world. “We think about Bond in many ways as the opposite of Snapchat,” Caberwal says. “Whereas Snapchat and services like email let you send messages in seconds to someone and it disappears forever, we let you do the same thing, but it comes to life and it lasts forever.” We followed three #thankskindly tweets from their creation in Atlanta, turned into letters in New York and hand delivered to veterans in Seattle. “It’s overwhelming to read these cards from individuals we don’t even know, and they’re saying some very sincere things about how we did in the military and it’s pretty awesome,” said Antonio Robinson, U.S. Army, Retired.
Starting a business: Advice from veterans and pros (Military Times)
Going from service member to CEO is a more natural transition than many veterans realize. A large support network has sprung up to help vets start their own businesses, but many don’t know it exists. The Small Business Administration and the International Franchise Association’s VetFran program recently partnered with Marriott’s TownPlace Suites in Clinton, Maryland, to host a workshop aimed at educating veterans on the basics of entrepreneurship and special programs available to former service members. The two biggest components for veterans preparing to start their own businesses are choosing the right kind of business for them and securing capital, experts said. They also recommended that aspiring business owners take time to think about their passion. “If they’ve always wanted to own their own business, they should definitely write down what they’re passionate about, what their interests are, what they want to do,” said Paul C. Rocchio, senior director of development and member services for the International Franchise Association. “Maybe tie it into what they did in their military service — what kind of responsibility, what kind of job they had.” VetFran Manager George Eldridge works with veterans every day. He helped an Air Force veteran start a franchise in his living room and garage that has become so successful that the vet has opened a showroom and warehouse. “He is in his third year of franchising and in the program and doing great,” he said. Eldridge encourages vets interested in business ownership to do their research and examine all possibilities. “In the military you think, ‘I can’t fail,’ but sometimes you have to think about the risks you’re getting into and have a balanced expectation when getting into something like this,” he said.
New studies focus on service dogs and PTSD (Military Times)
New research is under way at Purdue University to determine whether service dogs can alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Marguerite O’Haire, an assistant professor of human-animal interaction at the school’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is leading a study of 100 post-9/11 veterans to see if a dog trained to help a veteran with PTSD influences medical symptoms, social anxiety, relationships and more. The research could help answer a question that has plagued the Veterans Affairs Department, which provides service dogs to former troops with certain physical disabilities but not those with mental health disorders: Do service dogs have a tangible impact on veterans with PTSD and other anxiety-related conditions? Stave Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute Foundation, or HABRI, said the outcome, along with the results of a VA study on the same topic, could steer the department toward policy changes. “The VA’s most recent regulations on service animals say they would fund them for physical disability but not for mental disabilities because they said there wasn’t enough scientific evidence that shows animals help with PTSD. We believe they do,” Feldman said. For her study, O’Haire is working with K9s For Warriors, a nonprofit organization in Florida that trains rescue animals to what is often called the “gold standard” for service dog training, Assistance Dogs International testing, then pairs the animals with combat veterans who have PTSD and/or traumatic brain injury. O’Haire will run a battery of tests on the veterans — 50 who already have dogs and 50 on the organization’s 14-month wait list — to assess differences in medication, stress levels (measured as stress hormones in saliva), relationships, overall function and quality of life.
Nonprofit ranch for veterans aims to rein in PTSD (Tampa Tribune)
Tice Ridley, a decorated U.S. war veteran, drew a deep, cleansing breath as he considered the view through large, floor-to-ceiling windows at the Circle of Veterans Ranch. In the near distance, a pair of miniature horses, Shooter and Rikki, passed their time in the shade of a large tree, as Spirit, a mild-mannered Appaloosa, sauntered in the sun. Nearby, a pair of alpacas looked around quizzically, as a slight breeze rippled through Spanish moss hanging from trees around their corral. “This view,” Ridley said, “is what sold me on the place.” Ridley hopes the ranch will be visited regularly by military veterans like himself, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a place where veterans and their families can heal. Ridley, 42, medically retired from the Army as a major in August 2014. He believes that the ranch’s serene scenes help him recover from PTSD, which took him to levels of despair he did not foresee. At the nonprofit ranch, Ridley plans to work with veterans alongside a team of professionals: Gloria Payne, a licensed marriage and family therapist; Darlene Williams, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified hypnotherapist; Jennifer Turney, a licensed mental health counselor; and Chris Hrabovsky, a hypnotist who works with those afflicted with PTSD and anxiety disorders. Turney and Williams are also certified in equine-assisted psychotherapy, which will also be offered at the 10-acre ranch, located down a winding, bumpy dirt road outside Dade City. “Settings like this are extremely conducive for people to relax between counseling” sessions, Williams said. “We can do that here, and it’s easier for people to get to their issues (here) than in a clinical setting. They can decompress instead of just going right back into their lives.”
