AHERO Magazine - Spring.Summer 23

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Living Legends at AHERO Lodge

MajGen Livingston Lodge

Our newest assault on the scourge of 22 dead every day

Retired U.S. Marine Corps

MajGen James E. Livingston (MOH) and close friend

Amb. Theodore R. Britton (CGM) at dedication of AHERO Warrior Lodge

SPRING 2023
MAGAZINE ALABAMA coasting presents
Managing Partner/CEO Danny Calametti President/Publisher David Calametti Editor in Chief Dave Glassman Senior Editor Connie Conway presents MAGAZINE ©2022 Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher. david@alabamacoasting.com • danny@alabamacoasting.com • 5758 Huffman Drive North • Mobile, AL 36693 • 251-694-0457 Assistant Editor Lynn Feehan Editorial Assistants and Writers Jeremy Clarke, Norm “Frenchy” LaFontaine, Art Director Randy Jennings Published by Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC Photographers Stacey Paden, Ira Verbois Cover Photo Credit: Jamie Martin/ Courtesy of Alabama Tourism Department TABLE OF CONTENTS AHERO ON THE MOVE Founders Message ...................................................... 4 AHERO’s MajGen James E. Livingston Warrior Lodge .............................................................. 6 AHERO Sends Out a Huge Thank You .................... 14 Mission Brief .............................................................. 16 A Culmination of The Love & Work of Many Hearts & Hands ............................................... 17 Cedar Hills Outfitters ................................................ 18 Hunting With the Odoms .......................................... 20 By Hook ....................................................................... 22 Josh’s Cabin Gets the Guns to Hammers Touch ... 24 For This Vet, it Was Time to "Take a Knee" ........... 26 Music4AHERO’s Exciting New Initiative .............. 30 The Cost of War: Moral Injury ................................. 32 How Comes After Why: The Story of a Guy on a Porch ........................................................... 34 AHERO’s BBQ Team Debuts at Whistle Stop Festival ........................................................................ 36 IN SERVICE TO OUR NATION Veterans Week Proclamation ................................. 40 Seven Days of Recognition & Thanks ................... 41 MWV/CSME Highlights Partnerships During Veterans Week ........................................................... 42 A Pensacola Classic: MCL/TEL’s 5K Semper Fi Charity Run.................................................................. 50 DOFFL & Ryan Blackwell ......................................... 52 Pensacola Veterans Support Organizations Network (PVSON) ...................................................... 56 Retired to Reconcile - U.S. Navy Chief Jason Lewis................................................................ 58 The Frenchy Connection: Taking a Long Look Back ......................................... 60 A Meaningful Life ...................................................... 64 The Tragedy of Military Training Loses ................. 65 Battles at the War Horse Project............................ 66 I Take a Moment of Pride ......................................... 69 Friend to Many. Hero to Us All ................................ 70 ALL IN 4AHERO Our 2022 Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up ...... 74 How the “Jeeples” Went the Distance ................. 94 A Mouse 4AHERO ...................................................... 96 Generosity to Nourish the Heroes We Love ......... 98 Red Beard Gives Them Wings .............................. 102 AHERO Considers a Plunge into New Waters: Diving 4AHERO ......................................................... 104 Inspiring Kappa Sigma’s “Tournament Troops” .............................................. 106 For Love of a Son...................................................... 108 No Longer in Pain .................................................... 110 UnOrthodoc ............................................................... 111 Creating the Great Pensacola 3-Mile Bridge Reef #5 ....................................................................... 112 Stalking the Ravenous, Destructive Lionfish in our Gulf Waters ............................................................... 116 SUPPORTING AHERO Levin, Papantonio, Rafferty ........................................ 2 Southwind Marina .................................................. 118 Bamboo Willie's ...................................................... 119 Hooters ...................................................................... 119 Aylstock Witkin Kreis Overholtz........................... 120

Founder’s Message Welcome to Our Spring 2023 Issue of AHERO Magazine!

The year 2022 ended on an amazingly exciting note for AHERO when, on December 10th, our dream of dedicating a lodge to Medal of Honor Recipient Major General James E. Livingston came true!

Our AHERO team was blessed to be able to have MajGen Livingston here to personally cut the ribbon on our much-anticipated AHERO Lodge. There to attend the event alongside him (figuratively speaking but very much in person) were some walking history books.

We’d had a dedicated team of a few very hard-working AHERO supporters prior to the event, who put in countless hours to clean the property and prepare the lodge for a dedication befitting a War Hero.

In my modest construction/interior decorating opinion, I would guess that our volunteers found a way to bend time. I figured this out by observing that they produced approximately six years of regular human work in just six months. Also, I suspect that they are super-humans.

Special thanks to Dan Geiser, Todd Sasser, Eric Bail, ACME brick Jason Smith and Eduardo Chavez, Ken and Kolby Odom, and to Tamar Doull and Jeff Tuggle for leading the charge.

We were also able to get “Josh’s Cabin” almost completely closed up with only a few work weeks out until completion.

As we reported in our last issue of AHERO Magazine, Lomax Assembly of God helped us start the project with Dan Geiser, Alabama Steel, John McClain, Todd Sasser, Jeff Tuggle, Tallassee True Value, and our new friends at Great Southern Wood who are supporting this project.

The presence of the new Josh’s Cabin turns some of the tragedy in losing our friend into triumph. It has done this by simply making it possible for us to enable the arrival of more Veterans and First Responders to benefit from

the healing experience of being at AHERO. We will celebrate by dedicating that area to the life of the war hero and Green Beret we knew as “Josh.”

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To connect with us, please go to www.AHEROusa.org/contact AHERO ON THE MOVE

After the lodge dedication in December, our team went into overdrive, producing exciting messaging to go out to a few of the General Officers who attended. A few “points” really stood out for me in the flyer they created (the entirety of which you can read in this issue):

• AHERO’s mission is to help Veterans and First Responders recover from their physical wounds and trauma.

• As a Real World Landing Zone for them, AHERO provides outdoor activities with their peers, as well as beneficial programs.

• AHERO is an all-volunteer organization. Hundreds of hours are donated weekly in support of our mission to help hundreds of Veterans and First Responders through the next year.

As most of you know, AHERO is a nonalcohol/substance-free nonprofit working to support as many Veterans and First Responders as possible given our commitment to our small-budget requirement. Please share our website, AHEROUSA.Org, with

COMMUNITY SUPPORTING AHERO

all your friends, family members, and workand-church-family members so we can do even more of this work. Consider setting up a monthly donation to help us continue, and to save a Veteran or First Responder’s life!

Thank you for reading our wonderful magazine and for keeping our AHERO

Veterans and First Responders in your hearts and on your minds. We know you have options, so please know how very grateful we are to you for making AHERO your Veteran Service Organization of choice!

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 5 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Among the opening's many attendants were (back row, l-r) Kolby Odom, Ken Odom, Billy Schreiner, Dave Glassman, Mark Oliva. (Middle, l-r) Alice Cole, Dave Riley, Connie Conway, Eric Ball (kneeling). (Front) Everett Cole.

AHERO Presents

MajGen James E. Livingston, USMC (MOH/Ret)

WARRIOR LODGE

“Leadership is about your soul, the reflection of your inner self, that young Marines are always gauging.”

~MajGen James E. Livingston, USMC

6 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 AHERO ON THE MOVE

A home away from home to provide a respite where our Veterans and First Responders can calmly assess their future and find a new sense of purpose through fellowship and outdoor activities. Here, they’ll find future opportunities opening to them through exposure to vocational experiences from Operation Phoenix, Mid-South RC&D, Tall Timbers, and our other dedicated partners.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 7 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate

The MajGen James E. Livingston AHERO Warrior Lodge Opens

Peeling Back the Layers of a Dream Come

True

On December 10, 2022, America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors (AHERO) saw one of its most important longtime dreams finally come true.

The dream? To have a custom facility where we can accommodate at-risk Veterans for extended periods of time in outdoor enjoyment, fellowship, and frank conversation – all of it amounting to healing. And all of it on AHERO’s own extensive property!

For those of you not familiar with AHERO, we host events (primarily hunting and fishing trips), several times a year, bringing wounded and injured Veterans in from all over the U.S. to have a weekend away from the trials and tribulations of transitioning back into what can now seem an alien civilian world.

And we welcome members of America’s corps of brave First Responders, whose career requires them to face extreme stress, danger and sometimes terror to keep the rest of us safe, as our Vets have done since our great nation was born.

Turning heroes away from all-too-possible, despair-driven suicide is AHERO’s mission. Bringing joy and a sense of connection back to them is the path we’re on to do it. What was needed to optimally accomplish our mission was a sizeable, cohesive, safe place where these at-risk guys and gals could gradually unwind and, in AHERO-speak, “peel back the layers of pain so the real healing can begin.”

Too many who may seem to have adapted to civilian life, haven’t. Not really. They’re “fakin’ it like they’re makin’ it,” so to speak.

Still, the process of healing takes time. And as much as we pour love and commitment into each of our hunts or Warrior Hook-Up weekends, they are just that: weekends. Albeit 3-day weekends.

Other farms and homes have generously accommodated event participants, much to AHERO’s grateful appreciation. But even the welcoming firepit where all gathered around at evening was a jaunt away. All in all, transporting folks “to and from” for meals, sleep, showers amounted to a net negative. Distance meant time stolen from time spent, all of us together.

Not anymore.

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Dave Riley and Lee Stuckey flank Guest of Honor MajGen Livingston and Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jeff Draney. Veteran Everett Cole, combat wounded Vietnam, renders salute during Colors.
AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 9 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
LtoR-Dan Geiser, Amb Theodore R. Britton, Col Jeff Tuggle, USMC (Ret) USMC Sgt Keyshauna N. Johnson renders salute during presentation of Colors.
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AHERO ON THE MOVE
James E. Livingston, USMC/MOH, (Ret) with Ambassador Britton in discussion with attending active duty Marines. Vietnam War purple heart recipients Bobby Parker and Everett Cole share stories with attending active duty Marines. Located in the midst of fine hunting lands, the MajGen Livingston AHERO Lodge is a place of calm and beauty where it's easy for the mind to find peace.
AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 11 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Lima Co, 3BN, 23rd Marines present our nation's Colors. We thank them for this honor!
MajGen Dale Alford, USMC (Ret), Dave Riley, James E. Livingston, USMC/MOH, (Ret)

AHERO ON THE MOVE

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Col Mike Corrado, USMC (Ret) performs with Jeff Silvey, Rustry Tabor and Kevin Adair. Colors displayed to end the ceremony. Music4AHERO LODGE - Players set up to perform at the Dedication event (l-r)-Kevin Adair, Jeff Silvey, Rusty Tabor, Mike Corrado, John Lassiter.
AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 13 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
A late night shot after the celebrationAHERO's Warrior Lodge casts its interior light out over the land.

For Every Helping Hand, Heartfelt Gift, and Prayer for Success That Made our Lodge a Reality AHERO Sends out a Huge THANK YOU!

Our supporters keep AHERO going all year, every year. We’ll name a number of them here, but our thanks go out to all who have helped … so if we missed your name, you KNOW who you are (and – yes – so do we)!

Thank you to Dave Riley, quad amputee, former National Commander of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and long-standing AHERO hero and supporter; to SgtMaj Bobby Parker with (five!) Purple Hearts for his courageous actions in combat in Vietnam, and SgtMaj Eric Shaffer, who retired out of Recruiting Station (RS) Montgomery; and to Col Jeff Tuggle, who served 30 years in the Marines.

To USMC Col Mike Corrado, who retired after 28 years of service, and to USMC Col Erin Cunningham, who is still on active duty; thanks to Mark M. Tuggle, currently chief of staff for an Alabama State House congressional representative, for your support. Thank you to Vietnam Veteran Everett Cole, a severely wounded Marine hero – We salute you, sir!

Endless thanks as well to Matt and Amy McDonald and Team “Breathe Easy”; to Keith Sabel of Sabel Steel, the folks at Great Southern Wood/YellaWood, and to JR Smith from Guns to Hammers for all their ongoing help for our heroes! Thank you to Kirby Caddell & family for evenings around their wonderful firepit, and Thomas Crews & family for so kindly letting us use their beautiful lodge.

Affectionate thanks to Shana Howard, matriarch of the famous “Shana’s Place,” whose always-delicious support fuels our AHERO mission. And thank you to Joe Whatley, Jody

Thrasher, Ed Gannon, and all the many others who have been with us over the years.

Special thanks to Jennifer Adams Starling and family for finishing up the Lodge with an amazing hand-made custom kitchen island base for the Warrior Lodge, gloriously topped “by Hook” (Dave Riley, master woodworker, owner). And to Dru Goodwin et al for their generous donation of beef, feeding everyone through Penny M. Walters’ amazing catering!

Thank you to Billy and Shari Schreiner of Cedar Hills Outfitters – thank you, Billy, for driving all the way from Texas at Cedar Hills Outfitters to help us get the Lodge ready; and to Jacob Walker, Steve Long and Allen Deese who helped us set up the Veteran quail hunt. And thanks to Ben Lassiter from Froggy Bottom for donating rock to help fix our roads.

Many thanks to John McGuire and Tall Timbers for bringing awareness of prescribedburn land management certification programs to our Veterans; and to Kevin Carter, CEO of Attack One Fire Management for putting together the nuts and bolts and practical training of the Veterans firefighting credentialling program.

And to our awesome Music4AHERO musicians who are so incredibly talented! We are blessed to call you all friends and have your participation in the AHERO Records initiative, Jeff Silvey, Rusty Tabor, and Kevin Adair (ably supported by fabulous wife, Carmen Adair), as well the aforementioned Mike Corrado - you guys are amazing!

Warm thanks to the ministers who took time to spend the weekend with us: Paster Shawn York of Highpoint Church, Vint Norris,

and Lee’s cousin, Rob Jackson. Thank you for being there to ensure we kept our focus on our Creator. Also aiding us from Highpoint Church, Production Manager Corey Jess –thanks to you, as well, sir!

And thank you to our AHERO Board of Directors for their constant support and tireless total commitment to AHERO. We have gone through some rough times, but Lee Stuckey, sir, you and Dave Glassman, Lex McMahon, and Mark Oliva have NEVER lost sight of our Vision and Mission. It is testament to the great caliber of men you are.

Many thanks to GySgt Christopher Stoudemire and the awesome Marines from Lima Co 3/23 for providing their exceptional color guard to honor our military heroes; and to the dedicated Eric Scott, Dan Geiser, Jimmy Mann, James Sasser, and again to the amazing Tamar Doull, for working your tails off the final few weeks to help us get across the finish line!

You kept Lee sane as we labored (and ate as much as seven entire elephants in a matter of weeks) in order to get the Lodge beautifully ready in time to honor and welcome its heroic namesake, retired USMC MajGen James E. Livingston, as well as Ambassador Theodore R. Britton, USMC LtGen James Laster (Ret), and MajGen Dale Alford (Ret).

