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A L A B A M A coasting presents

America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors AHERO MAGAZINE

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Please join us in adding memorials created to honor our communty’s Gulf War Fallen and the Gold Star Families.

HELLO AND WELCOME TO THE FIRST EDITION OF AHERO MAGAZINE! I want to start by sending a special thanks to all of our AHERO

supporters, because without your efforts, we wouldn’t be able to serve our Veterans and accomplish our mission.   Photo credit: Allan Jones 2015

Persian Gulf War

CWO4 Phil Garvey, USA Pensacola, FL KIA 27 Feb 1991


I spend a lot of time thinking about how AHERO can best serve our Veterans, their families, and our community, and what a unique nonprofit we are with our all-volunteer staff members who truly pour heart and soul into accomplishing the AHERO mission.   Returning to my Marine Corps job after another successful AHERO event has given me some new insights: What we do best is help connect like-minded Veterans and their families through outdoor recreation: We focus on giving them an opportunity to connect and have fellowship––experiences they may not have had if they are off active duty or in their current active-duty unit. This helps the Veterans we serve to be present in the here and now, and not focus on their combat trauma or the stressors endured through such deployments. At each event, we witness positive interactions and really see changed individuals emerge with a new outlook on life and an awareness of resources that can improve their overall quality of life.

Bellview Site Contractors is providing home salvage items in exchange for donations to the proposed memorial projects. Marine Corps Veteran Stan Barnard and BSC co-owner Clay Wise salute AHERO for supporting our nation’s warriors and reminding us to Never Forget those who died or the families who live with the burden of sacrifice.

*** More than 12 homes scheduled for demolition. ***

Home Salvage Items for Memorial Donations Include:

• Int/Ext Doors • Windows • Cabinetry

• Fireplaces • HVAC Units • Ceiling Fans • Countertops

• Appliances • Bathroom Fixtures & Vanities • And More!

Contact: (850) 944-5388 – Bellview Site Contractors All items are in excellent or new condition. Donations will help bring these memorials to our community.

Cash & credit card donations accepted. Checks payable to: “VMPFP" with “Memorials Project” in the Memo Line. Minimum donation amount for salvage items and return requests at the discretion of Bellview Site Contractors. Veterans Memorial Park Foundation of Pensacola is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization the Inte under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. EIN# 46-3073405 ~ FL Reg CH-40764

None of these events could take place if it were not for the dedicated AHERO family’s belief in our mission. We continue to make great strides in expanding our outreach, and I’m proud to inform you that we’ve now served more than 2100 Veterans in just seven years!   Truly, while I often wish for growth and infinite funding, I enjoy being part of this still small, agile organization. We have an amazing group of compassionate Americans, who understand the sacrifice that our Veterans have made, who personally know Veterans or are Veterans themselves, and who work hard to show, through all of our various programming efforts, how very much they appreciate them.  

From Left to Right: PFC Michael Reznikow, CPL Nathan Chandler, Lex McMahon, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, Maj Lee Stuckey, Sgt Aaron Alonso.

Major Lee Stuckey, USMC donates his time in support of the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Lastly, to those who have helped us in our mission, please don’t go one day questioning yourselves if you are making a difference and positively impacting the lives of our Veterans and their families–– because you absolutely are. Thank you for your continued support and for being a part of the AHERO family. Lee Stuckey Major, United States Marine Corps




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AHERO EVENTS are not simply about fundraising to support the activities we offer at-risk Veterans and service members. Each AHERO event is meant to engage them in the healing camaraderie that happens as they come together, experience the care of the community, and learn of the many resources available to them for further help. Certain events are open to the public (P), and some are limited to eligible currently serving members and Veterans (M) only. Interested in attending a “members” event? There are a number of openings still available, so If you are an eligible Veteran or service member, please go to to register, and be sure to include your event choice.

MISSION BRIEF Suicide and drug overdose are two of the biggest killers of our military Veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 Veterans committed suicide every day in 2014. In fact, 18 percent of all adult suicides in the U.S. that year were committed by Veterans, although Veterans made up just 8.5 percent of the population. AHERO connects Veterans through outdoor activities to help them recover from their physical wounds and psychological trauma, and reintegrate into American life. Our goal is to heal the wounds of war and military service by: • Introducing Veterans to available resources and programs that can help increase their overall quality of life • Developing an informal support network of Veterans across the country • Encouraging constructive communication and engagement • Boosting Veteran morale Our mission is to serve as many Veterans as possible and offer them the healing opportunity that comes from time spent with fellow Veterans. AHERO will accomplish this by welcoming Veterans into communities willing to donate the time, recreational equipment, and the natural and financial resources necessary to support events that facilitate fellowship and mentoring. Through these activities, AHERO will establish and support a network of Veterans with previous experience in dealing with the emotional and physical wounds caused by the stress of military service and combat. This network will be self-sustaining and support Veterans across the United States of America. AHERO is a 100 percent volunteer-run, 501 c (3) charitable organization. More than 95 percent of all donations received go directly toward benefitting the Veterans we serve.



And if you or your group would like to sponsor, help out, or volunteer at one or more of these events, please visit or call 910.548.8864.

AUGUST 2018  J Warrior Hook-Up Pensacola Beach , FL (M) J Outward Bound Hiking High Sierras & Yosemite National Park (M) SEPTEMBER 2018 J Warrior Weekend Denmark (M) J Kappa Sigma’s Boardwalk Bash Pensacola Beach, Fla. (P) OCTOBER 2018 J Warrior Hook-Up Islamorada , FL (M) J Golf Tournament Queenstown, MD (P) NOVEMBER 2018 J Denmark Deer Hunt DECEMBER 2018 J “Senior Mentor” Deer & Hog Hunt Shorter, AL (M)

JANUARY 2019  J Duck Hunt Stuttgart, AR (M)   FEBRUARY 2019 J Deer & Hog Hunt Shorter, AL (M)   MARCH 2019 J Operation Song Pensacola Beach, FL (P) MAY 2019 J Annual Mobile Big Game Fishing Club Veterans Appreciation Weekend Mobile, AL (M) J Fishing4AHERO Pensacola Beach, FL (M) JUNE 2019 J Scotland Hunt (M) JULY 2019  J Warrior Hook-Up Islamorada, FL (M) 


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MAGAZINE Managing Partner/CEO Danny Calametti President/Publisher David Calametti Senior Editor Connie Conway Writer/Photographer Wendall Slater Art Director Randy Jennings Published by Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC

251-694-0457 5758 Huffman Drive North Mobile, AL 36693 ©2018 Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.



BELLEVIEW SITE CONTRACTORS.................................................................. 2 WELCOME TO AHERO MAGAZINE.................................................................3 AHERO MISSION BRIEF................................................................................... 4 AHERO EVENTS 2018-19.................................................................................. 5 THE GRAND MARLIN.................................................................................. 7,38 WIND CREEK CASINO...................................................................................... 7 SCREENED PORCH THERAPY......................................................................... 8 LIVINGSTON BIO/AHERO LODGE................................................................. 10 VETERANS SUPPORTING VETERANS......................................................... 11 MEMORIAL DAY FISHING4AHERO WEEKEND........................................... 12 PRESERVING AND PROTECTING OUR “SALT LIFE.................................... 14 HONOR THE FALLEN....................................................................................... 16 A LIFE TRANSFORMED.................................................................................. 18 IHMC TECHNOLOGY & SCIENCE.................................................................. 20 A SOLDIER’S STORY....................................................................................... 22 TITAN FIGHT CLUB......................................................................................... 23 THE MARINE AND MEIKA............................................................................. 24 CPL. KYLE CARPENTER.................................................................................. 25 WARRIOR HOOKUP........................................................................................ 26 WEBY 1330 AM RADIO................................................................................... 29 GOLFING 4 AHERO.......................................................................................... 30 TOUGH MUDDER 4 AHERO............................................................................ 32 DIGPRO MEDIA............................................................................................... 33 PAPA NALU ALOHA GRILL............................................................................. 34 GULF POWER................................................................................................... 35 BAMBOO WILLIE’S......................................................................................... 36 FISHIN’ CHIX................................................................................................... 37 PENSACOLA BEACH ELKS CLUB.................................................................. 39 CATERING FOR CHARITY, CPI....................................................................... 39 COOKING4AHERO - WFC TEAM ALABAMA............................................... 40 GULF BREEZE SERTOMA............................................................................... 41 LENSEA............................................................................................................ 41 AHERO PARTNERS WITH BIG GAME FISHING.......................................... 42 OPERATION SONG......................................................................................... 43 PENSACOLA BEACH SONGWRITERS FEST................................................ 44 A CIVILIAN’S VIEW........................................................................................ 45 UWF’S KAPPA SIGMA................................................................................... 46 LEAVING THE MOUNTAIN BEHIND............................................................. 48 VETERAN RESOURCES.................................................................................. 50 LEVIN PAPATONIO.......................................................................................... 52

WIND CREEK CASINO & HOTEL, WETUMPKA, DONATES $20,000 TO AHERO AHERO has received a generous donation of $20,000 from the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel of Wetumpka (WCW) and its guests. The casino’s leadership became aware of the Veterans Support Organization for wounded and injured Veterans through one of its retired military employees, and immediately reached out to AHERO. The 60-day fundraising campaign encouraged casino patrons to contribute account balances left at the end of their play to AHERO as they departed the casino. “Our campaign in 2017 was at 75 percent of our $20,000.00 goal when we decided to make the remaining 25 percent as a corporate donation,” said WCW Property Manager Kay Simmons. “We look forward to continuing our relationship with AHERO as it continues to provide exceptional programming and support for our Veterans. Our Wind Creek Casino family employs a number of Veterans and we serve many Veterans as our guests. We feel this relationship with AHERO reflects both the patriotism and charitable nature of our customers and underscores our inclusive company philosophy.”



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He began to organize the hunting and fishing excursions that are still going strong today.

ONE RULE: PAY IT FORWARD AHERO’s ongoing success depends on the hard work of its all-volunteer leadership and staff, and the concern and generosity of its supporters. Help comes in many ways, says Stuckey, including from Alabama Ag Credit, which helped him find affordable land to build a facility that can accommodate disabled AHERO participants during weekend events.

“We bring Vets in and share our stories so they’ll open up about theirs,” he says. “We sit on the porch and talk. A lot of our stories are about combat, but we tell funny ones too; it’s not all sad. We talk about different things we’ve been through. By the end, everybody has shared.”

On the cover: L to R: GySgt David Gaertner, Ken Bruce, Sgt Justin Gaertner.

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Lee Stuckey has been awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in Iraq, a Bronze Star, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps commendation medals with a “V” device for actions of valor during combat, and a Combat Action Ribbon, among others. But those decorations came at a high cost. “I got to a point one night [where] I didn’t want to live anymore,” Stuckey recalls. “I’d been on six different deployments, four combat deployments, been blown up, had my best friend get killed, lost Marines, lost soldiers in different deployments, put a lot of people on what they call honor flights — flying everybody home after they’d been killed — and I just got tired of living with all this stuff. So, I got to that point, and I almost did it. “I went to pull the trigger on my pistol, and my mom called my cellphone right as I was pulling the trigger. I dropped the pistol and freaked out. I didn’t know what was going on with me. I broke down, and I cried and picked up the phone and told my mom, ‘Hey listen, I’m lost.’” 8 AHERO MAGAZINE


For Stuckey, the psychological wounds of war were very real. And he’s not alone. The statistics are staggering. One in five veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, heighted when, bodily injury accompanies the event. For some, the disorder is so severe that it leads to suicide. Here are some shocking statistics: • As of 2017, approximately 540, 000 Veterans suffered from PTSD. • Currently, 22 Veterans a day commit suicide. • An estimated 50 percent of those with PTSD never seek treatment. THE FARM Before his suicide attempt, Stuckey had bought a 100-acre farm ideal for his favorite pastimes of hunting and fishing. Now he realized that his best therapy would be to help others like him by spending time with them on the Farm, listening to their experiences and sharing his own.

Adapted from article published in Alabama Ag Credit magazine

Thus, the dream for the building of AHERO’s Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston Lodge had begun.

Once Stuckey realized the effectiveness of these get-togethers, he set out to recruit and host at-risk Veterans. In 2010, he established the 501 (c) (3) organization, America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors (AHERO), to provide a way to support the anti-suicide cause. AHERO events occur often through the year. Hunts include for duck, deer and turkey, and sometimes even hunts abroad. Screened porch therapy off the farm includes deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico; Pensacola Beach singer/songwriter Veterans and other music events; games and competitions, including 5K runs; and social gatherings and fundraiser events.

“My biggest rule is simple,” Stuckey says. “I ask our Vets to find two others who they know are going through problems, so they can help save lives, and pay it forward.”

Virtually 100 percent of donations to AHERO goes to helping Vets. No one at AHERO gets paid. Contributors across the Gulf region and beyond continue to come forward with generous donations toward the $300,000 required to build the Lodge, and with support for AHERO’s programs that have helped more than 2400 Veterans and service members to date.

