A L A B A M A coasting presents
Ryan Blackwell, Hero & Wrestler, pg 62 Gold Star Families Monument Dedication, pg 77 Honoring Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James, pg 16
War Horse Project, pg 24
124 INDUSTRIAL BLVD • PENSACOLA, FL 32505
YOUR ONE STOP SHOP FOR YOUR HOSE AND INDUSTRIAL SUPPLY NEEDS! Be sure to read ‘The Frenchy Connection’ and Lisa Godwin Julian’s followon story about the brother & sister team that started this new company — and supported AHERO in the process!”
DeltaHydraulics.net 2 AHERO MAGAZINE
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Managing Partner/CEO Danny Calametti President/Publisher David Calametti Editor in Chief Dave Glassman Senior Editor Connie Conway Editorial Assistants and Writers Jeremy Clarke, Lynn Feehan, Norm “Frenchy” LaFontaine, Tristessa Osborne, Wendell Slater, Deanna Smith Photographers Jef Bond, Tony Giberson/ Pensacola News Journal, Gregg Pachowski/ Pensacola News Journal, Stacey Paden, Rick Schamberger, East Hill Photography Art Director Randy Jennings Published by Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC 251-694-0457 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com 5758 Huffman Drive North Mobile, AL 36693 ©2019 Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
BUILDING TOWARDS THE FUTURE Founder’s Message......................................................................................................................................................... 6 From The Editor-in-Chief................................................................................................................................................. 8 Still Here Because of Ryan.......................................................................................................................................... 10 AHERO Warrior Lodge................................................................................................................................................... 12 THE POWER OF OUR INTERCONNECTED MISSIONS General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr........................................................................................................................... 16 The Chappie James Flight Academy........................................................................................................................... 18 Awaiting Chappie James Bridge................................................................................................................................. 20 Viet Nam Vets Legacy Vets M/C.................................................................................................................................. 23 Drawing on Horsepower to Heal................................................................................................................................. 24 The War Horse Farm..................................................................................................................................................... 26 Recognizing Female Veterans..................................................................................................................................... 33 Buddy Whitten’s Road Back Home............................................................................................................................. 35 Taking Part in PGA-HOPE............................................................................................................................................. 36 Gift of Golf Helps Heroes Heal..................................................................................................................................... 37 ALL IN 4AHERO Titan FC’s McMahon in the Cage................................................................................................................................. 38 AHERO Warrior Hook-Up 2020..................................................................................................................................... 42 Chaplain Chris Rusack Returns................................................................................................................................... 49 Kappa Sigma’s Golfing4AHERO.................................................................................................................................... 50 Veterans Memorial Park CleanUp............................................................................................................................... 52 AWKO Law Firm Working for Vets............................................................................................................................... 54 Songwriters Team Up for AHERO................................................................................................................................ 56 THE FRENCHY CONNECTION AHERO's Shelving Caper........................................................................................................................................ 58 Remembers Iwo Jima............................................................................................................................................. 59 NEW PATHS/LIFE STORIES An Interview with Ryan Blackwell.............................................................................................................................. 62 A Parallel Grief............................................................................................................................................................... 64 Africatown: A Worthy Legacy...................................................................................................................................... 66 TRISTESSA’S CORNER The Range Of My Emotions.................................................................................................................................... 68 Solace And Hope.................................................................................................................................................... 69 Getting Out: A Happy Ending Story............................................................................................................................. 70 Fly Fishing To Relieve Stress........................................................................................................................................ 72 A Brother & Sister Team Again................................................................................................................................... 73 Cicada Part 1 – “EJ’s” Story........................................................................................................................................ 74 HONOR & REMEMBER Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.................................................................................................................... 76 Honoring “Woody” Williams........................................................................................................................................ 78 Veterans Day 2020......................................................................................................................................................... 80 Finding Purpose............................................................................................................................................................. 82 Help For Bereaved Families......................................................................................................................................... 82 Sacrifice, Sorrow And Hope Inspire........................................................................................................................... 83 LYNN'S GOLD STARS CORNER Honored Sacrifices– POW MIA Flag.................................................................................................................... 84 The Honor And Remember Flag............................................................................................................................ 85 Gold Star Families Committee...................................................................................................................................... 86 SUPPORTING AHERO Delta Hydraulics.............................................................................................................................................................. 2 Cornwell Tools.................................................................................................................................................................. 5 Subway............................................................................................................................................................................. 5 Alabama Coasting........................................................................................................................................................... 5 Thank You! Don & Jerry Gordon.................................................................................................................................... 7 Discovering Stacey Paden............................................................................................................................................. 9 Volunteer Shout-Out........................................................................................................................................................ 9 GMHBA Ready To Help The Cause............................................................................................................................. 14 Robert Ervin Donates SUV............................................................................................................................................ 15 Marine Corps League (066).......................................................................................................................................... 22 Viet Nam Vets Legacy Vets M/C.................................................................................................................................. 23 Pensacola Beach Woman’s Club................................................................................................................................ 32 PGA HOPE Comes To Pensacola................................................................................................................................. 34 American Legion Supports AHERO............................................................................................................................. 48 Doc Hodge Salutes Our Heroes................................................................................................................................... 60 A Note From Pop-A-Smoke.......................................................................................................................................... 63 An Auxiliary Pledged To Help....................................................................................................................................... 63 The Wingman Foundation............................................................................................................................................ 89 Gold Star Monument Supporters................................................................................................................................ 91 Aylstock Witkin Kreis Overholtz.................................................................................................................................. 92 AHERO MAGAZINE
WINTER 2020/21 3
AMERICA’S HEROES ENJOYING RECREATION OUTDOORS
AHERO Mission Military and Veteran suicide statistics are hard to pin down, but overall the figure ranges from 20 to 22 or more such suicides occurring each day. The mission of AHERO is to reverse the upward trajectory of this statistic and, indeed, to substantially reduce their daily number. AHERO continues to work toward this goal by introducing those who have suffered serious physical and/or emotional trauma while serving to resources and programs that can help increase their overall quality of life. This includes boosting Veteran morale by: • developing a support network of Veterans across the country. • encouraging participation and engagement with others during AHERO activities and events. • fostering friendship, respect and empathy between participating Veterans and the community. AHERO will accomplish its mission by continuing to welcome wounded and injured Veterans into communities willing to donate the time, recreational equipment, access to private lands, and the financial resources needed for events that facilitate fellowship, communication and mentoring. Its highly enjoyable activities, conducted by its legion of volunteers, enable AHERO to continually grow its network of Veterans. Participants are encouraged to help one another through different stages of learning to deal with their emotional and physical challenges. This network is self-sustaining and supports 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.* *For purposes of the AHERO mission, the term “Veteran” refers to all who are serving currently or have served in any branch of the United States Armed Forces.
EVERY HERO DESERVES A CHANCE TO HEAL 4 AHERO MAGAZINE
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WINTER 2020/21 5
BUILDING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Founder’s Message WELCOME, all, to our Winter 2020-21 Issue of AHERO Magazine!
To say 2020 has been a trying year for all of us is a huge understatement. Still, regardless of the stressors around us, AHERO continues to support our Veterans by connecting them to resources that facilitate healing for both their visible and invisible wounds. COVID-19 has caused AHERO to postpone numerous fundraising events and push the completion of the Major General James Livingston Warrior Lodge back almost a year. However, we at AHERO will never stop serving those who have so loyally served our nation. Nor will we stop working hard to raise the spirits and promote the welfare of the numerous AHERO communities around the country. Thanks to the tireless efforts and enthusiasm of our many volunteers, we have been able to continue to reach out in support of those who need it most. Though we all experienced trials and tribulations this year, AHERO will always strive to help Veterans by helping to bring them out of the darkness that can lead them to take their own lives. This is our commitment, our mission. Now, with the Holiday Season upon us, it is extremely important for all of us to be there for our fellow Veterans, to ensure they know that they are not alone. I ask you to remember that this also is the “Giving Season” … a time to gift our loved ones, which hopefully includes the men and women who have “taken it on the chin” by signing up and heading into danger on our behalf. We simply cannot allow those who have sacrificed so much for our country to lose their way in the end. So please join us in raising awareness of the crisis surrounding Veteran suicide and in funding Veteran participation in future AHERO events. With your support, we can do our part to ultimately stop this scourge that continues to take more than 22 beloved heroes from us every day. Thank you!
Semper Fidelis! Lee Stuckey AHERO Founder and President (910) 548-8864 AHEROUSA.org
To connect with us, please go to AHEROusa.org/contact 6 AHERO MAGAZINE
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate
A HEARTFELT THANK YOU goes out to Jerry and Don Gordon of Gulf Breeze, Florida, for their generous personal donation to AHERO of $5,000 toward production costs of this magazine. The donation is made in honor of Brigadier General H. Russell Sutton, USMC (Ret). BGen. Russell, a friend of Jerry’s since she and he were in school together, enjoyed a stellar three-decade long military career that began in 1964. He fought in Vietnam where he was seriously wounded in combat, only to return there in 1968 for a second tour. The general, whose last active duty assignment was as Commanding General, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, retired in 1994 and now lives in Tennessee, where he oversees his beautiful horse farm. ~ the editors
“For whatever trauma came with se rvice in tough circumstances, we should ta ke what we learned - take our post-traumat ic growth - and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to be ar, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear.” ~ Gen. James Mattis, USMC (Ret.) AHERO MAGAZINE
WINTER 2020/21 7
BUILDING TOWARD THE FUTURE
STRAIGHT TALK FROM OUR EDITOR-IN-CHIEF By Dave Glassman, USMC (Ret)
One Crazy Year We Can’t Wait To Put In The Rear-View Mirror – For Good! It will not soon be forgotten. In 2020, we all faced big trials and witnessed the hardships of so many others who contended with sickness, community lockdown, financial challenge, and generally a big fear of the unknown. Like most charitable organizations, as for so many businesses and households, AHERO was not immune to COVID-19. The first half of the year saw cancellation of all our Veteransupport programming and fundraising events. But then summer rolled around. The entire year was at risk of slipping away! Time to get back to finding the funds to continue AHERO’s work, we knew. Time to bring back connection and fun to our wounded, injured, and/or disabled active-duty service members and Veterans. With the help of super-supportive organizations such as the Pensacola Beach Woman’s Club and caring volunteers like Rhonda Dorfman, fundraising resumed in June. Their “Horsin’ Around” proved to be the event that – very generously – paved the way for AHERO to continue its long tradition of the Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up weekend. Although scaled back a bit, the PBWC “Horsin’ Around” event was great fun. You can read all about the event in PBWC Publicity Chair Pamela Allen’s review here in this issue. Through the hell of 2020, we still managed to meet new friends who came our way. Bill Woolfin, Southside Marina owner, and his general manager Jeanette Jezernic-Prince not only hosted the fishing-day event at his marina, they also made a sizable financial contribution to help with AHERO’s travel and logistics expenses for the visiting Veterans! Writer
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Jeremy Clarke’s eye-witness story on watching the weekend event unfold is a fun must-read for you in our All In 4AHERO section. And for another signal to the Veterans we support that AHERO’s enthusiasm and daring can’t be beaten down: Lex McMahon (at age 49!) made his entry into the ring for his first professional Mixed Martial Arts fight just this past Nov. 21st in the Dominican Republic with the event streamed. Lex had engaged in grueling physical and mental training to prepare for this first and final professional fight, and he designated his entire fight purse plus all sponsorship revenue and donations to go to AHERO to help meet our 2020 fundraising goal. We couldn’t be more grateful. Once again – and at the risk of sounding like a broken record – read all about what happened at the fight in our story here in this issue! Of course, the virus didn’t just set us back on the fundraising side. All first half of 2020’s AHERO hunts had to be cancelled as well. But not even COVID-19 could prevent Mark Oliva and Paul House from conducting the 3rd annual “House in the Woods” Bear Hunt for AHERO in Maine, in memory of Paul and Dee’s outdoors-loving son, Army Sgt Joel A. House. Joel was KIA by a roadside bomb in Iraq on June 23, 2007. The 2020 AHERO hunting season will culminate with the Senior Mentor Hunt the weekend of December 11th at AHERO Farms in Shorter, Ala. As for me, I feel truly humbled by the opportunity to serve our nation’s warrior class by continuing to give my all to this year-round effort. To me, AHERO means together we can overcome adversity and pursue life to its fullest.
Our process has always involved developing relationships of trust, breaking down barriers to communication, identifying problems, and collaborating with our aligned organizations to arrive at solutions. But it is an ongoing journey. One that creates successful outcomes really because of our volunteers, our community of caring supporters, and always because of AHERO’s many participating Veterans who pay it forward by passing our message on. Stay well. And enjoy the magazine! ~ Dave
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate
Discovering Stacey Paden By Dave Glassman, USMC (Ret) The interconnected nature of AHERO is illustrated in its continual encountering and bringing together of like-minded individuals and organizations who seek to address the specific problems and concerns our Veterans face. In this way, we continue to build our effectiveness as an all-volunteer charitable entity able to reach out to wounded and injured Veterans of all eras and engage them with their peers in healthy, enjoyable outdoor experiences that lift the spirit and rebuild selfconfidence. Volunteers have always come to AHERO in an organic fashion. Which is to say, each of them finds his or her way to us by virtue of their particular passion or skillset. A pastor offers prayers at an AHERO dinner where a local restaurant has contributed the food
and brought along staff who provide help; the boatowner who offers his/her vessel to the armada of other volunteer boatowners and captains who will take our Veterans deep-sea fishing in the Gulf … and a bunch of seasoned fish-cleaners will appear to prep the catch for cooking. No one gets paid, except (we trust!) in personal satisfied joy. Such was the case of Stacey Paden, who we came across at a Veterans Memorial Park cleanup session. She was taking pictures there of the volunteer citizens spending their day making the Park beautiful for Veterans Day. The volunteer group included her son and members of his Milton High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). When we asked her permission to use some of her photos in our publication, Stacey’s reply
was modest. She was new to photography, she said, but she loved doing it and had already established a website. She would post the Park photos there; if we liked any, she would be happy to have them in AHERO Magazine. Well, we did like them. All of them. In fact, we were knocked out by her incredible talent to put more than “a thousand words” into every one of her shots. So much so that we asked Stacey (and she agreed!) to put that “eye” of hers to work again on another wonderful story in this month’s issue. See what she came up with for our “War Horse” spread in this issue. If you’d like to comment, we hope you will go to AHERO on Facebook and let us know there. You can also learn more about Stacey and her work at website-
Shout-Out to a Volunteer!
AHERO Thanks Clifton Trotter Each issue of AHERO Magazine going forward will highlight a particular volunteer who has helped this organization continue to bring wounded and injured Veterans and active duty members to its events and activities. This fall, our Shout Out to a Volunteer goes to Clifton Trotter, a man who gives his time and efforts along with his family’s to maintain the grounds of AHERO’s hunting farm in Shorter, Alabama. A USMC Veteran, Trotter was severely wounded during fierce combat that could easily have killed him but for a brave fellow Marine who ran to his aid, was shot and fell across his body – a shield against the continuing barrage of bullets. Trotter honors that Marine every day of his life. The Shout Out column is meant to honor all AHERO volunteers by showcasing the amazing contributions they make to our mission as individuals. Each and every one of our volunteers is critically important to this organization. Why? Because AHERO is only an idea. The funds and support it needs to bring and accommodate these worthy Veterans to and during activities and events come entirely from contributors. And the only hearts and hands AHERO has to accomplish its life-affirming magic for suffering Veterans are those of its volunteers. ~ the editors AHERO MAGAZINE
WINTER 2020/21 9
BUILDING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Gratefully Still Here Because Of Ryan By Clifton Trotter
I love being out in nature. I’m a family man who’s a country boy through and through. I’ve been part of the AHERO family since 2010 and I’ve know how important its volunteers are. And since it’s important to me to involve my own family in everything I try to do, they are part of AHERO’s family, too! My family is my biggest support system. They’re always there for me and always aware of what this organization means to me. They help me in any way they can. So when it comes time for the guest Veterans to be at the AHERO farm for a few days of getting to know each other and participate in deer hunting, my wife of 22 years, Stephanie, sons Christian and Carsen, and daughter, Annabella, are right there helping me make sure the grounds are ready for the event. By the time the Vets arrive, my family and I will have checked the game cameras, fed all deer plots, cut the grass, disked and already planted all the farm’s green fields. My wife will have cleaned out the cabin and tidied the big yard, and I’ll have scouted for deer trails for hunting season. Whatever needs to be done for the AHERO Farm and experiences to happen, we do our best to get done. In addition, I continue to enjoy being a guide during each annual deer hunt. Time is a gift to me during this volunteering I do because I get to spend it with my family doing something important. I guess I’ve always been someone who will give “the shirt off my back” to help someone in need. And as a military family, we get to be part of what families like ours and AHERO’s do – which is to come together to pick one another up when we are at our lowest point in life. The outdoors can instill a power in each of us and make us see the beauty of nature. AHERO does that with its events located in beautiful settings like the Gulf where its volunteers take Veterans deep-sea fishing, or the Alabama or Maine woods where they can hunt. I like to think of it as “changing lives through the outdoors.”
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THE MAN WHO GAVE ME BACK MY LIFE Fallujah, Iraq. 5 January 2006: Around 1300 my Marine squad came under sniper fire, and our point man was hit. While I was attempting to aid him, I was struck in the throat by a Dragnov round. I lay on the street, couldn’t move, and then and there I asked God to take care of my seven-month pregnant wife, Stephanie, and my unborn son, Christian. I saw that the others in my squad were behind cover and returning fire, but then I saw my good friend, LCPL Ryan McCurdy, run out from there to help me. I tried screaming at the
top of my lungs for him to stay back but no one could hear me because of my throat wound. Then, just as he got to me, Ryan was fatally shot through the heart, the shot penetrating the side of his body armor. Ryan fell on top of me as the shooting went on, and he lay still. I struggled to tell him I loved him knowing he was gone, and I thanked him. The corpsman got to us and I tried telling him to check on Ryan even though I was sure he had died. The corpsman said nothing, just began to work on me. This was my 5th tour
Trotter Family, l-r , Son Christopher Ryan, Mom Stephany, Unofficial MOF* Al Stuckey, Poppa Clifton and sweet daughter, Annabella. Not shown is littlest Trotter, Carsen ... *MOF=Member Of the Family
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate in Iraq, which I’d started in the fall of 2005, but it would be my last. My injuries that day consisted of gun-shot wound to the throat resulting in a paralyzed left vocal cord, fractured c5-c7 vertebrae, ligated left carotid artery and severed left brachial plexus injury, as well as TBI and PTSD diagnoses. Now in 2020, it’s fifteen surgeries later for me. I’m here, living and quietly celebrating my life every day for Ryan McCurdy because he gave his to save mine. I wanted to honor my good friend and this is one of the ways I could: by giving my son Christian the middle name of Ryan. Another way was in naming the deer plot next to a creek on AHERO farm. It is now known as “Ryan’s Field.” At the end of the day it comes down to having that camaraderie that we all experienced with others who were with us in the service, and to being there for your buddies sharing good times and troubles, and remembering those you lost. It really does all come down to being a part of something that is bigger than yourself.
Young Chris handles land-management equipment with aplomb!
Son Christopher Ryan and daughter Annabella help Dad prep for the hunt
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan S. “Dirty” McCurdy, 20, loving son and brother and a resident of Baton Rouge, was killed in action in Fallujah, Iraq, on January 5, 2006. He was a member of Headquarters Company, Regimental Combat Team A, 2nd Marine Division, and was to be awarded a Purple Heart for his service. A native of Baton Rouge, Ryan was a 2004 graduate of Christian Life Academy and a second-team, all-district catcher on his baseball team. As a youth, he was a member of the 2002 LHSAA Class 2A state championship baseball team, was a center for the football team, and played on the soccer team. Ryan, who was a member of Christian Life Church, was survived by his mother, Jan McCurdy; father, Stan McCurdy; brother, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Grant McCurdy; maternal grandparents, Elizabeth and Clifford Hanson of Minneapolis; and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.* *Edited from LCPL McCurdy’s obituary published in “The Advocate,” January 12, 2006
WINTER 2020/21 11
BUILDING TOWARD THE FUTURE
AHERO, Halted By Pandemic, Resumes Fundraising For Its Warrior Lodge By Dave Glassman, Vice President, AHERO Board of Directors
12 AHERO MAGAZINE
Ever conscious of the SNAFU effect of “forces beyond our control,” AHERO remains steady in its determination to get back into action. We are looking forward to conducting our usual activities on behalf of our Veterans, including our push to raise funds to support the building of the highly anticipated MajGen James E. Livingston Lodge. Since March of this year, business and organizational shutdowns have greatly impacted AHERO’s schedule as state and local guidance on social distancing at events prevailed. Now we wait with as much patience as we can muster while privately chomping at the bit to get out of the gate and back on track. Assuming timely cessation of the emergency and a return to successful fundraising, our estimated date for completion of the lodge is during 2021. Meanwhile, our heartfelt thanks goes to those individuals, companies and organizations who already have contributed nearly one-third of the total cost originally estimated for lodge construction and furnishings. This amount includes gifts of cash, building materials, equipment, and – yes – the labor of enthusiastic and skilled construction professionals. Injuries related to military service affect many thousands of America’s Veterans, producing tragic results. AHERO’s mission is to help change that through fundraising, events, and relationship building. In this season of giving, please let your awareness of this mission “speak to your wallet.” As always, your generosity and love are deeply appreciated! Semper Fi, Dave Glassman, USMC (Ret)
WINTER 2020/21 13
BUILDING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Greater Montgomery Homebuilders Association: Ready To Help The Cause! By Jimmy Adams, President, GMHB with Angela Allen, Executive Director I recently had the opportunity to take part in the 9th Annual AHERO Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-up and I can’t tell you how much this experience meant to me personally. The GMHBA was first introduced to AHERO when Jimmy Rutland was approached with a project vision for what is now known as James Livingston Lodge at AHERO Farms. Jimmy brought the project to the Association Executive Committee and thanks to my position with the GMHBA I have gotten more involved with this organization and I can tell you I’m 100 percent committed to helping them fulfill their vision for the Lodge. AHERO is a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to help American Veterans heal their physical and psychological wounds through meaningful connections with patriotic community members in various outdoor activities. More than 20 Veterans a day commit suicide, and the folks at AHERO are committed to reducing that number. I had the honor of visiting with some of the guys during the AHERO Warrior Hook-up. These people are American heroes. They have served our country honorably and made a huge sacrifice in doing so. PTSD is a real thing and the work that this group is doing with these Veterans has made a huge impact on them and their families. I was struck by one particular story. Major Lee Stuckey, U.S. Marine Corps, who founded AHERO recently received a call from a former serviceman. Thanks to a string of bad luck this gentleman found himself unemployed, with a broken truck and no way to provide for his family. He saw no way out other than to end his life, until his young son walked into the room. Thanks to what I’m calling divine intervention, this man’s life was spared and he was able to connect with Lee, who had recently received a donation of a Denali truck to be used by AHERO. This Veteran will be able to use the truck to get himself back and forth to work where he will be able to save money to fix his own vehicle. In turn the gentleman will volunteer his time at AHERO Farms. This is a true testament to the power and reach of this organization. 14 AHERO MAGAZINE
Dave Glassman, a representative from AHERO, has visited with our Association several times to discuss both the group’s mission and the vision for completing the Lodge. The hunting lodge will be located in Macon County and will be used by AHERO to bring Veterans on hunting retreats as well as serving as a meeting hub for the organization. Thanks to the generosity of several members we have secured some funding and product donations, but there is still work to be done in order to build the Lodge. I am personally committed to seeing that we help get this project completed. I am asking our membership for help. We still need financial, material, and volunteer donations. Any donation, large or small, will be
greatly appreciated. We as a membership have been greatly blessed with success, and it is our calling to give back when we can.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”- Luke 6:38 If you have any questions regarding this project, please don’t hesitate to contact myself or Angela at the GMHBA office.