AHERO volunteers all, you belong to a truly outstanding, unique tribe of Americans. Without all of you who are part of all of us, we would not be able to provide the support that we do for our Veterans and First Responders who have known great stress, injury and pain as a result of their service and deserve our respect and care.

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Yet Veteran suicide numbers are not declining

WHY: We believe many suicides occur when a Veteran is isolated from his or her community, when they do not have easily navigable resources, when they become dependent on drugs and/or alcohol, and when they lose faith and a sense of purpose.

MISSION: AHERO seeks to reverse the effects of this isolation by bringing wounded and injured Veterans who are at risk of suicide together in comradery to participate in healthy outdoor activities. This can provide a needed path to recovery from the damage done to their lives by the physical wounds and psychological trauma they have endured.

WE’RE INTERCONNECTED: We build and solidify robust protocols with our trusted VSOs to ensure that no Veteran in need falls between the cracks. Wide in our outreach, we are local to a limited area. Our lane is the Landing Zone, but our interconnected partners and caring communities at large provide our Veterans with additional programs and resources while enabling us to track their wellbeing.

A REAL-WORLD LANDING ZONE FOR VETS: Our new Major General James E. LIVINGston Lodge gives us the ability to accommodate up to 20 Veterans at a time in a peaceful location and over an extended period. Here, they are able to enjoy Outdoor Recreation, including fishing and hunting, while bonding with fellow Vets and volunteers.

As they reconnect with their Tribe and break bread, they begin to peel back the layers of pain, gaining greater self-understanding. And they have access to our realworld network of trusted partners who provide mental & physical health, financial, or legal counseling – even employment resources.

The relationship each Veteran builds with AHERO and its partners establishes a connection through communications (in person or via AI technology) that continues to inspire them with renewed faith and sense of purpose.

AHERO NEEDS YOUR LEGACY FINANCIAL SUPPORT: We are an all-volunteer organization. We have a wealth of amazing humans donating hundreds of hours every week. The reality is we spend too much time raising funds, and not enough time saving lives. We must stick to our lane.

As we grow and transition into the Landing Zone, we need to robustly connect with our partner organizations to ensure seamless services for our Veterans. The previous model of isolated VSOs doesn’t work. It doesn’t reduce suicide numbers – the goal at the heart of AHERO.

We need to put a 100 percent focus on our goal.

BUT WE CANNOT DO IT WITHOUT YOU! We humbly request that qualified, driven individuals assist us in creating an AHERO endowment fund. The interest will enable us to operate optimally. We are humble enough to admit we are not doing enough. But we have a road map. We need drivers. Time, Brothers and Sisters, is not on our side.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 15
There are tens of thousands of Veteran support organizations in the United States.
Billions of dollars are donated annually.
AHERO
MARINE
SUPPORTS
CORPS RESERVES TOYS FOR TOTS
MajGen Livingston with Amb Britton, LtGen Laster and SgtMaj Parker share a photo-op with attending active duty Marines from Marine Aviation Training Support Group-21.

AMERICA’S HEROES ENJOYING RECREATION OUTDOORS AHERO Mission Statement

Reports of Military and Veteran suicide* statistics vary widely. The figure quoted can range from 20 to 30 per day when even one is too many. The number most often given for these great losses, however, is 22.

The mission of AHERO is to reverse the upward trajectory of this statistic – and to do that by recognizing and uplifting those who are most at-risk of adding themselves to it. They are the men and women whose military-service injuries to body, spirit, and soul has made them more likely to take their own lives. AHERO works toward this goal by introducing them to programs and resources that can increase their overall quality of life. These include:

• Developing an informal support network of Veterans across the country.

• Encouraging constructive communication and engagement.

• Boosting Veteran morale with shared outdoor activities and meaningful gatherings.

• Drawing on our interconnected organizations that provide additional important holistic pathways to healing and wellness.

AHERO will accomplish this by welcoming Veterans into communities willing to donate the time, recreational equipment and the natural and financial resources necessary to support events that facilitate fellowship, communication, and mentoring. Through these activities, AHERO will establish and support a network of Veterans with personal experience in learning to deal with the emotional and physical wounds caused by the stress of service and combat. The network will be self-sustaining and support Veterans across the United States of America.

On September 11, 2001, our courageous First Responders rose to be the first line of defense against a focused terrorist attack on our nation. Since then, the country has seen numerous occasions of bravery and self-sacrifice by the dedicated men and women who fight our fires, protect our lives, and provide us with emergency medical treatment and transport. AHERO therefore counts America’s First Responders among those uniformed service members (many of whom are military Veterans in their own right) and Veterans we serve.

AHEROusa 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 and First Responders we serve.

*For purposes of the AHERO mission, the word “Veteran” refers to all who are currently serving our great country in a military capacity or have previously served in any branch of our United States Armed Forces.

16 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 AHERO ON THE MOVE

A Culmination of the Love & Work of Many Hearts & Hands

Because of the dedication of so many generous helpers and supporters, the new AHERO MajGen James E. Livingston Lodge will be able to keep large groups of eventattending Veterans and First Responders accommodated together than was previously possible.

Any AHERO event is at its most effective when participants can spend time with one another in activities involving teamwork during outdoor activities. But it also works through the fellowship found in breaking bread

together, communicating (typically during easygoing “screen porch therapy” sessions), enjoying music … and making individual, lasting friendships along the way.

The group of AHERO volunteers and Veterans pictured here had gathered to talk hunting and collaborate on getting the new Lodge ready for its Grand Opening – a huge task that truly has taken years of fundraising and preparatory work by many, many folks. These gents pictured here are some of them: (left to right) Billy Schreiner, Shawn York, Luke Fair, Dale Alford, Mark Oliva, Jacob Walker,

Jeff Tuggle, Eric Ball, Dan Geiser, Coleman Teel, and Lee Stuckey.

“We were humbled to put together this quail hunt in honor of Major General Dale Alford and his recent retirement from the Marine Corps after over 37 years of dedicated service to our nation,” Lee Stuckey said about the gathering. “Earlier, retired Colonel Jeff Tuggle and the now-retired Major General Alford had mentored Midshipman Luke Fair from Tuskeegee University, which is not far from Shorter.”

~ the editors

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 17 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Lodge supporters honor retirement of USMC MajGen Dale Alford with an AHERO quail hunt.

Cedar Hills Outfitters: A Family Business Proud to Give Back

Cedar Hills Outfitters is a premium familyowned-and-operated hunting outfitter based out of Sonora, Texas. We provide exceptional full-service hunting solutions for all hunters including Veterans, active military, First Responders, beginning hunters, and families with children. We outfit for hunting many species, including Whitetail, Rio Turkey, Axis, Blackbuck, Dal Rams, Oryx, and Addax.

Texas natives and lifetime hunters, we founded Cedar Hills Outfitters after attaining our long-held aspiration of owning a piece

of land in God’s country on the Edwards Plateau. Bobby Bruce, a Marine who is our son-in-law, is head guide and helps in managing the ranch.

When we opened Cedar Hills Outfitters, one of our main goals was to give back to our Veterans and First Responders. Bobby said, “Well, I know a guy …” Sure enough, that guy was Lee Stuckey! Within a month or so, Lee had visited our ranch to meet with us. That was in August 2021, and since then we have hosted multiple trips and a large event in

both January 2022 and 2023. All it took was knowing one person and making one phone call to start helping Vets and First Responders with the healing process by providing AHERO’s ”screen porch therapy.” Or in our case, “deer blind therapy”! Helping Vets and First Responders is and will always be a major part of our mission.

We are also committed to providing the future generation of hunters with enjoyment of the hunting experience, which is why we enjoy providing our services to families with children of all ages!

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Bringing Cedar Hills and AHERO together!

Lee Stuckey adds: “The Schreiner family through Cedar Hills Outfitters continues to show us what ‘right looks like,’ when it comes to supporting our Veterans and First Responders. A lot of people say the words ‘I support our military and First Responders,’ and my next question is always whether they do that through volunteer efforts or financial contributions. The majority of people can’t

respond to that because they haven’t actually supported yet! I then help educate them on the various ways they can show their patriotic support. I can tell you for sure that Billy and Shari Schreiner along with Bobby Bruce continue to support us through their actions. It’s a real honor to have them as a huge part of our AHERO tribe!”

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 19 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Gathered for a photo under Service Flags Standing, left to right: Eduardo Torres (Cedar Hills Outfitters guide), Mike Karol (Centex Construction guide); Veterans Devin Bily, Jeff Williams, Jason Boldenow, and Bobby Bruce (who is also a Cedar Hills Outfitters guide); and Rob Presley (Centex Construction guide), Al “Pinecone” Stuckey (AHERO supporter), Aaron Schiflett (Cedar Hills Outfitters cook) and Kolby Odom (AHERO Supporter) Kneeling, left to right: Billy Schreiner (Owner, Cedar Hills Outfitters), Ken Odom (AHERO supporter) and Maj Lee Stuckey, USMC (Ret) (AHERO founder and president) Billy Schreiner and Lee Stuckey with Cedar Hills Outfitters truck, trailer and side-by-side on loan from Texas. Bobby Bruce, Shari Schreiner, and Billy Schreiner

Hunting With the Odoms: Lee Stuckey Says “Thanks!”

As the New Year opened on 2023, AHERO Founder and CEO Lee Stuckey took it upon himself to personally thank longtime supporters Ken and Kolby Odom for the massive efforts they gave to the job of preparing the new MajGen James E. Livingston AHERO Warrior Lodge for its big official opening event this past December.

Lee’s choice of how to let these two gentlemen know how appreciative he is, well, that was pretty predictable. Because just as Lee loves hunting, so do both Ken and Kolby.

So it wasn’t a hard call.

Though neither Ken nor his son, Kolby, are Veterans, their ten years of giving thousands of hours of volunteering to AHERO and contributing many thousands of dollars adds up to “a gift” impossible to match. But in spirit at least, Lee managed to get pretty close. He did it by gifting this amazing father and son team with an invitation to participate in the second AHERO hunt of the season – this time in Sonora, Texas. There, they were hosted by Shari and Billy Schreiner, owners of Cedar Hills Outfitters, and their team of able guides.

The hunt was clearly very successful, with a proud Kolby Odom harvesting his first axis deer (also called “spotted deer” for its distinctive coat), a species originally native to India. Imported to Texas at one time, they now flourish in the southern part of the state. Like whitetail deer and wild pigs, the axis deer can be destructive, and its numbers must be limited, including, of course, by legal hunting.

So did these two generous AHERO heroes do their part as hunters in helping Mother Nature stay in balance? Let’s just say, the pictures tell it all!

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Success! Shown here are l-r are Mike Karol (Centex Construction guide), Veteran Jeff Williams with his harvested boar, and Rob Presley (Centex Construction guide).

The hunters enjoyed a toasty fire after a satisfying hunting day.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 21 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Proud hunter Kolby (left) and his dad, Ken Odom (right), show off the gloriously antlered axis deer Kolby harvested.

By Hook

If you’ve been around AHERO for the past few years, you probably know Dave Riley. Irrepressibly convivial, and a walking advertisement for everything good about AHERO. Committed, service-oriented, oblivious to his own issues. Yet focused. Always shows up.

It might be easy to look at this amiable fellow and mutter, “Thank you for your service.” Or to take pity on him, a man robbed of not only both his legs, but both his arms.

You might wonder how he does anything. How does he get dressed? How make a phone call or send a text?

BUT REST ASSURED, RILEY’S GOT IT ALL COVERED

This former Coast Guard rescue diver is not only extremely capable (though with a fair degree of assistance from his wife, Yvonne, and his good friend, Ray Hoven), but also remarkably resourceful and highly skilled.

He is – no exaggeration – a master mechanic, electrician, computer scientist and … carpenter. With his own cabinetry and carpentry brand: “Hook Made.”

When AHERO Founder and CEO Lee Stuckey (retired major, USMC) secured the MajGen James E. Livingston Warrior Lodge for AHERO in June 2022, he and his lady, Tamar Doull, didn’t at first realize they had a somewhat awkward problem. Didn’t realize, because there was so much to be done in terms of renovating, refurbishing, etc., before the Lodge’s Grand Opening.

But just weeks before the event, they suddenly did see their dilemma: The kitchen (appropriately huge, as it needed to serve a similarly huge number of AHERO guest Veterans) had a tiny kitchen island. Too tiny to accommodate more than one worker bee trying to prepare chow for many hungry Veterans, honored guests, and volunteers.

Could the island be redesigned? Tamar wondered. Could it feature, let’s say, a very large, impressive countertop? Maybe on the order of six feet wide and about twice that number long?

Dave Riley was recruited. Turned out that a while back, he had spied some beautiful red oak lumber – all of it from a single tree brought down by Hurricane Sally. The tree’s lumber had rested drying for over a year and a half in a friend’s garage. Perfect wood for this project!

The friend offered it for use. But with only a couple of weeks to do the job, Riley rapidly assembled a team consisting of his trusty wingman Ray as well as Robert, Dave Deikel, Josh Burks, and others. Together, they embarked (tree joke!) on the project. A TASK NOT WITHOUT CHALLENGES AND SPEED BUMPS. AND TRIUMPHS

Riley decided he was going old school, not using any screws nor metal of any kind. Just wood. He would bond the huge, thick planks with “biscuits” – crescent-shaped pieces of wood. The finished countertop, he realized, would be a little heavy and tricky to lift.

In fact, it weighs more than 1,000 pounds, and it actually hit the floor once! Undeterred, Riley and his crew went on to work their tails

off, straight up until the day before due date. They were exhausted. Finally, only Riley and Ray remained. Once it was ready, they would need to get the countertop off the sawhorses, onto a trailer and up to AHERO Lodge in Shorter, Alabama.

Riley called Dave Glassman and me. Would we mind making a serious detour on our way up to the Lodge, where we were expected to help get it ready in the next two days before the Grand Opening?

Because, Riley explained, he really needed help to load the beast onto the trailer.

When we arrived, it was dusk, and (gasp!) the countertop wasn’t ready. It still needed three more coats, Riley said, and added that “maybe five people or so would show up” to help load it when it was ready. But Glassman wasn’t buying it. In typical Marine fashion, his executive decision was: Can the coats. We’ll load the table now.

Ray, Glassman, and I put straps around the mammoth thing, and the car-lift hauled it into the air. Riley expertly reversed the trailer

22 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 AHERO ON THE MOVE
Working on the kitchen centerpiece countertop in Riley's production shop.

underneath, cautiously lowering the load onto it. Glassman’s decision meant the difference between getting the countertop there on time or not.

It did arrive on time and then was settled – by a few good men and strong – onto the now-exquisite island created by the heart and “hooks” of this miracle man. A center island, ready for action.