Combat veterans paddle for suicide prevention (WLTX-Columbia)
Twenty-two South Carolina combat veterans are back home after a kayak trip to Charleston. After the 8 day journey on the Congaree River, they’re the best of friends. Steven Diaz is a Purple Heart recipient who was injured in Iraq. “What we learn from the military and the evolution of the mindset in the military is bottle it,” Diaz said. “Keep it inside yourself. You don’t talk about it, to anybody. You just keep it to yourself. And we’re ticking time bombs.” He says raising awareness for PTSD and veteran suicide is very important to him, as he’s experienced it himself. “With physical injuries, you can see them,” he said. “You can see that I had eye damage; you can see the scars on my head the scars on my feet. What you can’t see are those hidden wounds. The wounds that we come back with.” Those hidden wounds are the reason this group came together; to raise awareness for the post traumatic stress veterans face. Veterans like Mays Johnson. “You could be standing in a room, and you could be somewhere with a hundred people, and you will still feel like you’re the only person in that room,” Johnson said. “If nobody understands what you’re going through, you are alone.” But for the 175 miles from Columbia to Charleston, the 22 of them weren’t alone. 22 men and women who know what it’s like to live with post traumatic stress. 22 men and women representing the 22 veterans who commit suicide every single day. For these veterans the trip became more than a way to raise awareness. It became a reminder that support and camaraderie can be just around the bend.
Barksdale dedicates B-52 to Vietnam veterans (Air Force Reserve Command)
Michael Golden still remembers his first day at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand. Arriving at the height of the Vietnam War in 1967 it was the first time the 19- year-old Airman had ever left the United States. Bewildered at the strange surroundings and feeling alone, he spent the next year forging a common bond with other U.S. Airmen that is stronger today than he ever thought it could have been 40 years ago. That sort of camaraderie was evident as he and more than 100 other veterans of the 307th Bomb Wing that served at U-Tapao RTNA held a reunion in Shreveport, Louisiana, from May 1-4, 2015. During their visit to Barksdale AFB, the veterans enjoyed a show from the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels. But the highlight of the day was when the veterans were able to tour “The Lone Star II, a B-52 Stratofortress, whose nose art was redesigned to honor the service of Vietnam veterans. “When I was at U-Tapao, we sort of viewed the B-52 as a nuisance; something you worked on and that made too much noise for you to enjoy a night at the movies,” he said. “Now, when I see one taking off, it brings tears to my eyes.” From 1966 to 1975, the Air Force used U-Tapao as a place to launch B-52 strikes throughout Southeast Asia, according to Bill Armstrong, the reunion organizer. He served at U-Tapao from 1970 to 1971 and spent weeks putting the event together. Armstrong said he was concerned that U-Tapao was not adequately represented in the history of the wing and hoped a reunion would spark greater awareness of what happened there. “I did it for the whole,” he said. “It was a great chance for current wing members to gain a lot of knowledge about U-Tapao and for the people that served there to be recognized for their contribution to wing history.”