The Greater Montgomery Home Builders Association is proud to offer our support to AHERO!
Building a Future for ALL American Heroes, One Veteran at a Time! Greater Montgomery Home Builders Association
7013 Potsdam Ct, Montgomery AL 36117
(334) 277-7766 l www.gmhba.org
SUV Donation Will Facilitate Warrior Lodge & AHERO Event Operations From the editors: Veteran Robert T. Ervin IV, a U. S. ARMY Combat Medic, recently made a generous donation to AHERO of a lovingly used Chevy Yukon Denali. The SUV will help AHERO with land management and transportation for guest Veterans at farm properties provided for its events in Shorter, Alabama. We asked Robert to tell us a little about what brought the SUV to AHERO. I was trying to find a new home for our family vehicle. All three of my children learned to drive and used this GMC Yukon as their vehicle over a 15-year span. It has been a great vehicle, serving us well, so we wanted to find a use for it that would help someone else. Brian Leiser, a friend and fellow Veteran, let me know about AHERO. After just a little research into the organization’s focus on helping Veterans cope with the mental and physical scars related to battle, it was an easy decision. We would donate the vehicle to serve those who have paid a terrible price for protecting our great country and the freedom it gives to us all. I look forward to continuing to support AHERO. Hopefully others reading this can assist them in some way as well. – Robert T. Ervin IV
WINTER 2020/21 15
THE POWER OF OUR INTERCONNECTED MISSIONS
America’s Four-Star General Called “Chappie” By Connie Conway and Wendell Slater
Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. was born in Pensacola in 2020 when segregation was still very much in operation in the region. Growing up in a neighborhood close to Pensacola’s Naval Air Station, he was intrigued by the concept of flight and began to dream of flying himself one day. The barriers that Black youth faced against achieving their most cherished dreams could have dogged the extraordinary young man, but he decided early in life to mind the mantra imposed by his iron-willed educator mother, Lillie Anna James. “Thou shall not quit,” was his rule of thumb. Young Chappie would not allow segregation to force him to be less than what his intelligence and determination told him he could be. That nickname he carried for life has been a source of some debate, but one explanation is that it had belonged to his elder brother before young Daniel “inherited it.” In this version of the story, Daniel had become too big at 6’4”and 250 lbs to continue being referred to as “Baby Dan.”
Four Star General Daniel “Chappie” James, USAF 16 AHERO MAGAZINE
FIRST STEP TO ACHIEVING THE DREAM: TUSKEGEE For young Black men and women in the 1930s, receiving a college degree at a good school generally meant attending one of the Black colleges that had opened after the Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” ruling on public education. The educating of Blacks had once been a crime in various states, and this painful fact left a legacy of resistance at “white” universities. The actual result was positive, however, as a number of excellent Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) became established – among them the respected Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Tuskegee had brought flight training into its program and as WWII raged, squadrons of Tuskegee Airmen became decorated combat forces, with many of the men later rising as leaders in their community and the country. James would inevitably be one of them. Attending Tuskegee was pivotal in James’ life for another reason: He met his wife-to-be, Dorothy Watkins, there. The couple married in a wedding on campus in 1942 and went on to have a daughter, Danice, and two sons, Daniel III and Claude. After graduation, James chose a career in the Air Force. He flew more than 100 combat missions during the Korean War and 78 missions in North Vietnam while stationed in Thailand. Returning stateside, he became vice commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Elgin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle near his hometown, Pensacola.
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate A DISTINGUISHED CAREER OF DEDICATION TO HIS COUNTRY In 1969 – 1970, James was assigned command of the 7272nd Flying Training Wing at Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya. It was a critical moment as Libyan General Muammar Gaddafi and his forces had ousted the Libyan king in a coup and demanded that the U.S. forces leave. James directed the operation. In the years following, he would go on to be vice commander of the Military Airlift Command (a USAF major command headquartered at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois as the primary strategic Air Force airlift organization until 1974). James wrote critically acclaimed essays and delivered speeches that were so impactful they were read into the Congressional Record. On winning the George Washington Medal of Freedom in 1967, the essay he wrote reflected the stellar character of this remarkable military man that can be easily seen in this excerpt:
They say: You, James, are a member of a minority – you are a black man.” They say: “You should be disgusted with this American society – this so-called democracy.” They say: “you can only progress so far in any field that you choose before somebody puts his foot on your neck for no other reason than you are black.” They say: “You are a second-class citizen.”
My heritage of freedom provides my reply. To them I say: “I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am not a second-class citizen and no man here is unless he thinks like one, reasons like one or performs like one. This is my country and I believe in her, and I believe in her flag, and I’ll defend her, and I’ll fight for her and serve her. If she has any ills, I’ll stand by her and hold her hand until in God’s given time, through her wisdom and her consideration for the welfare of the entire nation, things are made right again.” Daniel “Chappie” James was promoted to the four-star rank of general in the United States Air Force and was assigned as commander in chief of NORAD/ADCOM at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Thus he had operational command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces – and this in the dangerous time of the Cold War, when nuclear weapons could all too feasibly have played a role in an international conflict.
On December 6, 1977, General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. assumed duty as special assistant to the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force. Health considerations led to his retirement the following year, and his death on Feb 25, 1978, at the age of 58. He rests now in Arlington National Cemetery, a true American hero.
*Sources (online): Halvorsen, Howard E., Air Force Sustainment Center Historian, on the Tinker Air Force Base Home Page, Feb. 3, 2017; The National Aviation Hall of Fame (nationalaviation.org/our-enshrinees/jamesjr-daniel/); Astor, Gerald The Right to Fight: A History of African Americans in The Military, 1998; cafriseabove. org/daniel-chappie-james-jr/; and the Arlington National Cemetery Website.
This painting of General James currently hangs in the Pentagon
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The Chappie James Flight Academy: Inspiring Pensacola’s Youth To Reach High By Wendell Slater
On a sweltering hot summer day in1996, USN Maj. Clifton Curtis and AF Maj. Michael Griffin came together in Pensacola Florida with an ambitious idea. Both men were serving as flight instructors at Naval Air Station Whiting Field. Soon they were joined by Lt. Cmdr. Craig Abernathy and AF Maj. Michael Fowlkes, rounding out a count of four accomplished officers who had each served in one or more of the combat/conflict zones of Beirut and Operation Desert Storm/Gulf War. Now they proposed serving a very different, but very important, objective: developing a gateway training course that could point the way into aviation for the low-income youth of Pensacola. NAMING THE ACADEMY Naming the facility “The Chappie James Flight Academy” was deeply satisfying, especially knowing that the young James’ determination to defy any barrier and take flight had been begun right here, in Pensacola. Born in this city in 1920, he had been raised to believe he could realize his potential if he followed his educator-mother’s strict commandment: “Thou shall not quit!” That directive became the young student’s personal mantra. His achievements, mirrored by his ultimate rank of four-star general of the United States Air Force, brought great honor to his family, city and nation. By 1996, some 18 years after Gen. James’ death at the age of 58, his personal commitment to pursuing excellence was still igniting the ambitions to succeed in so many of Pensacola’s African American future aviators. Determined that these smart young 18 AHERO MAGAZINE
students must have the opportunity to develop their passion, the four officers put together their plan to educate them in the basics of aeronautical science and show them how they, too, could “reach for the skies.” The program would be entirely self-funded and free to all students. It would run as a weeklong session, its classroom a donated space of the Little Rock Baptist Church in Pensacola. The session, or camp, would be open to area youth between ages13 and17 and feature a syllabus on the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering and mechanics – the STEM courses. Each session would culminate in actual practice: Young graduates would have an opportunity to “take the wheel” of a plane from the instructor and experience the wonder of flying. MAKING IT WORK This was, from the start, a project requiring commitment and heart for it was bare bones in its assets. The founding instructors split the financial costs of lunch, transportation, and teaching materials. Lack of adequate financing could not deter their ambition to educate, however! After the successful completion of the first summer camp, the board of directors of the now officially named Chappie James Flight Academy program pushed the word out to local Black pilots. Reaction to the camp was immediately positive. Soon the Black Airline Pilots organization chipped in to help fund future camps, offering ideas to sustain and grow it. The components of flight are challenging to master. For these youngsters – many or maybe
Wendell Slater, who reguarly lends his writing talents to this magazine, is a graduate of the Chappie James Flight Academy program
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate all of whom had never flown – it could be especially so. The principles and skills of five subjects would have to be learned: • Basic aviation aerodynamics • Academic excellence • Independent thinking • Public speaking • Financial management Today, the Academy’s instructors still take a realistic approach to the aerospace industry, showing the students what the road to becoming a pilot looks like from a holistic perspective. The program teaches that the ability to maneuver around financial, mental, and social restraints rests on Lilly James’ principle of unfaltering persistence, i.e., not quitting. On the final day of camp, in addition to flying, students must present the fundamentals of aerodynamics to a large audience in a way that shows a firm grasp of the subject. This can help students overcome their fear of public speaking as it instills in them the confidence that comes from knowing they can instruct others – in this case, on the principles of flight. DEEP BREATH: TIME TO FLY! The student joins a pilot in a Piper plane, and soon they are ascending high into the clouds. Lift, sound and instruments combine to deliver both a sensory and observational experience of the aerodynamic principles now in action. The moment of taking the wheel solidifies all that the student has gone through since day one of camp. He or she now knows the magic of being an aviator. “Sometimes amazing things happen just by staying on course,” instructor Michael Griffith has cautioned them. The metaphor is apt, for much can be achieved when one does not quit. Approaching its 25th year anniversary, The Chappie James Flight Academy still holds true to its focus on excellence. Alumni of the Academy have gone on to become lawyers, engineers, international executives, Air Force aircraft crew chiefs, nurses, and interested, involved community members. The facility has relocated to the historical family home of Gen. James, with the original space refurbished into a museum and education center for the Academy. Each time a plane flies over Pensacola it is thanks to those four stalwart officers and to the general himself and the Academy he inspired that any child in Pensacola can look up and know that he or she, too, has the right to reach for the skies and a path to follow to achieve their dreams of flight.
Flight Academy instructor Michael Fowlkes reviews the lesson plan of student, T’Anthony Peoples-Tony Gibersonfirstname.lastname@example.org
Aureya Dixon is excited to receive her official Chappie James Flight Academy tee shirt from Craig Abernathy on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Photo by Tony Gibersonemail@example.com AHERO MAGAZINE
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Two Communities Concur, Then Endure: Awaiting The Daniel “Chappie” James Bridge By Cris Dosev, Maj, USMCR
On June 30, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that named the new bridge across Pensacola Bay the “General Daniel ‘Chappie’ James Jr. Bridge.” Started in the summer of 2019, the new bridge would replace the previous single-span bridge with two new spans. The project was scheduled for completion in the summer of 2021. The bridge connects the city of Pensacola in Escambia County with the city of Gulf Breeze in Santa Rosa County. With the dedicated efforts of local area Veterans’ and citizens’ support, four resolutions were passed by the two county commissions and two cities starting the legislative process, which culminated in the passage of the bill. The Marine Corps League J. R. Spears Detachment #066 was instrumental in providing the visible and vocal support of the initiative and brought great credit upon their organization. It is a rare and unique circumstance when a community has the opportunity to honor a monumental man with a monumental structure. General James’ legacy is a bridge from one generation to another communicating an eternal message that this country is a gift worthy of the sacrifices and energies of its grateful people. WREAKING HAVOC, HURRICANE SALLY HALTS BRIDGE PROGRESS In the early morning hours of September 16, Hurricane Sally slammed into the Panhandle coast, forcing barges into repeated strikes against the completed eastbound span on the half-built bridge. Two sizeable sections of the structure were smashed, falling into Pensacola Bay. This forced the closure of that span that had been put into service earlier in summer.
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Engineering inspections showed that a minimum of seven sections of the span would need replacement. Estimates of up to 12 months for repairs were met with grave public and official concern at the time, with the westbound span also being inspected for likely damage. As of this writing, the storm damage has significantly and adversely impacted the Pensacola area. The great inconvenience and disruption caused by lengthy travel-times to get to work or shopping in Pensacola has impacted area communities already stressed by pandemic concerns. THE OUTLOOK: HOPEFUL EXPECTATION The westbound span of the bridge had initially been scheduled for completion this coming summer. As of November 19, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)
published an online report stating that it had “approved multiple construction design plans and is reviewing others for the permanent repairs needed to reestablish four lanes of traffic by the targeted reopening in March 2021." The situation challenged the patience of everyone in this strange and difficult year of 2020. Nonetheless, the community and construction company continued to pursue solutions that would both provide relief to all area residents while ensuring the highest quality of construction to meet or exceed all standards of safety. Nothing less than a bridge that is a monument reflecting this community’s pride in its military history and, specifically, in General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., will suffice.
Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. Memorial Foundation members, l-r, MSGT Joe Denmon, USAF Ret, Capt. Wilhelm “Butch” Hansen, U.S. Navy Ret, Capt. Lee Hansen, U.S. Navy Ret, Capt. Ken Pyle, U.S. Navy Ret, & Board Chairman Cris Dosev
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With all prescribed safety standards met, Skanska’s projected bridge promises to be a stunning example of 21st century design and construction. The Daniel "Chappie" James Bridge - digitally created image by WSP
Stand By For More …
With all eyes on the completion of the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Bridge, we at AHERO Magazine will be working toward updating our readers as vividly as we can in our Summer 2021 issue. Look for a full rundown on the ceremonial opening of the bridge, with great photography showing off the beauty and strength of our “emerald paradise” and its shining military tradition. In addition, expect to learn more about another project born out of the dedication to preserving Pensacola’s hometown four-star general’s legacy: the creation of the Chappie James Museum. ~ the editors.
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A Note From The Colonel a proud and robust s ha 6 06 t en hm ac et D ue ag The Marine Corps Le achment has long et D e Th . ea ar a ol ac ns Pe r te history in the grea s and supports our st ho ich wh , ity un m m co t contributed to this benevolen terans who live and Ve y an m e th d an ea ar e th in active-duty forces based t, the Detachment has en em at st n io iss m its ith w g work here. In keepin n as it continues tio za ni ga or O ER AH e th g tin been pleased to join in assis d Veterans and de un wo ly re ve se to rt fo m co to engage with and provide forces. heroes of our nation's armed ue has financially ag Le s rp Co e in ar M e th s, ar For the last few ye local area that are planned, e th in ts en ev ng hi fis al nu supported the an ide a weekend of ov pr ts en ev e Th . O ER AH coordinated and hosted by of our Veterans. It has ds re nd hu to n tio ra leb ce d outdoor recreation an r staff assistance during ee nt lu vo er off to re su ea pl a been an honor and rward to continuing fo ok lo e W it. of rt pa a be the event; we are grateful to ERO in the future. AH ith w p hi ns io lat re ng di our longstan IV, USMC (Ret) th or zw ol H E. er ph to ris Ch -COL
Marine Corps Leaguers love a celebration. Here, Master Guns Rivera, 68 years young, is treated to his birthday breakfast by officers and members of the Cpl J.R. Spears Det. 066 Marine Corps League â€“ with youngest Leaguer Mason Glassman in attendance! 22 AHERO MAGAZINE
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VNVLV MC Members Stay In The Fight For Our Veterans By Kris Fleming
The Viet Nam Vets Legacy Vets M/C is an international organization with members in Europe, Asia and all 50 States. The Viet Nam Vets are made up of both in-country and Vietnam-era Vets. Our Legacy Vets M/C brothers were created to be the legacy of the Viet Nam Vets. We are one club with two patches: the Viet Nam Vets Legacy Vets M/C and the VNVLV MC. Our club’s two primary missions are timeless in that there is need for both during and after wars and conflicts that have required response by our nation’s military troops: •To do everything within our power to bring our POW/MIA brothers home, insisting that
our government provide accountability for each of these patriots. •To raise awareness of Veteran suicide. We’ve all heard the stories and felt the pain of losing a Veteran to suicide. Among our club’s members, these losses have been great. Our “Operation Zero” program also works with other organizations to get our nation’s Veterans the help they need, both on the proactive and reactive sides of this issue. We have been blessed with the opportunity to work with AHERO and the large network of organizations that links them. Our Brother “Gascap” has attended many of the fishing events and has gotten much relief with
AHERO’s proactive approach. We are continuing to work to bring "Operation Zero" to a national level and hold our government accountable for the crises we and so many other face as Veterans. Never quit on life! Stay in the fight. The situation you may be in today will ultimately only get better, no matter how bad it is. Be thankful each morning for the family and life you have. If you need help, call someone, talk to someone. Feel free as well to call "Trickster," VNVLV MC’s reginal rep, at (850) 483-7051, for assistance getting help or just to talk.
Dave Glassman receives a much-appreciated VNVLV contribution from VNVLV member Terry Runyon at American Legion Post 240 during the 2020 AHERO Warrior Hook-Up event AHERO MAGAZINE
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Drawing On Horsepower To Heal By Jeremy Clarke
Traumatic events can wreck lives. This we know. But they can also dramatically change the way we think and how we behave. “It was my first truly life-changing event,” Sean Hollonbeck, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and physician, is telling me as we get into the interview. He goes on to describe, at age 14, the events of a drunk driver’s car running over his identical twin brother, Scot, who was on his bicycle, confining him to a wheelchair for life. “The powerlessness I felt looking at his damaged body that had always looked just like mine – it was something I never wanted to feel again!” The words torpedo out of Hollonbeck’s mouth. It was the genesis of his life's mission to hand power back to those who had lost it. Years of a military career that included suffering physical and emotional trauma and witnessing others go through it too, cemented that mission. He would use all his energies to address the massive burden so many Veterans he knew were carrying – often for decades: the corrosive, largely misunderstood condition that had been around for eons before it became identified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
INTUITIVE THINKING: THAT HORSE HAS YOUR NUMBER! It’s humbling. It can be daunting. Scary, even. But one thing’s for sure as I meet this equine – I am alert. So how can this beautiful, essentially silent beast help me if I’ve suffered trauma? Well, for one thing, I’ve already sensed that the mare has figured me out in a matter of seconds. Which she actually has. She knows how I’m feeling. “She’s mirroring you,” Hollonbeck tells me quietly. I see that this is correct. I’m nervous, so she’s nervous. Soon as I calm myself, she’s calm. And this is not cutesy speculation; it’s been scientifically proven. Exhaustively researched by, among others, Hollonbeck himself. Hollonbeck runs an equine therapy center here at his Garcon Point horse farm. In the War Horse program he developed, he works with Veterans and others who are seeking ways to break the chains of trauma and PTSD.
COL Sean Hollenbeck 24 AHERO MAGAZINE
THE SENSE OF AWE INSPIRED BY EQUINES We’re at Hollonbeck’s farm, where he runs a program of equine-assisted therapy he developed in line with the Warhorse Project, and we’re standing in a recently cleared field. Stretching beyond are miles of woods that harbor thick undergrowth and unseen wetland. “Ready to meet them?” he asks me mischievously. I nod: “Yup, kinda.” As we walk, I wonder what I’m letting myself in for. The last time I was on a horse, I was thrown. At maybe 25 mph. But it’s too late to back out now. The horse I’m approaching weighs around 1200 pounds. It’s six times heavier than I am. And probably 20 times stronger. One look at its hind legs, which are HUGE and pure muscle, informs me that I’m in the presence of an extraordinary being. I had heard that a person’s first encounter with a horse can be a spiritual experience. It certainly was for me. And it’s no less true, decades after my first encounter. You have the sense of meeting an old soul, a spirit informed by ancient experience, of timeless wisdom and intuition. And power. Power beyond your human ability to comprehend.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO HEALING His many tours in Afghanistan and Iraq had resulted in stress and unrest that persisted in spite of multiple visits to the VA. But he’d been brought up around horses and understood their inherent ability to connect with humans. “So I’d go to the horse stables at the forts where I was assigned just to feel the regenerative power of these ancient spirits,” he explains. Those visits worked. Soon he decided to double down on his life’s commitment to help others. He studied PTSD, specifically equine programs, as a part of a congressionally mandated research line. Drawing on the animal’s assets, he designed a therapy that could empower Veterans to better understand their PTSD, a therapy to ease stress and restore self-confidence in suffering individuals. But he designed it in a nonmedical, non-pharmaceutical way. “You have to be very present when you approach a horse,” he tells me now. “Equines are highly intelligent and powerful. You know right away that the animal has your number. You begin to understand that he wants to help. You, the human, get it. This forces you to be calm. The program educates those suffering from PTSD about the biology, physiology and psychology of PTSD through the horse and how the horse manages it. For some, what happens in a matter of hours is truly transformative.” Hollonbeck’s powerful therapy to address the shattering impact on some Veterans of war and service is something he is happy to be able share. “We have hundreds of thousands of men and women who wrote our U.S. government a blank check with their lives,” he says. “Now they battle daily with depression and deep trauma. They’re given drugs – the consummate crutch. But drugs are not the answer to their PTSD.”
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate THE PARADOX THAT IS SEAN HOLLONBECK When you meet him, he seems relaxed. He’s hugely affable, warm and welcoming – according to his daughter, “one hundred percent goofball.” But touch on things that matter greatly to him, and he changes. His stance changes, his tone. He talks much faster, not wasting a second on small talk. He is showing you how his method of equine therapy can put Veterans back in touch with themselves and thus help them regain self-confidence. Simply said, this goal is the magnet to Hollonbeck’s steel. “Thing is,” he says, about horses, “they’re not predatory animals, like cats or dogs. They’re prey. Their flight response is instinctive, as is their interdependence within the herd. And if you’re on a horse’s back, that ‘herd’ includes you.” Horses are non-judgmental. They live in the now. Their memories, good and bad, stay with them. He describes how a Swiss consultancy firm recently compared the equine herd-dynamic it had studied to a highly evolved corporate structure without an absolute alpha individual. “Each horse in the herd is elevated to the role of leader only in whatever it excels: strength, speed, ability to alert the herd to danger, chase off predators, etc.” A TRUE PARTNERSHIP, IN WHICH TRUST IS KEY “The horse seeks harmony and community,” Hollonbeck says. “He wants to trust you. He encourages you to trust him. That’s how any connection between horse and Veteran works.” The process strikes many chords for this highly decorated U.S. Army Colonel. He understands the kind of fear arising from too much time spent amid the pain and stench of war, always alert to menace and witnessing horrors in places torn apart, such as Fallujah, Ramala, Kabul, and Kandahar. He knows the complex issues that only a fellow Vet can understand. Or that maybe a 1200-pound, all-muscle, very tender and intuitive beast can help fix. Hollonbeck knows the work involved, that there’s no magic cure for the deep trauma so many Veterans have suffered. “But if we want to help folks who feel alone and as if they’ve lost their ‘herd’ or their will to exist, then acquainting them with the complex creatures we call equines can help,” he says. “We all have that animal need for connection. Meeting with these intelligent, socially stable and very powerful animals can give us that connection and help us understand ourselves better.”