A WEIGHT LIFTED Stuckey describes A HERO as a judgment-free zone. “These Veterans aren’t lepers, they’re not weak,” he says. “They’re going through difficult times. It just means they’re human. He shares the story of one AHERO participant who felt released from the emotional and psychological burdens he’d been carrying for nearly a decade, after he spent a weekend at the farm. As Stuckey tells it, “This Marine was really quiet. We all told our stories, and he just listened. Finally, he started talking and didn’t stop for two hours. At the end, you could tell the weight was lifted off his shoulders. He said, ‘You know, I haven’t told anyone any of these stories, including my ex-wife who left me with my two kids.’ The rest of the two days he was a different person. He was smiling and laughing.” AHERO MAGAZINE

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Among the stellar examples of generosity of AHERO’s contributors is Auburn University’s chapter of the international Sigma Pi Fraternity. In 2016 alone, the chapter contributed $10,000 toward the construction of AHERO’s proposed 9000-sq.-ft. Major General James E. Livingston Lodge and Pavilion. Surrounded by 400 acres of Alabama woods and meadow, the ADA-compliant facility will be able to safely and comfortably accommodate Veterans and service members participating in hunts and other AHERO weekend events. “To have this fine fraternity honor Maj. Gen. Livingston in this way is so appreciated by all who care about AHERO and the work it does,” said Marine Major Lee Stuckey, AHERO’s founder and president. “The Lodge is that much closer to being realized because of the Sigma Pi brothers’ generous commitment to its purpose and their deep respect for its namesake.” “Being in a fraternity gives me and my brothers a unique chance to pool our resources and help with projects that can really make a difference in people’s lives,” said Miles Hudson, president of the more than 120-member Sigma Pi chapter and also a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadet. “Working with AHERO allows us to assist a cause that is near and dear to my heart. When we learned of the Lodge being named in honor of our alumnus, General Livingston, we quickly jumped at the opportunity to help in any way we could.” A REVERED AMERICAN HERO Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Livingston, a member of Sigma Pi at Auburn, was awarded our country’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, by President Richard Nixon, 10 AHERO MAGAZINE


on May 14, 1970. As a captain serving in Vietnam in 1968, Livingston led his men in an assault on the village of Dai Do, which had been seized by the enemy and heavily fortified, isolating another Marine company. Through hours of relentless battle, Livingston forged forward, leading his troops straight for the points of greatest resistance. He was badly wounded twice, and then again, but he refused treatment in order to spur his men on to destroy 100 bunkers, relieving the pressure on the stranded Marines. Undaunted, dutybound, he would return many times to combat. The Major General was invited to speak this year at Sigma Pi’s February Founders Day Celebration. The first and only Auburn MOH recipient, announcement of his appearance was greeted with excitement and deep appreciation, for the legendary Marine is known to inspire all in attendance when he speaks. “I had met Maj. General prior to this,” said Brendan Welsh, Sigma Pi alumni secretary. “He’s a super nice guy. It’s great just to be able to say he’s a brother here. He still comes back, and is pretty active, so we’re thrilled to be able to have him on Founders Day as keynote speaker.” Building 2 ways: Funding a lodge and growing a relationship with AHERO Hearing about AHERO and its mission to reverse the rising tide of Veteran suicides inspired the brothers at Sigma Pi to respond with enthusiastic help. “We’re glad to have the chance to develop an ongoing relationship with a charitable organization such as AHERO.” Welsh said. We wanted to have our philanthropic efforts go where they’re really needed.”

Major General James E. Livingston. Blueprint of the Major General James E. Livingston Lodge and Pavilion.

Sigma Pi’s 2018 Philanthropic Committee Chair Nikolai (Niki) Makarenko now continues this respected fraternity’s support of our nation’s heroes. “Giving back is such a huge part of being in a fraternity, and it has truly been an honor to work with AHERO,” Makarenko said. “We are so excited for the opening of the Major General James E. Livingston Lodge. We’ve loved working with AHERO over the years and hope to continue our great relationship for years to come.” The goal AHERO must hit to ensure timely completion of the lodge honoring Maj. Gen. Livingston is $300,000. At AHERO, we’re determined to succeed in reaching it. But to keep momentum up, the call is out for as much help as possible from people and groups like the big-hearted brothers of Sigma Pi-Auburn. Their great generosity reflects the gratitude they, like so many Americans, feel toward the men and women who put it all on the line to keep the rest of us safe.

VETERANS SUPPORTING VETERANS: A FAMILY TRADITION Charlie & Fran Switzer, both Navy Veterans, have been supporters of charitable causes in the Florida Panhandle for many years. Coming from a long tradition of military service to country and service to others, the Switzer family has long supported organizations that give a hand up. AHERO is one of those. Charlie has been involved with AHERO from its beginning. “A close friend, a retired Marine officer, got me involved,” he says. “He suggested putting together a fishing trip for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. I was hooked, since I happen to love fishing.” Charlie was introduced to USMC Major Lee Stuckey, who described his vision of getting injured active-service members and Veterans into outdoor experiences to lift their spirits. “Once I met Major Stuckey, I was all in,” Charlie says. ”He and his AHERO group exemplify the motto Semper Fi.” AHERO MAGAZINE

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This Memorial Day, AHERO hosts the Fishing4AHERO Rodeo, an outrageously fun annual event that we guarantee you will NOT want to miss. The Grand Prize? How about passage for two aboard the magnificent Breathe Easy, a 68ft Viking fishing yacht AND the opportunity to fish alongside some truly heroic Veterans at AHERO’s Annual August Warrior Hook-Up Event!

WHY FISH FOR AHERO? Taking part in AHERO’s Fishing4AHERO rodeo helps us work against the tragedy of suicide among Veterans and active military members. About 22 Veterans and activeduty military members take their own lives each day. AHERO has developed effective programs that help these at-risk individuals reconnect with life, with one another, and with the support of all who care. That’s AHERO’s mission, and why more than 95 percent of our proceeds fund this and all our events and activities for U.S. military Veterans and active-duty men and women. Fishing4AHERO is made possible by the Community of Boat Owners, Anglers, and AHERO Donors of the Gulf Coast.

“The City of Gulf Breeze is honored to serve as the host site for AHERO’s Fishing4AHERO Rodeo. In this city, almost 800 families know what it is to celebrate milestones or holidays without the father, mother, brother, sister or friend they miss. Approximately 22,000 such families live in Santa Rosa County. All await or have awaited their loved one who fights for freedom or to ensure our security halfway around the globe. Veterans often return home drastically changed. AHERO gives our communities the opportunity to repay some of the debts we owe these brave Warriors for their sacrifices on our behalf.” Matt Dannheisser Mayor, Gulf Breeze, Florida

So get ready to join us and sign up to fish!

Where? At beautiful Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze When? Memorial Day Weekend, May 25 & 26 See you there! 12 AHERO MAGAZINE


For more information visit: AHERO MAGAZINE

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ROBERT TURPIN WORKS TO PRESERVE & PROTECT OUR GULF WATERS–AND “SALT LIFE” Resources Damages Assessment (NRDA) program. In terms of this area, how was the money allotted?

By Wendell Slater

If Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” hadn’t already been made into a movie, Escambia County’s Marine Resource Manager Robert Turpin would have been perfect for the starring role. With his sun-bleached skin and seasoned environmentalist’s wisdom garnered of the deep blue, Turpin continues to assist in preserving the beach life we enjoy today. I asked him to discuss our postoil-spill Gulf waters, and how securing its ecosystem makes it possible to continue exploring all that the Gulf Coast has to offer when the spirit of adventure lures you away to the sea. WS: You worked as the emergency response coordinator to help protect the Gulf after the BP oil spill. What have you learned? RT: That we were lucky. The spill gave us quite a scare. Those of us who work in the field know that we’ve given ourselves two strikes and now the pitcher is throwing a fastball. If the amount of oil received by southern Louisiana had entered the Perdido and Pensacola bay systems, we would be in a lot worse shape. My biggest worry is, we don’t know what we don’t know. We didn’t have good baseline ecological data prior to the spill, therefore it is difficult to attribute any problems to the spill itself. If you don’t have good records on the contents of your home prior to a catastrophic event, it’s difficult to get your insurance company to compensate for your losses. That oil spill was a real wake-up call. WS: After the spill, all the states affected received funding from the federal Natural

RT: One of the spill’s impacts we were able to demonstrate was loss of the use of many local waterways during the summer of 2010. Saltwater fishing in the Gulf of Mexico was closed and floating oil caused the substantial loss of boating, diving and related activities. We could obtain more than $4 million to construct two new boat ramps and replace the docks at two existing ramps. We also received over $3.7 million to construct new artificial reefs. These are just two examples of our efforts to mitigate the negative effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill. WS: One of the latest projects that you completed was construction of the artificial reef off the coast. Can you explain how such reefs work? RT: Escambia County has been actively building artificial reefs for more than three decades to provide complex habitat for marine life typically found at natural reefs. Although the water in the northern Gulf gets too cold in the winter for reef-building corals, we have rock ledges in areas not covered by the predominantly sand seafloor. These natural reefs aggregate hundreds of species of fish and invertebrates. We deploy artificial reef materials such as bridge rubble and other concrete objects, as well as steel barges, tugboats and other ships, to make living marine resources available to anglers and divers. The reefs are deployed closer to shore to increase their utilization. Fish and other marine life find the new reefs very quickly. Some are tiny snapping shrimp, which draw fish in the vicinity. Barnacles and other encrusting organisms quickly cover any

L to R: Cody James, Robert Turpin and Dave Glassman.

available hard substrate. I suspect the communities on any reef emit smells that bring fish seeking habitat. It is amazing how quickly an artificial reef is colonized! WS: In your role now as Escambia County’s marine resource manager, which projects involving the area’s marine environment are you most passionate about? RT: Diagnosing the Pensacola ecosystem. We, the scientific community, came together with county leaders and the Nature Conservancy to create the watershed analysis. Our bays are impacted by issues affecting other estuaries throughout our state, nation, and world. Estuaries are places where freshwater meets seawater. For millennia, streams and rivers drained precipitation through pristine watersheds. Within the last few hundred years, we’ve changed the quantity and quality of the water flowing into our bays. Impervious surfaces cause flash-floods during rain events, which carry pollutants such as pesticides, petroleum products, sediment and trash, and nutrients such as fertilizers and animal waste through storm-water systems. Loss of natural filtration systems–wetlands, seagrasses, oyster reefs, for example– further reduces the ability of waterways to cope with pollutants. Excess nutrients

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE IMPACT OF, AND RESPONSE TO, THE DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL SPILL? Access the national resource damage assessment online information on the spill at: 14 AHERO MAGAZINE


are particularly harmful because their cascading effects result in loss of oxygen in the water, creating dead zones. The 2017 Mississippi River dead zone in the Gulf covered an area the size of New Jersey. WS: Pensacola will always be a great tourism spot. How can tourists get involved in some form of ecotourism* for the protection of the local environment? RT: To me, ecotourism means visiting where the natural environment is not what you ordinarily see. There are two types of tourist activities, consumptive and non-consumptive. Scuba diving, recreational fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing are all forms of non-consumptive ecotourism, and bring millions of dollars into our economy each year. Fishing and taking your catch back to eat–that’s consumptive. We have established some areas for people to come in and view wildlife, other areas for hunting wildlife. It’s very much about resource allocation. Proper resource allocation can lead to proper ecotourism. *Ecotourism: tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.

Non-consumptive ecotourism.

“I had so much fun and got to see our Veterans have a lot of fun and laughs aboard the Breathe Easy last August. I’m so glad my dad and I got to participate in the tournament to help our heroes enjoy fishing. I learned so much about AHERO and can’t wait for this year’s tournament!” Sydney Flemming At nine years old, Sydney was Grand Prize winner of the Pledge-per-Pound program in the August 2017 inaugural Fishing4AHERO fishing rodeo.

Authority (SRIA) is The Santa Rosa Island in AHERO’s efforts. honored to participate AHERO fishing event No matter where an ach becomes “HQ” launches, Pensacola Be rriors back to port. as the boats carry our Wa e many Veterans find We are blessed to hav tiny island. And I, comfort with us on this to be asked to be part personally, am humbled h gathering. of the brotherhood in eac for the two-fold The SRIA thanks AHERO it gives any Veteran gifts it offers: The caring helps, and the gift it or service member it the helping. delivers to those who do

“… the experiences our Veterans have in Escambia can remind them that the life they secured for us is full of opportunity for them, too.” Doug Underwood Escambia County Commissioner

Paolo Ghio Executive Director, SRIA


Consumptive ecotourism.



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The Park’s meaningful atmosphere would bring her solace, she felt. The sorrow of losing her beloved “Dusty” in a crash several months before lay deep within her. When she found herself near a plaza with a handsome clock tower she’d never seen, Ashley remembers thinking, “‘What IS this? I didn’t know this was here!’”