Only then, as I stood back to admire it from a few feet away, was I struck by the genius of its design: Tamar didn’t design the countertop to be that size and that shape just to fill this huge kitchen. She understood that AHERO is about connection. “Screen porch” style connection, in Lee Stuckey-speak.

She understood that in any house, the kitchen is where everyone congregates. And sure enough, within hours, there were 16 people around that glorious island, including a couple of generals, a couple of colonels, a two-time United States Ambassador (and first-ever African American Marine) and some other great humans, people like Ken and Colby Odom.

And a funny thing happened: they talked. They communed. They told stories. They laughed. They cried. They connected. Mission accomplished. Kudos, all.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 23 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Miracle Man Dave Riley can rest easy, leaning on his good work delivered right on time for the Lodge Dedication. Whew!

A Labor of Love: Josh’s Cabin Gets the Guns to Hammers Touch

This fall, Guns to Hammers (GTH) came through for AHERO – again! Crew and tools loaded up in the new GTH mobile to bring their muscle power and considerable ADAcompliant construction expertise to building the new Josh’s Cabin for AHERO in Shorter, Alabama.

Dedicated to AHERO’s sorely missed friend, the late Josh Burnette, a severely wounded Veteran who sadly lost his battle with depression. The new structure replaces the fire-damaged cabin Josh had loved to return to during hunting retreats at AHERO Farm. Those retreats now will be hosted at the vast, new, and beautiful Warrior Lodge named in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Major General James E. Livingston USMC (Ret).

GTH along with volunteer members of the Lomax Assembly of God in Clanton, Ala., and incredible AHERO volunteers like USMC

Veteran Dan Geiser* worked diligently to get the cabin on target for the next hunt. Great additions to the already capacious accommodations in the new Warrior Lodge, a number of structures such as Josh’s Cabin will be able to house many more wounded and injured Veterans as well as First Responders during AHERO’s events than previously possible. Of course, these accommodations and events are made possible only by the hard work of volunteers and the contributions made by AHERO’s amazing supporters. You all know who you are, so THANK YOU!

JR Smith’s GTH construction firm is a nonprofit headquartered in Houston Cypress, Texas. Their focus is on constructing ADAcompliant structures and renovations for wounded Veterans, and they continue to rise to the occasion when AHERO calls. Lee Stuckey, delighted to see Josh’s beloved home-

away-from-home come together, sent words of gratitude to JR and the GTH crew:

“We can’t thank you enough for your efforts to support our Veteran community,” he said (and JR posted on the GTH Facebook page). Lee was speaking to JR, his GTH crew, and the giving folks who support their efforts on behalf of wounded Veterans when he added, “We are so grateful for the current proceeds going towards completing Josh’s Cabin for our Vets suffering from mental and physical disabilities as a result of the ugliness of war.”

*Dan Geiser has a compelling story about how he came to appreciate the experience of taking time to heal by attending AHERO gatherings and volunteering. You can read it in this section of the magazine under the title, “For This Vet, it Was Time to Take a Knee.”

24 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 AHERO ON THE MOVE
Generous in their concern for wounded and injured Veterans, JR and his GTH crew made the trek all the way from Houston this past fall to continue the work on Josh’s Cabin.
AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 25 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Honorary GTH crew member Stuckey gets his cover!. Guns To Hammers (GTH) makes Great Things Happen! Smilin' happy, JR gets a great "back shot" of progress on the cabin. With framing, window/door/drainage and waterline install completed on Josh’s Cabin, Dan Geiser and Lee took a well-deserved breather, boating on Lake Martin compliments of area resident Col Jeff Tuggle, USMC (Ret), Dan’s former platoon commander. JOB WELL DONE! Lee shows serious appreciation of the GTH crew.

For This Vet, it was Time to “Take a Knee”

A note from the editors: USMC 0321 Sgt (now Veteran) Daniel J. Geiser, was a Reconnaissance Marine, Airborne, from April 1, 1991, to November 15, 1999. A combat diver, Ranger, and COB (close quarters combat) assault breacher, he was with both the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion and 5th Force Reconnaissance at various times. Sgt Geiser also served in the Mogadishu, Somalia, area of operations in 1993. Geiser was an HRST Master, defined as a Marine responsible for rigging up systems for getting his Marines from an aircraft down onto a ship’s deck below. Risky, awesome responsibility? Yes. Imagine yourself in charge of getting several Marines rappelling down safely from a giant helicopter hovering 60 feet in the air. A volunteer who has given of his time to so many charities, Geiser also worked on completing the Josh Burnette cabin for AHERO’s Veterans and volunteers and helped on many other projects for this organization. His own story is one of tough challenges that he has to work at daily to try to overcome. AHERO Magazine is proud to offer his story here.

I was medically and honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1999 due to an injury sustained while conducting airborne operations. It was just short of a full nine years being in, and I was devastated by a sense of loss.

After some years in civilian life, I began going through a hard time in my marriage. A Marine brother of mine, Bryan Harris, had been listening to me as I filled him in on the challenges I was facing.

Bryan spoke to my old platoon commander from Fifth Force Recon, USMC Col Jeff Tuggle (Ret), and conveyed the struggles I was experiencing. As it turns out, Col Tuggle knew Lee Stuckey and was very familiar with the programming offered by the AHERO organization. They talked about my situation and agreed that it would be good for me to get away a while to “recharge my batteries.”

Lee invited me to come down to his AHERO farm to spend few days getting away from my

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A proud Marine Veteran, Dan stands with Amb. Theodore R. Britton and MOH recipient MajGen James E. Livingston during the official opening of AHERO's Lodge named in honor of the legendary USMC war hero.

hectic life back home. I agreed that it would be beneficial to me and my sanity to be there and surround myself with fellow Veterans – folks whose outlook was positive.

Turns out, it was the best thing I had done for myself in a long time. I have been battling depression and alcoholism ever since I had to give up my career as a Marine. Still, I have always tried to give back through my VFW post, where I captained our color guard in funerals for Veterans who passed away, and in sitting on the post’s board of directors.

I also had the satisfaction of being commandant of our Marine Corps League detachment for three years and working as Toys for Tots coordinator for three, as well. So I always tried to give back. But apparently I’d never realized that I very much needed to take time for myself, to heal.

Lee Stuckey calls it taking a knee. “You need to take a knee and get clarity back into your life,” he always says. It’s not complicated. But I think it’s why he does what he does with AHERO.

Even though I still struggle with addiction and depression issues, I do feel that I have found a new calling and a new purpose in life. The times when I’ve been at here among fellow Veterans have allowed me to recharge my batteries, giving me a better sense of selfworth. And I have the chance to pay it forward, helping other Veterans through AHERO for years to come.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 27 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
AHERO’s first fishing trip with student members of Auburn University’s Fishing Team (students are pictured here with Dan, center, in light blue shirt.) Each boat carried a Vet & two students, encouraging students to learn more about our Veterans. Dan and fellow Marine, Sgt Vinny Sarro, demonstrate the effects of blowing oval flex linear shaped charge through a steel door of a building during assault breacher training at Camp Hanson, on Okinawa. Marines execute rappelling maneuvers from a CH-47 "Chinook" helo. Photo (from Wikimedia) shows another example of what was required of Dan and his team.

Under the outstanding leadership of Lee and his tremendous AHERO organization, as well as the great people who sit on its board, its volunteers and its generous donors – this organization will continue to grow. They’ll all make that happen not to benefit themselves, but to reach out to more Veterans and more First Responders, to help save lives and give back the kind of self-worth those individuals deserve to have.

So this is what makes me want to be part of this awesome community. I know deep in my heart if you surround yourself with good people and good support, you can overcome just about any kind of obstacle in your life! But as far as how I have managed to contribute to AHERO, I'll leave that to others to explain. I'm just appreciative and humbled that I’ve been given the opportunity to do it in the first place.

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Dan (far right) with with his team in Korea at Camp Humphreys. "We were there clearing underground bunkers as part of training for CQB drills," he explains. (l-r) Marc Woodall, Rusty Tabor, Dan Geiser and Lee Stuckey made up a team during the AHERO Kentucky hunt this past fall.

What He Said About Dan Geiser

He, meaning Lee Stuckey. Who has a great knack for convincing folks to lend a hand with him on getting what needs to be done for AHERO, done.

For free, too, because there’s no room in the budget for pretty much anything more than bringing Veterans and First Responders who have endured PTSD, TBI, MST and other serious trauma to AHERO Farms and the MajGen James E. Livingston Warrior Lodge.

Which is where they can take a knee, unwind and get back in touch with their love of living.

Dan Geiser is a tall, capable dude who doesn’t just know the ropes – he’s been up and down any number of very long ones in his years of serving in the US Marine Corps as a Reconnaissance Marine attaining the rank of sergeant. A modest man, he would not “toot his own horn” about all he has done and continues to do for AHERO. So we (the editors) asked Lee.

The answer, in Lee’s words:

Dan and retired Marine Corps Colonel Jeff Tuggle have fixed just about everything on AHERO Farms. Dan spent eight weeks working there, then a while later flew in to do more than half of the framing on the new Josh’s Cabin. He also helped us frame up the new classroom at the Warrior Lodge that will enable us to help train Veterans and First Responders in the near future.

He’s just tireless every single day he’s here, and he never asks for anything. He’s a man with a great attitude, always has a smile on his face, even after hauling I-don’t-know-how-many pallets with 1800 pounds of bricks on each one or cleaning up several truckloads of scrap lumber to prep the site. Then he went and bought food from our beloved Shana’s Place (he loves Shana’s) for the volunteers!

What can we do to make it the best experience when they come here? That’s Dan’s attitude. One weekend, he stayed up until 2 a.m. putting out fertilizer and filling up deer feeders so that everyone coming to the next hunt would see green fields and plenty of deer when they arrived!

In the eight weeks he spent here, Dan worked seven days a week and still made it to church and Bible study every Wednesday! But when we try to thank him, he just says, “Y’all are blessing me by letting me do this work for Veterans.”

Meantime, all that the rest of us do is make fun of his minimal shooting skills as a hot-shot recon Marine! But we will look past his marksmanship because Dan truly gets what it’s all about … which is to be making “deposits” into a nonprofit for Veterans and First Responders for all they do and have done for us, instead of only making “withdrawals.”

The fact is, Dan continues to lead from the front. So we can only hope that we’ll have more Dan’s joining our AHERO tribe in the near future!

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 29 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Reconnaissance Marines drop from a CH-46 “Sea Knight” ... "These constant drills were neccessary to stay proficient in our capabilities" says Dan.

Music4AHERO’s Exciting New Initiative

AHERO announces a brand new facet of Music4AHERO that promises to expand the therapeutic impact of music as experienced by our Veterans. Coming on the heels of our MajGen Livingston Warrior Lodge opening, the new initiative is further proof (if anyone needs it!) that AHERO is very much on the move … UP.

The professional musicians who have been the lifeblood of Music4AHERO have created a resource for talented, ambitious, musicloving Veterans and First Responders who wish to pursue music as a passion or career. Introducing AHERO Records, a music label that offers a viable path to singer-songwriters among our participants who want to take their musicianship more seriously. The plan is to provide artist development and help participants master songwriting, assist with recording opportunities and ultimately have their songs published. Maybe even to begin to build a successful career in music!

WHY SONGWRITING IN PARTICULAR?

Music, as part of the healing process, is both incredibly powerful and non-linear. Meaning we can have any number of conversations with Veterans and First Responders with injuries of the deeply buried sort or injuries we can see. But one thing we’ve noticed, particularly about those who’ve been through sheer hell, is that they seem very reticent to talk.

They just don’t want to. Not about that. So burying all the trauma, pain and sorrow is the norm. Which isn’t good, long term. Unfortunately the direct approach of, say, asking about it doesn’t work at all.

However: When we provide folks with the opportunity to sit down with professional songwriters and talented musicians and ask them to simply tell a story, often they’ll let go and do just that. They’ll start scribbling, or talking, and their pain, or anger, or sorrow starts coming out, the seed of a possible song. Maybe the story reveals itself fast, or it comes out a little obliquely, but there it is: a narrative of emotion. About something

truthful that they endured during and after their time in hellholes like Fallujah, Mosul, Kandahar …other places. Starkly told, yet eloquent, honest. Maybe about coming back home to a different kind of devastation. Or maybe, ultimately, it’s about finding something good after so much bad.

INEVITABLY: “AHERO RECORDS”

Music4AHERO itself was born in recognition of the fact that music can speak to even the hardest heart, can awaken even the deepest deliberate silence. It’s the reason we bring our volunteer singer/songwriters to events to play and sing for their fellow Vets.

Helping Veterans to write down their personal stories in songs by connecting them with professional musicians was a model established some years back by Bob Regan’s Operation Song, with which AHERO became connected. With space provided during AHERO events, Operation Song ran workshops for participating Veterans to tell their stories. These were made into songs.

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“It can be a lengthy process, this writing of tough songs,” says retired Marine Dave Glassman, who for some years engaged in artist development and event production and promotions. “Especially for folks who have seen and been through so much. It really is a process of gradually peeling back the layers of pain the way you might peel an onion. Except what you’re revealing, layer upon layer, is pain. It hurts. So it takes time.” Enter, AHERO Records.

THE PLAYERS

Already deep into the development stage, AHERO Records is headed up by Col Michael J. Corrado, USMC (Ret) – a passionate, distinctive, and accomplished singer/ songwriter who’s been featured in Rolling Stone magazine. Mike has opened for Hootie and the Blowfish, the Black Eyed Peas, and Bon Jovi, and has, on occasion, shared the stage with Toby Keith.

And Mike is a man who has served in the theater of war, in front of some of the most unwelcoming audiences in the world.

He is ably partnered by our local musical royalty, comprising: the great Rusty Tabor, two of whose songs Billy Ray Cyrus covered, songs from Rusty’s first album. Grammy Award winner Jeff Silvey is also aboard as AHERO jumps into record-label waters. Jeff wrote the song, “When Love Comes Around Again,” for George Strait. And joining them, of course, is AHERO’s very own resident singer/songwriter, the much-loved Kevin Adair.

With AHERO Records, those artists will help the healing process for others by taking their talents a step further – in effect, to provide fulfilment.

Meaning, to help them make real what was once a frightful dream so that its demonic power can be let go. And to help them dare to enter the hallowed but too-often trap-laden music business. To do it while back with their brothers and sisters, who have their back. And who have the available horsepower and experience of a Mike Corrado.

Music as a pillar of all AHERO events has long been one of our “Trojan horses” to help Veterans reconnect with life through fellowship, meaningful conversation, outdoor activity, and enjoyment.

Finding freedom in participating with AHERO is what we hope for every Veteran and First Responder who comes to us. Now, by helping those who want to write, publish and record songs, AHERO Records will be another musical Trojan horse we can use. And use it we will!