Writer Jeremy Clarke with new friend
Hollonbeck’s “horsepower” runs deep. His twin brother, Scot, is clearly from the same stock. Though wheelchair-bound since the accident, Scot is a serious athlete who raced marathons and 10Ks around the world and has competed in four Olympic Games, running 1500-meter race in Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens and bringing home a Silver Olympic medal. “Build it, they will come,” whispers the Colonel as we part, using the baseball-field metaphor as symbolic of his development of the farm and therapy program he established as a not-for-profit service to the community. I know the man well enough not to doubt him.
PHOTOS BY STACEY PADEN AHERO MAGAZINE
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Dr. Sean Hollonbeckâ€™s The War Horse Farm: A Place of Peace and Connection By Connie Conway
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AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Santa Rosa County has a new 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to serving Veterans and others in the community. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is conservatively estimated to affect 15 to 20 percent of currently serving military members or Veterans returning from war, and it affects non-military persons as well. Now, a free therapeutic program combatting PTSD has opened at Garcon Point, between Milton and Gulf Breeze, just below Interstate 10 and across the bay from Pensacola. The War Horse Project of Northwest Florida is offered by U.S. Army Colonel Sean Hollonbeck (Ret), a practicing physician with expertise in equine and human psychology and interaction. Dr. Hollonbeck’s 31-year military career included numerous combat tours as a paratrooper and physician in Afghanistan and Iraq before his military retirement. His interest in horses, begun in youth, followed him throughout his Army career. In time, his deep study of the psychology of equines and the impact of post-traumatic stress on military Veterans inspired his development of an equine-assisted therapy program that he has introduced to the residents of Northwest Florida. Globally, there are more than 600 types of equine-assisted therapy program variations. Dr. Hollonbeck’s method combines equine psychology and the prey-animal survival instinct with aspects of natural horsemanship in a single day’s instruction and round-pen experience. This technique is uniquely focused on the horse as a parallel to the human programs successfully helping Veterans and others with PTSD around the world. “Understanding horses offers a window onto our own minds,” the doctor explained in an interview. “Equines are prey animals so they have a strong need to feel confident in their safety.” This is the predator–prey dynamic, which functions in both animal and human psychology and can trigger PTSD responses. “The goal is to help our program participants understand how it works, allowing them to develop coping tools such as reflection and self-awareness,” Dr. Hollonbeck said. It is not intended as a riding program. Participants learn to recognize how, at times, others may be afraid of them, or that they themselves may be in fear and needing to learn trust again so that they can have successful dealings and relationships with others.
Welcome to The War Horse Project of Northwest Florida! Pictured here are: (l-r) Coast Guard Ensign Landon Klopfenstein, a volunteer who assisted at the farm as he awaited flight training in late November; Dr. Sean Hollonbeck MD, MPH, the farm’s owner, a retired US Army colonel and an equine-assisted therapy expert.
Equine therapy, as advanced by Dr. Hollonbeck’s War Horse Project, has gained in national recognition as a powerful, non-pharmaceutical approach to healing the long-term emotionally shattering effects of PTSD in Veterans as well as non-Veterans.
PHOTOS BY STACEY PADEN
Dr. Hollonbeck keeps this replica bust of Alexander the Great’s famous war horse Bucephalus on watch in his office. “The horse came to symbolize loyalty, duty, training, and purpose,” the doctor says. “Here, his presence signals that this is where your war ends, the ‘what for?’ of the War Horse Project.”
Usually shy Kaytlyn Paden and Gypsy were instantly sympatico upon meeting. AHERO MAGAZINE
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THE POWER OF OUR INTERCONNECTED MISSIONS Currently, the equines in Dr. Hollonbeck’s hands-on program include horses, ponies (Shetlands and Welsh), burros, and donkeys of the type found in the Middle East. The program specifics are as follows: • Participants attend one session. • The session length is a half-day to 2/3rds of the day. • A second-day session may follow, as needed. • The session’s “crash-course” includes instruction on: - safety rules of human-equine interaction, - equine psychology/physiology and biology, - relationship trust building and the importance of grooming, - how horses communicate with one another - equine responses to various stressors. • Lunch-break timing is fluid, depending on length of time on each topic. The 30-acre farm is offering other support to the community and is currently partnering with therapists to bring therapeutic riding for children with special needs, as well as traditional riding classes, outdoor nature hospice activities and PTSD support to first responders and others in need.
The farm welcomes scheduled visit by interested Veterans and area residents.
Volunteers are sought who would like to help with the farm in support of the program. To learn more about the War Horse Project, or to participate in the program, please visit thewarhorseproject.org
“This is Athena,” introduces Dr. Sean Hollenbeck. “I raised her from when she was only months old, and named her after the goddess of war. Like her mom, Kahlua, Athena is a Quarter Horse.” 28 AHERO MAGAZINE
Building the horse-person relationship is a process of developing mutual respect. Horses are non-judgmental and highly intelligent. They work very well supporting children and young adults struggling and coping. The War Horse Project is designed to serve Veterans and be holistically utilized for others in the community.
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A place of peace …
Waffles the burro.
Where the horses, ponies and burros can roam in natural surroundings.
This ancient skill takes the right tools, solid expertise – and strength!
PHOTOS BY STACEY PADEN AHERO MAGAZINE
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This Shetland mare was a rescue. “Shetlands are small, only 42-46 inches at the withers,” says Sean, “but they don’t know they’re little. They think they’re Clydesdales.” This tiny giant arrived at the farm pregnant!
This good-looking guy is Gustavus, or “Gus.” A Welsh pony, Gus has four white feet and a big mane that would inspire any hairdresser. 30 AHERO MAGAZINE
… so meet Little Man (AKA, Rascal), the farm’s happy surprise.
The beauty of its powerful, muscular form and inherent grace, combined with its natural inclination to be gentle, make the horse perhaps the most admired of all animals.
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At The War Horse Farm …
In Stacey’s Words*
IT HAS JUST BEEN AMAZING. What I’ve witnessed through the honoring of lost lives is a respect and bond between others unlike anything I’ve witnessed before . . . The respect these Veterans have for one another – even while retired and through different branches – speaks volumes to the core. I first met Col. Sean Hollonbeck, US Army (Ret) at cleanup day at the park [Veterans Memorial Park, Pensacola]. He shared his vision and passion on using equines for treating PTSD in Veterans.
In 2009, suicides among the Veterans was on the rise. He saw the need for them to just be able to talk. Sean began visiting stables. In 2013, he began working with Veterans on a couple of acres in Walton County. By 2017, he was purchasing 30 acres of thick wooded land in Santa Rosa County to move the project to where he could reach more Veterans. It has taken years to clear the woods enough to even begin planting grass. A few weeks later (after meeting Sean), I was asked to take pictures of his horse farm for an article being written in the AHERO Magazine about the project.
The farm had been impacted by two hurricanes, leaving the grounds mushy. All the hard work of laying grass seed was washed away. Trees were down. There was already a lot of work to do .. but now it’s “clean up the mess” on top of day-to-day responsibilities. While Sean apologized profusely for the mush and things being in disarray, I saw a great opportunity to share the behind-the-scenes work of taking care of a farm, horse care, and what it takes to start a project like this … I saw real life, beauty unfolding. ~ Stacey Paden * From Stacey’s blog, edited for AHERO Magazine.
To see more of what this wonderful photographer has caught in images and words, go to
You won’t be disappointed!
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Pensacola Beach Woman’s Club “Horsin’ Around” Event Raises Funds By Pamela H. Allen, Publicity Chair
The Pensacola Beach Woman’s Club (PBWC) includes 124 charitable minded members. Each year, charities are selected to receive the funds raised through an annual fundraiser. AHERO was one of the charities selected by the group to support this year with the proceeds. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and put a hold on the fundraiser meant to coincide with the Kentucky Derby race in May. On June 18th, with the help of Sarah McCartt, event planner for Hemingway’s on Pensacola Beach, the fundraiser went forward on a smaller scale with all the social distancing and Phase 2 regulations that followed. Even though the event was much smaller than the originally planned version, support from the PBWC’s membership and local community came through. Club members stepped up with the leadership of Rhonda Dorfman, fundraising chair, to do a smaller, safer version of the event. Originally billed as the “Kentucky Derby” event, it transformed into the “Horsin’ Around” event at Hemingway’s, since the Derby itself had been postponed. The members attending still donned their Derby attire and enjoyed a day of bidding on auction items donated by local businesses. Members and community attendees opened their hearts and wallets to make the event successful. Forming small groups, club members and participating charities and their guests were present. Almost $10,000 was raised that day alone from the auction and the generosity of those attending. Under the leadership of its 2019-20 president Barbara Landfair and with the funds stewardship of treasurer Sharon Loper, the club was able to present,
on June 25th, a total of $22,911 in checks to participating charities including AHERO, which received $7,152.50. “With the unusual circumstances this year, the charities were especially depending on us, and the membership did an outstanding job of stepping up and contributing to the success of fundraising this year,” said Rhonda Dorfman, noting that the PBWC board members were very pleased with the turnout and the amount raised at the event.
Some of Pensacola Beach Woman's Club members – (l-r) Janet Mays, Karen Choate, Kathy Christoff, Debbie Hinners, Madrina Ciano, Brenda Purdy and Carolyn Melton
Taking a break for cake
(l-r) Fundraising Chair Rhonda Dorfman and club member Barbara Landfair are Derby Delightful in their gorgeous chapeaux! A great time was had by all! 32 AHERO MAGAZINE
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Recognizing Female Veterans By Janis Wilson, Chief Operating Officer, Monument to Women Veterans, Inc.
Since 2011 Monument to Women Veterans (MWV), a 501 (c) 3 charitable non-profit organization, has been striving to recognize the service and contributions of women who have served, are serving, and will serve in the US Armed Forces. MWV has provided numerous unmet needs and resources for these valiant soldiers under the leadership of US Navy Veteran, Michelle Caldwell, the organization’s chief operating officer and founder. Michelle has led the charge to create new programs to help rectify numerous problems affecting our Veteran population by encouraging the development of support groups and public education programs to address issues such as Post Traumatic Stress, Military Sexual Trauma, and Veteran homelessness, suicide, and incarceration. The past two decades have shown significant change in the roles of women in the military. They now represent over 22 percent of our military, and it is way past time to properly recognize our female Veterans. Following years of preparation and jumping through all sorts of hoops, MWV is happily entering into a long-awaited lease agreement with the City of Pensacola to begin the restoration of the deteriorated old Amtrak train station for use as a beautiful new Women Veterans Museum, thanks to the generous donations from Everdean Construction Company. The proposed plans include placement of the 30-ft monument on the property across the street from the museum and facing the Bay, making it visible from the new Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Bridge currently in construction. Such an outstanding landmark brings a tremendously favorable economic impact to the community and will honor all women of the US military, past, present, and future.
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PGA HOPE Comes to Pensacola By Connie Conway
PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere)* is the flagship military program of PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. The program introduces golf to Veterans with disabilities, using and teaching a variety of adaptive techniques that allow participants to learn the game, or return to playing it, while also enhancing their physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing. This year’s much-anticipated program, originally scheduled for March, was – as so many eagerly awaited good things were – dashed on the horns of the dilemma we now know as COVID-19. Plans had to be pushed to the side as safety parameters were strictly observed until it could be determined how, where, and when PGA programs could go forward. Finally, this fall, a date of Sept. 18th was set … only to be pushed back to Oct. 2nd. But on that day the program did indeed begin at the Osceola Municipal Golf Course in Pensacola. The Veterans enjoyed six weeks of safely conducted outdoor sessions that ultimately ended in a “scramble” – a tournament format in which each member of the four-player teams hits his or her ball throughout the match. With PGA Golf Pro Buddy Whitten at the instructional helm of the sessions at Osceola Municipal Golf Course, the program
PGA Golf Pro Buddy Whitten (left) is pictured here with Golf Pro Adrian Stills at Pensacola's Osceola Golf Course 34 AHERO MAGAZINE
introduced golfing to a group of new-to-thegame Veterans whose wounds and injuries had compromised their ability to play. Whitten is a Vietnam War Veteran as well as seasoned golfing professional. He well understands many of the challenges that so many of our Vets experience because his own service-related PTSD had weighed heavily on him for years. It was largely by returning to the game he loved that Whitten experienced the lifting of many of his PTS symptoms.
PGA professionals in the HOPE program are trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency. In addition, all programs are funded by PGA REACH and supplemented by PGA Section Foundations, so the cost of programming is free to all Veterans. PGA HOPE has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which enables Recreational Therapists to refer Veterans to the PGA HOPE program as a form of therapy. Through a robust program strategy, PGA HOPE aspires to create a physically and emotionally healthier Veteran community by shaping lives, changing lives, and possibly saving lives through the game of golf. *To watch a video on the impact of this positive program, please go to PGAreach.org
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My Well-Traveled Road to Get Back Home By William E. (Buddy) Whitten
Born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, I lived with my family in a yellow brick house across the street from Osceola Golf Course. However, I spent most summers from age 7 to10 on my grandparents Mississippi farm. Up and out the door by 5 a.m., I watched Grandfather Warren water and feed 200 animals, do other farm chores, then take care of the animals again in the evening. I developed enormous respect for anybody who worked that hard all week, breaking for church on Sunday. Sure, I fished, hunted, and swam, too – but the value of teamwork and of having a good work ethic were lessons I learned on the farm every day. ALONG CAME A GAME Back home in Pensacola, with Osceola right there, it was inevitable I’d discover golf. I learned the game, and the game took over. I could not get enough. Soon I grew away from my grandparents and the farm, becoming as much of a full-time golfer as any teenager could. I put all my efforts into a sport that would become my life’s work. At 13, I could shoot par golf and was winning tournaments. Playing almost every day, and with older, more accomplished players, my desire to get better grew. At Escambia High School, it was harder to make the starting team, but I managed. We won the state high school championship in my junior year. In senior year, I won the Southern Junior and Divot Derby. At 17, however, I found I was “burned out” and stopped playing golf. The one thing I had not done much about was becoming a good student. Attending Pensacola Junior College first, I managed to transfer to a small Mississippi college, improve my grades, and finally to transfer to Southern Mississippi University (SMU). I was back to playing golf again, now with a full-ride scholarship. WHIRLWINDS OF CHANGE Enter the summer of 1967. The Vietnam conflict is raging and I am drafted. I sign up for three years so I can get into special services, believing it would give me a chance to work where there was a golf course. I arrive in country during the 1968 Tet Offensive and – instead of a dream assignment involving golf – find I am living a bad dream.
I go from one day to the next in that dream. Then one day I wake up to someone saying, “You’re going home. Your father has had a major heart attack.” Worried, I go home. My dad fortunately survives and happiness returns: I marry my wife, Julianne, and am assigned to work at a military clinic at Fort Hood, Texas. There, I start early serving sick call, leave by 1 or 2 p.m., play golf with officers. I’m inspired by eventual PGA champions like Orville Moody, who, having left the Army, lives in a nearby town and is already doing PGA tours. 1970 to 72: My life shifts again. I complete a business degree at SMU and Julianne gets her English masters. Upon graduation, we move back to Pensacola and I become an assistant golf professional at Perdido Bay Golf Club while Julie teaches at Escambia High School. Bud Cooper, then head pro at Perdido, allows me to play with a sponsorship on mini tours during 1974. A year later, in another big change, we move up to Michigan, where I become head golf professional at Blythefield Country Club and am able to win state and national championships and compete in the US Open and PGA championships. Wrapping up that particularly great decade is the birth of our son Chris in 1979. That same year, I manage to win The National Club Pro Championship. In 1993, I’m honored to be inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. In 2007, Julie and I moved back to Pensacola to be near our parents as they approached their “golden years.” I taught golf at Pensacola Country Club part time and helped coach the youth-serving organization, First Tee of Northwest Florida, at Osceola Golf Course. Meanwhile, the apple, as they say, hadn’t fallen far from the tree. Our son, Chris, had sworn off the idea of golf as a career. It required too much time away and rarely paid well. But the bug had already bitten. Chris played. He became head golf coach at the University of Michigan for 15 years, and is currently executive director for the Golf Association of Michigan. He and his wife, Dr. Amy Whitten, raised two great sons, Graham and Lucas. Both love golf and most sports involving a ball.
THE COMFORT OF SHARING IN MY VETERAN COMMUNITY In 2012-13, my parents and Julie's died. With that grief and much time on my hands, my mind began flashing back to Vietnam. I found I had pushed the bad stuff that happened to another place. I enjoyed returning periodically to Michigan, but something was missing. Then the PGA HOPE program entered my world. Established by the PGA REACH Foundation, the program teaches golf to Veterans with disabilities. It was as if I had been preparing my whole life for this! I still have to fight my demons when the horror of Vietnam flashes across my mind, but working with the PGA HOPE Veterans keeps me strong. I feel called to do this for you, my brave brothers and sisters in arms, because you have been through so much. This past October 2, we were able to launch our first Pensacola PGA HOPE event at Osceola with a great team formed by AHERO volunteers under that organization’s Golfing4AHERO banner. This coming spring, another course of PGA HOPE sessions with Veterans will take place there. And again, I will thank AHERO, its volunteers, and Osceola Golf Course for allowing me to bring this meaningful program back home to Pensacola … in sight of that yellow brick house across the road.
PGA pro golfer Buddy Whitten patiently weathered a delayed schedule to get PGA HOPE's participating area Veterans on the links AHERO MAGAZINE
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Taking Part In PGA-HOPE By LTC Madeline Bondy, U.S. Army (Ret) I jumped on board (so to speak) for the first time with AHERO as a recent Veteran of 32 years in the Army. Actually, I didn’t quite jump, as my body had suffered much battering in war and any number of surgical attempts to get fixed up. In short, I was still a bit of a wreck. But I participated in the AHERO Warrior Hook-Up Weekend of fishing and fun out on the Gulf anyway. And I greatly surprised myself by following through with what I had dreaded as a self-imposed job of getting out and having a good time in spite of my physical problems. Encouraged and inspired by AHERO’s volunteers (I discovered they are ALL volunteers!), I heard about the Kappa Sigma Perdido Golf Tournament event in support of AHERO, and that there would be other golfing fundraisers. Golf was MY game. I’d played it for years up until I was no longer able to. I began thinking of becoming a volunteer myself to help out as best I could, if needed. ALONG CAME PGA HOPE Turned out, PGA Golf Pro Buddy Witten would be bringing the PGA HOPE program to Pensacola, and that AHERO would spearhead an outreach to area Veterans with PTSD and/ or physical disabilities who could benefit from playing, or re-learning adaptively, the game of golf. Would I consider coming on board (again) to help the effort? OF COURSE I WOULD! I learned that this PGA HOPE program operated under a Memorandum of Agreement with the Veterans Administration and is supported by area organizations in various locations nationwide where it is scheduled to be offered. The program provided coaching by PGA professionals on the adaptive approaches to playing golf. Any Veteran with sight, hearing, PTS, TBI, or physical disabilities who hadn't played for years or had never played but wanted to, could join their peers on the golf course to discover the great benefits this game can offer. LOVING THE GAME FOR THE CHALLENGES IT OFFERS Patience, taking time to figure out how to proceed with your game … Maintaining focus on the overall terrain while staying mindful of the shot at hand … Golf is a game in which having a short- and long-term plan for each 36 AHERO MAGAZINE
shot is key. Obstacles appear: Woods, sand, rough, high grass, water hazards – all seem to be magnets drawing the ball off course. Do I take the time to search for it and hit it from where it lies or do I take the penalty and a drop? Each obstacle cannot be handled the same way. FUNNY HOW THAT’S JUST LIKE LIFE. During friendly rounds where the score doesn't matter (well, one hopes it doesn’t!), the emphasis is on enjoyment, camaraderie, laughter, esprit de corps, enjoying the sunshine, or chilling under an umbrella or golf cart or handy roof to chat while waiting for the deluge to pass leaving soggy grass you can’t wait to slosh around in or drive through after a perfect putt or great drive. I've used golf outings to practice “known distance,” “terrain association,” and problem solving. Outings are opportunities to build, strengthen, or repair your team or to simply revive its spirit. But I've enjoyed silent rounds alone too, when it's just me versus the course. Golf builds patience (or tests it; it’s a relationship between player and rules of the game). And while play is often timed, you learn there is enough time to plan your next shot even when under pressure. FINDING WHAT YOU THOUGHT WAS LOST But what happens when events out of your control take what you love to do and put it in the realm of no, you can’t? When your body (or soul) is in such fierce, all-consuming pain that it exhausts your mental and emotional facilities and severely limits your physical abilities? Do you call it quits on the activity you have loved so much? I knew that many do give up, feeling as defeated as I by their particular limitations. But some, I would learn on a personal level, find another way to "take the shot." I had truly believed the game of golf was lost to me. My war injuries would render my enjoyment of golf purely that of a fan or volunteer helping out at tournaments as I could. While this helped, it didn't fill the joy cup. Heck, just getting to the golf course to volunteer or try swinging a club was often sheer torture. This cut deep into my heart (my "feels"), leading me to question myself: Do I call it quits? Is there another way? Depends on the individual. How strong is her or his motivation? If, as a “battle scarred”
Veteran like me or anyone with hugely challenging physical limitations, you choose that different path, you are likely to learn ways to play your sport. Through AHERO, I learned about the Wounded Warrior Project’s adaptive sports program’s information on tools and equipment that allow even someone unable to stand, or who has limited use of their limbs, to play golf. Specially adapted golf carts as well as prosthetics that assist in holding and swinging the club were available, offering ways to adapt mobility, stance, posture, and swing to put that little golf ball into an effective – winning! – forward motion. Pensacola’s PGA HOPE event further encouraged me to get back out on the course as a player myself. I won’t say it’s all painless ease, but I will say that here I am, a happy golfer again. THE IMPORTANT ROLE THAT AHERO PLAYS Becoming part of the AHERO family helped reverse my dread of a life limited to physical therapy, doctor appointments, and my recliner. Those appointments still have the power to interrupt my volunteering and playing schedules, but I’m learning to roll with that rather than to accept a life with little to no active fun. I’ve also become aware of the many people and organizations that support AHERO’s efforts to help wounded and injured Veterans and their families get back the joy of outdoor experiences. For me, it took stepping past the oddly comfortable excuse of "I can’t" to give what’s possible a chance. AHERO was there to give me a push and help me find a way to amp up my HOPE of getting back to an enjoyable life. A life in which I need never quit working to perfect my game.