By Frenchy LaFontaine

The Marine Aviation Memorial Tower commemorating 100 years of Marine aviation was erected in 2012 through the efforts of a handful of dedicated Veterans and retired officers assisted by Pensacola’s appreciative community. After a couple months of searching for a suitable place for a memorial dedicated to Marine CASEVAC crews and the CASEVAC mission, it was decided that it would be placed at the Veterans Memorial Park, Pensacola. It was further decided that a 30-ft clock tower with a newly cast bell would serve as a National Marine Aviation Memorial to commemorate the first 100 years of Marine Corps Aviation and to pay tribute to the Marines, and service members of other branches of the military, who have died while serving in Marine Aviation units and/missions. Although the many people who see the beautiful bell tower are moved by what it represents, few know the significance of its most prominent, yet subtle, features ... or that the tower is the only belltower monument in the United States dedicated to our fallen Marine aviators and the sacrifices they made. The 30ft tower bears witness to the many USMC pilots and crew members who have given their lives for this country by flying dangerous missions ranging from training and combat, to transport and humanitarian relief.


FOREVER REMEMBERED “One of our greatest fears is that our loved ones will be forgotten,” says Ashley Lukasiewicz, widow of the late Marine Corps Capt. Dustin Ryan Lukasiewicz and mother of their two young children, Isabelle and Dustin Mark. “So after I moved back to Pensacola, I stopped to just walk around in Veteran’s Memorial Park. I’d been there before, when I was a teacher in the area, taking my classes on field trips.”

“I’ve enjoyed many beautiful early mornings at Pensacola’s Veterans Memorial Park. The memorials are magnificent to look at and photograph. This place holds so much reverence––I often simply stop to admire and appreciate all that has been done by those who served.” Allen Jones - Official Photographer For Veterans Memorial Park, Pensacola 16 AHERO MAGAZINE


Capt. Lukasiewicz, 29, had been piloting the UH-1Y (Huey) helicopter when it went down in unstable weather during earthquake rescue operations in Nepal, in May 2015. Heroic, committed to country and Corps, he was killed along with five other outstanding U.S. Marines and two Nepalese soldiers. The loss of those brave Marines in a selfless act to help others defines the purpose of the Marine Aviation Memorial Tower and the captain’s young widow and her journey would soon become part of the Tower’s history. A LOVE STORY Before she met Dusty, Ashley had moved to live with her father in Pensacola. “He had retired from the Army and become a teacher here,” she explains. “He helped me get a job teaching after college in Virginia. I felt comfortable, connected, in Pensacola.” Dusty was in flight school there when the couple met. Their relationship grew. “Pilots get ten choices when they are winged,” Ashley says. “His number-one choice was Hueys-West Coast. It’s rare for pilots to get their first choice, but he got his. He wanted the versatile Hueys so he’d be able to provide the most help to Marines on the ground. He was really excited.” But before he was winged, Dusty brought her to the Botanical Gardens in Alabama, where he proposed. “I knew he had gotten California,” she laughs. “I’d told him, ‘I’m not moving across the country without getting engaged!’ I pinned his wings on and we were off to Camp Pendleton.”

When the tragedy occurred, Ashley was thirty-six weeks pregnant and living with her little girl far from family in Florida and Virginia. Still in shock, she remembered Dusty’s wishes to be buried in his home state, Nebraska. “I needed to get there right away,” she says. “But my OBGYN said I couldn’t fly. So Dusty’s father and my mother came to drive us there from California. We stopped every few hours so I could walk around.” After her son’s birth, Ashley remained for months with her father-in-law, Keith Lukasiewicz, in Farwell, Neb. “I was close to his dad,” She says. “But I wasn’t from there, and everything was a reminder of Dusty. I felt like I would forever be a widow there, which could be unhealthy for me and the kids.” BITTERSWEET CEREMONY When she saw the Tower that day in the Park, Ashley had recognized one of the names inscribed on its plaque: Major Nathan Anderson. “He was flying with our squadron, HMLA-469, when two Hueys collided in Yuma, Ariz., in 2012,”she says. “He was instructing one of our guys. I remembered how devastating

that collision was to all of us. I thought, ‘Dusty’s name belongs here, too, along with the names of the other Marines who died with him in Nepal!’” Making the idea a reality was daunting, she says. Still, Ashley knew that as the wife of Capt. Lukasiewicz, it was her responsibility. As it happened, Army Veteran Warren Palmer, AHERO’s volunteer coordinator, learned her story and connected her with Butch Hansen, then-president of Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, who put her in touch with AHERO Vice President Lt. Col. David S. Glassman, ret., a Marine aviator who had helped initiate and complete the job of bringing the Tower to Pensacola. Soon the Gold Star families of Dusty’s crew were contacted. “I explained what I wanted to do,” Ashley says, “and they were glad to be part of it, even though it was ... difficult.” Once the names were on the Tower, the families were brought to Pensacola for a deeply moving ceremony attended by numerous residents of Pensacola-area communities.

Describing her initial resentment that the mission had fallen to her husband, who was at the tail end of his deployment, and his fellow Marines. “He was in the Philippines at the time, closest to where HUEYs were needed in Nepal. But I was pregnant. I wanted my husband home. I didn’t want to have this baby by myself. When I think back, I know those feelings were selfish. And I ended up having the baby without him, anyway.” Too often, the sacrifices made by our warriors and their families are terrible. Ashley knows their despair. “A close friend of Dusty’s dad lost his Marine son to suicide,” She says. “It inspired my father-in-law on to spread the word about the work AHERO is doing. His friend’s was the first Gold Star family he’d ever met.” Now, because of the steadfast love of a Marine wife, the Lukasiewicz’s, too, are an honored Gold Star family. A family whose Hero has his name gratefully inscribed on a revered Tower pointing to the skies.

VISIT PENSACOLA’S NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM It’s the world’s largest Naval Aviation museum and one of the most visited museums in the state of Florida. Share the excitement of Naval Aviation’s rich history and see more than 150 beautifully restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Aviation. These historic, one-of-a-kind aircraft are displayed both inside the Museum’s nearly 350,000 square feet of exhibits space and outside on its 37-acre grounds. AHERO MAGAZINE

2018 17


In many ways, it’s the wood that tells his story. Dave Riley’s workshop in his Alabama back yard is similar to those found in back yards throughout the South and the country. There are stacks of raw wood and used lumber, numerous projects in various stages of completion, all types of saws and tools, and a fine sprinkling of sawdust in corners and cracks. But it’s the sawn rings of a heritage oak felled by a storm or the withered planks from a once sturdy floor that bring Dave to life. Dave is a quadruple amputee, having lost his limbs to a rare bacterial infection during his Coast Guard service, and he sees that old, discarded wood as a metaphor for how he felt in the period after his illness. But just as Dave now transforms the wood into something new and useful, so too did he do with his own life. After the illness, Dave went through some dark days as he looked at the potential of a life drastically different than the active, outdoorsman and adrenaline junkie he had been. With the help of his wife, Yvonne, and the support of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), he began to transform himself. “DAV saved my life,” Dave explains. “They were there from the beginning. Without their support, I don’t think I would be here for Yvonne and the kids.” In addition to helping him heal, DAV introduced him to adaptive sports, giving him back that adrenaline rush that was so much a part of his earlier life. Since then Dave has skied snowy slopes, played golf, and competed in bike races. Further evidence of his transformation is how DAV also led Dave to a new mission - helping other Veterans. He first worked as a volunteer with the organization and eventually went to work for them full time, earning recognition as the DAV Veteran of the Year in 2010. His service continues as he has just completed his term as DAV National Commander and currently serves as chairman of the DAV Board. According to Dave, “It’s ironic that what almost killed me showed me my life’s purpose. After I was first injured, I couldn’t imagine living a normal life, and I haven’t - it’s been greater that what I ever expected.” And that leads us back to the workshop. Dave takes those tired discarded pieces of wood and creates beautiful gift boxes - more than 300 thus far - and for those disabled vets, he shares a message: “Rather than trying to recover what was lost, we can often create something new.”



Discarded wood used for numerous projects.

One of Dave’s beautiful gift boxes.

Each box is stamped on the bottom, signifying that it’s “hook-made”


“As a quadruple amputee,” Dave Riley explains, “I’m often singled out by others who thank me for my service. And while I do appreciate that very much, no one ever recognizes Yvonne for the tremendous service and sacrifice that she has rendered over these past twenty years.” Yvonne and thousands of other family caregivers make life possible for so many injured veterans. In the process, they give up much of their independence, their livelihood and their own lives, while, frankly, saving the U.S. Government hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Yvonne is working side by side with Dave to make sure that these unsung heroes get the recognition and support they - and their Veterans - deserve. Yvonne and Dave.

Photos provided by DAV.

DAV IS A NONPROFIT THAT PROVIDES A LIFETIME OF SUPPORT FOR VETERANS OF ALL GENERATIONS AND THEIR FAMILIES. Every year, the organization helps more than 1 million veterans in positive, life-changing ways by helping them access benefits they earned, like health care, education and disability, and connecting them to meaningful employment opportunities. DAV is the nation’s most resourceful veterans service organization, keeping the promise to support America’s veterans.

For more information on their program of work and how you might support their efforts, go to


2018 19


It’s been called a pioneer in robotics and a research facility developing or improving human-machine interactive technologies. In fact, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) is all those things and more. A partnership between technological research and the mechanics of cognition and physiology, IHMC’s teams of brilliant innovators are giving fresh hope to, among others, Veterans who have suffered wounds and injuries in combat or training accidents. So we, AHERO Magazine’s staff, recently set about learning more about the Institute. Invited by Senior Research Scientist Dr. Peter Neuhaus for a tour-and-talk at IHMC, we entered the newly built, environmentally friendly addition to its existing campus in Pensacola’s Seville Historical District.

“It’s quite a change from the workspace we were using,” said Neuhaus, an MIT graduate who joined the Institute in 2003, a few years after earning his doctorate at UC Berkeley. In the lobby, we noted the airy spaces and long, gracefully curving staircases that encourage the exercising of muscles to get to the two upper floors. Human movement––the freedom to move that we all cherish––is the central issue here. “We call those who work with us athletes,” Neuhaus said, referring to the disabled volunteers whose existing strengths are taxed as they test a variety of orthoses and devices controlled by actuators. IHMC’s bioscience experts and mechanical engineers have been collaborating in all areas of powered orthoses and movement-assistive devices for years, Neuhaus explained. “But the particular project my team has been working on since 2008 is the exoskeleton, a wearable, sensor activated, electronically powered device providing full body support to a person who is paralyzed from the lower spine down.” Evidence of the innovative work going into this project is seen throughout the 4000-square-foot R&D lab we’re shown into. It’s just one of a number of labs at IHMC. Here, we find the “exo” itself standing patiently waiting for its next workout with Mark Daniel, its human partner. Daniel is a personable, upbeat and energetic 26-year-old welder who, at age nineteen, suffered a catastrophic automobile accident as a result of working long hours at a shipyard. His spine was severed in his lower back, causing him to lose all feeling in, and use of, his legs. Once in the exo as its “pilot,” however, Daniel is able to maneuver himself using a joystick on a crutch that helps him stand, stabilize, and take steps in a coordinated fashion. In 2016, Daniel, along with Neuhaus and other members of the exo team, traveled to Zürich, Switzerland, to



compete in the Cybathlon, the first international competition for people with disabilities supported by modern assistive technology. To see just how effectively Daniel and IHMC’s exo performed, read their full story online at Magazine. “Before coming to IHMC, I spent a while in rehab and built up my upper body strength, which really helps when your legs don’t work anymore,” Daniel said. “I was glad to be asked to participate in developing the exo. Luckily IHMC was here in the Pensacola area, near where I live.” He seems at home in this vast lab, too, where tinkering to the point of futuristic innovation is the norm. Here, devices are constantly being improvised on, streamlined, and otherwise customized in pursuit of perfection. Daniel’s exo is built to specifically fit him. By seeing it in action, Neuhaus and his team are able to fully explore and adapt it to its full potential. By the time it is on

the market, said Neuhaus, “it will have been designed to fit just about anyone, with a minimum of adjustments.“ He added that IHMC is not involved in any commercial aspects issuing from their work. “Most of our funding comes from grants. For the exoskeleton and our Cybathlon participation, we had support from sponsors Stormy Dawn Anderson, Scivation Inc., the William and Karen Dalton Family, Allied Motion, Futek, Elmo Motion Control, Lord MicroStrain Sensing, inTec, and Star Prototype.” The work IHMC’s teams are doing will result in critical quality-of-life help for a great many people worldwide–– including our own injured and wounded heroes. AHERO is pleased to highlight the importance of IHMC’s inspiring endeavors. “We’re strictly a research institute,” said Neuhaus, looking toward the future. “So we write a lot of proposals for a lot of grants. We’re always seeking funding.”