To quote Maxi Jazz: “God is a DJ. Music is my church. This is where I come to heal my hurt.”*

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 31 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
*Maxi Jazz (1957 – 2022) was a famous British musician, rapper, singer, songwriter and DJ AHERO Records participating musicians (l-r) Rusty Tabor, Jeff Silvey, Jon Lassiter & Mike Corrado enjoy the felllowship at the MajGen Livingston AHERO Lodge dedication ceremony on Dec. 10, 2022.

The Price We Continue to Pay: Examining Moral Injury High Suicide Rates Among United States Service Members and Veterans of the Post-9/11 Wars

Dr. Suitt’s extensive, deeply researched paper appeared in the Brown University/Watson Institute Costs of War “20 Years of War” series, published in 2021. AHERO Magazine is very grateful to him as well as Brown University and the Watson Institute itself for their permission to provide the initial excerpt on PTSD and other conditions impacting Veteran suicide (in our Summer 2022 issue) and the excerpt exploring moral injury offered here. ~ the editors

MORAL INJURY

Service members may also deal with the aftermath of trauma without developing PTSD. Rather than a physiological response, one may instead develop a wound of the soul, or one’s core moral self. Moral injury is the term psychiatrists, chaplains, and scholars use to describe “experiences of serious inner conflict arising from what one takes to be grievous moral transgressions that can overwhelm one’s sense of goodness and humanity.70 In other words, moral injury is the result of trauma that shakes the foundations of one’s sense of moral goodness, right and wrong. Indeed, although service members come home with other psychological and physical injuries, moral injury is a “trauma as real as a flesh wound.”71 Although the concept has only become prominent in the last 15 years or so and is yet to have a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) entry for psychiatrists to use when making an official diagnosis, it has risen to the forefront of psychiatric research.

A service member suffering from moral injury likely displays “anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, anger," which a person with PTSD may also present. However, as journalist and author David Wood explains, "sorrow, remorse, grief, shame, bitterness, and moral confusion – What is right? – signal moral injury, while flashbacks, loss of memory, fear, and a startle complex seem to characterize PTSD.72 To those symptoms, we can also add suicidal ideation, rage, and impaired “basic social and cognitive capacities ... required for democratic participation.”73 It may be possible

for an individual to have both moral injury and PTSD, but they are not the same, and one does not necessarily indicate the other. Moral injury is at its core the loss of one’s sense of self due to a transgression against one’s most deeply held beliefs and moral values.

There remains no agreed-upon definition of moral injury. However, psychiatrists generally understand moral injury in terms of perpetration or betrayal. Perpetration may include performing, “failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs.”74 By contrast, betrayal may include transgressions against one’s set of moral beliefs that result in shame, grief, meaninglessness, and remorse.”75 Research has associated both types of moral injury (betrayal and perpetration) with the development of PTSD.76

Moreover, psychiatrists’ different definitions of moral injury describe a similar breakdown in significant relationships. On the one hand, perpetration may represent a betrayal of oneself, violating one’s expected moral self-narrative (i.e., “I am a good person”). By contrast, one may feel betrayed by a superior officer or by the military organization itself. In these cases, moral injury may result from a feeling that a significant relationship rooted in authority, but which has an assumption of moral goodness, has betrayed the service member.77 In either case, this felt betrayal may result in moral injury, which appears to have a strong association with self- injurious thoughts and behaviors. Perceived transgressions against one’s sense of morality had the strongest association with ongoing suicidal ideation

among 151 active duty military personnel compared with transgressions of others or betrayal by others.78

The actual rates of moral injury are difficult to determine because there are not agreedupon measurements, nor (as mentioned) is there an official DSM-5 category specifying its parameters. That said, a study of mental health during Operation Iraqi Freedom determined 27 percent of service members in the theater of war faced “ethical situations during deployment in which they did not know how to respond.”79 While we know

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between 11 and 20 percent of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD each year, research shows a strong correlation between moral injury symptoms and a PTSD diagnosis, with 90 percent of veterans with PTSD having at least one significant symptom of moral injury.80 Additionally, the military medical community has “acknowledged an ‘epidemic' of psychological trauma, with a half-million

troops diagnosed with symptoms common to PTSD and moral injury."81 While an exact number of those with moral injury may be difficult to determine, it is a significant part of many service members and veterans' military experience. Research must continue to highlight it as a potential cause of the increasing rates of military suicides.

70 Sherman, N. (2015). Afterwar Healing the Moral Injuries of Our Soldiers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 8.

71 Wood. (2016), p. 8.

72 Ibid., p. 17.

73 Shay, J. (2002). Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. New York, NY: Scribner, p. 177.

74 Litz, B. T., Stein, N., Delaney, E., Lebowitz, L., Nash, W. P., Silva, C., & Maguen, S. (2009). Moral Injury and Moral Repair in War Veterans: A Preliminary Model and Intervention Strategy. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(8), p. 700.

75 Brock, R. N., & Lettini, G. (2013). Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, p. xiv.

76 Jordan, A. H., Eisen, E., Bolton, E., Nash, W. P., & Litz, B. T. (2017). Distinguishing War-Related PTSD Resulting from Perpetration- and Betrayal-based Morally Injurious Events. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(6), 627-634.

77 Moral injury may have yet a third dimension, a perceived betrayal and breakdown in the significant relationship one has with the divine. This may account for the common spiritual struggle that often accompanies moral injury but may be more specific in nature than the concept of spiritual injury by itself.

78 Bryan, A. O., Bryan, C. J., Morrow, C. E., Etienne, N., & Ray-Sannerud, B. (2014). Moral Injury, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicide Attempts in a Military Sample. Traumatology, 20(3), 154-160. (2009), p. 696, referencing Mental Health Advisory Team.

79 Quoted from Litz et al. (2009), p. 696, referencing Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT-IV). (Nov. 17, 2006). Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07.

80 Koenig, H. G., Youssef, N. A., & Pearce, M. (2019). Assessment of Moral Injury in Veterans and Active Duty Military Personnel with PTSD: A Review. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10(443), p. 2.

81 Wood. (2016), p. 80

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 33 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
QR code access to Dr. Suitt’s full research paper

How Comes After Why: The Story of a Guy on a Porch

Before jumping into the meat of this article, please know that I am not attempting to equate my story with anything anyone else may be going through. Personal experience is exactly that … personal. While there are those who may relate, there is no attempt being made here to diminish or compare these experiences to the ones anyone else may be enduring.

That being said, I want to tell you the story. It’s not one that many would be proud to share, but there may just be something that’s worth hearing about here, there may be something gathered that can help. No expectations, though …

Back in 2008, on a chilly winter morning, a guy walked onto his back porch with a cup of coffee in one hand and a Sig 9mm in the other.

“This is the proper location to do this,” he told himself. "It will be cleaner this way.” Standing against the rail on that porch, he began pondering his existence. Not because he was some great philosopher, but because he had been forced, against his will, down this intellectual path.

The economy had recently busted, the guy’s business was sinking … Correction, it had sunk. And as a result, his marriage was falling apart. There was absolutely no hope, no plan, and no entity other than God for him to turn to for guidance or help. There were no lifelines, no immediate solutions, no person on this earth able to offer solace.

STANDING ON THE CLIFF’S EDGE

How had he gotten here? His insurance agency was failing; he was in deep financial trouble. On the verge of losing everything, he

felt like a failure. His life, in his own eyes, was absolutely ruined and not worth living. He had lost face and was ashamed.

I believe we can all understand how pride can be a dangerous thing. But we never truly understand that about our own pride until it negatively impacts us. As so many often do, this guy had tied his entire self-worth to his career … to his business that he had believed would allow him to provide well for his family.

He’d had big dreams and big plans. And he had been willing to take big risks to obtain them.

In order to do just that, he had left a secure and well-paying Fortune 100 corporate position as a sales officer to take the risk of being self-employed. He had a plan and foolishly thought it foolproof.

To justify his risky decision, the man had told himself that it would give him independence and therefore more time with his newborn daughter, which was a very real and legitimate reason. But ultimately his failure became the apparent result of that risk, bringing him personal shame and something far worse: the knowledge that his wife and that newborn were now deep in the mire of suffering along with him.

Because – regardless of any outside factors –he knew that he was the one responsible. Every honorable characteristic by which he had always measured himself now seemed to have been shattered.

AND SO … THE CLIFF

Doing the only thing he knew to do (and what so many do in desperate times), he had a plan. He would drink his last cup of coffee and then call it a life.

Due to his spiritual upbringing and because he had been told so many times what this act would mean for his eternity, the man prayed for forgiveness. But the air was silent. There were no whispers from heaven to ease his pain.

He found himself once again mentally reviewing the events that had led to his situation. Maybe he was just building up the courage for the task or making excuses for not completing it. Who knows?

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Wes Herndon

Either way, he was mulling over all of the contributing events in his head. Admittedly, some of those events had been beyond his control, but there was no solace in blaming outside forces. He was still suffering, still depressed, and still ultimately responsible for his family’s plight. He felt a failure at life, at friendship, and worst of all, at family.

As mentioned, his one objective was there on that back porch. He had the weapon. Swallowing hard, he saw that it was time and raised the pistol to his head. Slowly, he began to squeeze the mechanism that would finish it all and end his suffering.

RECEIVING THE GRACE OF A LIFE-AFFIRMING IMAGE

A Sig P226 (Sig 9) has a very tight trigger pull, but that day it seemed much tighter than usual. The guy had fired this weapon a thousand times, but now it was a hair more difficult. This was fortunate, because the firing pin had yet to reach its destination when an overwhelming image came to him.

To him, her face was so vivid, so full of wonder and promise. Then, without summoning it, he felt the hug she’d last given him. She was just over a year old by that time, and he loved her more than he had ever loved anything or anyone in his life. She was a little fairy princess and most definitely her daddy’s little girl. Her image shimmered in his mind.

That’s when a cold and heart-wrenching realization hit him. If he did this thing, she would grow up without a male role model in her life. Without her dad.

He began to sob uncontrollably.

The thought of her growing up without a father, without him! This, he realized as he wept, was more unbearable than all the pain of his failure and shame.

The gun slipped from his hand, and it was at that moment that the man began to negotiate with himself. “I swore to protect her when she was born,” he thought. “I need to hold off on this, at least for a while longer. There’s no way my little girl is going to grow up with daddy issues!”

Maybe it was just an excuse. Maybe it was a cowardly act to not finish, or it was narcissism and arrogance. All these “maybes” he contemplated at the time. None of them mattered. What did matter was his little girl –and him staying in her life.

Not getting that trigger pulled on that day was probably his happiest failure. He had set a date and agreed with himself that if things weren’t better by then, he would revisit the porch.

But he never did, at least not with the same desperation.

A REVELATION YOU’VE ALREADY GUESSED

If you haven’t figured it out by now, that porch guy was – is – me. I think about that day at least once a week. And I still ponder my existence quite often.

Here’s the way I like to think about it: While my hope is not necessarily transferable to others, the idea of hope is. There is a personal hope out there for everyone, and it is such an important fact to remember.

Hope is a gift that helps bring about a change in our own perceptions. There are dark moments when we all need that carrot of hope that pulls us through weird times.

Sometimes, we have to find our hope on our own, which does make it a much tougher task. But if we think about it in a scientific way, how our brain chemistry operates, we learn that what we call “hope” arrives due to an increase in dopamine. Dopamine, as we know, is a neurotransmitter that gives us pleasure. For me, the love and thoughts of my daughter provided enough dopamine to keep me on the upper side of the ground a little longer.

She was, and still is, my happy thought. At the time, she was just enough for me to take a first good step (i.e., putting down that Sig 9mm) and then a second (reconnecting with my child). Which, in turn, provided me with more hope and dopamine. A simpler way to think about it is, my daughter saved my life, but I had to take the lifeline myself.

HOPEFUL CONCLUSIONS

There are literally thousands of people just like me, standing on their back porches or somewhere else, contemplating drastic solutions to what seem like unsurmountable

problems. Sadly, many of their stories end up having a totally different ending because they don’t see the hope in their own lives. But it’s there. Maybe it takes a little digging – but it’s there.

Truth be told, I’m not proud of this story. It’s honestly quite embarrassing to share. As a matter of fact, this is actually the first time I’ve ever told it to anyone, let alone to any number of AHERO Magazine readers!

Admittedly, there are times when I still struggle. But my experience on that porch taught me something key: It’s not always in knowing “how” we can or should go on. Often, it’s just that we need to see that there’s a very important “why” we can. If you are one of those individuals on a cliff, I challenge you to set an objective. Seek out YOUR hope, and don’t quit looking for it. I promise that you will eventually find it. Once you do, you’ll have your “why,” and the “how” will soon follow.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 35 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Wes with his darling little daughter.

AHERO’s BBQ Team Debuts at Whistle Stop Festival

The Whistle Stop Festival recently took place from September 8 to 10 last year, and for the first time, AHERO fielded its newly created AHERO Cook Team. The festival is in Huntsville, Alabama, and its annual BBQ competition hosts professional and amateur cook teams from all around the country.

For teams of professional cooks, the event is an opportunity to qualify for the Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS) Championship held in Kansas City the following year. This is because Whistle Stop is one of the premier professional cooking competitions in the nation.

Teams of non-professional cooks have their own highly competitive event known as Whistle Stop’s "Shade Tree Division.” For those BBQ-ers, bragging rights are the quest and the prize.

But this year there was another, different goal for one new local team.

As a guy who has volunteered for America's Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors, or AHERO, since 2009, I am in awe of this organization. Combat-experienced Major Lee Stuckey, (USMC, Ret), founded it as a means of serving wounded and injured service members and Veterans by offering opportunities that heal through time spent in activities and fellowship together with concerned citizens. AHERO accomplishes this mission primarily through outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, and … yes, outdoor cooking.

AHERO FIELDS A TEAM

I didn’t serve in the military, but I was honored to lead a team of members who did in this year's Whistle Stop Shade Tree Division. My team included USAF Veterans: Axient

Corporation supervisor Shane Gwaltney (I also work at Axient) and Dathan Black, along with Veteran Scott Camp (US Army).

All of us were fired up with the intent of serving up some fine BBQ and introducing AHERO to Huntsville's sizeable Veteran population. And although the team did not place in the competition, its primary mission was definitely accomplished. Numerous community contacts were made, including the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post, a near limitless source of other Veteran organizations that can help AHERO reach more heroes in the Huntsville area.

An impromptu team member, Danny Calametti, managing partner and CEO of Alabama Coasting, made the trip from Mobile to support the team. If Alabama Coasting sounds familiar, it's because they produce

36 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 AHERO ON THE MOVE
Call it grilling, barbeque-ing or cooking – AHERO's team made it all delicious. Commemorative tee shirt's a great reward!

this very AHERO Magazine and have made a tremendous impact bringing AHERO's mission to those in need and introducing AHERO to future supporters.