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Larry Morgan Leads With A Gift To Help Injured Heroes Heal By SgtMaj Bryan Battaglia, USMC (Ret) I have the extreme privilege to be associated with a local men’s group, many though not all of whom are Veterans. All patriotically support our armed forces. As a USMC Veteran for 36 years who enjoys golf, I was therefore glad to hear that the Glenn Lakes Golf Course men’s group would be donating golfing equipment to a wounded Vet participating in the PGA HOPE program. Golf has provided me with a safe and fun environment to enjoy outdoor recreation. I am still fairly new at the game and am learning the mechanics, strategies, and ins and outs of the sport, but I discovered early on that it was providing substantial therapeutic fulfillment in dealing with wounds received in war. TOOLS FOR RECREATION AS INSTRUMENTS OF THERAPY Besides its competitive athletic nature, golf brings other essential benefits that any Veteran can enjoy and use in maintaining a resilient lifestyle. In addition to honing one’s hand-to-eye coordination, range estimation, marksmanship techniques, teamwork, and coping skills, being immersed in the sportsmanship and integrity of the game is very fulfilling. Executing a decent golf swing, a clean chip shot – even holing a putt – can feel wonderful and builds upon personal success. Of course, at times a bad swing, a lost ball, or a bad bunker shot can challenge those coping skills, self-control and determination to succeed! The game of golf is filled with opportunity and choice. It will deliver a rollercoaster of short-term defeats and long-term successes, and it provides an effective non-medicinal boost to post-traumatic growth. But this outdoor therapy requires equipment. A set of golf clubs can run hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The juice is definitely worth the squeeze, but the cost is often a deterrent for the novice who wants to play. So, when AHERO informed me that they were helping the PGA HOPE program by providing free golf lessons for injured service members and Veterans in its sessions conducted in Pensacola, the men’s group wanted to help. And Larry Morgan, a Marine Veteran, was first in the group to step up.
Now, the guys would tell you that Larry was the first to step up to donate his clubs because he didn’t know how to use them. Kidding aside, as the author, I can tell you that Larry’s got game! LARRY’S STORY Back in 1965, Larry was a sophomore at the University of Alabama. One night he and two fraternity brothers pulled an all-nighter that led them down to the Navy recruiter in Tuscaloosa. “When we arrived, the Navy chief was out and the Marine recruiter invited us to wait,” as Larry told it. “By the time the chief returned, we had signed our enlistment papers to join the Corps.” Larry finished his finals, went home and broke the news to his parents. His dad was extremely unhappy, saying he would get him out of the enlistment. But Larry was determined and prepared to ship out even without Dad’s approval. He elaborated: “A week later my two fraternity brothers and I were on the bus, headed to Parris Island. Our drill instructor asked what I was doing before joining the Corps. I told him. he called me an idiot and said to drop and give him 50 pushups.” Larry became an 0331machine gunner in the 2nd Marine Regiment. In 1966, he sailed aboard APA 213 to the Mediterranean. “We made amphibious assaults around the Med, including North Africa, and Sardinia,” he said. “In January 1967, now a corporal, I became H Company 2d Battalion 6th Marines Chief Company Clerk. I didn’t volunteer for this duty but was told I was the only one who could type 40 words per minute!” Larry worked there until his discharge in June 1967. “I left on a Friday, was back at the university the following Sunday,” he told me. Two years later, marketing degree in hand, he had a very clear, mature direction for the rest of his life. “I attribute this to my two years in the Corps. Fortunately, the three of us who joined together returned to finish our education.” As a civilian, Larry joined a national pharmaceutical company as a sales and hospital representative. “After ten years with
them, I was recruited to a larger company and went into management,” he recalled. He travelled several times, from Seattle to Honolulu. “I attribute my success to my Marine Corps experience,” he said. “The Corps made me believe no challenge was too difficult to overcome. For example, as a manager I visited a chain pharmacy home office with my representative. The buyer told my rep to sit down and proceeded to chew me and my company out. She stopped to take a breath and said, ‘I'll bet you have never been chewed out like that before.’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am, I was at Parris Island.’ She laughed and said, ‘Sit down. You’re all right, Marine!’ We went on to have a mutually very profitable relationship. Marine training served me well.” Larry loves the game of golf and how it can help people. “I am blessed to be a Marine and look forward to helping those warriors who have served and sacrificed for our country,” he said. He donated a set of close to new golf clubs and bag to AHERO for an injured Veteran who wishes to pursue the game of golf. Others in the group have now donated more golf equipment so that more AHERO warriors won’t worry about equipment expense and instead focus on this sport that offers so much!
Cpl. Larry Morgan, USMC Veteran AHERO MAGAZINE
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Titan FC COO McMahon Steps Inside The Cage In Support Of AHERO By Connie Conway
The Titan FC Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotional championship has been AHERO’s philanthropic partner for approximately seven years. Titan FC Chief Operating Officer Lex McMahon has supported AHERO’s mission personally since the organization’s beginnings in 2009 as a volunteer-run 501 (c) 3 whose mission is to combat the tragically high incidence of suicide among U.S. military Veterans and active service members. McMahon, 49, served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1990s – including in two deployments on the battlegrounds of Mogadishu, Somalia, in the early part of the decade. Now he was set to bring even more attention to AHERO’s mission by doing as he always does: leading by example. He would raise funds for that mission in a big way by stepping inside the cage himself as an MMA competitor. IN IT FOR AHERO He had the goal of a high roller with confidence. “I’m gonna donate my entire fight purse, my sponsorship money,” he vowed. He was shooting, he said, “to raise up to $50,000 for AHERO.” Whether he won or went down, he had every intention of meeting that goal. The Titan FC Promotion has hosted thousands of service members and Veterans at live events over the years. But here was something he could sink his teeth (fists?) into for AHERO. Also, aside from the fundraising aspect, he wanted to accomplish a personal goal. McMahon knew people were asking, “Why does the old man want to get his ass whooped?” He had an answer for them. “For 12 years, I’ve been asking Titan FC fighters to go in and fight so my partner and I can make money,” he said. “It’s a bit inauthentic and disingenuous to not to do this myself.” Now he would go through all the work, pain, and suffering that they do as he trained for it in “the cage.” 38 AHERO MAGAZINE
“SEMPER GUMBY” In order to prepare for the upcoming test, McMahon spent time living at Kirby Cadell’s Old Town Creek Farm in Hardaway, Alabama. There, he trained with notable mixed martial arts competitors including Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, Charles Rosa, Walt Harris, Jose “Shorty” Torres, Mohammed Usman, and others. McMahon, a South Florida native, had signed the contract pairing him against 23-fight-veteran Justin Thornton in the Fighting Force 4 Titan FC 64. But with COVID-19 restrictions in place in Florida, this heavyweight bout would have to take place in the Dominican Republic as the headline fight, with Fighting Force 4 streaming the event on UFC Fight Pass. It was a temporary adjustment, McMahon indicated in an interview. “As Marines, we learned to always be flexible. Semper Gumby, we called it,” he added, with characteristic humor. TAKING THE ODDS When AHERO Founder, USMC Major Lee Stuckey, initially learned of McMahon’s intention to not only fight, but to donate his full purse to AHERO and its mission, he was both moved and impressed. “We’re humbled and grateful that our brother Lex McMahon is stepping up and stepping into the Octagon to support our troops in AHERO’s fight against Veteran suicide,” Stuckey said, graciously not mentioning the forbidding odds the more “mature” contender faced in achieving a win in that cage. Still, if anyone expected McMahon to back out of his commitment, they’d just have to be disappointed. On November 21, 2020, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Fighting Force 4 streamed the big event live on UFC Fight Pass – with seasoned heavyweight fighter Justin Thornton set to meet new heavyweight challenger Lex McMahon in the cage.
A hero fighting 4AHERO
“What did you feel, just before stepping inside,” interviewer Mike Heck Jr. asked McMahon later. “Complete loneliness,” McMahon said. “It brought me back to reality. I’d been on this journey with this whole tribe of people [training and supporting me]. I thought: Have I bit off more than I can chew? That was a lonely few minutes.” ANOTHER MINUTE. MINUS ONE SECOND. But he was prepared. “I came out knowing he’d throw that big overhand right he has,” he explained. “So I was setting up my strikes from there. He didn’t charge out, and that set me up with good momentum. But then I threw perhaps the laziest jab I’ve ever thrown. And as soon as I did that, he fired back with that overhand right. He caught me. I stumbled, so I couldn’t throw the inside leg kick.” McMahon was already struggling. He put his hand back, feeling for the cage. As soon as he did, he remembers:
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate “I fired right away. We got into that quick exchange, that firefight in the 50-50, which was where I did not want to be. I knew I had power – probably maybe more than he did. But in a heavyweight fight, you know, anything can happen with those gloves ... ” At that point, he started doing what he had drilled a lot for, in training. “I got a really solid frame, getting the underhook. Controlling the head while I was punching. I knew I had him. Even though there was a firefight going on, I was beginning to take control. Then I threw an overhand right that caught him. As soon as that happened, he didn’t hit me again. There was an exchange with a couple of knees that he got me with before that, but then I threw eight rights and then a left and he went down. I jumped on his back. That, no one – least of all me – expected to happen, not only hitting him but chocking him out.” “Was there a moment when it just started to click for you?” Heck wanted to know. “Like, ‘We’ve turned the corner here'?’” “I was already gassed,” McMahon said. “I had worked really hard with people that worked really hard.” Prior to the fight he had made videos while training, and they were tough by design. “I wanted to show the honesty of what fighters go through,” he explained. But then he saw a review of one of those videos, with the reviewer saying, “He [McMahon] doesn’t keep his hands up. I don’t think he has a future.” McMahon said he read that and thought, “Hey, I’m 49, dude! I’ve already said this was gonna be a one-and-done thing. What are you thinking?” “Did it feel like 59 seconds or like 30 minutes?” Heck wondered, about the fight. The Titan FC COO’s answer was honest. “I had no idea. I was just glad it didn’t go longer than that!” Asked if he considered the event a success in terms of his winnings, McMahon said yes, that they were already looking at close to $40,000, with more checks coming in. “And every one of those dollars is going to help AHERO with its programming to help save Veterans lives,” the new fight champion concluded.
"I want a fair fight, ok?”
McMahon's got him!
The Champ AHERO MAGAZINE
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ALL IN 4AHERO
t t me, it was always abou “My fight was never abou rney d sister veterans. This jou ser vice to my brother an raised t I hoped it would be. We has been everything tha and awareness about PTSD a tremendous amount of llars to tens of thousands of do veteran suicide as well as stopping lp support their vision of donate to AHERO to he on top.” tor y was just the cherr y veteran suicide. The vic
~ Lex McMahon
Lex spars In the ring at Kirby Cadell’s
Takin' the punches to train!
Opposite page: UFC Fighters at Kirby Cadell’s (not in order): Charles “Boston Strong” Rosa; Mohammed “The Motor” Usman; Jose “Shorty” Torres; Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson; Corey “Chef” Hall; McLovin; Wassim Mazloum; Uly “The Monster” Diaz; Rami “The Russian” Hamed; Lex McMahon; Ray Thompson; Maj Lee Stuckey, USMC; and MAJ Daniel Rich, USAF. 40 AHERO MAGAZINE
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WINTER 2020/21 41
ALL IN 4AHERO
AHERO Warrior Hook-Up Weekend, 2020-Style By Jeremy Clarke
So I concede I had absolutely no idea where to start as I took on writing a review of this year’s AHERO Warrior Hook-Up Weekend. And it wasn’t exactly “writer’s block” that made me hesitate. I am a British transplant-New York boy who never signed up to serve in the U.S. military. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of New Yorkers have signed up over the centuries, and I’ve had a very short spell in the UK military. But when I was asked to attend and write what I saw, I knew I’d be dipping my toes in unfamiliar waters. I was right. Because what I witnessed in those four days astonished, impressed, and moved me to tears. It literally was mind altering. I’ve had the privilege of sharing an office with AHERO board member Dave Glassman for a few months and knew that many Veterans would be attending the highly anticipated event. Some would show very visible battle scars and losses; some would carry scars far less obvious. Many who came would have both. The AHERO event planners are firm proponents of the British Army’s “7 P’s”: Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. But this celebration very nearly didn’t happen. When COVID–19 threatened to derail it, there was much frustration as various things conspired against the AHERO team. Social distancing, venue cancellations, available funding, location changes – by now, we’ve all learned this drill. Here’s the thing about the spirit of the United States military: Giving up is not really in the vocab. Obstacles are things to overcome through planning, teamwork, persistence, and sheer grit. For the previous eight years, the Warrior Hook-Up has given hundreds of active duty service members and Veterans the adrenalin pump of being on fully geared-up boats 42 AHERO MAGAZINE
The 9th Annual AHERO Warrior Hook-Up
(l-r) Capt. Andy Arnold, Shawn York, Pfc Darrell Bost, US. Army (Ret), AHERO volunteer Dave Glassman, Cpl Stephan Bush, USMC (Ret), Kolby Odom, Capt. Doug Pacitti, GySgt Thomas "Zac" Stevens, USMC (Ret)
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(l-r) Dave Riley with Capt. Jimmy Mann
skippered by experienced captains and crews bringing them out to deep water to wrestle and land big fish. But COVID restrictions threatened to interrupt the annual tradition. Another plan had to be devised to ensure the therapeutic, often suicide-preventing program was not cancelled.
WATCHING THE MIRACLE GET MADE I accompany the AHERO planning team out to Southwind Marina in Pensacola, to see if it would be the right venue and to ask if the owner, Bill Woolfin, would host the fishing event.
Woolfin asks about AHEROâ€™s mission, what drives it. A few minutes of hearing an impassioned detailing of the organizationâ€™s efforts to combat Veteran suicide, Woolfin motions for his general manager, Jeanette Jezernic-Prince, to come over. He whispers AHERO MAGAZINE
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ALL IN 4AHERO something to her, and she disappears returning a short while later. Woolfin then says, “I’ve heard enough. I’d be delighted to host the Warrior Hook-Up at the Southwind Marina.” Jeanette then hands over a big fat check. Taken together – the donation for the cause, the promised hosting by Southwind – this is a blessed return on casting their hopes “upon the waters” for the Warrior Hook-Up Weekend planners. The fact is, Woolfin is among many extraordinary patriots over the years who, upon being asked, immediately opened their hearts, businesses, and wallets to support our Veterans. Now, a grateful AHERO team member shakes his hand. Clearly, he is deeply moved by the man’s great generosity. Woolfin responds with a hug. A man whose acquaintance was made for the first time about eight minutes ago. The boat captains and owners to thank are many. They gave of their time, skill, experience and good humor – not to mention their boats! – to orchestrate this powerful day of bonding for our Vets aboard those vessels. They are: Doug Pacitti, Tim O’Brien, Al Bednar, Andy Arnold, George Hirst, Joe Hodge, Jason Perry, as well as Buddy Rogers of Reel Easy Charters for providing the sunset cruise for participating Veterans the night before the Gulf of Mexico fishing event. Great thanks, as well, to the retired military and active-service members and other participating civic organizations who more than rose to the occasion. And to AHERO’s cadre of thoroughly dedicated volunteers. All of them made everything run on time, with nothing left to fall between the cracks. They include caring people like Dave Glover, Ken and Colby Odom, Andrew “Tiny” Mercer, Sandy Milburn and Terry Szombathelyi (aka, Terry “Notz”). My sole regret is that I didn’t get to personally meet everyone. WARRIOR HOOK-UP WEEKEND, DAY-BY-DAY Thursday: The weekend starts. After the guest Veterans have arrived or have been picked up at the airport, there’s a rally at Peg Leg Pete’s pier, Pensacola Beach, at 1715. I’m on the Reel Easy, owner Capt. Buddy Rogers at the helm and Brandon Carey on deck. Rogers deftly eases us out of the marina, into intercoastal waters. He guns it. Twin turbocharged diesel Cummings unleash 860 horsepower and the huge craft rockets forward. He eases off, spotting dolphins. The boat edges gently forward and we’re greeted by three dolphins. To those aboard who are used to seeing them, that’ll be a shrug and a “meh.” To me, it’s a serious “wow!” 44 AHERO MAGAZINE
After a great day on the water, fisher-folk (l-r) Shawn Smith, Jason Perry, son Bo Perry, COL Sean Hollonbeck, U.S. Army (RET) and daughter Olivia Hollonbeck show off what soon will be "dinner from the deep”!
We head west toward the Pensacola Pass and the Southwind Marina, witnessing a classic Gulf sunset. AHERO’s enjoyable “Welcome aboard!” festivities at the Marina follow, tempered by a serious but necessary safety session to ensure a great deep-sea fishing experience tomorrow. Jessica Dyer’s Food truck stands nearby, ready with great tacos for satisfying sea-air inspired appetites. Finally, we’re aboard the Reel Easy again and back to Peg Leg’s pier. From there, the Vets head back to the hotel to bed down. Launch will be early tomorrow into what I hear will be exciting, if exhausting hours of hooking and wrestling some big fish into the boat. Friday: Early start at the Southwind. My job is coffee, so I arrive at 0500 with a couple of gallons of quite good Circle K medium roast. Soon 100 bagels and 100 packs of cream cheese from Bagelheads, as well as the coffee, await the troops. At the hotel, Veterans are gradually coming down to the lobby, awaiting transportation to the Southwind Marina. But on my drive this morning, the sky looked dark
and ominous. Would the captains agree to go out fishing? The event organizers say it’s up to each individual boat owner to decide if and when they go out. At the Southwind Marina the captains are asked to make the weather call. One by one they give the thumbs up. “Hell, yeah!” Captain Doug Pacitti, charter captain and boat coordinator for the event, calls out. Just then, the dark clouds start to disappear and within a half hour, the sky is cloudless. THAT can only happen in Florida! Capt. Doug scrambles to make adjustments for last-moment changes and a few Vets and boats who are no-shows due to the earlier threatening weather. He gets the manifest finalized. Soon the boats are cruising out to deep blue water for an awesome day of deepsea fishing, American flags blowin’ in the wind. And the fishin’ is good! By 1500, a few boats are already heading back to Southwind, sunburned faces grinning wide as the Vets each hold their catch aloft with whoops and ‘Oorahs’!
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The captain and crew of the A-Squared "say it with fish." AHERO likes it! Standing (r-l): 1stLt Will Young, USMC; Capt. Andy Arnold; Shawn York; Capt Craig "SWOT" Nygaard, USMC. Kneeling (r-l) Pfc Darrell Bost U.S. Army (Ret); GySgt Thomas "Zac" Stevens, USMC; and Cpl Stephan Bush, USMC (Ret).
Now the volunteer fish cleaners, led by Jonathan LaFountaine of Galati Yachts and Capt. Doug dive into the catch that include some of the largest Amberjack of the season, not to mention snapper and redfish and mahi. The Catch of the Day will go to Dave Glover, US ARMY (Ret) and AHERO’s hardest working Warrior Hook-Up volunteer this year. Glover landed a 57-pound amberjack. We expect a great feast tomorrow night, because of the full catch – many of the fish weighing in at more than 30 lbs! I watch guys and gals disembarking the boats to head over to Mike & Trish Droogsma’s amazing Cajun catering for a delicious postfishing meal. They’re already telling their stories. I think to myself, funny how the fish caught are really only a side effect. Because what proves the purpose of the Warrior Hook-Up are the many Vets I see who have been out on a mission as a team to have a fabulous day, start friendships, and share talks perhaps reminiscent of some they had with good buddies while serving. That’s the AHERO miracle-making at work. Saturday morning: I arrive at the Surf and Sand hotel. My directions are to “ensure no
soldier is left behind for transport to American Legion Post 240.” We’ll be wheels up at 1100. I spot the largerthan-life figure of Dave Riley sneaking out for a smoke. Before I can get words out, the former Coast Guard swimmer with 20 years of saving lives in the ocean beats me to it: “Wanna ride with me?” Riley, I will soon learn, is a former chairman of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization, a true mensch, and a famously good-humored fellow. He also happens to be a quad amputee – something you forget after a couple of minutes as Riley’s energy and enthusiasm make you realize this is no “disabled” man. This is a charismatic, courageous, and massively capable man and the guy with four prostheses who is going to drive me to the Post. I am awestruck. We join the convoy of cars and motorcycles going over the three-mile bridge. But something slows us – one of the riders has an issue with his bike. Immediately, two or three other riders circle back and shield him from oncoming traffic. He gets it going. No one is left behind.
Turns out, the 240 is a private club, impressive and a little intimidating at first but then there’s a sense of generosity and inclusion. It’s no surprise we came here. It’s a good time for one and all. Saturday Evening: Maybe a culmination of the weekend (it’s hard to choose just one high point) is the Testimonial Dinner at the Pensacola Beach Elk’s Club, Lodge 497. We feast on the previous day’s catch expertly prepared by Culinary Productions of Pensacola’s Chef Mike DeSorbo, and the delicious side-dishes prepared by Aloha Grill of Gulf Breeze. Both enterprises have made a tradition of gifting AHERO and its guest Veterans with their services at this annual Warrior Hook-Up dinner. Replete with excellent and nourishing food, the Veterans take the opportunity to connect with their new-found friends and demonstrate their appreciation of a community that cares and wants to make a difference. THEIR TESTIMONY This is when the telling commences: Standing, those prepared to offer their stories tonight are themselves testimonials to the warrior spirit, the duress under which it AHERO MAGAZINE
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ALL IN 4AHERO struggles to survive, the good fortune it finds in this shared friendship and love. There is Iraq War Veteran Clifton Trotter, (sergeant, USMC). His bravery in picking up a grenade lobbed at his unit back in 2005 and hurling it away is obvious. But taking a .375 bullet in the throat just as he tried to yell, “Move!” to his men is a shocker. Nothing came out. Because a .375 in your throat will do that. What happened afterward to Trotter, though, hit me hardest. Recovery had been slow and grueling, he said. One day he loaded his Colt and was about to eat it when his 4-year old daughter walked in. That stopped him. It takes courage to turn away from ending your endless, terrible pain for the sake of another. Trotter’s courage to openly share his story to help others mirrors his brave soul. Read more about him in the new Special Shout Out column this magazine is introducing in this issue’s first section, “Building Toward The Future.” Others told of similar crisis moments, all of them related to combat or other areas of military service. AHERO Founder Lee Stuckey’s brush with giving up, for example, when – just as his weapon was aimed, his finger ready on the trigger – his close-by cell phone rang showing his mom’s number. Her call saved him. Then Dave Riley’s harrowing experiencing of losing all four limbs after contracting a rare bacterial infection. Riley’s dark days were so severe, only the loving support of his wife and family and the help of the DAV organization gave him the strength to leave the darkness behind. There was Dustin Tuller, who told of having his legs repeatedly shot to the point of requiring amputation, their loss driving his slow slog to drinking himself to near death. How one night he lost consciousness so utterly that he needed to be put on machine to be revived. How the woman who came into his life at that time showed him the path of love to follow back into life.
Vietnam War 3-tour U.S. Army Infantry Veteran Richard Donnelly and daughter, U.S. Army Veteran Kathy Donnelly Fredenburg
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Congratulations, Dave Glover! That's some BIG amberjack!