2018 21



By Staff Sgt. James Calloway, U.S. Army, Retired

First, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m James Calloway, Staff Sergeant in the United States Army, medically retired after almost 19 years of service. A spinal cord and brain injury had taken me out of the field of operations. Not long after that, the Army told me, “You’re done.” I had lost all feeling from my chest down. I got out on December 17, 2014. One day, I’m at the VA hospital and my Army Wounded Warrior rep says, “You look like hell.” I tell her, “Hey, that ain’t no pickup line to use.” And she says, “I’m sending you to Capt. Lee Stuckey. He’s got a project. You need to go out there.” So last year, I ended up out here with a bunch of Marines and one or two soldiers, and it was like having a bunch of big brothers pick on me the whole time. I made a lot of friends. I had a great time. Because when guys like me are here together, we ain’t got to talk about it. I can look at Capt. Stuckey. I can look at Lt. Colonel Dave Glassman over there. We don’t have to talk. It’s a feeling of comfort. I went home, but pretty soon I’m dealing with chronic pain and severe depression again. But I’ve been taken away from my brothers-in-arms. I’m sitting at home around a bunch of loving, caring people, but they don’t know what’s going on. So one night I go out drinking with my hometown buddies, and on the way home, I shoot over this message to the guys I met through Stuckey. I JUST TELL THEM, “I’M DONE.” Didn’t think about my three daughters. I didn’t think about anybody. Instead, I went home, and took over 500 Tylenol. Downed them with about three or four bottles of Benadryl. I don’t know if anyone of you know this, but Tylenol shuts down your liver and kidneys. It’s a painful death, though it takes over two or three days to execute. The doctor in the ER said to me, “Why would you do that?” 22 AHERO MAGAZINE


I spent 36 hours in the hospital getting my kidneys and liver flushed in hopes that I wouldn’t hit renal failure or need to be on dialysis. Everybody’s heard things about the VA, but they did a good job with me. They kept me here. Even now, they still monitor my enzymes and stuff to make sure I haven’t done irreparable damage. My father was there with me in the ER. I’ve never seen such a look of disappointment on my dad’s face. I fell asleep for about two minutes. But then I kept waking up screaming. My dad’s a five-tour Vietnam Vet, and he looked at me and said, “I have never seen the evil in someone’s eyes like I’ve seen in yours.” I said, “That’s because you can’t understand that what I’ve got is mental and physical pain that you’ll never know.” Then I said, “I’ve created a lot of pain and suffering. I deserve to suffer. It’s time for me to go.” How did I get to the ER? Well, when I sent that message out to the AHERO guys? One of my best friends from high school was the state trooper who showed up at my house. After I was coherent enough to understand, he said, “Half of Camp Lejeune tied up all the switchboards of 911 in the state of Missouri. If it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be here today.” It’s the God’s honest truth. If it wasn’t for Dave Glassman, Lee Stuckey, and the great people of Pensacola who I won’t leave out because they helped make AHERO possible, I wouldn’t be writing this. My five-, three- and one-year-old daughters would be dadless. So if at any time anybody thinks this doesn’t make a difference … they’re wrong. Next time you’re at an AHERO fishing or other event, go up and talk to one of those guys wearing an AHERO hat––one of those Justins, Lees or James. They will tell you what this group is doing makes a big difference.

There’s a serious plague working against our nation. We ask young men and women to go fight a war for us, and they come home to a hopelessness maybe you can’t imagine. They come back to a rate of active-military and Veteran suicide of 22 a day. That’s one every 54 minutes. Think about that. Every 54 minutes, one of our bravest and best takes his or her life. To be frank, that’s bullsh-t. And it’s got to end. Through programs like AHEROs, it will end. But I appreciate the love and support I get from you who give it in one way or another––and I am very glad I got this opportunity to say thank you.

A FOLLOW-UP NOTE FROM THE EDITORS Staff Sgt. Calloway recently found himself in the hospital fighting off an infection arising from medication prescribed for an infection resulting from a barbering mishap. Though serious enough to potentially send him to a burn center (ultimately it did not), Calloway showed characteristic wry humor in a text sent from his hospital bed to AHERO, saying, “Funny how I avoided death overseas, but a bad haircut turned to an infection turned into this. You have to laugh and find humor in it or you’ll go crazy!”

Titan FC has been a philanthropic partner to AHERO for more than four years and has worked alongside AHERO’s team to raise awareness and funds and to create memorable events for military service members and Veterans who AHERO supports. Titan has hosted hundreds of service members and Veterans at live

events, and has facilitated and supported taking them to live UFC events. In addition, Tital hosts an annual fishing event in the Florida Keys and showcases AHERO in each of its events. Titan FC is committed to a longterm partnership with AHERO to help give every hero a chance to heal. 


2018 23


After spending more than a decade quietly battling the effects of a traumatic brain injury suffered during his service in Iraq, Lt. Col. Jeremy Wayne Thompson, USMC Ret, “JT” to his friends, was diagnosed with cerebellar hemangioblastoma, a rare brain tumor. Though generally benign, such tumors pose serious threats of rupturing and causing bleeding into the brain or otherwise compromising the tissue or systems they invade. “In my case the tumor was attacking my nervous system,” Lt. Col. Thompson says. “But even after I had been treated, I floundered at the Wounded Warrior Battalion, fighting my changed future and certain medical retirement.” A man used to being active and, in particular, an engaged Marine, he worked hard to regain his former physical strength and his ability to walk. As Thompson tells it, “My wife, Meike, was with me every step of the way. She literally helped me learn to walk again.” But there was still work to be done to get back his enjoyment of living.

“Then, in summer 2016, I attended an AHERO fishing event,” the now medically retired lieutenant colonel explains. “That’s when it all changed. I met wonderful people going through the same things I was. They were a close support network, advocating recovery through outdoor activity.” After another year of working toward recovery and another AHERO event, Lt. Col. Thomson says he and his wife decided to “give back” by helping others who were going through the same sort of things he and fellow Veterans he’d met were. “We joined the AHERO team,” he says. After the second Warrior Hookup event, JT and Meika went on to found High Points for AHERO, a fundraising arm of AHERO, unique in that it enlists the couple’s love of hiking to achieve its goals. “Our mission is to raise awareness for AHERO by reaching the highest point in each state in the USA,” says the now very-fit-again Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine!). “We’re raising money along the way by telling the story of

By Connie Conway

AHERO to anyone who will listen. We have completed 12 states thus far.” The donations, in all increments, keep coming in. As of July 31 this year, the couple’s awareness-raising had generated more than $4,000 for AHERO. Now they’ve set their sights on points abroad – like Europe’s Alps! AHERO’s president, Maj. Lee Stuckey, USMC, is grateful and impressed with their efforts. “After giving so much to the country he served, Jeremy is out there again, giving more back to his fellow wounded Veterans,” Stuckey said. “There is no way to adequately show our gratitude to him and his wife, Meika, and their family for their great help.”  

THE MARINE CORPS LEAGUE DETACHMENT 066 The Marine Corps League Detachment 066 has a proud and robust history in the greater Pensacola area for contributing to a benevolent community which hosts and supports our active-duty forces based in the area and the many Veterans who live and work here. In keeping with the detachment’s mission statement to support Veterans of the local area, it has been a pleasure to join in support of the AHERO organization in what it does to provide support and comfort to severely wounded Veterans and heroes of our nation’s armed forces. Over the last few years, the Marine Corps League has financially supported the annual fishing events in the local area planned, coordinated, and hosted by AHERO, which provide a day of outdoor recreation to hundreds of our Veterans. It has been an honor and a pleasure to participate in the activity, providing volunteer staff assistance in the execution of the event. We are grateful and happy to be a part of it; we look forward to a longstanding relationship with AHERO in the future. COL Christopher E. Holzworth IV, USMC ret. 24 AHERO MAGAZINE


CPL. KYLE CARPENTER: MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT & KAPPA SIGMA BROTHER The Kappa Sigma fraternity at UWF has developed a relationship with AHERO, raising funds and building awareness about the high rate of suicide among military Veterans and active duty members. Kappa Sigma brother, William “Kyle” Carpenter, a medically retired U.S. Marine, left an indelible mark of honor on the fraternal organization when, in 2014 at age 24, he became the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest citation. Carpenter, a 21-year-old corporal serving in Afghanistan in 2010, had thrown himself on a grenade to protect a fellow Marine. Awarding the Medal, President Obama said, “We are here because this United States Marine faced down that terrible explosive power, that unforgiving force with his own body. When that grenade exploded, Kyle Carpenter’s body took the brunt of the blast. His injuries were catastrophic … He went into cardiac arrest three times. He flat lined. Three times, the doctors brought him back.” The story, by now, is famous. How, for Cpl. Carpenter’s mother and father, his long process through pain and despair just to grab that first spark of determination to survive was almost unendurable. How they clung to hope from the moment they first heard he’d been hurt, through the horror of seeing of how dire his condition was, all the way through the excruciating challenges they watched him face as he worked to get back to living. Carpenter had suffered shrapnel lodged in his brain that caused it to swell dangerously. He had numerous broken bones and nerve damage in his arm and hand. He’d lost an eye. But in time, with intense and lengthy rehabilitation, he

would heal and be doing multiple pullups again, as well as skydiving and running marathons – not to mention, going to college. In the fall of 2013, Cpl. Carpenter entered as a student at the University of South Carolina. As an exemplary Marine, he had enjoyed the camaraderie of his peers—which now meant fellow students. “Rushing” seemed a good way. He familiarized himself with fraternities, and accepted Kappa Sigma’s invitation to join. “I go in, guys are watching sports, joking around, messing with each other eating dinner, and it was just an incredible atmosphere from the second I stepped into the house,” he is quoted saying on Kappa Sigma’s website. In short, he was well on his way back to enjoying normal life.

On July 18, 2014, now a Kappa Sigma brother, Cpl. Carpenter became the 24th recipient of the national fraternity’s Golden Heart award, given only to fraternity brothers who have shown extreme courage or bravery in life. Kappa Sigma’s Supreme Executive Committee presented the award to this respected Veteran hero at the East Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Because he had a story to tell that can inspire injured and wounded currently serving military members and Veterans to get on with living, Cpl. Carpenter began to respond to requests for him to speak at venues throughout the country. “When things get hard,” he tells his listeners, “trust there is a bigger plan, and that you will be stronger for it.”


2018 25


In 2012, fans of the Pensacola area’s many military men and women had been dreaming of organizing celebrations worthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation’s warriors. No mere weekend gathering or barbeque would satisfy the mission. HEADS CAME TOGETHER TO PLAN Enter then-Marine-Captain (now Major) Lee Stuckey and his dream, which was being advanced by his team of volunteers. Maj. Stuckey’s near suicide had inspired him to do something about the alarming rise in suicides by injured and wounded active-service American military members and Veterans. Accordingly, he had formed the American Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors (AHERO) organization as a 501c (3) charity. Thus began AHERO’s Warrior HookUp weekend. Established to simply say, “Thank you,” it was made special by a boat volunteered to take participating Veterans fishing for a few hours.

HERE’S WHERE THE HEROIC GESTURES COME IN A few years passed. The fishing, funding, and fellowship elements of the Hook-Up grew, spurred on by generous contributors. A still-modest, but exclusive occasion, the event then became inclusive, as the men of Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge #497 stepped up. AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up weekend was now “on the map,” having become a marker on the Pensacola annual calendar. The Elks (Lodge #497 members number about 1400, many of them retired military men) soon launched a Meet & Greet in honor of AHERO’s Warrior HookUp Vets. Dinner at the Lodge featured fresh fish, compliments of the Warrior’s own catch that day, and prepared by the exquisitely talented Chef Mike Desorbo and his Culinary Productions LLC staff (read more about Chef Desorbo and CPI on page 22).

THE FORCES AT PLAY HAD BECOME MORE THAN SPECIAL The “fishing trip” grew into a brotherhood that brought community. Pensacola Beach now hosts AHERO’s Warrior Hook-up guest Veterans for four days each August. Fishing action out in the Gulf initiates fun, camaraderie and reflection that continue through the weekend. AHERO’s volunteers had not imagined such a great scope of success when they originally joined with the community to build on Major Stuckey’s dream. During Warrior Hook-Up weekend, each volunteer (including AHERO’s leadership and staff, who are all volunteers) brings his or her gift or skill, along with enthusiasm, to help advance the dream. Small groups gather at the Elks Lodge inshore. Offshore, boat owners form the now-famous AHERO Fishing Armada. Brunch at Flounder’s Chowder House and live music at the Gulf Breeze Methodist Church celebrate who’s here … and give thought to who’s not.

Santa Rosa Yacht Club, host of 2017 Warrior Hook-Up.

For this is a community full of generous folks who offer their time and resources to continue what has become a tradition. They are the ones who provide the heroic gestures sorely needed by those who have met the enemy that often comes after battle: depression, addiction, loneliness, self-isolation.

Escambia Fire Department Fireboat.

“Truly an honor and privilege to participate in AHERO Warrior Hook Up at Pensacola Beach. Such an amazing event that brought these Veterans together to participate in a fun-filled day of fishing and friendship on the Gulf Of Mexico. Our sponsored angler, James Hamilton, caught numerous species of fish and ended up with the biggest one of the day––a 36-pound cobia. Made some great memories!!” Wayne O’Hara, Sponsor




2018 27


WARRIOR HOOK-UP AS ANTIDOTE Suicide kills more of our military members and Veterans every year than does battle. The Pensacola area’s supportive communities recognize that fact now more than ever, in good part because of AHERO. To counter those statistics, they help AHERO plant the seeds of resistance through fellowship whenever they can. That’s how AHERO’s August Warrior Hook-Up became a fourday celebration of life. And why many come to be part of its fishing armada, led by the Warrior-packed, privately owned, magnificent 68ft yacht, Breathe Easy, with boat, crew and fishing gear provided free of charge.