Danny is skilled in developing these allimportant relationships. During the Festival, he spent time actively seeking out event organizers and speaking with local defense contractors with teams in the competition. There will be more to follow as a result of his efforts, but for now it's important to recognize the work Danny did as a very welcome AHERO Cook Team member.

Membership in AHERO is simple: You just volunteer! Whether you have served in the armed forces or not, your only requirement is caring about those who have endured extreme circumstances so that we can enjoy the freedoms and security this country affords us.

As you probably know by now, AHERO has expanded its support to our First Responders. Law enforcement members, Firefighters and EMTs – these heroes protect us every day. And one of them, former Madison County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Patterson, attended Whistle Stop on Saturday and has already become a part of the AHERO family.

There’s more. Another crucial relationship was developed when Emily Gumataotao, a US Army Veteran, and her family stopped by. Emily’s husband, Mike (also a US Army Veteran), asked the all-important question:

"What is this AHERO thing?"

My favorite question. In answering, I was able to welcome Mike and Emily to AHERO and hopefully invite a dialog with her company as a new AHERO supporter.

Recall that AHERO Cook Team member Shane Gwaltney is my supervisor at Axient Corporation? As providence would have it, Emily is Shane's supervisor and has the ear of Axient's CEO. She reminded me that Axient employs many Veterans and has relationships with myriad Huntsville's Veteran organizations. "The company loves to support things like this," she said.

SUMMING UP

BBQ cooked, eaten & enjoyed. Contacts made. Another hero welcomed to AHERO. Mission accomplished!

Wait – not so fast! Because, as we follow up on the relationships built during the Whistle Stop Festival, we’ll be pondering the future of the AHERO Cook Team itself. There is real interest in the convivial (not to mention delicious) atmosphere of BBQ competitions – of which there are any number throughout

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 37 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Grilling their favorite dishes at September's Whistle Stop Festival in Huntsville, Alabama were Cooking 4AHERO Team members (l-r) Dathan Black (USAF, Ret), Shane Gwaltney (USAF, Ret), Danny Calametti & Dave Keel - Great barbequers, all!
38 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023
AHERO ON THE MOVE
Dave is always handy in the kitchen ... The backyard kitchen, that is!

the country. Our new AHERO BBQ Team now intends to hone its skills in both competing and relationship-building by signing up for as many events as possible.

So, as a beta test of the AHERO Cook Team, we’re chalking up the Whistle Stop Festival as a win-win!

Happy Barbequing! ~ Dave

DANNY CALAMETTI COMMENTS ON DAVE KEEL’S COMMENTS ON HIM:

Thanks for your compliments here, Dave. My brother David and I are proud to pitch in on such a worthwhile project as the

Whistlestop BBQ Competition. As for as any “particular skills,” as you so kindly put it, that I may have, well, it’s easy to talk about the great work AHERO does for our Veterans – but the stories we’re able to share by publishing AHERO Magazine tell it way more effectively than anything I might add!

In addition to producing the magazine, our Alabama Coasting publishing firm is in the Food Sport business. That’s another way of saying that we produce, and are involved in, a wide variety of food competitions. Many issues of AHERO Magazine routinely make their

“Like a screened porch, a grill and some food have always provided a 'place' to gather for families and friends, barbeque-grilling team competitions like Whistle Stop’s offer yet another way AHERO can bring Veterans together with members of the community. To us, Dave Keel and the team’s Whistle Stop’s participation demonstrates the potential such events provide to help our warriors heal through enjoyment while educating the community about our AHERO mission and programs. Dave Keel, we appreciate all you and your AHERO team at Whistlestop did to help us raise awareness!”

Stuckey, AHERO Founder & CEO

way into the “goody bags” that we provide to our judges and others, plus we try to include Cooking 4AHERO teams whenever possible.

Not only is the comradery among the competitors in cooking competitions serious fun – the teams are eager to learn more about the story of AHERO. That’s especially true for the Veterans who participate. David and I would be happy to assist your group and others who may want to enter the Food Sport World … just let us know. Our contact information is on the masthead right inside this issue!

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 39 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
~Lee
"Chris Harper, who has one son in the Army and another in the Marines, helped us tremendously with everything we needed to do to participate in the competition," said Dave, describing the gentleman here. And another version of chicken perfection! Ribs a la Team AHERO! Saucy, finger-lickin' chicken delight!

Florida House of Representatives HR 8009

A resolution designating the week of November 6-12, 2022, as "Veterans Week" in the State of Florida

WHEREAS, each year on Veterans Day, the people of the United States honor and express deep appreciation for the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guard members, Merchant Mariners, National Guard members, and Reservists whose courage, patriotism, and loyalty have safeguarded our strong national values and preserved the United States as a beacon of hope, freedom, and opportunity to people around the world, and

WHEREAS, on May 13, 1938, the United States Congress approved an act designating November 11 of each year as "Armistice Day" to honor Veterans of World War I, and on June 1, 1954, in recognition of the greatest mobilization of servicemembers in our country's history for World War II, as well as the brave sacrifices of American soldiers during the Korean War, Congress renamed this holiday as "Veterans Day" to honor Veterans of all wars, and

WHEREAS, as home to more than 1.5 million Veterans who nobly served in times of national peril, Florida's veteran population is one of the largest in the United States, and

WHEREAS, Florida's veteran Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guard members, Merchant Mariners, National Guard members, and Reservists, as well as all of those who have died in the service of our nation, are recognized for their sacrifice so that we might continue to enjoy the liberties we so deeply cherish, and

WHEREAS, Gold Star Families are also recognized, as they have lost loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting our country, NOW, THEREFORE,

Be It Resolved by the House of Representatives of the State of Florida: That the men and women who answered our nation's call during times of war and peace are recognized and commended for their bravery and selflessness, and their families are thanked for supporting our servicemembers while they fought for our freedom across the world.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the week of November 6-12, 2022, is designated as "Veterans Week" in the State of Florida in observance of the treasured freedom preserved for us by the sacrifice of many.

40 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
Florida State Congressional Representative Michelle Salzman worked to support the Pensacola Veterans Week initiative.

Veteran’s Day Becomes Veterans Week: Seven Days of Recognition and Thanks How The Greater Pensacola Community Honored Our Vets

When the Florida House of Representatives, in its 8009-HR Proclamation, announced its official extension of Gulf Coast Veterans Day observance into one week, Pensacola’s highly Veteran-supportive community went into action.

Championed by Florida State Representative Michelle Salzman, the idea was to widen the window of time to remember and honor our nation’s past and present military Veterans. A full week of the year seemed more than warranted in which to celebrate our American Veterans, with services and organizations

dedicated to them showing their patriotic spirit. Thus it was that November 6th through the 12th this year was officially proclaimed to be that week.

At that point, plans rapidly developed for using the week to not only honor all U.S. Veterans, past and present, in events that would cite with respect their contributions, but also to bring renewed focus on the concerns and needs of the men and women who live as civilians among us now, having served this nation so well. Commitments, arrangements, and a schedule of events were made.

"On Veterans Day, we come together to honor and recognize American service members past and present", said Representative Salzman. “This is usually a day of celebration and reflection. Oftentimes, we as a community are forced to choose between one event or another. Veterans Week is a celebration to honor all of America's Veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. It gives us, as a community, a true opportunity for reflection and for remembering."

THE GULF COAST VETERANS WEEK'S 2022 EVENTS WERE MANY!

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5-10

Reading of the Names begins daily from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. The names of 58,318 US warriors fallen in the Vietnam War are read before the Wall South at Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park, requiring several hundred volunteers.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6

9 a.m. – Pensacola’s famed Graffiti Bridge receives “additions” during a painting event.

3 p.m. – The Veterans Week kick-off event featuring Rep. Michelle Salzman as guest speaker.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7

3:30 - 7:30 p.m. – The Pensacola Vet Center at the Texas Roadhouse with representatives from the VA and information of other veteranfocused resources.

7 - 9 p.m. – The Vietnam Wall 30th Anniversary commemoration featuring a photographic art exhibit with guest Art Giberson, U.S. Navy Vietnam photographer, at the Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts at Pensacola State College.

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8

11 a.m. - l p.m. – University of West Florida Military and Veterans Resource Center hosted its Veterans Day observance ceremony with keynote speaker will Chris Lambert, USMC Vietnam Veteran and three-time recipient of the Purple Heart.

1 - 7 p.m. – The Transition Conference and Fair provided information about benefits and community resources available to transitioning Veterans and their family members. Both events held at the UWF Conference Center.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9

10 a.m. - 2 p.m. – Paychecks for Patriots, CareerSource connected veterans, transitioning military personnel and military spouses with local employers at Bayview Community Center Resource, 2001 E. Lloyd St. An Okaloosa County event, 1446 Commerce Drive in Crestview.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10

7:30 - 9:15 a.m. – Veterans Yoga Project event at Veterans Memorial Park

10 a.m. - 2 p.m. – Maker's Fair, UWF Haas Center

10 to 11 a.m. – Bell rededication ceremony and ribbon cutting for the Veteran Student Success Center at Pensacola State College

5:30 to 9 p.m. – joint Marine Corps Birthday Ball, 1897 Cypress St., Pensacola.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 11 (VETERANS DAY)

9 a.m. - 1 p.m. – Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park with guest speaker, actor and retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Dale Dye. Exhibits, musical entertainment and food trucks from 9 a.m. Ceremony began at 10:55 a.m.

9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. – The Blue Angels

Homecoming Air Show, Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Two Veterans Day parades.  SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12 (FINAL DAY,)

8 a.m. – 5K Semper Fi Charity Run at Seville Quarter, Pensacola.

9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. – The Blue Angels Air Show, Naval Air Station Pensacola.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 41 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate

MWV/CSME Highlights Partnerships During Gulf Coast Veterans Week

This past year, the Inaugural Gulf Coast Veterans Week’s start was hosted by the Monument to Women Veterans/Center for Strategic Military Excellence partnership at its Pensacola MWV Museum. With many vendors present and awards presented, it was a celebration of community.

The week’s events brought together Veterans and the businesses and organizations that

support them, as well as leaders and elected officials and citizens of our community. Florida State House of Representative’s Rep. Michelle Salzman was critical in getting this week proclaimed as “Veterans Week,” establishing that we are not celebrating just for one day.

SAME MISSION, GREATER FOCUS ON OPPORTUNITY

The Center for Strategic Military Excellence (CSME), in partnership with the Monument to Women Veterans (MWV) project, has broadened its focus on helping our Veterans and reducing the rising numbers of suicides among them. Over the past year, we have built a team focused on just that by creating a network of partners that can reach more Veterans.

42 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
Gathered at the beautiful cake celebrating the 247th birthday of the United States Marine Corps are (l-r): Dr. Ed Meadows, President, Pensacola State College (PSC); Vietnam Veteran Chris Lambert, multiple Purple Heart recipient and Keynote Speaker at the VMP Dinner; Retired Marine Corps League member, MGySgt Bob Rivera (with first slice!); Veteran and Marine Corps League member, John Hills (with spoon ready to dig in!); and PSC Veteran Student Success Center Coordinator Tanya Brashers enjoying the fun!

For more information about the Monument to Women Veterans and Center for Strategic Excellence, please visit www.mwvets.org/, or scan

The Monument to Women Veterans Museum is open to booking other events. An amazing and unique space, the facility is perfect for almost any occasion, whether it’s a lecture, luncheon, dinner, prom, reunion, exhibit, etc. Booking the facility is free to military reunion groups seeking a place to host their next gathering.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 43 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
A Vet Week display at AHERO's table shows rendering of the anticipated Monument To Women Veterans. Pensacola’s Graffiti Bridge sported some very special artwork for Vet Week.

This network has a many-faceted goal. It aims to find more jobs for Veterans as a working network successfully creating more opportunities for our Veterans to learn valuable skills, develop their talents, and increase the numbers of certifications and degrees they can earn.

In short, a network that can help them find purpose and professional community.

ACCESS TO GROWTH AND SUCCESS ON OFFER HERE

The MWV Museum (Pensacola’s old Amtrak train station) now houses several of our partners, providing a place to work and run their services and businesses. Partners include: CSME, Wounded Eagle UAS, DigiPro Media, Defenders of Freedom Florida, FAVOB – even a new screen-printing and engraving business! Providing access to our building to Veteranrun businesses wishing to start and/or grow is part of our mission. The more both MWV and CSME expand, the more Veterans we can give a place to, to function. Thus it is an investment in community and a support-service helping Veterans to find their own working focus.

44 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023
IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
Helping to make this Veterans Week celebration a huge success were (l) USAF Veteran Lori Milkeris, director of the UWF Military & Veterans Resource Center, and MWV/CSME promoter Jennifer Harrison. Vet Week's patriotic crowds responded to Color Guard presentation and other ceremonial moments.
AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 45 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Three-Time Purple Heart Recipient, Combat (Vietnam) Veteran Chris Lambert, LCpl, USMC, speaks at the Vet Week Dinner. The omnipresent AHERO tent!

Jointly with VetCV, we have created a SkillBridge program that can be personalized for any company. Our team is focused on talking to companies of all sizes that need to hire. We are connecting these with Veterans looking to work and utilize their skills as well as with active service members who are within two years of separation from service.

Experts are available to help build individual plans for Veterans or soon-to-be Veterans to help them get the skills, certification, or degree needed to find their passion and build their career. Providing this service is critical to keeping them engaged in our community.

During the kick-off, we called attention to certain of our partners with our inaugural “Excellence Awards.” CSME will be awarding these during each yearly Veterans Week event to honor those in our community who go “above and beyond” on behalf of our Veterans.

Among our recipients this year were Veteran Liaison to the Florida House of Representatives Jason Boatwright; Veterans Memorial Park Board of Directors member Niels Anderson, owner of VetCV; Director of Defenders of Freedom Florida Jamie Wells; UWF Military and Veteran Resource Center Director Lori

46 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN
TO OUR COUNTRY
SERVICE
MVW supporter Janis Wilson has the perfect T-shirt for the occasion! Woman Power! Rep. Michelle Salzman and CSME CEO Michelle Caldwell clown while fans (including members of the Pensacola State College Women's Softball Team) smile in agreement for the camera.
AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 47 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
After presenting well-deserved awards to individuals who continue to provide seriously important services to our Veterans, the presenters enjoy a silly moment together. Michelle Caldwell (left) and Jay McPherson (right) watch as Florida State Congressional Repentative Michelle Salzman (center) reads the Excellence Award text aloud. VetCV Founder & CEO Niels Anderson speaks after receiving CSME's Excellence Award for his work on behalf of Veterans.