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate When you initially meet these amazing people, you have no clue what hell they have endured or the level of courage they found to fight through pain. Or how they ultimately managed to focus on helping others, as these three men continue to do. They are heroes, all, folks. And I am more inspired and buoyed by them than I’ve been by anyone in a long time. AN ENDING RICH IN SPIRIT AND COMMUNION Sunday. We gather to start at Flounders restaurant, home to the “beach church.” I’m not a church goer. I’m not a Christian. But even as a Jew with zero military experience whose idea of pastors is clearly not well informed, this morning I am fully engaged. Actually, I’m teary-eyed. For here are Chaplain Chris Rusack and his identical twin, Chaplain Kevin Rusack, also a military man, “co-delivering” a sermon
in a Pensacola Beach restaurant … and it’s pummeling me. Rusack’s impressive military record is noted in a bio of him on these pages, so you’ll see it’s extensive and still ongoing. I had thought I would hurl questions at him, like, “How come you were a trigger puller and now you’re a heart-strings puller?” Instead, I listened to him. He didn’t say “I know what you’re going through” to the Vets who still suffer. He didn’t, because he’s felt, seen and worked through seven tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s there for his guys, at their side in combat, kneeling with them in prayer – there with comfort through sorrow and pain. Here, he even unloads some of his own stuff with naked openness and trust. Sunday afternoon: We separate and leave for home, contact information shared, memories forever good as made.
MY TAKEAWAYS The issues surrounding Veteran suicides are deeply complex. One part of the prevention process is incredibly effective, though, according to both Stuckey and Glassman. And it’s simple: You get together. You do stuff outdoors. You talk. You connect. You identify real problems and develop real solutions. On the way, you make great friends. I learned this from these heroes who carry great burdens. And from GnySgt Thomas “Zac” Stevens, USMC, who summed it up succinctly. “There’s only one kinda buddy I want,” he said. “One I can call at 3 am.” True that.
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AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate
Army Chaplain Chris Rusack Welcomed Again To AHERO Warrior Hook-Up, 2020 By Dave Glassman
The AHERO volunteers and Veterans were excited to see Army Chaplain Chris Rusack (Major–Lieutenant Colonel Select) at this August’s Warrior Hook-Up. Most had met him at 2019’s event, during which he spoke at the Hook-Up’s traditional “Fish Dinner.” This is a special dinner consisting of fabulously prepared fresh fish caught by attending Veterans who had fished from boats provided by our community’s generous boat-owners. Chaplain Rusack had recently returned from yet another deployment in Afghanistan. While there, he gave daily support to our soldiers in the field, providing them with the comfort of faith and prayer.
His enlistment in the US Army Infantry began in January 1988. He served with the 1-30th and 2-15th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany, and with the 3-15th Infantry, 24th Infantry Division, at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where he deployed from August 1990 to May 1991 to Operation Desert Shield/Storm, eventually transitioning to the National Guard for five years, serving with various Infantry units. During a hiatus in military service, Chaplain Rusack earned his Bachelor of Theology from Beacon University in Columbus, Ga., and his Master of Divinity from Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. He was ordained in 1995, served as pastor in Upstate New York and North Georgia churches, and is endorsed by the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches International. He has also owned and operated a contracting company in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In January 2005, Chaplain Rusack re-entered active duty and, upon completion of his officer training, was assigned as a Battalion Chaplain to the Infantry Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Georgia. An impressive array of follow-on assignments put him into action. Among others, these included eight operational unit assignments as a Battalion, Brigade, and Group Chaplain (five with the
101st Airborne Division, two with the US Army Special Forces - 1st and 5th Group, and one with the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade). RECOGNITION WELL MERITED The chaplain’s military service awards and decorations include:
• Two Bronze Star Medals • Purple Heart Medal • Meritorious Service Medal with Gold Star in lieu of 5th award • Army Commendation Medal with Gold Star in lieu of 6th award • Army Achievement Medal with Gold Star in lieu of 7th award • Numerous other deployments and service-related awards His deep faith, love of country and extensive military education clearly contributed to the already strong character of this remarkable man. Cited for his service and valor by the above and myriad other badges and awards both American and foreign, Chaplain Rusack’s service on behalf of all of us will continue to be honored by AHERO. We wish him well!
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Kappa Sigma’s 3rd Annual Golfing4AHERO Tournament Is A Big Success! By Hunter Labbie, president West Florida Kappa Sigma Fraternity
The brothers of West Florida Kappa Sigma worked hard at organizing their 3rd Annual Golfing4AHERO Tournament this year, achieving results that exceeded all expectations for a tournament still in its “baby” stage. Due to the amazing help of individuals and businesses that wanted to support AHERO, we were able to create an experience that everyone in attendance will surely never forget. The first big surprise was that we were able to max out the amount of teams permitted to play at the golf course. We fielded no less than 30 teams which netted out to 120 golfers – quite an increase from the mere 32 golfers in our year one and 80 in year two!
Folks came from all over to support the cause – AND to watch a great tournament! 50 AHERO MAGAZINE
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Roughly 80 percent of the participants were Veterans representing every branch of our great United States military. Some had come all the way from the great states of Maryland, Mississippi, and Texas to be a part of what to us proved to be an historic moment. Another special success: We had our first team of allwomen golfers in the foursome of Veterans LTC Madeline “Mads” Bondy, U.S. Army; COL Gilda Jackson, USMC; Chief Master Sergeant Mary Drawhorn, USAF; and Dr. Ana Rodriguez. The tournament shattered its own fundraising goals by raising, after expenses, $11,000 for AHERO! In addition, the event became an opportunity to forge new relationships for AHERO with people and companies such as Gregory Valloch from our gold sponsor Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream; Alan Ryals from RFG Advisory; representatives from Academy Sports and Outdoors; and a Veteran who created custom sets of golf clubs for our tournament and for our wounded heroes. Paul Slavin from our hosting course, Perdido Bay Golf Club, instructed us on how to integrate aspects of some of the most successful area golf tournaments into our own event. The West-Florida Kappa Sigma Fraternity has made it its mission to ensure that its annual golf tournament grows in every aspect to ultimately become the area’s most soughtafter tournament. We love AHERO and we love the Veterans AHERO serves. With such a strong core of supporters united for one cause, there is no doubt in my mind that this golfing event will reach even greater heights in the years to come!
The Tournament's first all-women foursome (l-r) COL Gilda Jackson, USMC, Dr. Ana E. Leurinda Rodriguez, Chief Master Sgt. Mary Drawhorn, USAF, and COL Madeline Bondy, US Army
Foursome (l-r), David Stubblefield, Tom Armstrong, Dave Riley, Derek Park
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Veterans Memorial Park CleanUp By Stacey Paden
Saturday morning, Oct. 17, 2020: A group of people – volunteers all – from NAS Pensacola, Navy Federal Credit Union, the Milton JROTC cadets, and several other small groups came together to clean Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola to prepare for Veterans Day 2020 and dedication of the eagerly awaited Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. The weather was perfect (even for this autoimmune-pain-suffering mom), with temps starting in the low 50s and rising to upper 60s and low 70s. It’s as if God handed us a gold laced day to bless the efforts of those serving. I’ve been to Veterans Memorial Park/Admiral Mason Park hundreds of times, but this time it was viewed through a “different lens.” I didn’t expect to experience the tug of emotion that I did as I photographed the men and women – and kids! – who came to clean up the Park and to help honor those who have served and continue to serve our great country. I took over a thousand pictures that day. While photographing, I met some amazing individuals, including retired military personnel that are still giving and serving their country and community, just in new ways.
Briefing new clean-up team Milton JROTC volunteers
MY LIFE IS FOREVER CHANGED It was the first picture that took my breath away … Volunteers were oiling the statues. This particular volunteer was oiling the foot of a child being carried out of harm’s way by a service member. I choked back tears. ~ Stacey
Young Rex Moat spiffs up the Bench
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The vigilant Blue Star Memorial watches over the preparations to celebrate the Veterans.
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A scene of battle-worn grace receives care
PHOTOS BY STACEY PADEN
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Pensacola’s AWKO Law Firm: Working To Redress The Price Our Veterans Paid By LtCol Andrew DelGaudio, USMC (Ret)
Pensacola law firm Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz (AWKO) provided enormous fundraising support to bring the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument to Veterans Memorial Park. Pictured here at the Park are AWKO employees presenting a check for their $32,950 donation to Gold Star Family members. In the front row, l-r, are Terry Nock, Donna Law, Sean Hollonbeck, Jordan Sibley, Suzi Fernandez, Justin Wikin, Doug Kreisjpeg. In the back row, l-r, are Stan Barnard, Neil Overholtz, Bryan Alystock, Andrew Del Gaudio, Tim Spears, and Dave Glassman. Photo: Rick Schamberger
Ask a Veteran what he or she missed most after leaving military service and you are likely to hear something like this: “I miss serving alongside my buddies … and the pride I always felt being out there, doing whatever my country needed.” That sense of purpose and dedication is why they did their jobs so well and why, once they are no longer in the service, many actually mourn bearing the heavy responsibility implicit in their mission to stop those who wish to harm this nation.
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For a lucky band of 26 former service members who work for the law firm of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz (AWKO) in Pensacola, Florida, both the need for purpose and the fight for fellow Veterans are renewed daily as each member brings that “gung ho!” spirit to the task at hand (“gung ho!” is an expression meaning “work together” in translation).
The work here at AWKO is professional in substance and style, certainly. But it is wonderfully personal, too, as so many of the clients the firm represents are known to their fellow Veterans from their time together in uniform. Many of those working for AWKO are also involved in the local Veteran community, providing leadership within the Military Order of the Purple Heart and contributing as mentors for the 1st Judicial Circuit of Florida’s “Vet Court.”
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Each of us is very aware that being a Veteran is not a title. It is a way of life that involves leading by example and putting service before self – here illustrated by the complicated work being done at AWKO on two specific militaryrelated cases: the 3M Combat Earplugs litigation and the Anti-Terrorism litigation. In these, our Veterans team breaks down the confusing language of military documents and “speaks the language” of the client who has seen action much the same as they have. AWKO always seeks dedicated employees to get the job done; thus it follows that the firm’s partners would look to these particular individuals to provide leadership, organization, and the excellent work ethic they command by virtue of their years of dedicated service. HEROES LEAD OUR HEROIC, ALL-HANDS-ON-DECK TEAM Our firm values its hard chargers, who are in the fight daily. Human Resources is led by Donna M. Law, who served six years in the U.S. Army with the 82nd Airborne Division as an intelligence specialist. During her service, Law conducted serveral humanitarian operations in Central and South America. Working on the Combat Ear Plugs case is COL Sean Hollonbeck, U.S. Army (Ret). COL Hollonbeck’s military career spanned 31 years of service, first as an Army infantryman, then as an Army physician who supported Special Forces units in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as a battalion surgeon and a flight surgeon. SGM Herbert B. Hale, U.S. Army (Ret), served 33 years as an infantryman and earned the Combat Infantry Badge. SGM Hale served in combat during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as well as through three combat deployments to Iraq, in Baghdad, Mosul, and Tikrit. Working alongside SGM Hale is Dustin P. Turner, an Escambia County High School graduate who, as a Marine, had deployed to Haiti to conduct disaster relief operations. Turner served tours in Western Anbar Province Iraq and Southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He received a Combat Action Ribbon before returning to civilian life. WEARING THE PURPLE HEART My own experience as a career U.S. Marine Infantry officer with six combat tours in Iraq has served well my leadership role in working with this extraordinary team of seasoned military Veterans. Daily, we at AWKO
staunchly pursue justice for our wounded and injured brothers and sisters in arms. We do so by focusing closely on all details of each individual story and the injuries involved. The Purple Heart that I wear for wounds I sustained during my second combat tour in Iraq reminds me of how suffering the trauma of war can carry lifelong complications for our warriors. I wear the Purple Heart for those who will never wear it, our fallen, because I was given a second chance at life. But so many have suffered trauma that has not been recognized. Here at AWKO, we are working hard to remedy that. I am assisted by Michael Wells, who served in the U.S. Army as a Chemical Corps officer in Operation Inherent Resolve. Wells is the case manager for our AntiTerrorism case. ANOTHER WAY OF SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED US ALL The individuals I have cited are just a few among the extensive staff of Veterans working on our military cases at AWKO. In the nationwide 3M Combat Ear Plugs case, AWKO was designated lead counsel by Judge M. Casey Rodgers after close review of 190 applications from other attorneys for the leadership role in litigating the complex case. Mr. Byran Aylstock, one of our firm’s founding partners stated, “I’m honored to be appointed to this position and have the responsibility of representing the many service men and women who have fought for our country. The firm has been working for months to evaluate the claims of thousands of service members who have suffered from hearing loss and tinnitus, and we’re excited for the opportunity to fight for them.” The earplugs in question were widely used by all branches of service from 2003 to 2015. AWKO currently represents over 13,000 clients from all branches of U.S. military service ranging from active duty to Reserve/ National Guard, to retired/seperated service members. Among the commonly asked questions we hear are two of key importance. “Does my VA rating for hearing matter?” and “is this a class-action lawsuit?” The answer to both is a resounding “No.” If you used the product and suffered documented hearing loss, chances are strong that you will qualify for this case.
TARGET: THE GRIM AFTERMATH OF BATTLING TERRORISM A different sort of case, the Anti-Terrorism or War on Terror Combat Litigation represents our Gold Star Families and severely disabled Purple Heart Veterans injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by state-sponsored terrorism during the period of 2003 to 2011. Since its inception in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has sought to fulfill a military campaign against the West using terrorism as its primary technique of engagement to avoid direct military conflict with the United States. From the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in October of 1983, to the arming of terrorist groups across the Middle East and Central Asia, Iran has laundered money in no less than nine international financial institutions. This money has been used to finance and facilitate their proxy war against the United States. In 2016, a Special Master was appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice to husband the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, from which claims are paid. To date, the fund has paid over $2.1 billion to our represented Gold Star Families and disabled Veterans. Receiving recompense for dying in combat or suffering damage to body and mind is critically important. If you think you may have a potential claim in this regard, or you know of a Gold Star Family or fellow Veteran who might have one, please reach out to AWKO Law.
LEARN MORE AT AWKOLAW.COM OR CALL (850) 202-1010 FOR A CASE EVALUATION AT NO CHARGE.
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Songwriting Team Matt Kopcsak & Rusty Tabor Give AHERO Its Signature Song Two wheels and a tank of gas Open road going nowhere fast Heading somewhere sight unseen, But I’ve been there before. All my brothers that had my back From my time in basic thru live combat Still got my six, our bike’s our fix ‘Cause some of us are still at war. (WE’RE RIDING 4AHERO) WHERE THERE’S AN INTERSTATE OR AN OLD TWO-LANE WHERE WE CAN COME TOGETHER WE’LL BE ROLLING STRONG AN UNBREAKABLE BOND IN BROTHERHOOD TOGETHER 22 A DAY IS 22 TOO MANY SO WHEN WE NEED TO HIT THE ROAD AND LET THE COOL WIND SOOTHE OUR SOUL WE’RE RIDING 4 AHERO!!! We stand tall we salute the Flag We’ve been thru Hell and we made it back So when the clutch lets out, pipes scream and shout Bring on the chrome, bring on the pack! WE’RE RIDING 4 AHERO WHERE THERE’S AN INTERSTATE OR AN OLD TWO-LANE WHERE WE CAN COME TOGETHER WE’LL BE ROLLING STRONG AN UNBREAKABLE BOND IN BROTHERHOOD TOGETHER 22 A DAY IS 22 TOO MANY SO WHEN WE NEED TO HIT THE ROAD AND LET THE COOL WIND SOOTHE OUR SOUL WE’RE RIDING 4 AHERO!!!
“RIDIN’4AHERO” Music and Lyrics © 2020 by Matt Kopcsak & Rusty Tabor
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Veteran, dedicated motorcyclist Matt Kopcsak and recording artist and singer-songwriter Rusty Tabor collaborated on writing a song for AHERO. In spirit and tone, the song is an anthem to freedom and love of the open road even as its refrain mourns the “22 a day” statistic of military suicides.
Matt Kopcsak, who co-wrote the song “Ridin’ 4HERO” with Rusty Tabor, served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer and demolitions and reconnaissance team leader with expertise in IED detection, route reconnaissance, and convoy escorting. Deployed to the Republic of Korea and then to Iraq, he survived multiple IED strikes, close-quarter-combat knife wounds, and shrapnel wounds. He left the Army in 2004, spending 10-plus years recovering in a wheelchair. Multiple surgeries in 2016 gave Matt back his mobility. The last few years of his recovery were spent aiding fellow Veterans in their recovery and finally being able to experience the freedom of the open road riding his motorcycle with his buddies, which he continues to enjoy. Matt has always attributed his success in recovery to AHERO and the steady strength of his wife, Kimberly. When the couple suffered the loss of their youngest beloved son, two-year-old Silas James, in a tragic drowning accident on March 16th of this year, they were devastated. But as parents of a close-knit family, they and their five surviving children continue to draw on that strength to support one another through the sorrow of this tremendous loss.
Kentucky born singer/songwriter Rusty Tabor began performing on stage at age 14. After a short-lived college football career, he moved to Nashville in 1998 to chase yet another dream: signing a record deal. His first year in Nashville landed Rusty his first publishing deal with Skidaddy Music. Then Billy Ray Cyrus took a liking to Rusty’s songwriting style, recording two of his songs, “Back to Memphis,” a single off Cyrus’ TIME FLIES album; and, shortly after that, “Wouldn’t You Do This For Me” on his “Other Side” project. “Back to Memphis” earned Rusty and co-writer TW Hale a Grammy nomination. Rusty’s songs have been recorded by Trent Tomlinson, Russell Hitchcock (Air Supply), Bradley Walker and others. Be sure to read Rusty’s story here in this section of the magazine on why he continues to participate with AHERO in events and to support its mission.
Why I Enjoy Bringing My Songs To AHERO By Rusty Tabor
From my first introduction to AHERO, I was a believer. My family members, I’ve been told, have served our country loyally since as far back as the Spanish American War. I took a different route in life. My love of country, however, and my support of our military men and women are deeply ingrained. Several years of working with Dave Glassman and Lee Stuckey, who have asked me to perform at AHERO events, has allowed me to learn its story: How the volunteer organization got started; how it has grown and what it has accomplished for our Veterans and their families in its 10-plus years of operation.
I am very excited for this worthy charity’s future. In part because I’ve had the opportunity to contribute in some small ways to building it, but also because supporting our military men and women means so much to me. Mostly, though, it’s because I have witnessed first-hand the power of AHERO’s program. I’ve laughed with participating Veterans at Warrior HookUps, and I’ve cried with them as we listened to their experiences. And I have prayed with them. The fact is, they have become my brothers and sisters in the AHERO family. The feeling of “if I’ve never served, I can’t understand that world and so they really don’t need my help” is something I admit I have experienced. It’s boloney, though.
Our AHERO family depends on, appreciates, and thrives with the help of many amazing civilian supporters and volunteer Vets at both the local and national level. It wouldn’t be where it’s at – and can’t get where it’s going – without this ongoing loyal and generous support. I honestly could go on for hours telling you the reasons I believe so fully in AHERO and its mission to help stop the scourge of Veteran suicide that has taken so many worthy lives. But I suppose the strongest, most sincere testimony I could ever offer would be this: “I’ve witnessed this organization in action. I believe in its success. And I love everything about it.”
Rusty’s email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org AHERO MAGAZINE
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ALL IN 4AHERO
The Frenchy Connection
AHERO’S Most Excellent Shelving Caper By Norm “Frenchy” LaFountaine
Well, It’s been a long year’s haul since our last issue of AHERO Magazine. Politics, pandemics, weather gone wild – all have impacted previously planned subject matter. The one thing that never changes is the need for fund-raising events and projects to keep the grease on the gears that drive our goals to keep our Veterans network promoting recreation outdoors and supporting likeminded organizations striving to reduce, if not eliminate, suicides and give meaning to “living life to the fullest.” By serving, you’ve paid the price. Stick around for the rewards! Renovation through innovation was a surprise source of funds thanks to one of our local businessmen who is a Veteran and champion of humanitarian causes. Our good friend, Tom Stanley, recently purchased a vacated, local warehouse to be used as a storage facility for his business. The approximately 30,000 sq. ft. of space was completely filled with industrial steel shelving from its previous incarnation as a regional warehouse and offices of an autoparts company. All this shelving needed to be removed. A job and a half, to say the least. After getting quotes on removing all of the shelving and demolishing the office spaces, Tom was beginning to think maybe this hadn’t been such a great buy. But as a supporter of a number of Vetrans initiatives, he had made a lot of friends. Seems they wanted to give back by helping him bring his project to fruition. He offered up the shelving to be sold or scrapped to raise funds for AHERO, a non-profit Veterans organization founded on stemming the tide of suicides amongst Veterans. See AHEROusa.org. Volunteers came in to help dismantle the thousands of square feet of shelving, including 16 feet up on the second deck where temperatures reached near 140 degrees on the hottest days. Chace, Tom's sidekick, was in charge of morale, and the youngest volunteer at age 10, or 70, in human years. But the majority were in their 60s to late 70s, proving that … if the cause is right, the help will come! Semper Fi, Frenchy 58 AHERO MAGAZINE
The Shelving Caper Gang line-up, l-r– Tom Stanley, Chuck Lea, Perry Knight, Norm “Frenchy" LaFountaine, Joe Stephens, Blake Hendrix ... and Tom's faithful canine sidekick, Chace. AHERO THANKS THEM ALL!
p.s. Sure enough, buyers Jeff Godwin and Lisa Godwin Julian of Delta Hydraulics, Inc. showed up for the shelving. Their ad up front in the magazine tells about the company, but there’s also a great personal story behind it. Read on for Lisa’s story!
Crispy Warrior’s Present HN Dominique A. Sordelet With MOH Gift
July 23, 2020, at Crackings Restaurant in Destin, Florida, the Crispy Warriors organization presented HN Dominique A. Sordelet, the daughter of Crispy Warrior member retired Master Gunnery Sergeant Ernest J. Sordelet Jr., with a comprehensive biography collection of Medal of Honor Recipients signed by Vietnam MOH recipient and Fleet Marine Force Corpsman, Colonel Donald E. “Doc” Ballard, US Army/Navy, Ret. The catalog was presented by Okaloosa County’s Judge Patt Maney, BGen U.S.Army (Ret.) Expressing her gratitude and appreciation for the presentation, HN Sordelet commented on how overwhelming it was to meet those attending. They had made the history that she had only read about in school, she said. HN Sordelet was executing orders from MCAS Iwakuni, where she has served three years as a dental tech at MCAS Iwakuni, to the hospital at MCRD Parris Island. In attendance at the presentation were members of the Crispy Warriors representing every branch of service in various occupational specialties. In all, their period of service ranged from during World War II to the Global War on Terror.