Some say these measures can never meet the enemy’s match. But the belief that you can or cannot win is always correct. We’re here to help our heroes know they can win. Those sandwiches and drinks waiting at the Grand Marlin or Santa Rosa Yacht Club? They’re some of the means AHERO’s citizen-volunteers and supporters use to prevent unthinkable ends. Because to each wounded and injured veteran and active-duty hero participating in AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up, every restaurant meal, hotel-room bed, and landed red snapper is a cog in the wheel of a mighty suicide-prevention machine.

AHERO SALUTES WEBY 1330 AM RADIO Northwest Florida’s talk radio station, WEBY 1330, sends its message of support for our U.S. military Veterans far and wide. On air and off, the station promotes and participates in Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park events and others throughout the community, always advocating on behalf of those who serve in our armed forces. Station owner Mike Bates, whose father served for 24 years and whose brother and son currently do so, said, “There is no greater honor than to serve this country in uniform. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for all who do.”

We think it’s a machine well worth feeding. Do you?

For more information visit:

PENSACOLA BEACH WARRIOR HOOKUP WEEKEND Grab your enthusiasm and come enjoy the excitement as AHERO hosts local and visiting Veterans for a weekend of fun and camaraderie – Gulf Coast style.



You’re invited to join the AHERO Armada as it launches from the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk at 7 a.m. on Friday, August 24th.

Please be part of the Armada & donate a day of fishing! 28 AHERO MAGAZINE



2018 29



By Connie Conway

“It wasn’t just about the money,” says P.J. Clark, whose golf tournament in Queenstown, Maryland, raised more than $15,000 toward construction of AHERO’s projected Major General James E. Livingston Lodge for wounded U.S military Veterans and currently serving members (see page 8 for more on this project). “It was about spreading the word of what’s been happening to individuals in our military who come out of combat and struggle to transition into civilian life. And to those injured who are still serving. That was our goal. We picked AHERO because they’re focused on doing what can genuinely help those men and women.” MOTIVATION OF THE STRONGEST KIND In the spring of 2016, Clark and his employer discussed what they could do to help. “Suddenly, I thought of my friend, Lee Stuckey,” Clark says. Stuckey, a Marine Corps major, had told him about the frequency of suicide among Veterans and about the organization he’d formed,

called AHERO. “As a combat Veteran, I had personally witnessed the effects post-traumatic stress has on people after separation from the military,” Clark says. “I’d lost friends to suicide. So I really wanted to do a fundraiser.” Clark pitched AHERO to people he knew and volunteers quickly came on board. “After failed attempts to raise money, we realized the greater purpose was to raise awareness about what AHERO is doing to help those who have given so much to this great nation. The golf tournament just kind of fell into place. We went business to business, telling AHERO’s story. Two weeks before the tournament, we sat back and suddenly it clicked: We were going to do this thing.” By then it was October, and the weather did not cooperate. “Tournament morning, it was about 40 degrees,” Clark recalls. “And raining––the wind blowing 25 mph. Pretty discouraging.” Still, the group forged on.

ALL TO HELP AND HONOR THE VETS “By 10 a.m., about 90 people had come out to support AHERO,” he says, “all standing for our National Anthem. I stood next to the golf pro and said a few words, then announced Maryland’s Deputy Secretary of Veteran Affairs Robert Finn, who had cleared his schedule to be there. He shook a lot of hands, wearing his unit hat from back in his days in the United States Army. By the end of the day, there were a lot of smiles, a lot of handshakes. The most encouraging thing was hearing people say, ‘We’d like to do this again next year.’” Clark admits that when everything came to a close, it was a bit of a relief. “A lot of time and effort had been put into the event, but we managed to raise almost $15,000. Speaking on behalf of myself and the volunteers and participants, we are so proud to be a part of the AHERO family. And, yes––we plan to hold another fundraiser in the fall of 2018!”

THE VETERAN-CIVILIAN CONNECTION Is there a link between what motivates one to serve in the military and what motivates one to serve in communities? The boundary between Veterans and civilians presents a major challenge to our society. The institution of the all-volunteer military has widened this gap. Lacking military experience, most Americans now turn to the media and entertainment to inform them on what it means to serve in the military. However, media stereotypes simply do not accurately capture the experiences of most Veterans. So, if we truly want to bridge this gap, we need to ask ourselves and each other what it means to serve in the military, what it means to be a civilian, and perhaps most importantly, what it means to be a citizen.

AHERO has terrific supporters who come out to raise funds and awareness for the Veterans in so many different ways. One way is that popular competition we call a Golf Tournament. Below are some

the military’s lf and be with go ay pl to y t da en who “It was a grea men and wom to ck ba ve ve to gi and the finest who lo like AHERO ns tio za ni oned ugh orga noncommissi served, thro rmer senior fo e th s es A b! readin s–– Optimist Clu , health and es rc Fo ed rm US A as a large officer of the ounded––w w r ou g do an regardin like AHERO especially Organizations . lio ra of fo rt ho po et ing a pl part of my job of provid e bl ed ka ar m ou fit our w nd absolutely re sitively bene po at th es tiviti wellness ac ” warriors. Battagl CMS Bryan USMC, retired


reactions from a foursome of revered officers, now retired, who were sponsored by Elks Lodge 497 in the Gulf Breeze Optimists Club’s October 2017 Golf Tournament. Honored to represent AH ERO in the October Optim ist Club Golf Tournament, I was privileged to pla y with three retired sergean ts major from our U.S. Arm y and Marine Corps. I quick ly understood why these men attained the top of the ladder as non-commiss ion ed officers in their respec tive services. It was am azi ng how, after only a few hol es of golf, I felt like I had known these men all my life. The camaraderie was aweso me! Again it was easy to und erstand in just a round of golf of this awesome cha ritable event, why they we re exceptional leaders. The ir passion for golf was evi dent but their love and care for those who serve or hav e served, especially our wounded warriors, wa s my biggest take away! A gre at day to play golf and be with the military’s finest, who love to give back to me n and women who served, esp ecially our wounded wa rrio rs, through fantastic organi zations like AHERO and the Optimists Club! COL Michael C. Bird USA, retired

Having witnessed what happened to far too many amputees and others injured on the battlefield, I can say they all want to get back to the unit and the fight–– even though they may be missing multiple limbs. Our military service members are truly amazing. The great people out there who give their support to our military unconditionally are the unspoken heroes, never realizing what truly goes through a service member’s mind after being severely injured, or what the families go through trying to figur e out the way ahead. Thank you, AHERO, for all the support and resources you provide, as it sometim es takes years of medical rehabilitation. And than k you to the Gulf Breeze Optimist Charity Club for putt ing together this great golf event.     Sgt.Maj. Duke Kilgore USMC, retired.

HERO and be to golf for A r no ho e ue a tr all about. Th First it was t AHERO is ha w ow kn as ew ople ramble to m able to let pe of the golf sc ct pe ably as ob e bl pr have most enjoya roes I would he e re th uke) (D ith r w Walte connecting taglia, CSM at B an s ry B SM background never met, C }. Different ic [s de yr B w COL golf and e Kilgore, and e all enjoy w t bu , es Like branch t connection. and military had an instan e w etc: so , , ts ed Ups, Hun all have serv ith the Hookw es y do O en ER H hat you jo everything A u can do w yo n he w e Yo joyabl served. u it’s more en s who have er st si d an service others with your br me branch of sa e th in en more t have be at you have may have no eutic and th ap er th it d fin but you will an not. th on m in com r (Hank) Sitzle CMS Henry USMC, retired

Former Marine Eric Hodges, Ph.D. - Excerpt from Ted Talk (Dec. 6, 2012): “The Moral Injury of War” 30 AHERO MAGAZINE



2018 31

TOUGH MUDDERS: HELPING TO SERVE AHERO’S MISSION By Ashleigh McKenzie, National AHERO Coordinator for Tough Mudder

When I was asked to write an article about the partnership between AHERO and Tough Mudder, it was as if someone had asked me to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. I had a degree and had run a company, yet writing a short article became something difficult. How could I encourage others to face challenges to help others, if I couldn’t overcome the fear of writing? Much of what I live for is to help others develop the skills to overcome such moments of doubt. After much soulsearching, I discovered that by writing the article I could share my heart as it really is and not as comfortable as it may seem. If comfort were the case, I would have simply submitted to the editors the pictures of our Mudders and their physical challenge of a 12-mile run tackling 20 obstacles in the mud. Six years ago, only a few weeks into my father’s retirement, I learned that he, my hero, had been diagnosed with cancer. My parents had envisioned retirement for years as filled with travel and enjoyment. Instead, this new chapter would involve treatment facilities, doctor appointments, and scans. According to his doctors, his condition could have been caused by the drinking water at Camp Lejeune Daniel Coole

back during his basic training. I was distraught that the selfless act of serving in the military could so negatively impact his life years later. My choices were to be either the caregiver or the provider. At this point, I was just learning how to cope myself, and while my career is in the medical field, it has nothing to do with the clinical side. I felt I wouldn’t be a really good caretaker. That left provider. I was lucky enough to find AHERO just then. I learned I could became tough for others in the middle of being the most mentally broken I had ever been. Partnering with AHERO has helped me 32 AHERO MAGAZINE


and others bridge the gap and provide hope to those seeking help. When you know your “why,” your “what” finds its purpose. My “why” had begun with the need to cope with my father’s diagnosis. I am uncertain how I learned about the Tough Mudder, but when I realized the charitable benefits it could offer AHERO and others, the Mudder became my “what.” Post-traumatic stress (PTS) has unimaginable effects on how one responds to something that to the average person is emotionally manageable. In a few short years, AHERO has helped many who struggle with PTS and other conditions resulting from military service. And its relationship with Tough

Mudder has allowed it to raise substantial funds through participants choosing to run on the “Tough for AHERO” team. Running a Tough Mudder doesn’t necessarily have to do with being in tiptop shape. It doesn’t mean training for months. But many feel that they can’t do it, just as I felt I couldn’t write this for AHERO. But in writing it, I understood my mission. Doing something that at first caused me anxiety, fear, and doubt, ultimately opened my heart to motivate others to find their own purpose. Given a purpose, most anyone can achieve previously unimaginable goals. It takes perseverance to see the finish line. Yet the result of knowing your efforts are giving someone else needed support is more than happiness. It is true JOY.


Like all great punk groups, DigiPro Media was founded inside a van. Now, less than ten years on, it has evolved into a solutions company at the forefront of the digital media landscape. And all along on the journey, its brilliant staff of energetic innovators have also given back. DigiPro Media provides Silicon Valley technology to the Gulf Coast community and beyond, priding itself on offering a helping hand to businesses and clients who want world-class solutions that ensure technological growth. From disabled accessibilities services to online marketing strategies, DigiPro Media connects its clients to the tools and products needed to not only survive our ever-evolving internet, but to successfully mine its potential. Holding true to its edge, the company has established itself as a commanding voice in digital media. “But DigiPro Media isn’t just a business,” says John Ransom, hypertext metalinguist about the company’s interest in supporting community outreach projects and charitable organizations. “It’s a culture. You can find us at AHERO fishing events, or volunteering at the park. Often, we’re out fighting for our own causes in other areas. This is because we all truly care about others.”

DigiPro Media’s Chief Operation Officer Jessica Barshov describes the company’s core principle, which is to help others be successful. “Our goal is to create a network of empowerment for smallbusiness owners and people in their communities,” she says. “We were once a small business. We understand their needs, and we have the solutions.” With this vision in mind, the DigiPro Dashboard–an all-in-one digital toolkit– was developed to allow clients to use the tools in ways that best meet their needs in running a fully-functioning web business or organization from one location. The Dashboard contains valuable tools, such as built-in SEO targets, a customerrelationship manager, and a dedicated DigiPro Media support staff ready to help clients properly acclimate to today’s wild, digital world. The latest product Ransom and crew have been working on is Web Accessibility, designed for the disabled. “With one out of five Americans disabled, access to the internet isn’t as equal as we would like to imagine,” Ransom says. “Our focus at

DigiPro Media now is on providing equal accessibility to all disabled individuals, including Veterans.” The company has tackled the issue on a number of fronts, aiming to help people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities be more broadly able to benefit from the internet. COO Barshov concurs. “With the growth of the internet comes the rise of immense opportunity and reach,” she says. “To provide help to other businesses grows our local and national economy. Businesses who look out not only for themselves but for their community are providing for the expansion of all.” It seems DigiPro Media has locked onto a good way of ushering in a new American Dream. Whether its helping businesses to flourish, enabling all web users to succeed, or volunteering their services to our nation’s heroes, they deserve the title of “Digital Patriots.”