Milkeris; AHERO Board of Directors Vice President Dave Glassman, editor in chief of AHERO Magazine; Women Veterans Coordinator Vanessa Thomas (for the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs); and the Challenge 22 event that was held in Navarre on October 1, 2022.

This year’s second annual Veterans Week event will run from November 5 through 11, 2023. We look forward to building on this very American tradition!

1SkillBridge is a Department of Defense developed program in which industry partners benefit from early access to the extensive experience, skills, and unmatched work ethos our military service members bring to the workforce as they reenter civilian life.

For more information about Veterans Week, please visit www.veteransweekus.com, or scan

48 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN
TO
SERVICE
OUR COUNTRY
The BRACE table – another great example of the many community services represented during Vet Week and the huge hearts of the folks who stand ready to help! The Veterans Memorial Park Inaugural Fundraiser Dinner event celebrated Veterans Week week with guest speakers, solemn remembrances, good food, and laughter.

VETERANS WEEK WAS PRODUCED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZATIONS:

• Monument to Women Veterans

• Center for Strategic Military Excellence

• Florida House Representative Michelle Salzman

• Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park Foundation

• VetCV

• UWF Veterans Resource Center

• Florida Association of Veteran Owned Businesses

• PSC Veteran Student Success Center

• Florida Department of Veterans Affairs

• Career EscaRosa

• Paychecks for Patriots

• AHERO

• CPL J.R. Spears Detachment 066, Marine Corps League

• Other sponsors, vendors, and members of our Pensacola-area community

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 49 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Dinner Speaker Capt Dale Dye, USMC (Ret), and Maj Paul Entrekin, UMC (Ret), enjoy a not-so-solemn "battle sword presentation" moment! Linette Gomez receives an Excellence Award from Michelle for her work on behalf of the Monument for Women Veterans.

A Pensacola Classic: The Marine Corp League’s MCL/TEL Semper Fi Run

Each year in November, the Cpl J.R. Spears Detachment 066 of the Marine Corps League (MCL) partners with Total Employment HR Staffing (TEL) to enlist the participation of its greater-Pensacola area Veteran-loving residents and military members in its Semper Fi Charity Run. November 2022 was no different. Fans, friends and family came to

watch, whistle or cheer (actually, all three) as their favorite runner(s) ran for the gold … or, more accurately, for dollars pledged as proceeds in support of Pensacola-area charitable organizations helping children. What was a departure, however, was that 2022 38th MCL/TEL Charity Run closed the timeline on Florida’s first official Veterans

Week – a roaring success initiated by the State Congressional HR 8009 Proclamation as shown in this issue. The Proclamation lays out the importance of recognizing our Veterans for their steadfast devotion to this nation and the sacrifices they made to defend it. We hope you’ll take a moment to read it.

50 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
True MCL/TEL Semper Fi runners, they started out determined – and finished strong! (Image is copyright StreetSafari® Photo and published here with permission)
AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 51 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
big!
Semper Fi Run presentation of check for funds raised to Vision of Hope charitable orgnization for young adults. Finishing

Thinking Beyond the Mat: DOFFL & Ryan Blackwell

The Defenders of Freedom Florida (DOFFL) opened in 2020 as part of the Defenders of Freedom (DOF) network headquartered in Coppell, Texas, since 2004. The organization’s top priority is to help in combatting Veteran suicide. DOFFL “connects the community to Veterans and provides donors with the organization they need to support those that served our country Post 9/11.”

Drawing on multiple resources and outlets, the organization seeks to connect Veterans with benefits such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment, morale building events, guest speakers and social events, to name a few. DOFFL has been able to send 11 local Veterans through our TBI clinic, Resiliency Brain Health, over the last two years to help resolve their overall TBI issues and improve their quality of life.

The two-week, $15,000 per individual program is offered at no cost to the Veteran and is paid for through donations and sponsors only. We also hold a day of “Outdoor Primitive Skills” once or twice per year with our partners from Barebones Bushcraft, a group of survivalists from the Discovery Channels’ “Naked & Afraid” series. Collaborating with DOFFL, they bring Veterans together with community members in a day-long event during which they learn primitive skills together – skills such as shelter building, water purification, trapping techniques, and fire starting.

This year’s event was held at the Spanish Trail Scout Reservation in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, and had a great turn out with Veterans working all day on their projects. Some also brought their children and spent time with them and/or with other Veterans in teams working on collective projects.

PARTNERING WITH RYAN

Our organization’s relationship with Ryan started over a year ago when we met through mutual associates. Listening to Ryan's story prompted an immediate connection, as we see how Ryan’s experience could not only

help many Veterans but also would aid Ryan himself through the “invisible wounds” healing process.

In 2021, DOFFL’s “Ryan Blackwell Inaugural Powerlifting” competition event aimed to promote both mental and physical health and to bring Veterans and the community together to build awareness of Veteran suicide.

The event was also an opportunity for DOFFL to recognize Ryan as a local hero and survivor of the 2019 terror attack at NAS Pensacola, as well as to showcase the mental and physical toughness it took for him to get through that event and his recovery. Many in our Veteran community can relate to this journey as part of their own experience, and many are still seeking their way through

recovery from their own visible and invisible wounds.

During this year's Challenge 22 Event in Navarre, Florida, DOFFL asked Ryan to be a guest speaker and to share his story with local Veterans, community members, and other Veteran service organizations (VSOs). Hearing his story had a great impact on all who attended. Many were hearing his story for the first time and couldn’t believe all that he endured in his “27 minutes” of contending with that terrorist attack. Ryan’s selfless actions and ability to think clearly through such a high level of stress as he fought to save lives was a feat of extraordinary courage, to say the least! After the event, Ryan mentioned wanting to do more public speaking and sharing of

52 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 53 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
(Back row) Gavin Samons with Ryan; (Front, l-r) Kaden Poulin, Braxton Wells, Logan Samons, and Keegan Deeds (l-r) Jamie Wells with tournament winner Colson Elliot and Ryan Blackwell.

his story. This would be another opportunity to come together, since we host dinners and speakers on occasion. As Ryan is a local Veteran, his story can be a more personal experience for our community.

DINNER

On Tuesday, 6 December 2022, DOFFL hosted Ryan, his wife Carly, and their daughter Reyna at the Hangar American Bar and Grill for “27 Minutes – The Ryan Blackwell Story” and a night among patriots. It was a sold-out event with 100 guests.

It was an important night for Ryan as he expands his audience and works towards more public speaking. He wants to help other Veterans continue to have that positive outlook and CAN-DO attitude by sharing his story and the challenges that came with it. Ryan refuses to allow himself to become a victim or to allow a known terrorist's name to be remembered at his expense. He received a standing ovation to round out the night.

WRESTLING

Every year during the anniversary week of the 2019 terror attack on NAS Pensacola, the Ryan Blackwell Invitational wrestling tournament is held. During the planning, Ryan mentioned wanting to have a Veteran presence at this year’s event in order to reach that audience. DOFFL agreed to be a sponsor of the tournament as organized by Wrestling is Life, a local non-profit. With an audience that includes Veterans, the event allows us to share information about other programs offered to Veterans and those offered by our DOFFL network as well.

The intent/vision is to build the event into a mix of youth and high school wrestling with an annual VSO event being held simultaneously to share information with Veteran parents and the community at a shared location. This year was a huge success with over 400 wrestlers from all around the area. There were 222 participating youth wrestlers and 251 of highschool age. This year’s location was provided by UWF and made for an amazing venue. The Veterans who came out to support set-up and tear-down were very appreciated!

OUTSIDE THE BOX

We believe at DOFFL we must look at things slightly differently. We consider ways we can reach out to our Veteran community in creative, unusual events. Many organizations collectively are trying to combat Veterans

suicide, yet the progress needed to reduce the rate of 22 lost to suicide every day has not been made.

We must get outside the norm and find new ways to reach our struggling Veterans while also erasing the stigma that often goes with seeking help. Veterans don't want to sit in clinics and regurgitate their issues over and over. Many are tired of feeling judged or as if they must prove that they have an issue at all. We try to come up with different concepts and scenarios like our outdoor skills, powerlifting events, or equine therapy with our partners at Healing Hoofsteps.

People may ask what this has to do with saving Veterans from suicide. The answer is simple. It lies in getting them out, around other Veterans and the community to engage in discussions where they find they're not alone in their struggles and learn how others are getting through theirs. By bringing more organizations together to help our Veterans, we, collectively, can defeat this epidemic of Veteran suicide. We can gain more from 22 minutes of someone’s volunteered time or a $22 donation than we ever will from 22 pushups or tire flips!

54 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
Keegan Deeds & Ryan Blackwell

LEARNING, OR HONING, OUTDOOR SURVIVOR SKILLS

One feature DOFFL offers is Outdoor Skills Day, an opportunity for Veterans and members of the community to come together in outdoor settings to work on a variety of primitive survivor skills.

A mixture of team and confidence building, the program encourages working while sharing stories together and getting to know one another. Friendships are formed, networking connections are made – the experience may even lead to job offers.

It can be a low-cost way for Veterans to connect to learn survivor skills or to practice those they already have.

Whether they want to do such activities solo or with family members, going outdoors to build a shelter, do some tracking, or to quickly build a fire from only what can be found in nature is relatively cheap or even free. Learning the principles – or honing already learned skills – of surviving in the wild can be done almost anywhere in nature’s outdoors.

Each year, DOFFLE brings the “Barebones Bushcraft” group back to work with Vets. This is a group they helped develop with survivalist training from the Discovery Channel’s Naked & Afraid, and the event is free. It’s their way of giving back to those who have served our country.

DOFFL Action vs Awareness Collaboration vs Competition

If you would like to learn more, volunteer or donate, please visit our website at  www.DOFFL.US or our Facebook page at Defenders of Freedom Florida.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 55 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
This year's Outdoor Skills Day group enjoyed some AHERO-style comradery while working together. At the tournament, Sianna Shelp and Sergio Ortiz man the Defenders of Freedom Florida (DOFFL) display table. Chris Metzler demonstrates treatment at the DOFFL TBI Clinic. Awards well earned.

THE PVSON SPOTLIGHT

We have some truly great Veteran Support Organizations in our area. The problem is they, we, operate in silos. They, we, don’t know about each other. And so we don’t all work together.

Thus, as VSO’s, we’re under-informed. And our Vets are under-served. We have the resources here in this, the most densely Veteran-populated area in the country, to make a REAL difference to our Veterans’ mental health and fulfilment.

We have a champion, though: Lori Milkeris. She has a credo: “No Silos.”

Lori is director of the University of West Florida's Military & Veterans Resource Center (MVRC), which hosts a summit each quarter.

It’s called PVSON.

Pensacola Veterans Support Organizations Network

The objective of these meetings is for area Veteran support organizations to learn about each other, and to become more familiar with the broad range of support available for our Veterans and their families.

Because no warrior ever won a war alone.

THIS IS THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE, WELL-ATTENDED VSO-NETWORKING EVENT IN THE REGION, BAR NONE .

Each edition of AHERO magazine will spotlight a different organization.

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UWF MILITARY & VETERANS RESOURCE CENTER’S PVSON SPOTLIGHT

HOME BASE VETERAN

At a recent PVSON meeting, attendees learned about a non-profit organization helping Veterans and Service Members from Florida and across the country who are living with PTSD, TBI, and other mental health issues. For more than ten years, Home Base, a partnership of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital has been working to heal the invisible wounds of military service for military service members, Veterans, and their families regardless of service era, deployment history, or discharge status. Florida Panhandle native Betsy Hart works as a family outreach coordinator for Home Base, and she shared some of what Home Base has to offer Veterans and families along the Gulf Coast.

Betsy, who first started working for Home Base at their National Center of Excellence in Charlestown, Mass., recently moved home to Pensacola when her husband, Pat, a Navy

& FAMILY CARE

aviator, retired from active duty. In her role, Betsy works closely with military family members as a peer-support mentor and is also certified to teach the Resilient Warrior, Resilient Family, and Resilient Youth classes offered free via Zoom to help Veterans and their families build skills that decrease the effects of stress in their lives.

As for mental health care, Home Base’s largest offering is the Intensive Clinical Program (ICP), an outpatient treatment program that combines evidence-based therapy with complementary and alternative medicine in a concentrated fashion. Patients receive roughly 70 hours of individual and group therapy in just two weeks. Any service member or Veteran seeking help for PTSD or TBI is considered, regardless of discharge status, time in service, or deployment history. Treatment, basic food, lodging, and transportation expenses are all covered for participating Veterans or service members.

Family members and support persons are seen as an integral part of the healing process and are encouraged to participate in program offerings. Participants are provided with their own education and support opportunities. A special iteration of the ICP has been developed for families of the fallen and is offered to those who have experienced the suicide of a loved Veteran and need a path to recovery from grief and trauma.

With clinics located in Massachusetts and Florida, Home Base provides advanced, inperson, and telehealth care to Veterans, service members, and their families in their local communities. Currently in Florida, Home Base has in-person services in Ft. Myers, Naples, and Tampa and plans to open more sites across the state in the future. Military-connected Floridians are eligible for telehealth from anywhere in the state.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 57 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
More information about these programs and additional offerings can be found at www.homebase.org. For questions about the ICP, or to begin the admissions process, call 617-724-5202 or visit www.homebase.org/connect2care.
Sarah Elizabeth "Betsy" Hart with her husband, CMDR Pat Hart, USN (Ret), at annual Run to Home Base fundraiser, Fenway Park, Boston. (l-r) Betsy Hart with colleague Jacque Francona at a recent Home Base outreach event.

Retired to Reconcile

U.S. Navy Chief Jason Lewis Retires, Remains Dedicated to Service and Heritage

With 24 years of service to country, Chief Jason Lewis, a native of Africatown, returned home after separation from the US Navy last year. He plans to continue the message of reconciliation that he’d read about from a previous generation of Africatown leaders. These included Henry C. Williams, John Smith, Bill Clark, and Michael Figures.

With the discovery, in the depths of Mobile Bay, of the Clotilda – the last slave ship to sail bringing captives from Africa to be illegally

sold – has come a mounting focus on the human story around the ship’s history, its final journey and the establishment of Africatown by those it carried. AHERO Magazine was able to offer some of the story thanks to Chief Lewis in our 2020 and 2021 issues.

Many Veterans of our U.S. wars are buried at the cemetery in Aftricatown, including members of the Buffalo Soldiers. This unfolding story has joined the “about time” emergence and recognition of the many

contributions made by America’s Black Veterans in general.

The Africans taken aboard the Clotilda by slavers hailed from the country then called Dahomey, in West Africa. Since 1975, it has been the Republic of Benin.