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Remembering Iwo Jima By Norm “Frenchy” LaFountaine
February 19 this year marked the 75th anniversary of the day in 1945 when our flag was raised in victory at the conclusion of the Battle for Iwo Jima. Every year, my old Massachusetts buddies who are still around call in, email or post on Facebook reminders that it’s that special day “up north.” They’ve even sent me pictures of Boston celebrating our state’s official Iwo Jima Day. I was an aide to Massachusetts State Rep. Richard McGrath, a disabled Marine gunnery sergeant who wrote the law proclaiming that the historic date be celebrated in that state each year. About ten years later, based on our legislation and supported by the Marine Corps League and the Connecticut State Department, Connecticut passed the same legislation. In 1982, I came aboard the Iwo Jima Committee as Dick's Chief of Staff, serving in that capacity until 1997. But when Dick passed away, my heart was no longer in it. My good friend Jim Hastings, a Veteran who had been wounded in action in Vietnam, took over and has maintained the position to this day. Many other old Vietnam Marine friends joined the effort, including Ron Winter, a helicopter pilot who flew 300 missions and became a combat journalist. Nominated for a Pulitzer prize, Ron wrote “Masters of the Art,” a book about U.S. Marine helicopter operations during the Vietnam war, as well as other books. This is my personal memory of honoring Iwo Jima and our forces who fought there.
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NEW PATHS / LIFE STORIES In response to our request, Vietnam War Army Veteran Joe “Doc” Hodge, a much-valued volunteer always ready to assist AHERO, sent us this note. It contains this gallant American Marine’s remembrance of an infamous day no American can forget, and the actions he took to personally respond to it. - The editors
That Day: 9/11
h, saddled be the same. I got off the couc ain ag r ve ne uld wo ca eri At 1400 that day, I knew Am out, s not going to get me! Rode wa SD PT fe wi my d tol y, or d Gl my horse, Riddler, grabbed Ol from the Pensacola/Milton & to led t tha ay hw hig sy bu watch by a found a safe spot to stand a military bases.
g my every day for five days, sendin it od Sto rk. da er aft ’til tch Riddler and I stood that wa us a nod. ey honked their horns, gave Th . by ve dro t tha s op tro message to the have Troops.” Almost twenty years ks an “Th th wi ed fill n, sig rdy Soon a realtor ponied up a stu that sign in the ground today. nt pla ll sti I t bu , ne go d an come y again. Riddler hopefully return, then deplo y, plo de to ed nu nti co s op As time went by, our tro e as they rney. Looked them in the ey jou ir the of ds en th bo gh ou thr and I stood watch for them day went down and flew Ole as n sig the d ke sta e W d. ne y retur left and were there when the anks Troops,” would of just those two words, “Th lue va the ew kn ys wa Al . Glor y next morning stick with them.
s, -hour watches for the troop six to rfou ing nd sta , ca eri Three years of traveling Am d h the memory of Riddler an ug ho alt … rth ea s thi on c Do undoubtedly helped keep ole anks Troops” ntagon still rings that first “Th Pe the de tsi ou l hil the on I standing a watch memory.
uested a hile deployed to Iraq, they req W s). rp Co ne ari M d an y rm Two godsons enlisted (A that, after every request. Comes to it g din sen pt ke d an – it t sen poke of beef jerky. Made it, company! hell, I’ll make it for the whole orate America, I have never rp co d an ies an mp co , ots tri many pa With the outstanding help of ca. y stand the watch for Ameri the as s op tro the for t or pp been turned down for su n on deck . ployed still keeps this ole ma de are o wh s op tro m fro s Receiving thank-you letter ~ Joe (“DOC ” Hodge)
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Doc Hodge, aboard noble steed Riddler, thanks the troops who are off to respond bravely and with characteristic American grit to the horrific terroriat attack
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An Interview with Airman Ryan Blackwell, U.S. Navy (Ret) By Connie Conway CC: You’ve been through so much, Ryan, and I’m sure revisiting the terrorist attack at NAS Pensacola on Dec. 6 of last year is pretty unpleasant, so thanks for doing this. RB: It’s okay. I’ve done a lot of working through the experience.
CC: That’s good. But before we get to what happened, we should have some background on you. From your new gym, Well Trained, and the instructional programs that you and your wife, Carly, are developing there, I assume you’ve always been physically active. Can we start with where you’re from and your athletics in school? RB: I’m originally from Cape Carteret, North Carolina, and went to Croatan High School. I was on the wrestling team there, and managed to be state champion twice. CC: Nice! After that, did you wrestle in college? Where was that?
RB: At the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. I was an NCAA Scholarship Athlete there, and got to be NCAA Academic All-American twice before graduating. CC: Again – pretty impressive! What did you study?
RB: My B.A. is in exercise and sports science, with a concentration in exercise physiology. After I graduated, I decided to enlist in the Navy. I always knew I wanted to serve and protect our country, our freedoms and others who are in need. CC: Did you have family members in the military? RB: My father. He is a retired Navy chief.
CC: No doubt he played a big role in your motivational development. It seems you are also very self-directed. Those assets must have served you well through the Dec. 6th attack. We’re grateful to you for letting this magazine carry your story so more people can understand the events as they unfolded. Can you describe what that day was like for you?
RB: I had reported to work at 0530 that morning in Building 633 at NAS Pensacola, and was mustering the Royal Saudi Navy and Air Force introductory flight screening (IFS) students. About an hour later, one of the Saudi students looked in at my office. He didn’t stop in, just smiled and walked on. CC: Were you alone in the office?
RB: No. My officemates ENS Briana Thomas and AA George Johnson were there, as well. CC: Did the student passing by have a weapon?
RB: He didn’t, that I could see. But just a minute or two later, we heard gun shots. I heard the voices of my shipmates that had been standing watch. I heard AWF3 Haitham shout, “What are you doing? You do not have to do this!” His final words, as I later learned.” 62 AHERO MAGAZINE
CC: He tried to stop the man. That’s when you knew …
RB: I immediately indicated that AA Johnson should secure the door and turn out the lights since he was closest to those. We took cover behind furniture, where I was kneeling with ENS Thomas behind me. I told her to call 911 and I called Marine Capt. Whitlock, the office supervisor, because I knew he would be getting there soon. I told him what was going on and not to come inside. He said to get out of the building, but seconds later gunfire erupted into our office. CC: Did you or your office mates have any weapons?
RB: No. Typically we wouldn’t have had them with us there. The shooter shot through the door and I was immediately shot first, in the upper arm. I twisted to shield Thomas and sustained five more rounds, two in my back, and one each to my side ribcage, right calf and left foot. CC: My God. Were the others hit, too?
RB: One of the bullets went through my body and struck ENS Thomas. And AA Johnson was shot. Then the gunfire subsided. I could hear Capt. Whitlock’s voice from the phone, asking if I was still there. I got the phone and told him we were all hit and needed medical attention but that I was going to get us out of the office and would call him back for an extract. CC: It’s amazing you were still conscious!
RB: I didn’t think about it. I knew we needed an exit point – not into the hall, but to the outside. The window was best, but I had to remove the air conditioner positioned there, and I needed help because of my wounded arm. ENS Thomas managed to come over to assist, followed by AA Johnson. I exited first then helped badly wounded AA Johnson get out, and then ENS Thomas climbed out. Her leg wound was less severe. I assisted Johnson over to the Navy yard eatery across Chambers Ave, but ENS Thomas did not follow. CC: Yes, I read that she could hear that the shooter was in the office by the time she got out, so she ran along the side of the building to get away. What did you do once you got to the Navy yard?
RB: I informed the staff that there was an active shooter in Building 633, that the building needed to be secured. Then I called my wife. CC: You and AA Johnson must have been in bad shape at that point. EMS wasn’t there yet, I’m sure.
RB: No we were waiting for medical transport. But the staff had gathered a lot of towels and were pressing them onto our wounds. I asked for help to unfasten my belt, and used it as a tourniquet on my arm. I had called Capt. Whitlock to report where we were, and he called 911. He showed up quickly, and we got AA Johnson into his vehicle and headed for the front gate to meet the medical transporter. Turned out it was ten minutes out and traffic was backed up, so the captain had to drive off-road to bypass the traffic and get us to the first responders at the gate.
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate CC: I heard that you likely saved yet another life by stanching the uncontrolled bleeding of his leg.
RB: That was base security officer Capt. Charles Hogue. I had been picked up to be transported to the hospital by Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Robert Greene, and was seated next to Capt. Hogue whose rapid bleeding had to be stopped. I was able to put the point of my elbow into the wound and had him pull tightly on the belt tourniquet until we got to the hospital. It worked. CC: That’s wonderful. I know that three U.S. Navy sailors, ENS Joshua Watson, Petty Officer 3rd Class Mohammed Haitham and Petty Officer 3rd Class Cameron Walters, made the ultimate sacrifice that morning. I am so sorry for that loss, which is one all of us feel. RB: Thank you.
CC: But it’s also clear that, during those 27 minutes of your ordeal that morning, more would have died had it not been for your quick thinking and amazing courage. Thanks so much for your brave actions, Ryan, and for letting AHERO Magazine tell your story! RB: You’re welcome.
Serious about their training, these youngsters gain confidence and the value of perseverance at Well Trained gym. Standing behind the kids are Carly and Ryan Blackwell and Austin Elliot AHERO MAGAZINE
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A Parallel Grief: Personal Loss And The Transition From War By Mike Marston
As military people transitioning to civilian life, we often find it difficult to talk about ourselves in ways easily understood by others, particularly civilians. Combat Veterans and those directly involved with the many nuances of violence often struggle the most. Our challenges may include the loss of identity and feelings of disconnect from camaraderie and purpose. For some, the sense of self-worth might be compromised. These are contributing factors to depression, financial struggles, thoughts of self-harm, family estrangement, addictions, and many other actions that can be described as avoidance behaviors. A LONG STRUGGLE Originally from Minnesota, I joined the Air Force at 20, in 1992. I was already married and that same year I became a dad to my daughter, Sarah. In 1999, Sarah was killed by brain cancer. She was almost seven years old and had battled for over a year. I held Sarah as she died. A year later, I was divorced. To say I was devastated and remained devastated for many years fails to accurately describe my anguish. When I buried Sarah in Minnesota, a big piece of me remained in the grave with her. This negatively affected my family, my career, my relationships and many people I met over the past 20 years. My military career spanned 24 years and most of it was spent in Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), within the Special Tactics (ST) community. My job was to integrate an Air Force skillset with lateral special operations units, primarily from the Army but occasionally from the Navy and Marine Corps. When war came into my life, I was still struggling to process Sarah’s death. I was in a deep state of grief and although I was working, I was also drinking heavily. I didn’t know it, but I was displaying many classic signs of post-traumatic-stress disorder. Cumulatively, I spent several years in the Middle East. I discovered that war is awful, not like in the movies at all. It’s lonely and often boring with sporadic moments of incredible 64 AHERO MAGAZINE
violence. People die; families are ripped apart. Still, somehow, it can be addictive. Having such a strong purpose and closeness to fighting teams builds connections, which builds another unique sense of purpose. Maybe humans are just hard-wired for war. I don’t know, but I do know that the experience of war and the powerful cohesion within military units can make the transition to civilian life enormously difficult. THE COMPLEXITY OF TRANSITIONS I learned that the transitions I was navigating were far too big to manage alone. I needed help. My family was great, but I was not always honest about the things I was feeling. I tried to be stoical and smart in explaining away my issues. In truth, I was stuck in grief while trying to maintain my career and relationships. The more I denied anything was wrong, the worse I felt. In many cases, my relationships suffered as a direct result. I would eventually discover that I was feeling things that others were experiencing, too. Since then, I’ve learned that major life transitions, like returning to civilian life, can cause similar difficulties. If you have hit that wall, you know what I mean. Life is constantly in transition. Six months after I retired, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. It had been causing me pain and robbing me of energy for a long time. Somehow it went undetected by Air Force doctors – despite my complaints. The entire experience of cancer was loaded with learning points and powerful moments that led to a wealth of new insights and an overall sense of peace with many things, including the transitions I’m writing about. Transitions are often complicated, messy affairs. They don’t follow a script and can make anyone sick with anxiety. Looking back, I see that I made almost every possible mistake navigating my own changes. So I can’t pretend I have any special directives for anyone, but I will say that I’ve learned that you can survive your challenges and live to see a great new life.
I’ve also learned that when we are only partially truthful about the trouble in our minds, trouble is what we create. In effect, we set ourselves up for failure. For those immersed in the warrior culture, failure to admit personal problems most often initiates a downward spiral. As a result, many service members lose their families and ruin their finances and health. A tragically high number take their own lives. It can take years to change that trajectory, to heal. My reason for writing this is only because I know it can be done. I’ve been on that slide, too, and it’s awful. So, if you see yourself on that dark path, please start opening up to your family or talk to a friend, your pastor or priest, or a counselor. Your life has tremendous value, although that may be hard to believe when all connection you once knew feels broken or lost. But that’s when you are most ready to make the call. Call The National Veterans Federation Vet-to-Vet line, at 888-777-4443. At this number you’ll get help to start transitioning your mind into sustained health and clarity. LETTING LOVE WIN People are sometimes surprised at the peace I’ve found. They tell me I’ve changed, that I seem more content with my life. I guess I am. I did manage the hard transition through cancer and I am now more than two years in remission, although I will need to be monitored for the rest of my life. The effects of treatment remain a daily reminder of the disease that would’ve taken my life if not for some great doctors and surgeons. I have two children now who are 8 and 10, and they need me to stay on the right track. I received long-overdue counseling for Sarah’s death, which helped me stop beating myself up about things beyond my control. In a sense, I decided to let love win. You can do that, too, starting with loving yourself. Your challenges don’t have to steal the best parts of you. Hopefully, you’ll have far more years as a civilian than you did as a military member. But first – just let love win.
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Master Sgt. Mike Marston, U.S. Air Force From Minnesota, Mike Marston studied music in college, leaving after two years to join the Air Force, training as a meteorologist. He transitioned to Air Force Special Operations (AFSOC), deployed with Army Special Forces teams, and served almost five years in areas such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan and India. Mike sustained multiple traumatic brain injuries, significant injuries to his shoulders, hips and spine, and suffered significant hearing loss. Diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer in 2016, he was declared cancer-free by the end of 2017. He has lost many friends to combat operations, training accidents, and suicide. Mike’s passion for bettering the care and healing of fellow Veterans is limitless.
From The Heart: A Message To The Community Pastor Sean York and his wife Merrily posted this note on Facebook. Over the years, they have been ardent supporters of AHERO, inspiring many within their United Methodist Church congregation to donate generously to its mission. AHERO is so grateful and wishes them and their family “Godspeed”!
On Wednesday, July 28, I submitted my resignation to the Bishop of the United Methodist Church in the Alabama West Florida Conference. My family and I have been in a season of prayer and feel the Lord calling us to a new chapter in life. We will forever be grateful for the faithful men and women who helped cultivate our calling in full-time ministry. We have been blessed by so many committed people in our community and church family… During the COVID-19 season, our family began evaluating our potential and effectiveness for the Kingdom of God. After consultation with mentors and an extended season of discernment, we are responding to the Lord’s calling. First, I will enter a season of sabbath and spend several months listening to the Lord for direction. Secondly, our family will begin a journey to work alongside a not-for-profit nonprofit organization that operates an orphanage in Nicaragua. We believe with God’s help and guidance, this will be the beginning of more significant opportunities to rescue the oppressed children in our world.
… Merrily and I will continue living in Gulf Breeze, Flordia, and look forward to seeing how God will use our family locally and globally. I once heard someone say, “People crazy enough to think they can change the world end up changing the world.” Friends, abandoning everything our world says is good to follow a whisper might sound crazy. And yes, it actually might be, but for me, call me crazy! I want to change the world while serving our Lord. I love Isaiah 6:8. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” Ten years ago, Merrily and I heard the voice of the Lord, and we are excited that He has sent us to this community and that He will continue sending us to share the gospel both at home and abroad. My post is not goodbye. Instead, this is fasten your seat belt and get ready! With love, ~ The Yorks
Pastor York and Family. (l-r) Eldest daughter Julie stands next to Mom Merrily, Pastor Shawn is next to son Jackson, and youngest daughter Tyson smiles sweetly next to baby brother Chance, who is held in Dad's arms AHERO MAGAZINE
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A Worthy Legacy: Africatown, a Memorial Garden, and The Buffalo Soldiers By Chief Jason Lewis, U.S. Navy Growing up in the Josephine Allen Homes projects (aka, “Happy Hills”) in Mobile, Alabama, I had never heard of Africatown, nor of a ship called Clotilda. In fact, the last time I’d sat in my woodshop class, I was more concerned about getting home from school without getting shot. As a teenager, my self-worth was at an all-time low and my only ambition was to one day make it out of the projects. Although I had a strong family, our living conditions could be horrible at times. We sometimes lacked enough food, and safety was an ever-present issue. My mother did her best to keep us off the streets and in school. But ultimately it was Grandmother Medea’s investment in me of wisdom and her demanding standards of excellence that truly paid off. I joined the U.S. Navy. And in raising my hand to take the oath to my country and Constitution, I found the path to selfworth and honor that Medea had steeled me to pursue. THE MYSTERY OF AFRICATOWN As a skinny kid in the projects, I had known nothing about Africatown – on the edge of which my family lived. What I learned years later was that Africatown had maintained an apartness from Mobile well into the 20th century. Mobile was a small city and Plateau, the northern district containing Africatown, was marshy and undeveloped. World War II expanded growth everywhere, however, and Mobile’s industrial sprawl went northward with that trend. Residents were subject to America’s natural process of ethnic assimilation, now with added pressure from industrial encroachment. The fate of Africatown in recent decades has been a struggle. Although the area has had its champions and has found some sympathetic ears in local government, it has nonetheless continued to be beset by pervasive blight. The 2010 U.S. Census showed 1,881 residents in the area. The same report found "virtually no non-industrial businesses," but did find vacant commercial buildings and many severely dilapidated homes. There have been positive developments: Africatown was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. It is also a part of the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail, which guides interested visitors to sites of interest in and around Mobile. In 2016, the Mobile City Council voted to give Bay Bridge Road the honorary designation of "Africatown Boulevard." In addition, efforts have been made to bridge the gap between the community and the industry surrounding it. The city's development plan attempts to sum up Africatown’s assets and challenges and maps out a way to develop the former while remediating the latter. But its proposals – which include developing an Africatown history center, park and affordable housing, as well as clearing blighted or abandoned properties – will require heavy public and private investment and a cooperative effort that could last decades. 66 AHERO MAGAZINE
Chief Jason Lewis, U.S.N. Chief Lewis's story here is AHERO Magazine's first installment on an expanded Africatown/Clotida story upcoming in our next issue
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate FINDING CLOTILDA SPURS INTEREST IN OUR “ROOTS” In the spring of 2019, a much corroded wreckage of a ship was discovered partly buried in the mud at the bottom of the Mobile River. It would prove to be the remains of the slave ship Clotilda, which had operated illegally in 1860 by carrying 110 to 120 persons taken from Africa to be sold as slaves in America. Such importing had been illegal in this nation since 1808; therefore, not much was recorded or known about the wrecked ship – although stories and legends had persisted for more than a century and half. The ship’s fate would be foundational to the formation of Africatown. And now, despite the challenges, the extraordinary and very American story and significance of this settlement is too important to be lost. Most recently, the mystery-shrouded ship rose again in national attention when, during a segment of the PBS genealogy show, “Finding Your Roots,” host Henry Louis Gates revealed an unexpected connection his guest that night had to the ship. The guest was influential musician and author, Amir "Questlove" Thompson, who was ready to hear the results of Gates’ research on his family heritage. An ancestor of Questlove’s, Gates revealed, was one Charles Lewis, a man taken aboard the Clotilda only to survive the ship’s demise and become one of the founders of Africatown.
As a thunderstruck Questlove processes what the program host is telling him, Gates spells out just how rare the Africatown legacy is: “You know, every African American that we know wants to know where in Africa they came from, and then how they came here,” Gates says. “You are the only African American I’ve ever met who can name the ship [that brought them].” RETURNING HOME TO BUILD THE AFRICATOWN MEMORIAL GARDEN The ship’s discovery would be followed by months of activities such as the volunteering by more than 500 Navy sailors who each told their own story of how they enjoyed being in Africatown. There would be a trip to Benin, Africa, as well as speaking engagements, participating in the Africatown Media Day Libation Ceremony, and a Navy Appreciation Day at my old middle school. I’m lifted, filled with optimism and hope. It was a sight to see sailors from around the globe swarm my old community. The skinny kid from the projects had returned strengthened with the support of his shipmates. In the days when Grandmother Medea was alive I could have asked for her wisdom and to help with certain choices, like taking on the responsibility of recognizing the service of the Buffalo Soldiers and other service members who have sacrificed for this country.
In the process of volunteering to carry out these tasks, I discovered the old cemetery that was the one of the original burial sites for the Buffalo Soldiers, as well as the final resting place for many of the Clotilda Africans. An American Flag had once flown near the sites but it was taken down to accommodate work being done there. It must be returned, for showing these worthy men and women recognition and respect is something that is long overdue. I have been blessed with a team who will help on a project that reflects the importance of this moment: the building of The Africatown Memorial Garden. I am joined by two Buffalo Soldiers in Mobile and a host of willing Veterans from Pensacola who have invested their personal time and interest to assist in this great endeavor. Support letters arrive from the city of Mobile and others who see that this Memorial Garden will serve as testament to the promise that those who pay the ultimate price will one day reap the benefit in Glory. I can only pray that Medea’s return on investment in me can reap even more than a successful Navy career: that it will help create a successful community and a Memorial Garden filled with pride and honor. Editors’ note: In our upcoming issue next year, AHERO Magazine will offer expanded stories on the creation of the Africatown Memorial Garden project and the legacy of America’s Buffalo Soldiers.
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Living In The Range Of My Emotions I am not sure I've ever seen a time when the expression “WTF!” could better apply. Actually, the word “blindsided” comes to mind. Back before what now seems like the instant Covid-19 hit, it was New Year's Eve and I was sitting on my back porch, listening to music and reviewing my journey through 2019. I was so enthusiastic about my year ahead! Set to 68 AHERO MAGAZINE
start a new career in January 2020, I felt like all the stars were aligning for me. AND THEN CAME REALITY By March, the world had turned upside down. Some described it as going inside out. Now, looking back, I'm resolved to make sure that I have better contingency plans for wtf moments like that.
For this issue of AHERO, I was asked to share my thoughts, as a civilian continually in PTSD recovery, on how I am getting through this time. Given that we are still in it, I am not sure my reflections are fully formed, but I am happy to share some of them. I've found that the pandemic has brought time back into my day. I can't recall a period in
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my life when I had hours, days, weeks – and now months – to sit, reflect, save and rinse, repeat. It’s surprising how much I've enjoyed having so much time to myself. Then again, maybe it’s not so surprising: Turns out I have no less than three journals going (so far), which, once I fully assimilate what they all say of my actions, worries, changes, hopes, dreams, etc., might result in one epic, pick-theending “funbook.” A title screams at me: "The Journey of a Middle-Aged Woman Seeking Existential Experience of All Things Great and Beautiful … (tag line:) Hashing out the realities of a pandemic that set the gears in motion for a total life-overhaul." Ok, maybe that needs some work, but for now, it fits. I asked a few of my friends, “What one word would you use to describe this time?” Here are some words that came back: weirdo, revealing, scary, uncertain, difficult, challenging, enlightening, frightening.