ESCAMBIA COUNTY: A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR VETERANS No matter how hard we try, those of us who serve don’t return home unchanged. We are stronger, better, more resilient. Often, however, we are more vulnerable. The important thing to do is to stay active, connecting with others, and with fellow Veterans. AHERO creates opportunities for Veterans to make connections while enjoying the America they sacrificed so much to defend. Escambia County is honored to be the backdrop for AHERO’s program of service. A premier place to live, work and play, the experiences our Veterans have in Escambia can remind them that the life they secured for us is full of opportunity for them, too. Veteran Doug Underhill, Escambia County Commissioner AHERO MAGAZINE

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HAWAIIAN CUISINE SAYS “MAHALO NUI LOA!” TO OUR WARRIORS By Paul and Deborah Palpallatoc - Aloha Grill

The phrase Mahalo nui loa means thank you, and it comes from our heart. Our Papa Nalu Aloha Grill is a family-owned Hawaiian-fusion restaurant, established in Gulf Breeze in 2007. My wife and I both come from military (US Air Force) families and love it here in the Panhandle. We have always taken pride in those men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice. So, when AHERO brought its wounded warriors to our area for the first Warrior Hook-Up, we felt honored to participate by offering dishes of our own cuisine to add to the Weekend’s feast. And we’ve been delighted to be part of AHERO’s campaign and this event every year since then. Our recipes, which use only clean, fresh food, come from a long line of many cultures from Hawaii that bonded together using their foods to show love and encourage families and friends to share stories. As I was growing up, some of my best times were preparing and cooking Hawaiian foods with other military families when stationed overseasspreading aloha (which also means love) and creating an ohana (family) with other Americans is something I will always remember.




We know that experiencing other countries and cultures can be a great blessing. It can reinforce your understanding of what freedom is, and that you have the ability to follow your drive no matter who or where you are. The preciousness of this freedom is represented by the brave men and women who fought for it, putting the greatest risk on the line: the risk of losing their future and their lives.

Egas “EJ” Gomes joined Gulf Power in 2015, fitting right into the company’s hyper-vigilant safety culture whose mantra is “Be your brother and sister’s keeper.” The US Air Force major has lived by that code since serving two tours in Iraq. Armed with his battlefield firstaid training, Gomes never hesitated to render aid, when needed, whether to fellow warriors or strangers in civilian settings.

We appreciate the AHERO Foundation for giving us the opportunity to do something like this in our own community. From the first dinner we hosted, we have seen such an outpouring of support and it has been nice to see the number of Veterans participating grow. These men and women deserve not only recognition, but the time to join together in a common space and form lasting friendships based on common achievements and a brotherhood like no other.

When two motorcyclists were involved in a recent accident on U.S. 98, in Gulf Breeze, Florida, Maj. Gomes was the first to stop and help. For his quick action in dealing with what followed, Gulf Power awarded the engineer the Power of Life of Award. The award recognizes an employee whose actions saved or sustained the life of another person during a situation of imminent danger.

“My military instincts are pretty assertive,” Gomes says. “A guy came back with a pair of tube socks. I wrapped them around the wound on the wrist.” Finally, emergency responders arrived and took over.

SECOND NATURE “In the Air Force,” Gomes, now in the Reserve, says, “we train a lot in first aid and buddy care. It’s second nature.” That training kicked in when, returning to his Santa Rosa County home, he was traveling on U.S. 98 and witnessed two motorcycles colliding after a vehicle drifted into their lane.

FREQUENTLY RENDERS AID A native of Boston, Gomes lived in Georgia before moving to Northwest Florida in 2007 for active duty at Hurlburt Air Force Base in Mary Esther, and at Eglin and Tyndall Air Force bases at Fort Walton Beach and Panama City. During that time, he twice found himself helping accident victims.

The minute he saw the riders hit the ground, Gomes knew they’d be hurt. He pulled off the road and ran to help the man and woman. “I was the first person able to stop to render aid,” he says. “The woman was bleeding, but she popped up and went running to the man.”

“On one trip, we were stopped at an I-10 rest area and heard a car coming into the parking area at a high rate of speed. It was obvious the brakes were out. The car broadsided a tree,” he remembers. “I was holding my newborn daughter, but instincts kicked in.” His wife, Shannon, yelled to give her the baby as Gomes rushed to the car. He rendered first aid to the victims, three family members.

May you continue to grow in numbers by finding each other and be blessed with the knowledge that you are loved for your commitment to our country. Aloha kakou–thank you so much!

AHERO responds: Right back at you, Paul and Deborah! You have not only helped make each Warrior Hook-Up Weekend extra tasty with your delectable food contributions, you’ve also proudly hung each event’s official poster or photo on your Aloha Grill “AHERO wall.” We hope all our readers will head over to the Grill for your mouthwatering cuisine–and to see Warrior Hook-Up 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 prominently displayed!

The male rider had more serious injuries. Blood spilled from gashes on his face, head and wrist. “When the woman realized I was helping, it was like her adrenaline ran out,” Gomes says. “The man was unconscious, and in rough shape.” Fearing serious internal injuries, Gomes worked to keep him immobile while applying pressure to the bleeding. He asked bystanders for compresses and help in keeping the victim still.

Eags “EJ” Gomes is flanked on his left by John Floyd, Energy Efficiency & Renewables manager, who nominated him for the Power of Life Award, and on his right by Stan Connally, Gulf Power Chairman, President and CEO, who presented him the award.

Gomes also has dealt with some tough situations in Iraq, including a time when he aided a comrade in recovering the body of an Army soldier whose brakes on his fuel truck failed coming down the side of a mountain. And when he helped an Iraqi civilian who was sprayed with hot asphalt.

Gomes says he’s thankful to work for a company that shares his values. “Situations like these really cause me to reflect on all the things I am grateful for — God, who gave me the opportunity and courage to help, the training I received from the Air Force, and Gulf Power, which helped prepare me to respond effectively during the incident,” he says, adding, “Gulf Power takes the time to recognize folks this way, and I’m a true believer that we are ‘our brother’s keeper.’” GULF POWER AND VETERANS Nearly 200 Veterans are employed by Gulf Power, an operating company of Southern Company. In 2016 and 2017, Southern Company was named the No. 5 Company for Veterans by Diversity Inc. In 2016, Southern Company was named Best for Vets Employer by Military Times EDGE magazine for the seventh consecutive year. In 2016, it was named the Most Valuable Employer for Military by for the seventh consecutive year. Gulf Power employees are proud to support AHERO, an allvolunteer organization that serves injured and wounded Veterans and active-duty members by providing activities that foster connection and fellowship. AHERO MAGAZINE

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I enjoy being a part of AHERO’s Warrior Hookup Weekend on Pensacola Beach, having had the pleasure of seeing the amazing event grow over the last several years. Because our business is located in the Florida Panhandle, we are constantly immersed in a military atmosphere, which reminds us daily just how blessed we are. So when we were approached for help by AHERO Board Member Dave Glassman–well, how can you say no to the G-Man? We were all in!

Crawfish Festival, which is always held in April. Every year, we reach out to local branches of the military for volunteers through the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce. I must say, these events would not run as smoothly as they do without the support of our military volunteers. These service members have helped us strive to be more and grow, not only as a business but as part of the community. Over the past 19 years, our commitment to employing Veterans has been instrumental in the professional growth of Bamboo Willie’s. Bamboo Willie’s will always be a Veteran-friendly establishment with live music, our view of the beach, and the convenience of being able to dock your boat. I have to say that one of my greatest joys is seeing the boats coming back into the marina after a day’s worth of fishing. The smiles on the faces of the participants after the Warrior Hook-Up event just fills me with pride!



By Tristessa - CEO, Fishin’ Chix

I had the opportunity to speak to an AHERO Veteran recently. We talked into the evening about his combat experience. I listened intently, breathing the crisp night air and noticing the stars twinkling brighter than I could remember. Around us, the low hum of boat motors kept a steady rhythm. What could have been an emotional roller coaster spent fighting back tears of pain and fear became a cathartic bantering about our somehow similar torments–a sharing. As a civilian living with the effects of sustained trauma, I have struggled to find others I could relate to in my life. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to give up, tired of living in fear of myself or my surroundings. Or found myself standing in line at a grocery store when the terror of my past creeps in because the cashier suddenly triggers some nightmare. Or hearing a loud noise that opens that file I thought I had closed. But on that night, I found a person I could relate to fully.

When I think about all the sacrifices our Veterans have made for the safety and betterment of our country and community, it makes me humble and proud of all of them. We as a community can give back to these wounded warriors in their time of need by continuing this journey with AHERO. Bamboo Willie’s first opened in July 1998 on the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk. Since opening, we’ve created several yearly events including the Beach Famous


embrace the stories and memories behind why women fish or want to learn to fish. For many of us, when we cast our line into the water, what we are really doing is reaching deep into our hearts. We’re thinking of the loved ones we once fished with, seeking that connection, filled with the unknown of what is beneath the

water. We are a community of women across the nation who fish in rivers and streams, in deep, blue lakes, and off shores, piers and beaches. Wherever you fish, we welcome you to join out fishing revolution. We are looking forward to continuing our support of the AHERO mission in 2018.

The mission of AHERO is intended to highlight the struggles of military Veterans living with PTSD. As an AHERO volunteer, I am not a Veteran, but I found myself among those who could understand what I’ve been through. Neither therapist nor simply a friend with a kind heart, the individual I spoke with was someone who shared and could help me express feelings I had blocked for decades. We are in this together, I thought. OUR COMPANY CONNECTS US I like to say Fishin’ Chix, was built of survival instincts. Much like AHERO, it represents the triumph of survivors. Born following the impacts of Hurricane Ivan, the company was founded by a community of women who needed an outlet, a sense of control over the devastation the hurricane wrought. “I need to feed my people” was the mantra on which we were founded. We enjoy fishing, but more importantly, we AHERO MAGAZINE

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By Wendell Slater and Julie Linander

Each year, the Elks Club Lodge extends a warm welcome to our Warrior Hook-Up Weekend participants at an event in their honor. As hosts of the Warrior Hook-Up Dinner, the highly respected, civic-minded Elks–many of them military retirees and Veterans themselves–provide a fabulous meal and delightful evening program at their facility marina-side on Pensacola Beach. Throughout the year, individual Elks help grow the connection between their club and AHERO. Each person named below represents his fellow Elks and through each,




J TO EXALTED RULER JIM ROZE FOR BEING OUR AHERO MARINE ON THE INSIDE PROVIDING US WITH “TOP COVER” J TO KEN (KB) BRANCH FOR HIS PREVIOUS EXALTED RULER ROLE AND HIS LOVE AND SUPPORT OF AHERO AND THE VETERANS I asked Grand Marlin Sales and Marketing Manager Julie Linander to describe the long-standing supportive relationship her company has with AHERO. Here’s what she told me. Julie: In August 2014, we learned about the local group of Veterans who wanted to bring wounded heroes here to Pensacola Beach for fun, fishing and socializing. They called their group AHERO. This would be their Warrior Hook-Up Weekend. They needed a great place with terrific food, where the Veterans could relax. Well, we knew our Grand Marlin has both. WS: Members of your staff volunteered to help?

Julie: Absolutely. We started with around twenty. Then almost everyone wanted in. This year it’s been about a hundred, maybe more. WS: They sound really motivated. Julie: They look forward to it every year! Even without being paid, they want to give back to those who risked everything to protect our country, our freedom. It’s just an incredible honor to do it. WS: What about you, personally? How important is it to you to be part of it? Julie: It’s a blessing, a chance to say, “Thank you” in the best way I can. We found that so many of our employees have served, and that our board chairman’s father was a naval aviator for 32 years.

WS: Sometimes folks don’t realize that Veterans are everywhere around the country. We’ve discovered that, once learning about AHERO, other communities start their own AHERO chapter. They have fund raisers like Tough Mudders or golf tournaments, or special weekend events to support America’s wounded heroes in their own style. Julie: People like our board chairman, a former Marine, will do that. The Grand Marlin’s support of the military has been strong since we opened more than seven years ago. We love contributing great food to the Elks Lodge with its many Veterans. Now AHERO is part of our family.








Culinary Productions, Inc. (CPI) has been serving the Gulf Coast area since 2004. With more that 21 years of experience, owner and chef Mike DeSorbo provides superb food and services that elevate events of all types. Since 2013, when he first gifted AHERO with his catering services for its annual Warrior HookUp Weekend’s fish fry, Chef Mike and his staff have been frying the Veterans’ catch after their deep-sea adventures. It’s something he and his staff (and the rest of us) look forward to every year. In December 2013, Mike joined forces with Emerald Coast Pixie Productions to host a private fundraiser for AHERO



that featured a live-music dinner with the Revivalists, Hotel Oscar, and Nick & The Ovorols at Versailles, in Pensacola. The dinner was a prelude to a sold-out performance at Vinyl Music Hall that night. This was also a special night for me, as I learned about AHERO and heard Major Lee Stuckey tell his story. CPI has raised more than $23,000 for local charities through such events as its Gourmet Dinner Night, when guests view a featured artist’s work and bid on pieces in a silent auction. Live music, door prizes, and Chef Mike D’s savory foods are enjoyed. Charities who benefit from CPI’s fundraising events include:

AHERO, Guitars for Vets, Active Minds at UWF, Art Party X, and Pensacola Movember. To book an event or learn more, or call (850) 469-0445 AHERO MAGAZINE

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By Joshua Roth - Gulf Breeze Sertoma Club

By partnering with AHERO, the Gulf Breeze Sertoma Club seeks to help heal the wounded among our currently serving military members and Veterans. We want to reassure them of their great value as members of our American community. Once our club learned of AHERO’s mission to prevent suicides among this increasingly at-risk group, we became actively engaged.