After Chief Lewis’ trip to Benin in 2018, he described how a divine confirmation took place at the Gate of Return in Quidah, Benin, where Vickii Howell of the nonprofit “Making Opportunities Viable for Everyone–

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On the occasion of his retirement, Chief Jason Lewis (center, in uniform) stands between Tuskeegee Airman Col RJ Lewis (left) and UA Navy Seaman Ryan Blackwell (right), hero of the December 6, 2019, terrorist attack at NAS Pensacola Chief Lewis (right) with Prince Ellie Koukoui (left) at the Africa Gate of Return during the visit to Benin in December 2018. Children in Benin pose with Moru sailors on MLK Day of Service in 2018. These children have become a focus of Chief Lewis' caring service as he continues his pursuit of Reconciliation and researching Africatown's ancestral roots and his own in Benin. Lewis Family (L- R) Kensley, Kennedi, Jabari, Jason, Karen, and Kendall

Gulf Coast Community Development Corporation” (M.O.V.E. Gulf Coast CDC) and representatives from BUDAL-GIE, hosts of The Benin House Project, gathered. A stone statue there displayed a triangle with the word "Reconciliation" at its center.

On July 13th of this year, Chief Lewis, Majeste, and many of those who had met with him in Benin came together again, this time in Africatown, in the Happy Hills neighborhood where Chief Lewis grew up. There, they commemorated the work that he and his wife, Karen Lewis, have been doing in the city of Mobile and in Happy Hills, where he set in motion a three-year journey for himself, his family, and his Navy comrades. This would be the reconnection to Africatown and the eventual “return” to Africa.

“Growing up in Africatown, it was my Uncle Omar, my father, and family members who taught me service,” Chief Lewis said. “For 24 years, I’ve served God through serving His people, and now I can focus my attention on carrying the message of reconciliation that was started years ago on this very same soil.”

While in Africa, Chief Lewis realized the necessity of his family and colleagues “to reconnect with our lands and revive our people.” Bringing that initiative back with him, he went on to articulate it on his military retirement. “As a Navy chief, we know that it’s not about us, but about the people we lead, serve and sacrifice for,” he said. “I will carry that same zeal back into my community here and back to Africa at the appointed time.”

Chief Lewis is married to author and business owner Karen Lewis of New Orleans. Their daughters are Kennedi, Kyndall, and Kensley, and their son is Jabari Lewis. His track record as a Navy sailor has fit the gold standard. He served as president of the African American Heritage Society while on active duty in Rota, Spain. And as a casualty assistance officer at NAS Pensacola, he was an instrumental part of the response to the terrorist attack there on December 6, 2019. Now Chief Lewis turns his heart to serving his beloved Gulf Coast.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 59 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
(L - R) Mr. Veteran Eddie Irby, Jr. of the Buffalo Soldiers 92nd Infantry Division (WWII) with retired Navy Commander Pete Riehm of the South Alabama Veteran Counsel. Mr. Irby was the original inspiration behind the motivation to place a Buffalo Soldiers monument on Africatown Blvd, across the street from the historical Peter Lee (Gumpa) Chimney on the Magazine Point Side of Africatown. (Peter Lee was the founder of Africatown and of his original home there, only the chimney remains standing.) Chief Lewis (now declared a prince) and King Atchade’ Assongba of Benin pose for a photo at the Mobile County Training School in Africatown, Ala., during the king's visit to the U.S. in July 2022. Karen and Jason Lewis with daughter Kennedi.

The Frenchy Connection Taking a Long Look Back

Along with the regular Veteran’s activities and the every-day anniversaries, which is always a roller coaster ride of emotional connections for me, other things have been happening since our last AHERO Magazine issue.

The holiday-type Veterans events, of course. And specific events like … reunions!

With lifelong friendships that were forged under the best and worst of conditions, many Veterans would give up their very freedom for the opportunity to spend time with the best friends they ever had. Adversities like pandemics, inflation, even poor health will not slow them down!

This was evident this past August at the USMC Combat Helicopter and Tiltrotor Assn. (aka Popasmoke) Reunion in Sparks, Nevada, where guys in wheelchairs were being escorted by their buddies of 50 to 60 years.

DID WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

This year included several corpsmen and recon guys who attended with Bob Hoover, president of the USMC 3rd RECON, Vietnam Association. The best part of a joint reunion with recon and helo bubbas is that we often shared the same experiences, yet never get to see how the other group fared.

With everyone telling their adventures, many of us found closure to questions that haunted us over the years. Had our efforts been worth it in the end? Did we make a difference?

The answer to both was a resounding yes. If someone mentioned a mission gone bad, (a “shit sandwich” in Marine speak), another guy jumped up and yelled, “That was you?” So now the fun began, the shit got deeper, we could confirm that the older we got, the better we were. You see how that works?

Some helo pilots and crewmen were able to find closure knowing that the guy they hung it all out for had survived and is living a meaningful life. And guys who got to heal and have that meaningful life wondered if the ones who made it possible had been as lucky.

Leading to a favorite topic of conversation: We need more joint reunions!

IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT CONNECTIVITY!

At a previous reunion, a gent at the bar noticed my wings and asked if I was a helo bubba. I told him absolutely I was. Then he told me a story of when his company was on Mutter’s Ridge the night of the Marine Corps birthday in 1968.

Seems the guys were just settling in for the night following a fight with the North Vietnamese army when, out of nowhere, a CH-46 dropped in, its crew kicking out boxes

60 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
At the 26 Aug 2022 POPASMOK Reunion, (l-r) USMC Veteran Norm "Frenchy" LaFountaine, MOH Recipient Col Donald "Doc" Ballard, USMC (Ret), Lt Gen Fred McCORKLE, USMC (RET), and USMC Veteran, WO4 James "Sneaky" White.

full of hot chow, chilled beer, red baseball caps, ballpoint pens (why??), birthday cake, and all kinds of other fixings, even soggy ice cream!

“Now, that made our day,” the storyteller went on. “Someone remembered we were out there. I wish I could find that crew. I’d buy them all the drinks they could handle!” Then he added, “That 46 had a white horse with wings standing on its hind legs on the tail.”

As it happens, I knew that story! Without hesitation, I pulled out my HMM-161 Vietnam Assn honorary membership card and said, “Did the horse look like this?”

After he stopped laughing, I said, “get your wallet out.”

We have been friends ever since. He is currently a retired Vegas Metro PD Sergeant, living in Virginia. I also found out later that his C.O. on the ridge was a buddy of mine from boot camp.

It all fits this great quote I heard somewhere: “A fairytale begins, ‘Once upon a time.’ A war story begins, ‘This ain’t no shit!’”

FLYING SOLO

Too soon it was time to leave the reunion in Nevada, head back to Florida, and get ready for an upcoming solo trip to the Washington DC area.

At the Baltimore/Washington International Airport, I of course visited the USO, and those volunteers provided me with a discounted hotel rate and even got a shuttle to pick me up! I left them with some AHERO Magazines, and they were very happy to hear that AHERO has a close relationship with the USO.

The next day, I was heading to Quantico for the Marine retirement ceremony celebrating almost four decades of service for Lt General Steven “Stick” Rudder, USMC. We met years ago during a visit to my old Vietnam helicopter squadron in Marine Corps Air Station New River, NC.

Back then, Stick was a major with HML/A-167 flying Hueys and Cobras. As with many lifelong friendships, mutual friends and events have bonded us all these years.

Since my wife of 52 years, Johnny, was not joining me on this trip, I had her blessing to bring a plus one. At the suggestion of Lt Col Jim “Trigger” Schafer USMC (Ret), a former MV-22 Osprey test pilot, I asked our mutual

“AHERO is about the relationships that make the military experience different from any in the private sector. You may hold a hundred jobs in your lifetime, but none will come close to the relationships that come from military service – especially in combat or in any career where you can be in life and death situations protecting the public, like law enforcement and all first-responder services.”

~Frenchy

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 61 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Retirement, in 2022, of LtGen Steven "Stick" Rudder (left), here with retired Lt Col Craig "Spanky" Clement. Cpl Ernesto "Gooie" Gomez, Navy Cross Khe Sanh; with the late Carl Jones (US Army Veteran), and LtCol Dave Althoff at the Marine Corps Ball, Pensacola, in 2006.

The Frenchy Connection

friend, Lt Col Craig “Spanky” Clement, USMC (Ret), a former CH-53 driver, to be my “odd couple” date. He had previously served with Stick and appreciated a chance to see him again before going out to pasture!

Spanky and I saw several old friends, and of course made some new ones! One being in MATSG-23, NAS Pensacola. Next morning, Spanky and his brother-in-law, Rick, who is in law enforcement, picked me up (not for any outstanding warrants). We cruised through the Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, and I shared my vast knowledge of Vietnam-era exhibits with them, boring Rick to death. Then I was off to Reedville, Virginia to visit Trigger.

FINAL HONORS, CLOSING THOUGHTS

The last leg of my trip was to Arlington National Cemetery, to attend the final honors for an American Hero, Lt Col Dave Althoff, USMC.

Dave set the standard for Marine leadership. He was the first helicopter pilot to earn Marine Aviator of the Year recognition. Among the more than 75 medals he earned were four Silver Stars, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, and the Bronze Star!

As the executive officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (HMR-262) during TET 1968, Dave led the squadron through the dark days of “The Poor Devils.” With half of their helicopters and only volunteer crews, the squadron supported all phases of operations during the siege of the Khe Sanh. He was a stern authoritarian who made exceptional Marines – and later exceptional citizens - of those troops.

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USMC LtCol Dave Althoff and Frenchy at Veterans Memorial Park 262 during the 2015 reunion. Dave Althoff at Khe Sanh Frenchy speaking to LtGen Fred McCorkle, 5 OCT 2022, Arlington.

Among them was Navy Cross recipient, CPL Ernesto “Gooie” Gomez, CH-46 crew chief, who later became Dave’s golf partner. The ceremony at Arlington was done with the utmost honor and respect that was entirely fitting for LtCol Althoff, who gave so much for his country and his fellow Marines. Semper Fi, Lieutenant.

I headed home reminded that service in our military and First Responder (law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medical technician) departments involves lifeor-death situations that also serve to build the kind of lifetime bonds not often found in the private sector. Our AHERO Magazine is about sharing these stories not only with people who understand because they lived through them or situations similar to them, but with those who have not had the great honor of being part of this particular “family” whose members serve our nation.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 63 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Semper fi, Frenchy LtGen Steven "Stick" Rudder, USMC shown here with Frenchy. Michael Norman's book, a story of friendships forged from war. Page 293 of "REUNION – THESE GOOD MEN" by Michael Norman

A Meaningful Life

There is a quote I love from a little known author with the interesting name of Joshua J. Marine. It goes: “Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”

As one who has worked through a number of challenges, I know that statement is true. My initial challenge as a young adult began with going to college on an athletic scholarship for rowing – only to discover I wasn’t ready for the academic kind of “rowing!” Then it became working my way through a 10-year-plus stint of assignments and deployments as a member of the U.S. Air Force Security Forces.

THE RIGHT CHOICE AT THE RIGHT TIME

You could say that recognizing that I wasn’t ready for college yet was “overcoming.” And that moving forward on that realization by deciding to enlist in the U.S. Air Force was, for me, truly “meaningful.”

I served from November of 2004 until March of 2015. Both of my parents are Army Veterans, and for the most part, that was what inspired me to serve. Besides that, I saw my service in the military as an opportunity to travel, to acquire new skills, and to continue growing up.

As a member of the Air Force Security Forces, I was stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. I was assigned to the 822nd Security Forces Squadron whose entire purpose was to train to deploy. (The 822nd was one of the units within the 820th Security Forces Group and served as security for bases all over Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.)

I was deployed to bases in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. In September of 2008 after my time on active duty, I relocated to the Florida Panhandle, joining a reserve unit at Hurlburt Field. The challenges went on as I deployed again in 2010 – this time as an attachment to an Army military police unit to FOB Sharana, Afghanistan, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

The mission there was quite different than what I was used to. I learned a lot about the law enforcement side of Security Forces while I

was there and achieved my highest rank of staff sergeant.

I am proud to be a Veteran, but I don’t speak of it much. Still, I hope my words can be a sort of inspiration, even if only one person reads them and thinks, “If she can be successful, so can I.”

Since getting out of the military, I have had many experiences, both good and bad. Finding success at my job managing at Firehouse Subs was one of the good ones, along with finally graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree! So, yes, I must agree with Mr. Joshua J. Marine, whoever he is. Challenges really are what make life interesting … and working to meet and overcome them truly does help make the ride meaningful.

64 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 IN SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY
Karen Whitesell now - Manager at Firehouse Subs. USAF Airman Karen Whitesell - then, in the Reserves.

The Tragedy of Military Training-Accident Losses

Partially adapted from Naval reports released to the public of one of AHERO’s great supporters, Brenna Duley. Hospitalman Gnem, who hailed from Stockton, California, was just 22 years old.

Any loss of life in an accident, military or otherwise, is a tragedy. When an exercise mishap claims the futures of several bright and promising young men and women who have pledged their lives to protect ours and our Constitution, the hit to the heart is extreme. Especially when it could have been avoided if procedures had been strictly followed,

On Thursday, July 30, 2020, at Camp Pendleton, California, a series of events led to the catastrophic loss of life of a US Navy sailor and eight USMC Marines – all of them part of an amphibian assault vehicle (AAV) platoon belonging to 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion. This was a previous-generation AAV executing a training exercise, the type of which our usually highly exacting U.S. military is in constant motion to perfect as part of its overall mission.

Among those lost was Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, a close personal friend

According to many reports, the seas were heavy that day and the AAV capsized and sank in 400 feet of water during an exercise off San Clemente Island, Calif. The vehicle was hit by a huge wave and went down rapidly, leaving five crewmembers on the surface and the rest trapped inside. Eight died in the vehicle, many still wearing combat gear, and one died later of injuries sustained in the accident.

The training off of San Clemente Island was later judged to have been “... a combination of maintenance failures ...” and “...without proper safety procedures...” Officers, individuals whose attention had been at fault, were held acutely responsible, and lessons ‘bought’ at the price of nine of America’s great treasures were learned and put into action.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 65 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, only 22, from Stockton, Calif., tragically drowned in the AAV mishap that took the lives of eight Marines, as well Marines with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, operate AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicles into the well deck of the amphibious landing dock USS Somerset (LPD-25) on July 27, 2020. US Marines Photo.

Battles at the War Horse Project

The image of a 31-year Army physician fullbird colonel, now retired, up to his ankles in mud trying to wrestle a 50-pound bag of grass seed from a mischievous 1200-pound horse who’s just stolen it off the tractor, is a sight to behold.

Sean Hollonbeck is talking to the mare as if she’s his daughter. His tone is mildly pissed, but caring, and … he’s laughing!

It’s a typical scene at the War Horse Project.