I've thought or experienced all of these in one way or another during this time. Because, although I’ve loved having so much time, some weeks are actually mind-numbingly boring. But most present me with opportunities to explore new places, try new things (safedistancing always observed). Time to rack up hundreds of levels on my word-stacks game and, in my case, to pursue a new career opportunity that has been quite the ride so far. It has also meant more time with my beloved dog, Edgar, and to work on home projects. Yet the best gift has been the ample time I’ve had to dive into the folders in my brain. These have been sequestered due to years of “no time” – but now they compel me to go back to the mental-health toolbox I forget I can rely on. At various times I've felt sad, scared, lonely, disconnected, excited, angry, at peace, calm, and riddled with anxiety. I’ve realized that the range of emotions that fuel my journal entries are the same that drive challenging conversations, complex realizations and
difficult decisions. So I made the conscious choice to go deep and accept the range of emotions I’ve been experiencing. For me, it’s a new approach to life that I’m calling “living in my range of emotions.” It's OK to feel and react. And it's OK to be uncertain at times. By embracing what life offers, by embracing the internal responses I have, I can relax and give myself time to reflect and learn, adapt and accept. There is peace to be found in serenity; there is opportunity to learn what you are made of when you flex your courage and practice intentional wisdom. Here is the Serenity Prayer that I’m sure you know, along with a reminder to take care of yourselves, stay active, and please use your journals. "God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference."
Solace And Hope “Staring Down the Barrel of a .45”*
As a volunteer for AHERO, I am honored to have the opportunity to spend time with men and women who have fought for our freedom time and again. I carry with me, every day, constant remembrance of their heroism and sacrifice. I am a civilian with complex PTSD, and I can say it’s an uphill battle to suffer in silence. AHERO and its participants have given me the freedom to speak about my own symptoms and struggles free of judgement and angst. I wrote in my first article for AHERO Magazine: “I found my people.” The very people who know the cost of this freedom intimately. Forever. TRAVELING A WHILE TOGETHER ON THE JOURNEY They sometimes struggle with wanting to just get through another day of this thing called life. A challenge I relate to all too well. One Veteran, in particular, inspired this piece. It’s his. His to display, to hide, to cry with, to be inspired by. Whatever the day offers, it’s his to remember his lost comrades by, his life as he knew it, now gone forever. It is his to hide behind, to live out loud with, to find HOPE. Hope for One. More. Day. While his memories of war, conflict, constant threat, and loss of life on a grand scale are only this hero’s to know – to have rush through the veins of his day and be woven into the fabric of a brain permanently rewired by explosives and life-altering blows to the head – his solace is sought and found in what is familiar. It seems a twisted struggle to balance what is perceived as normal with the new reality, a reality painted with the brush of the blood of brothers and sisters, enemies and unknowns. Memories that are created indelibly dark.
Month after month, as I spent time with him, I observed and participated in hours and nights of “staring down the barrel of a .45.” The louder we played the song, the greater the surge of tears. A sense of cleansing would overwhelm the moment, when the singalong would begin. I spent weeks capturing the words that defined the moments of internal strife and pain felt when rocking out. This is what you see in this memory of shared healing with “my people” – my person. WHERE THE FREEDOM TO BE ME ABIDES When you come home to a land now unfamiliar, not as intense as the foreign one you’ve just left and not requiring the mandatory vigilance a warrior learns to live by, the quandary of finding life-sustaining purpose in “normal” everyday life becomes the mission. As a civilian who once sought solace in all the wrong places and people, I have found my home. A place where nightmares are safe and support is the new tool of survival. Freedom to share. Freedom to be happy, sad, confused, conflicted, mad, glad – all in a moment’s time. There is hope in darkness. There is light in the night. There is life in the living and comfort in those who understand, and peace in the colors unique to our individual stories. With each moment passed, another step toward the light is taken. AHERO has helped me in my fight to live this life. “My people” have helped me find my freedom to be me. My person’s battle for hope has only just begun, a follow-on to his career in the armed forces. He will always be that medic, that specialist, and now will live the life of those times through the music of today. With love, Tristessa AHERO MAGAZINE
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Getting Out: A Happy Ending Story By James “Sneaky” White
In AHERO’s last issue (Summer/Fall 2019), Norm “Frenchy” Fountaine introduced fellow Vietnam Veteran James “Sneaky” White (USMC) to our readers. White was serving a life sentence for the murder of a man who had cruelly abused his wife and daughter. A lengthy effort to secure his freedom was made by another of Frenchy’s Vietnam Marine friends, Shad Meshad, the founder of the National Veteran’s Foundation. His efforts, along with White’s own impressive prison history of educating and helping fellow inmates better their lives, led to his release this past summer. Now a new struggle began for the Veteran called Sneaky: re-integrating into freedom and civilian society. We asked him to describe how his first months have gone. This is his story. ~ the editors
James "Sneaky" White, USMC Viet Nam War Veteran, did indeed wed his lovely lady, Dale Miller. Gregory Nottage, a fellow inmate of Sneaky's – who also turned his life around "inside" – officiated.
Released on the 21st of January 2020, I was driven down to Los Angeles by a good friend and his wife. We stayed my first night of ‘Freedom’ at a very high-end hotel, thanks to the NVF. At dinner with Shad Meshad, its president, I had steak. It was great and so tender! I also enjoyed some sautéed spinach – something I dearly missed in the past four decades. Next day I reported to my parole officer, went over the rules, then headed to the NVF offices. Later that day I was screened and given a place that has become my home these past six months. My third day of freedom, I went to work at the NVF, was introduced and received an overview of what is expected of me and how to do it. Everyone has been so kind, it’s a bit overwhelming. I made up my need-to-do list to become fully integrated back into society then received a wonderful surprise and most welcome gift: a $1,000 grant from the Thank A 70 AHERO MAGAZINE
Vet charitable organization and given to me by Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta, U.S. Army (Ret). This comes in very handy and is a gift that will help me get settled in.
I spent the following day at the VA hospital. Michael Washington of the NVF drove me there and walked me through the process. I got a VA I.D. card – the first form of identification I would have. They did a physical and then assigned me to my Primary Care Physician, along with giving me several appointments for further checkups. The care, attitude, and service were excellent. The week of the 27th of January I started my job at NVF, answering calls from Veterans and their families for information, etc. I have been greatly helped by the crew here at NVF. I contacted my parole officer about getting a California I.D., and then the process of getting a driver’s license. Because I have no birth certificate, the parole office refused to help. The lack of an I.D. meant that I cannot open a bank account or get to my trust fund. Over the next few months, I learned the operations of the NVF. I really enjoy this. I walk to work each morning and take my lunch at the small snack bar in the office building, working until 1700 each day and six to seven hours on Saturday. I settled into a routine, feeling that I am contributing to society. My continuing work at NVF brought my Social Security benefits. A bank allowed me to
The Meshad back yard was given over for this beautiful wedding celebration. Here together are the two couples, Sneaky & Dale, and USMC Viet Nam War Veteran Shad Meshad and his lovely wife, Melinda
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate open accounts, which helped me feel a lot more in tune with society. But learning how to use the card(s) and remembering all the passwords and pin numbers is really an experience. Way too many numbers for me to remember! When my fiancé, Dale, flew down to spend several days with me, it brightened my life. She is a joy to be with. I had been able to parole with my dog, Rosie, and Dale and Rosie bonded. We became an instant family, so to speak. June arrived and I was still without a driver’s license. COVID-19 restrictions had stopped any processing, but the good news is that I stay busy at NVF and am making good contributions. I have been able to start an “Incarcerated” section, and now NVF is in over thirty incarceration facilities nationwide! And I bought a truck! A Ram 2500, 4x4 diesel set-up for towing, with top-of-the-line interior and so many bells and whistles that I began taking a “class” from a couple of the NVF staffers on how everything works. It looks great! I entered July with great hopes. First, Dale and I were going to be married later that month. I would transfer my parole to Sonoma, California, and work with NVF via phone and internet. Having signed up for a California highway patrol-approved motorcycle course in August, I of course bought a Harley. And I was notified that I could go to DMV in August
to get my driver’s license! COVID restrictions are still in, but getting my license promised to open doors for me. And I would no longer have to depend on NVF friends like Michael to drive me to appointments, or Rich, who drove me home each night. As I hit the end of six months of freedom, three things struck me as so different now from the society I left 40 years ago:
2. If you’re not electronically connected, you’re out. You have to have at least a cell phone. 3. People now are often just plain rude. You rarely hear, “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” “Excuse me,” or May I help you?” It’s as if they are foreign terms and frankly, I don’t like it. But I will continue to be polite, despite this fast new world.
1. The world is so much faster. Everyone is on the move and in a hurry.
*White gained his nick-name of Sneaky by “sneaking” through a mine field one night during an “unauthorized liberty run” (in the words of his Vietnam brother-in-arms, Frenchy LaFountaine).
Sneaky and Dale's guests included gents who had "done time" with him and fixed their lives. Pictured here, l-r, are Steve Duby, Gregory Nottage, Nick Hastings, Sneaky, Rory Folsome, Shad Meshad and Julio Acosta
The oh, so happy couple!
A toast to the newlyweds, and to the artful Melinda Meshad, who produced that beautiful table setting – and ALL the wedding decorations AHERO MAGAZINE
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In A Time Of Stress, A Sport Any Veteran Can Enjoy By Keith Richard, MCI While recent concerns have forced postponements of organized activities, here is one activity interested Veterans can take up and find enjoyment in with a friend or family member: fly fishing. A couple of buddies casting out their lines at a comfortable distance is safe in more ways than one. Fishing areas of a river or lake where you can be several yards apart, but close enough to witness one another’s catches, keeps your lines from tangling even as it fulfills the currently smart distancing goal. Remember the smash hit movie, “A River Runs Through It”? It debuted on the big screen in 1992 and introduced the public to the beauty of fly casting. The scenery was breathtaking, as was the art form of fly casting itself as performed by ace-fisherman, Jason Borger, the stand-in for Brad Pitt. Unfortunately, the iconic scenes of Borger casting may have left people with the impression that fly fishing was to be performed only in the pure, crystal-clear and pristine waters of the Rockies, or on our Appalachian rivers and streams. Certainly this could have been the cinematic intention of this incredible scene. But it also could not have been further from the truth. Private ponds and lakes stocked with black bass, pearch and crappie are prime resources for fly fishermen. Red fish and weakfish in the marshes throughout the Gulf Coast, as well as trout in our mountain lakes and streams, are all potential target destinations for the fly fisherman. Another myth is that this sport can only be enjoyed alone or by wealthy retirees. Wrong! Check out your local sports centers for entrylevel kits designed to get anyone on a limited budget started. With the introduction and ready availability of kayaks and jon boats from big box stores like Bass Pro and Cabela’s, no bayou, creek or stream is too small or inaccessible to the whims of the fly fisherman. As a casting instructor, I am constantly amazed when people ask, “But where do you fly fish in the South?” The great news is, with today’s big developments in engineering and medical technology, adaptive aids have changed and 72 AHERO MAGAZINE
improved the quality of life for many Veterans who have suffered loss of function or limb. My friend, Barry Guidry, fly fishes from his motorized wheelchair. With the use of a Velcro strap to help hold his rod in place, Barry can effectively cast and fish. The fact is, fly fishing is an art form to be enjoyed by young and old alike wherever there is water with fish to be found. Concluding this article is a limited list of private and public launch sites where you can launch kayaks, motorboats, etc. to pursue the trophy you wish to take on a fly rod in Alabama or Florida. There are many others – far too many to be included here. Check with your state’s Wildlife and Fisheries departments or peruse the internet for private and/or public launches near you that even now are open to be fished. Don’t get discouraged as you strive to perfect your cast. And do not think this is a sport only for men! At the age of 12, participating in the 2016 World Fly Casting Championship in Estonia, Maxine McCormick became the youngest adult-division champion in sports history, outscoring every woman and man in Trout Accuracy. In 2018, she earned two gold medals and one silver at the World Championship in England. Her salmon distance two-hand cast was 189 feet, and her sea-trout distance cast was a world-record 161 feet!
Private and public launch sites where fly fishing can be enjoyed include:
IN ALABAMA Southern Harbor Resort & Marina Burnt Village Park Lanett, AL 36863 Steel Ford Boat Ramp 2800-2850 Creek Ridge Trail Guntersville, AL 35976 Southampton Nottoway River 29200-29462 General Thomas Highway Franklin, AL 23851 Sherburn Park Ramp S Canal St. Mt Vernon, AL 47620 Seagate Marina Federal Highway Access Rd. Jupiter AL 33469 Signal Point Marina 801-899 Horton Rd. Albertville, AL 35950 Shadow Lake Access 14967-15099 National Forest Road 2287 Mountain, AL 54149 Satsuma City Marina 300-350 E Bayou Ave. Satsuma, AL 36572
IN FLORIDA 17th Avenue/Wayside Park 318 N 17th Ave Pensacola, FL 32501 Apalachicola Battery Park & Marina Market Street at Bay Ave Apalachicola, Fl, 32320 7th Avenue Boat Ramp Cooleys Landing 450 Cooley Ave Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Interested in this fascinating sport? Check out the website TheCampFlyFishingSchool.com for instructional videos on how you can get started. Recipient of the Fishers International Jay Gammel Award for fly fishing education excellence, Richard is a supporter of AHERO and our Veterans, and the author of articles such as this one above showing that fly fishing is a sport open to all.
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A Brother & Sister Team Again, By The Grace Of God By Keith Richard, MCI After Norm “Frenchy” LaFountaine sent in his Shelving Caper story now in our All In 4AHERO section, the newly established Delta Hydraulics & Supply company bought the first lot of available shelves. A donated portion of the money will help with the costs of AHERO’s Veterans activities next year. We also heard the great story behind the company’s formation and asked Lisa Godwin Julian, who co-owns the company with her brother, Jeff, if she would write it up and send it in. She said yes, and did. Read on. – the editors
After nearly 20 years of little to no relationship between my brother and me, God stepped in. Cleveland D. Godwin, our uncle, 86, a Veteran of the Korean War, became ill and ultimately ended up in hospice care where he graduated to heaven. Through the long days of hospital visits, hospice, and the endless plans that go along with a military funeral, Jeff and I found ourselves crossing paths more often than we wanted. We managed to pull off a strained decency out of respect for our uncle. Then, six months later, our parents had a vehicle accident that could well have been fatal. God spared them and pushed us together again. After helping our parents through the aftermath of the wreck, we found ourselves still calling and meeting from time to time. One afternoon at Dairy Queen, Jeff looked at me and made it clear that he knew nothing about my life. When I shared a few details of my work with a hose company currently involved in building the Pensacola Market, he laughed. My instant reaction was: Oh, this is one more thing he is going to make fun of me for engaging in, considering my history was in construction sales. As we walked outside to leave, he took me over to his truck to show me a set of plans for the hydraulic shop he was making plans to build in 2021. This time it was me laughing and saying, “I guess this gives me a year to lock in my customers,” as I walked away. The subject of his hydraulic shop had not come up again for another month, when I asked Jeff about his plans. I took a leap of faith and told him that I had lost confidence in the person I was working for. I had been contacted by two companies about going to work with them, and realized I would like to make a change. He just looked at me without much to say. But after breakfast that morning, he called. Suddenly our conversation was taking on a different tone. We both admitted that we truly had missed each other. And now I must say that I enjoy
having my brother back in my life. Later that afternoon he called and I heard real joy in his voice, which I had not heard in a long time. He had gone forward with the corporation paperwork. He was almost laughing as he started by saying, “I swore I’d never do this again, but … ” and ended with “Let’s do this. Come run the shop for me. Let’s do it together!” At that point, we started putting the plan together. The next 22 days were non-stop with all the planning, interviewing and many details
required to open a new business. Day after day we were getting work done side by side. Meanwhile, in front of family or anyone who might have noticed the change in us as siblings, we revealed nothing. Then, on March 23, 2020, we made a public declaration that our relationship was restored. And that Delta Hydraulics & Supply, Inc, owned and operated by Jeff Godwin and Lisa Godwin Julian, a brother sister team, was going to stay that way and thrive – by the grace of God!
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Cicada – Part One By Elliot James
1. Everyone has a story. Some seem to proceed in a straight line with few surprises, while life forces others on a path with many unexpected – sometimes jagged – turns. Therefore, no one’s life should be judged “good” or “bad.” Most people are just doing the best they can with what they have. WHAT FOLLOWS IS SIMPLY MY STORY I was born in New Orleans into an oil-field family living in Houma, Louisiana. It was a happy life but during the 80’s, oil prices took a steep dive. We moved to a small town outside of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where my family owned a bit of rural property. The area, called the Pine Belt, contained an isolated community and seemed like a forest utopia. I was raised there, learning how to live off the land. Before I was 10 years old, my father had taught me how to cut down trees for harvesting pulp wood, how to farm fields of crops and raise cows and pigs, and how to hunt and fish. My favorite thing was hunting with my dad, but I also loved fishing the hidden forest ponds on our property. My young cousins and I were often in competition about who could catch the biggest large-mouth bass, and one afternoon when I was about 11, I set off down a jagged logging path toward what we called Little Pond. With a new top-water torpedo lure tied on my line, I smiled with pride: I would doubtless land a bass worth bragging about. Each step sent a light gray dust that puffed up into a gentle fog, settling on my sandaled feet and collecting between my toes. Trees and bushes ranging from short and wide to tall and skinny rose around me in all shades of greens and browns. Cicadas sang their songs, rattling together in a symphony of white noise that buzzed the silence to life. I have always loved the humming sound of cicadas. It’s kind of like life: It seems to come from nowhere, a whisper of thousands of tiny rattles that rise and rise into a cresting wave, then slowly trail away, back into the emptiness where all things go to be reborn. On that Mississippi afternoon, I knew right where I was. The smell of fresh pine needles drifted on a cool early-evening breeze. I knew where I was going and precisely what I intended to do. It was impossible for me to see the violent elements boiling up ahead in my life, elements that would expand in the crucible of time. I was just a happy young boy, gone fishin’. 2. Two years later, at age 13, my best friend came over before Sundayevening church service. He and I followed the same logging road I had walked so many times. As we walked, my friend expressed frustrations he was having with his girlfriend. “She broke up with me,” he said angrily. “Then she said she hated me!” “What’d you do?” I asked, surprised. Hadn’t they had a great relationship? He looked away, but not before I saw his stormy expression. Then, his voice low, he said that he told her if she ever said she hated him again, he would kill her.
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“You know what she did?” he asked, full of rage. “She said, ‘I hate you’ again and hung up!” A moment passed. Then he said, “I’m gonna make good on that, too. I swear.” This was years before the Columbine school shootings that seemed to usher in an era of kids resorting to violence and revenge. I was 13, naïve to the signs that might otherwise have alerted me, and I didn’t really believe my friend’s threats. We walked back to my house without saying much more, and he left for evening church service. Later I sat on our front porch, looking out into the pine-wood forest. Whether I believed him or not, I wondered if I should do something. “Tell someone,” I thought. Then: “No! He was just blowing off steam! If you tell, he’ll hate you for it.” But before I could decide what to do, I heard squealing tires and rocks being slung out from under a vehicle. It came from the direction of the logging road. I must have had a premonition of who it was, because I took off running toward the sound that ended in a loud crash. I kept running, my stomach dropping, and made it to a deep ditch in the road where I saw my friend’s van had flipped onto its side. The driver-side door faced the sky. Standing on the step of the van, I managed to open the door. Nothing but the still-smoking barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun looked back at me. He had exited the vehicle and I knew he must have taken off through the woods. I was frozen in fear – then I began panicking, confused but knowing I should do something. Desperately, I started calling his name. After a few minutes I heard him call back. We met at the dam on beautiful Little Pond. He looked at me with cold, black eyes – eyes with a look I would recognize and come to know well later in life. Killer’s eyes. He said, “I … I did it. You gotta get me some blankets and food. I’m going to hide out here for a while.” Then he hugged me and I saw the blood-splatter on his shirt and arms. That’s when the reality of what was happening really started to set in. By now, sirens were blaring in the direction of the church and I took off running toward the sound. I flagged down a sheriff ’s car and said where to find him. The police swarmed to the location en masse, exiting their cars and calling out to my friend over P.A. systems. Within minutes, he appeared, calmly walking out and giving himself up. I only learned later that what he had done that evening after he left me at my house was drive over to the church where he waited for everyone to come outside after the service. Then he called the girl over to his van and handed her a letter. As she looked down to read it, he revealed a 12-gauge shotgun and took her life at point-blank range in front of the entire church community. Kids, parents, friends, all had witnessed the horrible act. In our community our whole world seemed to crumble. I was basically catatonic for days. I wanted more than any kid ever had for this all to be a bad dream. To wake up in my bed hearing Dad yelling, “time for school!!!” as he always did. But that didn’t happen. Instead, in my new reality, I would never fully wake from the consequences of that day. Nor would so many others.
AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate 3. During the next year, I went to this young man’s trial as a key witness having to testify before the victim’s parents and the community that I did nothing about his threats. Then I slowly crumbled under the weight of guilt and regret. For years, I felt as responsible for that young girl’s death as the murderer himself must have. At school, I went from being a straight-A student, to failing. I fell from being a respectable, sometimes quiet young man to being one as rebellious as an out-of-control wrecking ball, a youngster who didn’t care if he lived or died. At 13, my innocence had been stolen, along with everyone else’s, by an angry kid with a shotgun. By age 18, I had dropped out of school, earned my GED and moved to Charleston, South Carolina, with a friend. I was running from myself, needing a break from everyone else, too; but somehow managed to land a sweet job at Kiawah Island Resort. Several years passed. Then 9/11 happened. I watched the horrible events unfold on television, and what must have been an ancient warrior spirit arose in me. It was as if the coil of my DNA were unraveling, as if the transgenerational essence of my forefathers had revived in my heart, for one grandfather had been a Navy Frogman, the other a Marine in the Pacific theatre of WW II. I experienced a strong sense of duty to the Stars and Stripes. April 2002. I’m at a recruiting station to join the US Army. “Looks like you were in some trouble as a teenager,” the recruiter notes. “You’ll need to serve six months in the National Guard first. Do your job, stay out of trouble, and you’ll be able to join an active duty unit after that.”