The World Food Championships, now in its seventh year, is the largest Food Sport event in the world. More than 450 teams from 40+ states and 13 countries will meet in Orange Beach, Alabama, November 8-11, to compete for a total prize purse of $350,000 and the title of World Food Champion. Before a competitor can challenge the world, they must earn a seat by winning a certified WFC qualifying event. Alabama Coasting, has been tapped to manage that process within Alabama as the official State Partner for World Food Championships 2018. In that role, we coordinate and sanction all state related WFC activities including sponsoring or endorsing exclusive WFC qualifying events, hosting certified judging classes, licensing WFC products, and creating other “food sport” events. Alabama Coasting, through their partnership with the World Food Championships has offered two unique experiences to the AHERO community. First, there’s an opportunity to represent AHERO at the 2018 championships as part of Alabama Coasting’s WFC Team Alabama. Spearheaded by AHERO volunteer Dave Keel, the Cooking4AHERO Team will compete in the Sandwich category at WFC 2018 taking place November 8-11 at The Wharf in Orange Beach. In addition, Alabama Coasting has named AHERO as their non-profit of choice for all WFC Team Alabama sponsored cooking competitions. With six events


Sertoma’s initial involvement with AHERO was with the 2017 Fishing4AHERO Rodeo. Club member Andy McKeown’s request for volunteers was met with immediate enthusiasm and an all-hands-on-deck charge. Our club is incredibly proud to have been a part of such a successful fishing rodeo, as our members all recognize the opportunities AHERO provides wounded service members and Veterans to find joy and purpose in life once again. 

primary mission is to improve, though education and support, the quality of life for those at risk or affected by hearing loss. To date, the organization has helped more than 50 million of such individuals nationwide. Here in Gulf Breeze, our own annual Sertoma Family Fishing Rodeo fundraiser supports local projects and charities. The event has been a success for 27 years, consistently strengthening our ability to serve the many in our community who are in need. Gulf Breeze Sertoma strongly supports the men and women in the armed forces.

“Making Life Worthwhile through SERvice TO MAnkind” is the National Sertoma organization’s tagline. Its ALABAMA

coasting 2018

Gulf Breeze Sertoma Club participants.


AHERO’s all-volunteer members give injured and wounded Veterans and currently serving

by Destyn Patera

warriors a chance to be reintroduced to

Almost four years ago, my videography

civilian life. At the same time, they are giving

partner, Austin Owens, and I were introduced

civilians the chance to relate to the trials and

to AHERO on Pensacola Beach during their

scheduled in advance of the World Food Championships, AHERO will garner significant exposure throughout Alabama as well as raise funds for its upcoming events. Highlighted “Food Fights” include the Bham Green EGGFest on September 15 in Birmingham,

the Food Fight at the Fort (Battle of Bo’s Burgers) on September 16 in Mobile and American Culinary Federation’s ScholarQUE BBQ Cook-off on October27 in Cullman. For a complete list of WFC Team Alabama events, go to www.

trauma these individuals have suffered.

annual Warrior Hook-Up event. We were

We have personally seen how AHERO opens

asked to lend a hand in getting video coverage

the door to camaraderie and understanding–

of the weekend’s events.

–a full-circle way for anyone to contribute. But

It was a humbling opportunity, but one we never

to my knowledge, there is nothing quite like

knew would impact us the way it did. We’ve

the fellowship, acceptance and spirit-building

worked with several nonprofits throughout

outdoor enjoyment that AHERO provides that

the U.S. but AHERO is one of a kind, and has

is anything like what any other charity or

inspired us to not only come back every year,

Veterans group offers.

but to be more aware of the issues associated

Simply said, AHERO nurtures a sense of

with our wounded Veterans.

community among its participants. Which

At Lensea, our production company, we believe

is why we at Lensea continue to offer our

a story has the power to inspire, to teach, and

help in telling AHERO’s story in ways to

to breathe life. We know that the best way to



Our club’s membership includes many Veterans from various branches of our military, and our non-service members have great respect for them. We are proud to offer our ongoing support for the 2018 Fishing4AHERO Rodeo and other AHERO events whenever we can help. Our volunteers recognize that their efforts are appreciated though minimal when compared to the service given and sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces.

raise awareness about the loneliness and

reach someone is to relate to them, to provide

AHERO’s unique approach in events like its

them with an experience that feels hands-on.

challenges America’s bravest face that too

Warrior Hook-Up does just that.

often put them at dire risk of suicide. AHERO MAGAZINE

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The Mobile Big Game Fishing Club (MBGFC) and The Ironman Outdoor Ministries invited AHERO to join in on their 2nd Annual Veterans Appreciation Fishing Outing, held May 4-5, 2018. Prior to sailing out of Orange Beach, Ala., fishing boats offered by Northern Gulf area owners loaded up with US military Veterans and their spouses for a day of deep-sea-fishing excitement and camaraderie. One of the boats that carried these American heroes was the beautiful and beloved yacht, the Breathe Easy, famous for its vast capacity, great crew and generous owner. Up to 65 charged up, out-for-big-fish passengers can be aboard the Breathe Easy alone. The MBGFC is a premier sport-fishing club and 501 (7) non-profit club on the northern Gulf Coast. By partnering with Ironman Outdoor Ministries and AHERO, the club is bringing together two of the country’s most dedicated outdoor charitable organizations focused on US military Veterans and active-duty personnel.

Fishing can help relieve the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder–so says the science. Adjusting again to life back home can be a challenge for those who have rigorously trained for and experienced battle. A memorable day of fishing and fellowship on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and surrounding inshore waters of Orange Beach, Ala., can help. Military spouses will also be recognized for their important role in helping our combat Veterans adjust to daily life once back at home. They, too, are American heroes, often carrying a heavy workload while their loved one is away serving on foreign soil. Several boats are on board for the annual event, with new ones being added regularly. Local charter captain Mike Davis said, “I’ve always thought that Veterans deserved to be recognized for the numerous sacrifices they make in their duty and dedication to the country and to the American citizens. A fishing trip seems like a really simple way to say thanks compared to the job they have done.”

Board of advisors member, Brian D. Leiser, noted that organizing last year’s event brought the Orange Beach business owners and individuals together within a short three weeks. “It’s a clear testament to what this community is about,” he said. “We’re proud of our Veterans and have a sound, clear vision that without them, none of this would be possible. The least we could do to show our appreciation for their sacrifice and willingness to defend, is to share this wonderful resource in our backyard.”


As founders of the Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival, my husband, Jim Pasquale, and I met with PBSF supporter, Steve Gagne, in October 2017. Gagne told us the story of Cody James, a medically retired Marine helicopter pilot and songwriter who had recent relocated to our area. Composing and performing his work had become a positive influence on James after the traumatic experience of a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and his long battle to recover. We left with a disc of Cody James’ music. Gagne had mentioned a volunteer working with AHERO, a retired USMC officer who was encouraging James to bring his music to the public. The

next day, I called that gentleman about  James  being  involved in the festival and learned more about him and AHERO. Immediately, I knew that AHERO, James  and  the PBSF would be  joining hands  to bring Veterans to participate in our Festival. I discovered more about AHERO’s amazing program. It filled my heart to see how we were striving toward the same goal of bringing enjoyment to others: PBSF was doing it by celebrating music creators; AHERO by providing outdoor activity, fellowship, and resources to Veterans who have suffered greatly on behalf of all Americans.

The special “Veterans Songwriters Night” event during PBSF 2017 brought much appreciation of the singer/songwriters’ ability to express emotion through song. This year, our 10th Annual PBSF is scheduled for Oct. 3–7, and will again offer great performances by well-known songwriters–including our beloved Veterans. This year, Pensacola Beach saw yet another weekend event featuring songwriting Veterans. “Operation Song–A Veteran Celebration,” held during Easter Weekend (March 30–31), united us again with AHERO, and for the first time with Operation Song™, a non-profit organization that pairs Veterans and their families with professional songwriters. Here’s some of what our “Operation Song–A Veteran Celebration” weekend offered:

J Songwriting workshop retreats

(for Veterans)

J 5k runs honoring our Veterans J Performances by participating

Veterans and Songwriters

J Guest Speaker J “Concert of Light”

Presentation of Colors

J A magical finish featuring

The Last Honky-Tonk Music Series

The songs our Veterans and service members write show the scope of their struggle and sacrifice. Offered without self-pity, they remind us that these men and women are truly heroic Americans.




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The 9th Annual Pensacola Beach Songwriter’s Festival (PBSF) held October 6th to the 9th in 2017, wasn’t blown away by Hurricane Nate, a category 1 storm that grazed the Pensacola area coast before making landfall near Biloxi, Miss. Nate spared the event’s inaugural Veteran’s Night “Honoring our Songwriting Warriors,” when a dozen songwriting Veterans performed an intimate show at the Beach Church before an audience of more than 100. One song that hit home was “Military Man,” performed by Nashville songwriter Pearl Clarkin, a Pensacola native who wrote it for her father. Told from a daughter’s perspective, the song had me immediately tearing up thinking of my own father, a Veteran who passed last year.

USMC Veteran Cody James performed several original songs, sharing his story of triumph surviving a deadly helicopter crash on a mountain in Afghanistan. James is currently working on his first album which shares his story. Read more about this remarkable singer-songwriter and his experience on page 28. Well-known songwriters on stage that night included Mike Diamond who has opened for Charlie Daniels and Taylor Swift. Having artists with such legendary status together in a show with first-timers demonstrates the diversity of this event. Navy Veteran Sailor Jerri performed her own lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” music; her version describes a soldier’s life on and off the battlefield. “It was a highlight of the night when Jerri

performed,” says emcee Greg Penglis, “Action Radio” talk show host for WEBY 1330 AM Radio. Jerri accompanied her song with a video she’d made using images of service members on active duty. The video had gone viral on You Tube and she’d only begun playing guitar about a year before. “I didn’t know what to expect as emcee,” Penglis confessed. “I’d never hosted a songwriter festival before one of the founding members of AHERO asked me. I couldn’t turn him down. He’s a friend who has introduced me to the Veteran community and has helped me put together the monthly Veterans show I do on WEBY.”



“Sometimes,” Penglis says thoughtfully, “the best way to deal with it, to explain it to yourself, is to write it down into a song and share it with others in a group setting where you get immediate feedback. The Veteran songwriter has chosen a uniquely successful path to recovery for themselves and potentially for any Veteran privileged to listen.”

Operation “Music is so powerful. transition Song helped me through my lian. On from Army chaplain to civi red that I that journey, I’ve discove that music am not the only Veteran like AHERO helps. I love it that groups ing for our and Operation Song are car sic. It’s a “tribe” (Veterans) through mu ying with lot of fun listening to and pla o are also other singer-songwriters wh Veterans.” Army Chaplain Matthew Ow (Ret.)

en Williams

Matthew Williams.

The standing-room-only crowd was attentive throughout Veterans Songwriters night, enjoying fresh, tasty Greek dishes provided by Spyros Gyros, as well as drinks and mingling beforehand.


“Those singing were representing Veterans of who have PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and chronic pain,” says Penglis. “Vets who have suffered through

When I decided to make a move to Pensacola in 1983 from Bloomington, Minn., I was fairly oblivious of the military. My father had been in the Army during the Korean War, but he rarely discussed his service. I’d seen my mom freak out as Vietnam raged when my older brother was of drafting age, but I didn’t understand anything about that part of the world. Why were we there? Why did we leave? I was naive.

“The songwriters who performed on the PBSF Veteran Songwriters Night used music to offer insight into their military experience, but also into the trials of coming home. Some of us use music to heal, some sing to connect with others …. and some to just zone out and escape. I’m honored but humbled to be a part of those who performed.” Sailor Jerri sings against the backdrop of her video “Hallelujah - Veterans Version.

divorces and years of sometimes questionable rehabilitation by the VA. Many have been through aircraft crashes, IEDs blowing up, combat of all kinds, and losing their closest friends.” Too often, as AHERO has shown us, the loss of a Veteran is to suicide.

Sailor Jerri Navy Veteran

By Pat Baril

Pensacola is a community of active duty, Veteran and retired military members. You can’t help but appreciate their service. Eventually I was befriended by a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant. To this day, we kid about how he weaseled his way into my life via a close friend. Fact is, I value and cherish the relationship with all my heart. It’s hard to believe that nowretired jarhead doesn’t mind being seen with a former punk like me! My life as a patriot began as Marine Corps life became known to me. I was blown away by the discipline, perseverance and lifelong loyalty of our warriors to one another and to this country. It is nothing less than inspiring.