Helping military veterans one step at a time (NBC-San Diego)
San Diego is a huge military town. But, their presence extends well beyond the brave men and women on active-duty. A growing number of former military members is choosing to call San Diego home. Team Red, White And Blue is vital to helping them once their careers are over. Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Being part of a team in the Armed Forces, it’s natural for them to seek out a team once they leave the military. That’s one of the reasons the Team RWB put together the Rancho Bernardo High School Challenge. It’s a 12-hour relay at the RBHS track. Teams of 12 or even single individuals circle the track from 8:30 in the morning until 8:30 at night (although participating for the full 12 hours is certainly not a necessity!). The event is in its fourth year and has grown exponentially. The event will also have professional fireworks show (sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corporation) produced by Fireworks America, the same company that puts on the fireworks display each summer on USS Midway. Learn more about Team Red, White And Blue at their website www.teamrwb.org and the event on the 30th specifically at www.teamrwbrbhschallenge.com. Thank you to Team RWB’s Peter Jackson (West Point graduate) for taking the time to come in studio for SportsWrap and talk about this amazing event.
Oldest combat veteran celebrates with Texas governor (San Antonio Express-News)
What do you do to celebrate 109 years on this earth? If you’re World War II veteran Richard Overton, you get to have cake at the Texas Governor’s Mansion. Gov. Greg Abbott and his wife, Cecilia, sang “Happy Birthday” Monday to Overton, joined by his friends Earline Love and Allen Bergeron in the mansion conservatory. Abbott pointed out that each candle on Overton’s cake “stands for about 38 years or so.” But after Overton quickly blew them out, Abbott quipped, “In hindsight, we could have put 109 candles on that.” Overton was presented with gifts including a throw emblazoned with the word “Texas;” a Texas flag that was flown over the Capitol when Abbott was sworn in; and four glasses – “for your whiskey,” piped up one voice. Overton is the nation’s oldest known combat veteran, Bergeron said. He is younger than Emma Didlake, the oldest known veteran at 110. She became a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1943.
VA in Long Beach hosts baby shower for military moms (Long Beach Press-Telegram)
Just in time for Mother’s Day, pink and blue booties, blankets and bibs were presented by the basketful to 13 women veterans at a large-scale baby shower held in their honor on March 28 at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System campus. Twelve local community groups collected more than $10,000 in products and sponsored the party for the expectant and new moms who served in the military and are outpatients of the VA Women’s Health Clinic. Each of the women veterans received $700 in diapers, clothing, blankets, educational toys, handmade quilts, gift cards and baby-care supplies — and two ladies, who had twins, were gifted with double that amount! Seven chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution representing Long Beach, Garden Grove, Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach and Whittier, along with Soldiers’ Angels, Sun & Sail Women’s Club, Seal Beach Lions Club, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 291 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary raised funds and collected donations. More than 200 of their members contributed to the event by shopping, sewing, cooking, making centerpieces and creating gift baskets. The moms-to-be and moms with their newborns were welcomed into a festively decorated auditorium with pastel balloon pillars and a display of colorful gifts that stood almost five feet high. A crowd of 100, including the veterans and their families, VA Long Beach volunteers and VA Women’s Clinic nurses, enjoyed a buffet lunch and shower games. Then came the presentation of the baby gifts! It was soon hard to see the women, who were surrounded by piles of much-needed clothing and supplies as well as a tricycle, stroller, car seat and other door prizes.The veterans selected by the VA Women’s Clinic all are in need of emotional and material support.
School offers vets a scholarship to help with cost of books (Military Times)
Murray State University has created its first scholarship specifically designed to support veteran students. The Paducah Sun reports the scholarship, named Operation Graduation, will become available starting with the fall 2016 semester and will help recipients offset the cost of textbooks. Chris Jeter, assistant registrar for Veterans Affairs, says some veterans receive financial assistance for textbooks depending on their GI Bill benefits, but it rarely covers the full cost. He says every student who is a veteran will be eligible to apply for the scholarship once it begins. “It was definitely something they were looking for,” Jeter said. “If I’ve had one, I’ve had a hundred phone calls from students wondering if there is anything that Murray offers specifically for veterans. Unfortunately, at the time I had to tell them no.” Operation Graduation is another step for Murray State as it continues to build a veteran-friendly campus. For 2015, USNews.com placed the university sixth on its list of Best Colleges for Veterans-South region. Jeter said it’s a little disappointing that the scholarship won’t be available sooner, but that might help. “I think it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s going to give us time to get information out there, to start cultivating relationships and bring in the community,” he said. “Once we get that strong base, then hopefully we can make sure this is something that is sustainable.”