I’m not happy, thinking the Guard stays home while everyone else goes over to fight. But any deal to get me in has to be a good deal, I figure, so it’ll have to do. After basic training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina and Advanced Individual Training in Aberdeen, Maryland, my preconceived notions were proven false. My unit, the 155th Brigade combat team “Dixie Thunder,” was mobilized to deploy to Iraq within five months. “Do not even unpack your bags,” I was told. “You’re assigned to a post at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.” I couldn’t have been happier. I had come through terrible personal struggles to ultimately fall into the military’s structure and training and find that I loved it. I was all in, with plans of making a career out of the Army. I would complete my deployment, come home, join an active unit, and go to airborne school. My plans were set in stone. As the saying goes, things don’t always go the way you planned. In December 2004, several thousand men and women kissed their families goodbye, some for the last time. Buses then brought us to an airfield where we boarded a jumbo jet for Kuwait. I was ready to prove my worth as an American soldier. (To be continued in AHERO Magazine, Spring/Summer 2021 issue)
Veteran Elliot “EJ” Smith, Sergeant, U.S. Army, originally hailed from rural South Louisiana. He deployed as a machine gunner to Iraq conducting armored convoys and checkpoint security operations. His belowthe-knee leg amputation was the result of a battle tank accident. After 18 months at Walter Reed Medical Center, EJ struggled to rebuild his life, ultimately reaching out to other Veterans and joining AHERO. A musician, he has participated in Operation Song, a songwriting workshop for Veterans. EJ’s book, “Cicada,” follows his story from age 13, when he was faced with the trauma of a killing by his best friend, on through his military experiences and beyond. Today, he attributes his success in surviving to serving others. Part 1 of his book is offered here.
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HONOR & REMEMBER
A Patriotic Evolution In 1987, The Moving Wall, a touring version of The Wall in Washington, D.C., visited Pensacola. For the next five years, the Vietnam Veterans of Northwest Florida (VVNF) raised money for a permanent memorial in Pensacola as well. Strongly supported by Pensacola’s thenmayor, Vince Whibbs, Vietnam Veterans LCpl Lenny Collins, USMC; Chief Petty Officer Art Giberson, USN; and Nelson Welborn, U. S. Army worked to “fill in all the holes” to make the dream reality. In January 1991, VVNF reached an agreement with the City of Pensacola for use of a 5.5-acre parcel of land near the Bay for a memorial site. The Wall South was dedicated on October 24, 1992, the first permanent memorial outside of Washington to carry all 58,217 names of Americans killed or missing in action in the Vietnam War. FAST-FORWARD TO 2020 Other beautiful memorials would be installed over time as Veterans Memorial Park took shape. Each called on visitors to remember the brave souls who fought America’s foreign wars for her and endured great sacrifices in doing so – for too many, the ultimate sacrifice. But one memorial was lacking, one that could remind us all that the sacrifice of one life is multiplied in the loss experienced by the bereaved left living. Now, on Veterans Day, November 11, 2020, this most gaping “hole” would be filled by the dedication of The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Pensacola’s beautiful Veterans Memorial Park.
Vietnam Veteran LCpl Lenny Collins, USMC, attends the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument ceremony. Collins assisted in the effort to bring The Moving Wall to Pensacola. Photos by Gregg Pachowski, Pensacola News Journal AHERO MAGAZINE
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A Night To Remember The Marine Corps League Cpl. J.R. Spears Detachment fundraising dinner honoring MOH recipient Herschel “Woody” Williams was held on December 19, 2019, to benefit the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Committee. The “Evening of Reflection and Honor” fundraiser raised $33,000 to support the installment, in 2020, of the Gold Star Families Monument at Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola.
Moved by the patriotic spirit as embodied by Woody and the military Veterans and young service members present, the dinner’s attendees fully appreciated moving words spoken by Woody of the significance of the Monument to those among us who have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one who died as a result of his or her service to this country. The pictures taken by talented photographer Jef Bond capture the mood of the deeply meaningful and successful evening that will be remembered by all.
Top: Vocalist Kitt Lough, who performed The National Anthem at the Fundraiser, receives Woody's signature on the invitation Middle: Woody speaks with (l-r) 1stLt Laurel Rodgers, USMC; Cpl Alverez, USMC; GySgt Ryan Masel, USMC; LCpl Brandon Haag, USMC; Mike Vazzano; and Airman (not identified) Left: Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Herschel "Woody" Williams stands as Guest of Honor with Milton H.S. JROTC Honor Guard
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Top: Ashley Lukasiewicz, Gold Star Wife of fallen USMC Capt. Dusty Lukasiewicz, gets the signature of this honored Hero of the Battle for Iwo Jima Left: 1sLt Laurel Hartsfield, USMC with Woody and LCpl Brandon Haag
Generous Support For Gold Star Families Monument From The League The Cpl J. R. Spears Detachment 066 of the Marine Corps League has consistently demonstrated its gratitude for the commitment the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation of Pensacola has shown in its operation and care of the Park. This year was no different. In recognition and deep appreciation of our area’s Gold Star Families, whose enormous sacrifice have helped ensure our freedom, the Spears Detachment presented the Foundation with a check for $33,370 in support of installation of the Gold Star Families Monument at Pensacola’s beautiful Veterans Memorial Park.
League members present check to Gold Star Family members. Back row, (l-r) Norm “Frenchy’ LaFontaine, Tim Spears, Dave Glassman, Pete Southerland. Front row - Jordan Sibley, Mayor Grover Robinson, Lynn Feehan, Roberto Fernandez, and Suzi Fernandez AHERO MAGAZINE
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Veterans Day 2020 In a year full of sorrow and disappointment the City of Pensacola saluted its military tradition by rising to the occasion with a Parade to celebrate our Veterans, and a Ceremony to honor the great sacrifices endured by The Gold Star Families of our Fallen.
Ron Caster rides with Co-pilot English Bulldog "Chopper" aboard. Photo: Gregg Pachowski, PNJ 80 AHERO MAGAZINE
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Watching the Parade
Patriots all! Members of American Heritage Girls, Troop FL7145
As Grand Marshall of the Parade, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Woody Williams rides in style! Photo: Stacey Paden
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Finding Purpose In Community Through Our Shared Story Of Sacrifice By Kim Blackmon, Gold Star Widow Navigating the military world and way of life requires considerable guidance, and this need increases exponentially when you lose the loved one you sent off to serve. Grief and confusion take over with the loss because no one is ever truly prepared for this new and bitter reality. Almost 19 years ago, on February 17, 2002, I became a military widow. My late husband, Captain James B. Blackmon Jr., USMC, was killed in a training accident in Twenty-nine Palms, California. His squadron was there for training exercises. We were newly married for less than three years, and 7-1/2 months pregnant with our first child. We had been living in Beaufort, S.C., which, like Pensacola, Fla., is a close-knit military community. With the sudden death of my husband, and a baby on the way, I felt lost and alone; however, my Marine Corps CACO and the Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, as well as the community, did so much to help me navigate through this difficult and emotional time. A month after our son was born, I began the process of relocating back to my hometown of Pensacola. But once back home, I felt like a fish out of water when it came to all things military. My military support was no longer right down the road and figuring out who to call was a daunting task. At times, being barely able to
put one foot in front of the other, the idea of figuring out my benefits was the furthest thing from my mind. My family, friends, and church family held me up. Through tears, frustration, and reading, I began to understand a few things to help my journey. By the time some years had passed, I had learned quite a bit. My son and I were doing great, and I had even figured out what I thought were all the benefits available to us. But then I attended an event that honored those who served and died in Marine Aviation, and I met another Marine widow, Ashley Lukasiewicz. Through our conversation, Ashley educated me about other organizations that could provide help and they far surpassed anything I could have ever expected. However, in hindsight, that means for almost 18 years there had been other benefits that my family and I should have been receiving, but we knew nothing about them. Had I not met this fellow traveler on the road we share, I would have remained uninformed about the support my child and I should have received. After our chance meeting, Ashley encouraged me to become part of the planning committee working to bring our community a Gulf Coast Gold Star Family Memorial Monument. As Gold Star Family members, we are part of a group no one wants to join; nonetheless,
Jayden and Kim Blackmon, Gold Star Son and Widow of Capt James Blackmon Jr., USMC
here we are. We all need help to navigate our unique and emotionally difficult world. Sometimes help comes simply in being with others who are finding ways to honor their losses. I realized that to be part of something that would be historical in our community is such an honor. And through this committee, I was graced to be able meet other local Gold Star families as well. Being a part of this wonderful group of people has had a positive impact on my life, so I can’t thank Ashley enough. Having someone to talk to who can genuinely relate is simply an enormous blessing.
Help For Bereaved Families By Ashley Lukasiewicz Gold Star Wife of Captain Dustin R. Lukasiewicz, USMC Over the past five and a half years I have unfortunately become an expert when it comes to "benefits" we receive as Gold Star Families. There are so many people who do not realize that these entitlements exist or know the variety of helpful programs and organizations available to families like ours. When my husband, Dusty, was killed, I was lucky to have amazing Casualty Assistance Calls Officers (CACOs, as they are called in 82 AHERO MAGAZINE
the USMC; in other military branches they are known as CAOs), because Dusty's unit was super organized. I also had tons of support from other sources, including the Army. The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument organization provides information, support, and resources to our local families. All casualty officers are NOT created equally! Many are good at their jobs, but some seem to have no idea what they are
doing. Years ago, there were no such officers at all for families; instead, they received news of their loved ones death via telegram. This, to me, is so awful, I can't even imagine ... I will always be there for other Gold Star Families, to provide them with information, to talk about their loved one – or just to listen. This is what our organization, as a community of families of the fallen, is all about.
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How Sacrifice, Sorrow And Hope Inspired Our Gold Star Families Monument By by Suzi Fernandez, Gold Star Mother Not many times in life are we able to look back and reflect on an idea formulated in shared grief – an idea we were part of putting into motion and now can revel in fruition. This became a truth for me. Five years ago my son, SSgt Forrest Sibley, a combat controller in the Air Force, was killed in action in Afghanistan fighting for our country and freedom. Stricken, I was at a complete loss but soon learned the comfort of being together with others who had suffered similar devastation. At first it was exclusively the Air Force family, but then it became the friends I met
A Note From Pop-A-Smoke
through other outlets, such as Pensacola’s Veterans Memorial Park. This group of compassionate people, all from different backgrounds but each forged in loss and all united in remembrance of our fallen, became determined to establish a place where we could gather and reflect on the sacrifices of our loved ones. The Gulf Coast Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Committee was born. Its purpose in this inspiring Park, which is steeped in the rich heritage and traditions of all branches of our military, was embraced by our community as touching the hearts of all those who have endured such loss.
Our Pop-a-Smok e members have always supported recognition of th e incalculable cont ributions and sacr ifices made by our serv ice men and wom en on behalf of our grea t nation. This supp ort includes recognizi ng the sacrifices made by Gold Star Fam ilies. The majorit y of our members are Mar ine Corps helicop ter aircrew who have answered our co untry's calls to serve, wh ether in peacetim e or combat, or in hu manitarian missio ns. Pensacola’s Vetera ns Memorial Park and organizations lik e our own that su pport it, such as The W ingman Foundatio n and the voluntee rs of AHERO, ar e champions of Am erica’s fallen and wounded or inju red service men and women. These wo rthy individuals must never be forgotte n. For all the reas on s above, it is our di stinct honor to su pport the Wingman Fo undation and AH ERO in their endeavors. ~ COL Slick Katz , USMC (Ret) President, Pop-ASmoke USMC Combat H elicopter and Tiltrotor Asso ciation
That this Monument would be established as a place of reflection for all Gold Star Families was the ultimate goal. By extension, it would offer the histories of some of America’s bravest heroes to all who come to see it, while also showing our youth how we honor the fallen who stepped forward to defend our nation. This year, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, amid much excitement and many tears, we celebrated the installation of the Gold Star Families Monument at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola, Fla. The hope of the families of those who gave their all is to enlighten the next generation of warfighters on why it is said that "Freedom is not Free."
An Auxiliary Pledged to Help
Families directly touched by the loss of a loved one due to military service have generally endured the unrelenting pain of such loss alone or within the small circle of family and friends. Our area’s grieving families took heart upon hearing of Congressional Medal Of Honor recipient Herschel “Woody” Williams’ success in establishing his Foundation in support of creating and placing, in towns and parks across the nation, a memorial monument uniquely designed to honor their great sacrifice.
Now formally united in their commitment to raise awareness of the plight of families of the fallen, The Gold Star Families Foundation Memorial Monument Auxiliary is pledged to: • Preserve and promote our Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at Veterans Memorial Park, Pensacola. • Provide a resource of compassion and information for current and future Gold Star Family members. • Conduct outreach to connect with and educate our community on the values and importance represented by the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, while exposing the next generation to what is meant by the concepts of service and sacrifice, and why we say that freedom only comes at a price. AHERO MAGAZINE
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Lynn's Gold Stars Corner Their Sacrifices Honored: Our POW MIA FLAG By Lynn Feehan, Gold Star Mother
Inside the front door, you are greeted by the sight of a small table that’s set for one. At first glance, you see it is empty. Then you notice the items on the table atop its white tablecloth. They may vary a little from event to event – a single rose, a yellow ribbon, a Bible, a lighted candle, an inverted glass, perhaps a pinch of salt or a slice of lemon. Then you see the flag that tells the reason for this recognition dinner. The table becomes immediately recognizable: It is the reserved Missing-Man Table. Its purpose is to honor and remember those who did not make it home from any war or conflict involving the United States. The toast is made:
“Let us now raise our water glasses in a toast to honor America’s POW/MIAs, to the success of our efforts to account for them, and to the safety of all now serving our nation.” A SACRED SYMBOL CRAFTED On January 7, 1970, LCDR Michael Hoff, USN, flew his Sidewinder A7A Corsair off the USS Coral Sea and was pronounced MIA that same day. As an MIA spouse, Mary Helen Hoff joined the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia Foundation, and soon recognized the need for a symbol for United States prisoners of war and missing-in-action service members. National League of Families President Evelyn 84 AHERO MAGAZINE
Grubb undertook the development of the POW/MIA flag. Sadly, the missing Hoff, who had been promoted to Commander while MIA, was declared dead on November 16, 1978. The POW/MIA flag was originally designed by military wife and artist Haydn Anthony, but was modified by WWII Veteran and commercial artist, Newt Heisley, who created the current recognizable look. Grubb campaigned for widespread acceptance of the flag with the federal government, local governments, and civilian organizations. Although developed for the National League, the flag’s trademark status was meant to ensure the widest possible circulation. The goal was for it to be used in efforts to advocate for improved treatment of prisoners of war and more answers about American POW/MIAs. Some aspects of the flag have been modified over the years. However, its logo of the silhouetted man’s profile against a strand of barbed wire with a watchtower in the background and, underneath, the words, “You are not forgotten,” remains an icon of American culture, a representation of our nation’s concern for American prisoners of war and missing-in-action service members for wars ever since.
ON THEIR BEHALF: AN ONGOING MISSION In 1982, the flag was flown over the White House for the first time. In 1990, Congress passed a law in recognition of it as a commitment to resolving the fates of Americans still held prisoner or missing (in Southeast Asia). In 2011, Idaho required it to be flown 24 hours a day until all missing members are returned, and in 2019, the National POW/MIA Flag Act was signed into law requiring the flag be flown on certain federal properties, including the U.S. Capitol, whenever the flag of the United States is flown. Fifty years later, the National League continues to work toward fulfillment of its goal. As of March 2020, there are currently more than 81,900 Americans still classified as missing in action. The Vietnam War accounts for 2 percent of that total with 1,567 still MIA. The importance of the flag lies in its lasting visibility as a reminder of our commitment to keep searching, and of the Defense POW/ MIA Accounting Agency’s continuing solemn work of identifying unaccounted-for service members.
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The Honor And Remember Flag By Lynn Feehan, Gold Star Mother
When George Lutz’s son, Cpl. George A. Lutz II, was killed by a sniper’s bullet on December 29, 2005, in Falluja, Iraq, his family and friends endured the agony of overwhelming loss. In the months that followed, the senior Lutz visited other families who had lost loved ones in the Iraq war. He discovered they shared two serious concerns: They wanted to know their sacrifice was not in vain, and to be assured that the nation would not forget. Lutz felt that what was needed was a universally recognized symbol that specifically acknowledged the fallen American military service men and women. He researched, but could find nothing. Determined, he engaged others in the effort, and soon the idea of an Honor and Remember Flag emerged: a national symbol, created to honor all lives lost in action or as a result of service. Vivid with our nation’s colors and the iconic Gold Star, it became reality. Recognizing with gratitude and respect the ultimate sacrifice made by members of the United States military in service to our nation, and paying tribute to the enduring sacrifice of their families, the Honor and Remember Flag was unveiled at a ceremony on Memorial Day, 2008, in Chesapeake, Virginia. WHERE ARE WE NOW? There are currently twenty-six states that have officially adopted the flag. In July 2019, a bill was introduced to amend the United States Code Title 36 in both the House (H.R. 3615) and the Senate (S. 2371). It designated the Honor and Remember Flag as the official symbol recognizing and honoring members of our Armed Forces who died during, or due to, their military service. Since 2008, Honor and Remember, Inc., has been the nationally recognized non-profit organization whose goal is to establish the flag as a symbol of remembrance understood by all. They aim to educate the nation on the meaning and importance of the flag and the impact on families of the loss of their fallen loved ones. Thus, in addition to several annual programs and events for Gold Star Families, they provide awareness events that support the remembrance message. Recently, as fellow Gulf Coast Gold Star
Families Monument Committee member, Ashley Lukasiewicz, was requesting a sponsorship for an Honor and Remember Flag from the Holley-Navarre Elks Lodge Board of Directors in Navarre, Florida, one of the committee members began tearing up. As a spouse of a long-term member of the lodge, I have cultivated many friendships over the past 20 years, however, I had not known there was another Gold Star Mother in our midst. Longtime Elks Lodge bartenders Libby and Mike Blackwood, who have been married for 40 years, had lost their daughter, Air Force Staff Sergeant Michelle Blackwood Johnson, in 2004 due to an accident. Libby serves on the board of directors. After the presentation, the board noted that they would get back to us on the sponsorship request at a later time. The meet-and-greet that followed yielded discussions about the flags and benefits available to Gold Star children and families. Just how many Gold Star families were affiliated with the lodge, we wondered, and how many might be here in the local community? What could the lodge do to provide this information to them? FORGING ON, INSPIRED BY ONE DAD’S LOVE The Honor and Remember flag recognizes the silent community of people who mostly grieve with family or alone. Our request started a conversation with the board members that we feel will spread throughout our
largely military local area where too many residents still don’t know about the Honor and Remember Flag, or about the resources available to Gold Star Family members. Here, the small Holley-Navarre Elks Lodge with the huge hearts of its members may well provide a much-needed service to those among us who have silently, in private, grieved our greatest loss while perhaps struggling to believe it was not in vain. As a symbol that recognizes and shows deep appreciation for the lives given as the price of freedom, the Honor and Remember flag that grew from a dad’s love for his personal fallen hero reassures us, his fellow Gold Star Families, that our beloved lost ones will always be remembered.
“Words fail to capture the debt and gratitude owed … What we can say is ‘Thank you’ with the understanding that every breath of air is a gift from the fallen.” ~ Anonymous AHERO MAGAZINE
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Appreciation For The Gold Star Families Committee By Jill Hubbs, Gold Star Daughter
Editor’s note: Jill Hubbs spoke at the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument dedication ceremony and also provided the 50 yellow roses laid by Gold Star Family members at the base of the Monument during the event. Hubbs is general manager of WSRE television and a member of the Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola Foundation Board of Directors. When asked to tell us something about her own family’s loss of her father, Cmdr. Donald Richard Hubbs, a Naval aviator still listed as missing in action long after the Vietnam War, and her support of the committee’s efforts to install the Monument here at Pensacola, she provided this heartfelt response:
All I can say is thank goodness there are resources and people to help. When my dad became missing in action, someone did come to the house to notify us but after the initial contact, we were pretty much on our own. There was no support system whatsoever. I don’t know how my mother coped with all she faced.
I have friends whose dads were killed in Vietnam. One shared with me that her family lived on the base and after her dad was KIA, they had less than two weeks to move off base. Overcome with the loss of her father, they had no idea where to go. So I am glad that there are resources, support and benefits for Gold Star Families today. It is important that they know what is available and how to utilize it.
Jill Hubbs speaks to the ceremony's attendees. Photo: Gregg Pachowski, PNJ 86 AHERO MAGAZINE
One thing I have learned through being a part of Sons & Daughters in Touch (Gold Star Sons and Daughters from Vietnam War) is that we all understand each other, have similar stories, and feel comforted by being together. We’ve all been through the same experiences. Forming a group here to establish the Monument is so meaningful, and I want to help as much as possible.
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The crowd awaits the unveiling of The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. Photo: Gregg Pachowski, PNJ
“The City of Pensacola is proud to support the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument and the committee’s efforts to create a special place at Veterans Memorial Park dedicated to the families of fallen service members. … We are truly thankful for the sacrifices of the men and women of the U.S. military and their families, especially those families who have lost loved ones.” ~ Mayor Grover Robinson Pensacola, Florida
For love of their fallen hero, Capt Dusty Lukasiewicz, USMC ... Gold Star Wife Ashley Lukasiewicz with Gold Star Son Dusty and Gold Star Daughter Isobel place their yellow roses. Photo: Gregg Pachowski, PNJ
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Team AWKO fundraisers for the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument stand together with Medal of Honor Recipient Woody Williams. In front row (l-r): Wendy Corbett, Shannon Callahan, Michelle Press, Ladonna Dewey, Alyssa Weber, Brad Ermi, and Barbara Penfold. In back row (l-r): Robert Williams, Jennifer Lose, Michael Wells, Joshua Laney, Herbert Hale, and Dustin Turner.
Congressional Medal Of Honor Recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams holds the audience rapt. Woody's heroism in destroying several enemy machine-gun "pillboxes" contributed greatly to the taking of Iwo Jima in WW ll. Photo: Gregg Pachowski PNJ.
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The long awaited Gold Star Families Monument is revealed. Photo: Gregg Pachowski PNJ.
The Wingman Foundation
has generously supported efforts to bring monuments honoring the great sacrifices of America’s military men and women here to Pensacola’s Veteran’s Memorial Park. In 2019, the Foundation provided funds totaling $32,000 toward the Marine Aviation Memorial Bell Tower and the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument Project. Pictured here after the Wingman Foundation “Memorial Walk” fundraiser, are (l-r) members Capt Christopher Comeau, USMC; Maj Kit Zipf, USMC; Ashley Lukasiewicz, Gold Star Wife and Head of Physical Memorials for the Wingman Foundation; Lt. Cmdr. Michael Watson, USN; and Maj Donald Carlsen, USMCR.
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HONOR & REMEMBER Congressional Medal Of Honor recipient Herschel “Woody” Williams stands in a final salute before the Monument. Here, eloquently evoking the deep human sorrow and significance of ultimate sacrifice, is a collage of scenes symbolically depicting: iconic Pensacola, the cradle of Naval Aviation; the U.S. “Prisoner Of War / Missing In Action” emblem; America’s Gold Star Families, hand-in-hand; the historic Flag Raising on Iwo Jima; and family members grieving at the headstones of the fallen in Barrancas National Cemetery at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
Photo: Gregg Pachowski PNJ. 90 AHERO MAGAZINE
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America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors (AHERO) has been serving wounded/injured service members and Veterans for ten years, offering...
Published on Dec 28, 2020
America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors (AHERO) has been serving wounded/injured service members and Veterans for ten years, offering...