Fast forward to when I became acquainted with USMC Maj. Lee Stuckey, then a captain, just as AHERO in Pensacola was being “born” as a 501(c) (3) charity. From the moment I heard about its goals, I was in. My beautiful wife, Tara, and I have been contributing and participating in AHERO events ever since. We’ve watched AHERO Warrior Hook-Up weekend fishing trips grow from a single charter boat to veritable flotilla of privately owned vessels, courtesy of this amazingly supportive community. Always the stories of our participating AHERO warriors, some severely wounded or hurting, have been riveting in the way they make this civilian understand what he could not grasp years ago: brain injuries, limbs blown off, friends killed while standing beside them … all the reasons PTSD and suicide so relentlessly haunt our Veterans. AHERO cares passionately about each one of our brave men and women in uniform. Working year-round, AHERO volunteers strive to identify at-risk Veterans and get them help in whatever way possible.

Each year, the organization provides all the necessary items for as many participants as it can to enjoy a long weekend of activities in Pensacola’s warm and wonderful community. Each warrior guest has a different condition to contend with, so logistics and arrangements can be mind-boggling. But AHERO volunteers do it. From transportation and lodging, to limitations-accommodating boating and fishing, it’s fascinating to see how they and their dedicated band of community residents get the job done. I hope you will join them with donations of cash or your time as a volunteer, or both. With zero paid staff and a tiny overhead budget, nearly 100 percent of everything you give will go to these heroes who have given so much to us, including to this once-punk–but now unbelievably humbled and grateful–kid from Minnesota! Note from AHERO: Pat and Tara Baril are perfect examples of the citizens who, on their own, reach out to those who have defended the country, suffering the wounds that now compromise their lives. Each year since its inception, the deeply grateful AHERO organization has received a $1000 from the Barils to help pay for our most impactful Gulf Coast event, the Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up Weekend. AHERO MAGAZINE

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After their first years of philanthropic efforts centered around support for military Veterans in the Pensacola area, the gentlemen of Kappa Sigma Fraternity’s chapter at the University of West Florida (UWF) became connected with AHERO through a mutual community partner: Island Times newspaper owner, Shelly Johnson. As AHERO’s purpose and mission aligned with those of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, a partnership was formed. This partnership led to the conception and co-promotion of the first Kappa Sigma Military Heroes Benefit Concert to raise funds for AHERO. In continuing this co-promotion, the brothers of UWF’s chapter of Kappa Sigma aim to increase their positive involvement in the community as they spread the message of AHERO. By fostering relationships and providing volunteer work in the community, the Kappa Sigma brothers hope to create a cooperative and establish a home within the Emerald Coast community for Veterans hailing from areas nationwide.

On September 22nd, 2018, the chapter will host its biggest live music event yet: UWF Kappa Sigma’s “Boardwalk Bash.” This live Music4AHERO event is set to take place on the

On March 2, 2018, Kappa Sigma held its first annual Military Heroes benefit concert at The Handlebar, a popular music and watering hole in downtown Pensacola. Local musicians and community leaders from the area rallied there to show their support for the military community and Veterans nationwide. A truly memorable Aaron Goldstein performs during the AHERO Concert. night of music and fun, it raised more than $1,000 es to be a great is m ro p t n ve e is “Th h e gentlemen of UWF Kappa “T for AHERO. In addition, ryone involved. ve e r fo ss e c Sigm c a have shown that they su the evening illustrated see the positive to d e it xc e are m a ded icated to supporting I the healing power and e cert has on th n o c r u o t c a Ame p rica ’s military veterans, and I rallying force that music im r community in ou n ra te ve ry can be for the Veteran ta have no doubt that this event will ili m community. be a success.” area.”

LtCol David Glassman, AHERO 46 AHERO MAGAZINE



, Aaron Goldstein nt Chapter Preside

Pensacola Beach Boardwalk from 8:00 PM to 12:00 AM. It will feature live musical entertainment performed by local military veteran artists and bands, fun activities for the whole family, and even a prize drawing with over $2,500 in prizes! The event is free (donations are encouraged) and 100% of the money raised from Kappa Sigma’s Boardwalk Bash will be donated directly to AHERO. By fostering lasting relationships through this event, and through volunteer work in the local community, Kappa Sigma is creating a cooperative and establishing a home within the Emerald Coast community for veterans nationwide. AHERO MAGAZINE

2018 47


Capt. Cody James, USMC ret., originally came to Pensacola, Florida, to receive naval flight training, but the New Jerseyborn singer/songwriter would ultimately decide to make the area his permanent home. The Gulf Coast’s warm weather and natural beauty suited him. After enduring a long, painful recovery since the crash that almost killed him in the mountains of Afghanistan in early 2002, Cody felt the stress-free atmosphere could help him move on. What he didn’t know was that it would also introduce him to the area’s very active AHERO organization. Or that, as an AHERO participant, he would learn from fellow Veterans how to feel joy again and regain the sometimes-elusive desire to stay alive. It had taken him 10 years to overcome his addiction to the opiate-based drugs prescribed to him after the devastating crash that killed two of his fellow Marines. “But there was still my PTS and depression to be dealt with,” Cody says. “I knew those were all about the mountain.” That mountain was where the CH-53E “Super Stallion” he was co-piloting went down when it suffered engine failure. The broke Cody’s back. It was winter, and as yet early in the Afghan war. He lay for hours freezing in the snow, enduring excruciating pain as he and four surviving Marines waited to be rescued. With every passing hour, he felt closer to death. “This was bad-guy territory, and we knew it,” Cody says. “We watched the lead helicopter circle our crash site looking for survivors. Apparently, they didn’t see anyone, so they left.” He pauses, then adds, “Watching that helicopter fly off was the loneliest moment of my life.” Eventually they were picked up, but that would be just the start of Cody’s battles. After surgery, the opiate drugs he was put on for pain were overprescribed, catching him in a net of addiction. “They fed into my need to isolate in 48 AHERO MAGAZINE


order to avoid bad things,” he explains. “I was always worried something horrible was about to happen. The staggering amount of time I spent avoiding social interaction caused paranoia and a fear of feeling exposed–of being vulnerable, the way I had been on the mountain.”

Lyrics and music by Cody James

It’s cold as hell on the mountain - & I’ve been laying there..... too long. Waiting for a rescue.... Feeling left behind. Can’t feel hands or feet now - Things are freezing up....inside.

Somehow, he managed to break free of drugs. Years had been stolen from him, but he was ready to take his life back. He remembered Pensacola, picturing the area’s white beaches, emerald waters and peaceful places, and decided to locate to one of its premiere communities: Gulf Breeze, only minutes from Pensacola Beach. Though glad about the move, his progress was slow, Cody says. “There were bouts when the mountain took over. Self-isolation would lead to depression, leading to more isolation.” Then, in the summer of 2016, he heard about AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up, an area event that was scheduled soon. He read up on AHERO’s mission to counter the rapidly escalating rate of suicide among active military members and Veterans, and resolved to attend. “I had been all over the world, but was taken aback by the level of community support for that AHERO event,” Cody says. “I saw local residents offering their time and boats for use, and area restaurants donating food and drinks–all to give Veterans a great day on the water.” Being a part of AHERO can put a chink in anyone’s armor of isolation. Soon after the Warrior Hook-Up, Cody decided to get involved. He attended events like the 2017 inaugural Fishing4AHERO fundraiser and soon was helping to plan and help with other AHERO activities.


This might be the ending - Said all my goodbyes... twice. And up from the snow come the icicles that wrap around and penetrate my brain. And up in the sky, it’s quiet now, except for smoke from burning wreck. And I live with it all. Sometimes I try. To live with it all.... Sometimes I’m high. I’m still stuck on the mountain, it’s with me every day certainly. It shows up uninvited.... and makes a mess of things. The mountain warps my thinking..... and keeps me locked inside. Sometimes. I don’t want these feelings, but I don’t wanna die. No! ‘Cause up from the snow come the icicles that wrap around and penetrate Then came the 2017 Pensacola Songwriters Festival. “I’d been playing guitar since tenth grade,” Cody says. “Now I was writing songs. AHERO’s Songwriting Veterans Night during the Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival this past year was a good place to start performing them.” The event’s impact on furthering his writing and musicianship was instant. “It encouraged me to go on reaching deep for my songs,” he says. After the weekend, he began recording his first EP. One of the songs the audience heard that night was the haunting “On the Mountain.” Honest and raw, its words seem to come straight from the center of Cody’s soul. As such, they reflect perfectly what so many of our brave Warriors still struggle to leave behind.

my brain. And up in the sky, its quiet now, except for smoke from burning wreck. Yes it is. And I live with it all. Sometimes I try. To live with it all.... Sometimes I’m high. To live with it all.... Sometimes I cry. To live with it all.... Sometimes I lie. ‘Cause up from the snow come the icicles that wrap around and penetrate my brain. And up in the sky, it’s quiet now, except for smoke from burning wreck. Yes it is.


2018 49

VETERAN RESOURCES O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O Seeking help is regarded by every mental health expert as a sign of strength, not weakness. Whether it’s PTSD or depression, or any condition that’s causing you stress, the resources listed here can help you take back your peace of mind. Your life is so important to you, your loved ones, and to America. MILITARY CRISIS LINE* • The Military Crisis Line ( connects a person in need to a trained counselor with a single phone call or click of a mouse. • This confidential, immediate help is available 24/7 at no cost to active-duty, Guard and reserve members, their families and friends. • In the United States, call 800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat at the Military Crisis Line Military Crisis Line or by texting to 838255. POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER • USA Cares ( pays essential household bills while a wounded service member or veteran is attending residential treatment for a traumatic brain injury or PTSD. • Project Valour-IT ( provides voice-controlled laptops and personal GPS systems to service members recovering from hand wounds and other severe injuries including traumatic brain injury and PTSD. • National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ( provides research and education on trauma and PTSD. TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY • Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center ( The Center’s “A Head for the Future” initiative (dvbic. raises awareness and lower the risk of concussion. • Paws and Effect ( in a nonprofit, raises and trains service dogs and places them with veterans with combat service-related issues such as TBI, PTSD, physical injury and special needs. • The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury ( Defense-Health-Agency/Research-and-Development) provides information. • The Veterans Affairs Polytrauma/Traumatic Brain Injury System of Care ( is an integrated network of specialized rehabilitation programs for Veterans and service members. MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS • TRICARE is the health care program for military members and their families. TRICARE Military Treatment Facility Locator is the locator tool for military treatment centers. • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides information on mental health topics and current clinical trials that allow persons to access treatment for free. Call (866) 615-6464. ONLINE SCREENING TOOLS • Free, confidential, online screenings for anxiety, depression, mood disorders, PTSD and other conditions are available at, • The Department of Veteran Affairs website offers a broad range of information about PTSD and treatment options as well as a VA facilities locator. Or you may call (802) 296-6300. 50 AHERO MAGAZINE


SUBSTANCE-USE DISORDERS • Free counseling services for alcohol and substance use disorders are available to service members and their family members. Contact: Army Substance Abuse Program, Marine Corps Substance Abuse Program, Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, or Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Program. • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Mental Health Information Center is at • The Center offers a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to assist persons seeking treatment facilities in the U.S. or U.S. Territories for substance use disorder, addiction and mental health problems. Call 800-789-2647. MOVING FORWARD Moving Forward is a free, on-line educational and life coaching program that teaches problem-solving skills to help you to better handle life’s challenges. Visit online

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting to 838255. FOUR HELPFUL APPS FOR VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES PTSD Coach – “PTSD Coach was designed for Veterans and military service members who have or may have, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This app provides users with education about PTSD, as well as information about professional care and self-assessment. PTSD Coach was created by the US Department of Verterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, and the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, a US Department of Defense organization.” – by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Android Play store rating: 4.4 stars CBT-i Coach – “CBT-i Coach is for people who are engaged in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia with a health provider, or who have experienced symptoms of insomnia and would like to improve their sleep habits. The app will guide users through the process of learning about sleep, developing positive sleep routines, and improving their sleep environments. It provides a structured program that teaches strategies proven to improve sleep and help alleviate symptoms of insomnia.” - by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Android Play store rating: 4.1 ACT Coach – “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) aims to help you live with unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and impulses without avoiding them or being controlled by them. In ACT, you are encouraged to commit to actions so that you can live your life by your values, even in the face of these unpleasant experiences.” – by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Android Play store rating: 4.3 Headspace: Guide to Meditation – “The Headspace app teaches you how to meditate and live mindfully. You can use it at work, at home or anywhere else. There are exercises for everything from managing anxiety and stress to breathing, sleep, happiness, calm and focus. And don’t worry if you’ve never meditated before. Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace and a former monk, will guide you through every step as your personal meditation coach.” – by Andy Puddicombe and Rich Pierson. Android Play store rating: 4.6 *Important: PTSD and Suicide is a serious mental health condition that often requires professional evaluation and treatment. These apps CANNOT replace needed professional care. AHERO MAGAZINE

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AHERO (American Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors) connects Veterans through outdoor activities to help them recover from their physical w...


AHERO (American Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors) connects Veterans through outdoor activities to help them recover from their physical w...