It speaks to Hollonbeck’s utter immersion in, and total commitment to, the equine therapy he provides. Not to mention the amazing lengths he goes to daily trying to keep the farm running for the Vets as well as for kids who can use the therapy visits. And to keep the door –or gate – open for interested visitors such as this writer and friend.

Most days, though, it’s just former USAF technician Mike Nutgrass, WHP’s full-time site manager, and Sean himself shouldering the yeoman’s share of keeping the horses, ponies and donkeys healthy and the farm going and growing.

Volunteers come and go: Often these are folks going through the excellent Vet Court program championed by Florida Circuit Court Judge Gary Bergosh, a retired Marine, and by friendly neighbors as well as by Veterans who want to combine work and therapy.

The theory, simplified, is that you really can’t negotiate with a horse that’s about double the weight of a Harley Davidson and doesn’t understand much English. When you approach a horse, it senses, then mirrors, your emotions. Approach anxious, and you’ll spook him or her. It’s likely that you can’t speak Equine, so the two of you can’t discuss your intentions or the horse’s opinions of them.

Approach calm, and the horse is chill. It teaches you … very fast: Control your breathing, relax, let go of anxiety. It’s the process: As you calm the horse, you calm yourself.

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War Horse & AHERO loyal fans all, the Kappa Sigma brothers and two lovely ladies pose for the camera with Mike Nutgrass and Dr. Sean Hollonbeck during a visit to the Farm. Dr. Sean knows his equines!

It is incredibly powerful to observe. I’ve witnessed it a number of times. It is not much short of miraculous, particularly with Colonel Sean on hand.

The War Horse Project welcomes anyone and everyone, although there’s a particular focus on Veterans who have suffered traumatic events. The therapy itself, while transformational, often entails a couple of days of prolonged, up-close interaction with the horses, to maximize the benefits.

And that means the Veteran, who might have traveled from anywhere in the US to get to the farm, may need to stay over for a couple of nights.

THE BATTLE

With this is mind, Colonel Hollonbeck put forward a request to the area zoning committee for permission to site a few RV

pads to accommodate overnighting Vets. However, when Sean attended the committee’s meeting at the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners in Milton a few months back, a number of his neighbors showed up, with, metaphorically speaking, burning torches and pitchforks in hand.

They came to protest. They were angry about “the huge RV park that was planned, bringing untold traffic and ne’er-do-wells into the neighborhood, immediately trashing the roads and decimating property values overnight!”

Okay, I exaggerated. No burning torches or pitchforks were actually involved. And, yeah, I paraphrased what they said. But a parking area for a few RV’s does not an RV park make. Here was this man, the Colonel, who was trying to build a therapy center for area folks

who might like to avail themselves of this respite. A center particularly for Veterans, who have taken it on the chin for the rest of us and could use some help and to be able to stay overnight, if necessary.

Here he was, facing an unexpected assault from the very people he was trying to help!

A

PURPOSE-DRIVEN MAN

Since he purchased the farm with his own money (no donor money or grants were involved), Sean Hollonbeck has sought to offer a quiet and safe space for Vets to be outdoors among the farm’s seven equines (also 10 ducks, 12 chickens, and one rowdy sheepdog). In truth, Dr. Hollonbeck has been at what he terms “this deliberate Veteran - equine work” for well over ten years, so the man, as they say, knows what he’s about.

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 67 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
USAF Veteran Mike Nutgrass keeps the farm, horses and Dr. Sean running smoothly! Welcome, little friends. Nice horsie. You want to come home and live with me? I'll go ask my dad, okay? Veterans and kids commune with friendly, calming spirits .... the horses!

Here at his War Horse farm, these Veterans and affected civilians can learn horsemanship, the ancient art of equine communication and the way it can help survivors of trauma and those suffering acute anxiety.

Running a working farm is a tough life. It starts way before dawn and ends way after dusk. This one is 30 acres of mostly wetlands in need of a comprehensive drainage system and septic tank installation before the powerfully effective War Horse Project can be fully launched to benefit the many folks it can help: our Veterans and others in search of peace.

There’s so much more to be done! Power still needs to be run to a new therapy classroom, of course, and to the handful of RV pads planned. A new riding arena has to be completed. Pastures must be seeded for grass. The list goes on.

But for now, staying on top of things as best they can, is the team of Mike and Sean and any volunteers who might come by. Sean, though, also has his day job of assisting in the fight for legal compensation for our Veterans who, during their service, have suffered hearing loss and tinnitus due to the sub-standard ear plugs provided to them as warriors.

THE NET-NET

So the Farm is open, but it’s not fully operative … because Sean needs more help.

The man is a near-genius in his ability to reach an individual with trauma and, with the help of the horses, steer them – in incredibly short order – onto a path of much reduced anxiety. It truly is miraculous.

Especially as that man has himself endured horrendous wounds both physical (more than 10 operations on one leg alone), and mental (PTSD). That’s what serving multiple tours as lead physician in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, dealing constantly and directly with death and the bodily destruction of war, will do.

And yet, having endured it all, this man has somehow managed to find peace and comfort in the steady, still gaze of the horses he loves.

THE ASK

But’s is tough sometimes for a strong man to say he needs help.

As in your help.

Please consider volunteering to make Sean’s dream a full reality. There are always important jobs that range from the seemingly simple chore of doing the 6 p.m. feeding of the horses,

to helping out during a program for Veterans or kids with disabilities. Each of the Project’s programs has a donation goal that helps to keep this good work going.

Whether you are someone who can benefit from one of these free programs or have a donation to make or a couple of hours to volunteer, or you are a horse-loving teen who’d like to help out after school, please contact Sean online at The War Horse Project by scanning the QR code below.

COME JOIN THE HERD!

MORE ABOUT THE COLONEL & THE GOOD FIGHT

Dr. Hollonbeck began investigating the equine field in 2009 when he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth. After retirement from the Army, he was able to secure purchase of the site in with a bank loan in 2017. After a few previous temporary locations, he located his 501(c)3 charitable War Horse Project in Milton, Florida. A beautiful 30-acre site for his nature-based wellness center, the location was well suited to support this region’s greater density of Veterans.

The so-called "RV Park story" began with a focus to achieve an ADA-compliant bathroom and additional bathroom connected to a sewer line rather than to a small but costly – and only temporary – above-ground septic tank; or, even more costly, to a below-ground septic tank. After more than a year of dozens of calls, hundreds of emails, and a multitude of meetings at many county offices, the endless paperwork finally got onto the Santa Rosa County Planning & Zoning agenda. Local HOA members showed up highly agitated, though none had ever come over to visit the farm or volunteered any help. Protesting that they "like what the War Horse Project does,” they made it clear that they just didn’t want it doing it in their “back yard.”

“A lot of Veterans and their families and even former spouses come to visit our War Horse Project farm,” said Dr. Hollonbeck in an interview, adding that any community member interested in learning to manage stress in a healthy, non-judgmental way is welcome. “Come and be a horse,” he loves to say.

And that right there is straight from the horseman’s mouth!

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I Take An AHERO Personal Moment Of Pride

Serving with AHERO has brought countless meaningful experiences and relationships to my life, as our mission is dedicated to providing healing to our nation’s warriors through outdoor activities and events.

Sometime back, AHERO expanded this mission to include our First Responders. We did this in recognition of the selfless dedication to service that so often subjects these men and women to traumatic situations as they work to protect and even save lives – sometimes at the cost of their own. In this, and in the depth of the traumatic injuries they suffer, they are so similar to what our military service members often must withstand.

My son Garrett’s entire adult life has been dedicated to the service of country and community. Five years a U.S. Marine, two years an emergency medical technician, and now into his third year as a Pensacola police officer who received recognition as Officer of the Month this past summer, Garrett’s exceptional professional conduct in the performance of his duties is an inspiration to me and, I believe, to anyone who cherishes the freedom we have as Americans.

To me, Garrett is an example of how our well trained, well equipped and disciplined First Responders stand between our peaceful communities and the certain destructive chaos we would suffer without them.

Thank you, son. And congratulations!

Love, Dad

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Captain Coverdale presents Officer Glassman with the recognition.
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Officer Glassman’s family celebrates. From L to R: Cortney, Maddox, Adriana, Blakely, Kinsley, Lorelai

Friend to Many Hero to All

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A Farewell with Gratitude to MOH Recipient and WW II Veteran
“Woody” Williams, 1923 - 2022
Hershel

The Florida Panhandle Gold Star families represented by the organization, “Gold Star and Surviving Families Connect” (GSSFC), had a selfless friend and constant champion in the person of Hershel “Woody” Williams, a USMC Veteran. As a CWO4 Marine fighting in the Pacific theatre of WW II, his astonishing act of heroism rendered him an American legend for all time.

Woody’s passion was to recognize the family members of every American who died in active service – or as a result of active service – by the designation “Gold Star Family Member." Our own greater Pensacola community of Gold Star Families took his inspiring message to heart a few years ago. Drawing on the support and experience of the Woody Williams Foundation now run by Woody’s grandsons, our community of families came together to bond and build the Families Memorial Monument.

The monument, which was proudly erected on the southwest corner of Pensacola’s Veterans Memorial Park, is just one of more than a hundred such creations across the country. Woody’s goal was to see one installed in each of our fifty states.

It was a lifetime achievement he would see brought to fruition before his passing on June 29th of last year.

Woody was born in the small West Virginia town with the quaint name Quiet Dell. He was a lifetime member of the Huntington (WV) Detachment 340 of The Marine Corps League, which, since his passing at the age of almost 99, has been renamed the Hershel “Woody” Williams Detachment. Prior to his death, Woody had held the proud distinction of being the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient.

It was during the Battle of Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945, that Woody had volunteered to use his swiftness and stealth to scale and destroy – alone, with only a flamethrower – the Japanese concrete “pillboxes” whose firepower was slowing U.S. Marine advance. Covered by Marine riflemen, Woody did so by firing flames through the pillbox vents and then went on to repel a bayonet counterattack by Japanese infantry … once again with only his flame thrower.

During the battle, two of Woody’s friends were mortally wounded while providing the suppressive fire that allowed him to close on and destroy the enemy. From the moment he

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Photo by Gregg Pachowski, Pensacola News Journal

received his Medal of Honor until his passing, Woody consistently declared that “he was simply caring for it in honor of those Marines who didn’t make it that day.”

The loss of close friends, and his experience as a cabbie prior to enlisting, when he delivered War Department telegrams to the families of fallen warriors, impacted Woody in the most significant way: “It gave my life afterward purpose and direction,” he said.

Ending his USMC career as a reservist, Woody went on to serve as a counselor to Veterans for thirty-three years. But it was the suffering and loss felt by families of our fallen in combat or as a result of military service that forged his life’s true purpose. He would find a way to give those families the respectful recognition they were due. He would work to ensure that each would have a place of their own to reflect, mourn, and recover, and to create public “Remember and Honor” moments on behalf of their loved ones.

Woody spoke as guest of honor during one such Pensacola moment, sharing a story of a father who approached him. “Dads cry too,” the man, a single dad, said. Blue and Gold Star mothers had long been officially recognized here, but it took Woody to show that the whole family is affected by loss of a fallen warrior. It took Woody to make sure they received recognition of that.

The Marine Corps League and the GSSFC of Pensacola carries on in the tradition of Woody William’s brand of bravery and legacy of selflessness. We do so in honor of our brother who completed a life well lived in service to country and Corps.

To him we say, Farewell and Following Seas, Marine!

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Woody gets Spears banner. Picture above of Woody with T-Bone and his youngest daughters Grace Anne and Morgan at Pensacola Veterans Memorial Park.

Coming in AHERO Magazine’s Next Issue!

AHERO Records gets its Mike Corrado/AHERO Records studio – and signs The Resilient band!

The Resilient

Diving4AHERO goes deep on its first dive!

House In The Woods takes Moose-Tag Contest winner Veteran David Soto (Purple Heart recipient) on the hunt of his life.

When Goodbye Is Only Temporary. Angels for Soldiers' Pets seeks pet fostering volunteers. Read what people who have stepped up to help are saying ...

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 73

AHERO’s 2022 Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up...

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WELCOMING ABOARD THURSDAY, AUG 18: DAY ONE OF OUR FLAGSHIP EVENT!

A friendly company of AHERO volunteers opened the weekend with our traditional, hectic, all-day traveling and greeting of the wounded/injured Veterans and heroic First Responders as they checked into accommodations, deposited their gear, and received their welcome aboard information from AHERO’s leadership team.

Earlier in the day, we conducted the Yoga class for our local participants at Ryan Blackwell’s Well Trained gym. Consisting of breathwork and mindfulness practice, it was led by Col King (USMC Ret) and Navy Veteran Ryan Blackwell, hero of Dec 6, 2019, terrorist attack on Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Later, after an informative briefing, the evening opened on AHERO’s formal Welcome Aboard dinner at the beautiful Grand Marlin restaurant on Pensacola Beach. On from there we called it an early night in preparation for the 4:30 a.m. wake-up to get to the Southwind Marina.

Thus began the upbeat, exciting, long weekend of AHERO’s August Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up fishing, fellowship and fun (exhausting?) activities!

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At the beautiful Southwind Marina. Fishing Friday dawn on the water!
ALL IN 4AHERO

Groups of Veterans arrive and gather prior to boarding various donated fishing vessels. Together, they listen to the always-important captain’s safety brief and then join in prayer.

Before he passed away, the late Cpl Michael “Mikey” Miller, a USMC Veteran and Purple Heart recipient (pictured low/center of opposite page here, wearing a white “Breathe Easy” shirt), was able to join his wife and kids along with other Veterans and their families for this traditional AHERO fishing excursion. Sailing aboard the beautiful Breathe Easy yacht (generously donated by owner Matt McDonald and his family for use during each Warrior Hook-Up event over the years), Mikey and Summer, their daughter, Macy, and sons Micah and Manning enjoyed sharing the day of fishing together with friends both familiar and new.

AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
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Heads bowed. The Emerald Spirit and other vessels arrive to be boarded by AHERO's guest Veterans and volunteeers.

PICTURES TELL IT ALL

Dawn broke over beautiful Pensacola Intercoastal waters opening the exciting second day of AHERO’s most famous four-day Weekend.

After breakfasting at the Surf & Sand Hotel on Pensacola Beach, Veterans, family members and volunteers headed over to gather at the beautifully accommodating Southwind Marina for coffee & bagels, a briefing on boat safety, and a soulful prayer.

Some met up with folks they knew, but most enjoyed moments of becoming acquainted with new faces, and where folks were from, and which service, and Isn’t this Gulf area beautiful? and Man, I haven’t been on a boat fishing since … Or: I’ve always wanted to do this but figured by now it wasn’t gonna happen for me.

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In prayer. Pastor Todd Sasser leads the prayer.

All of it an energy-packed day full of expectation and successful fishing. Which was a good thing, since those fish were dinner that evening. We’d even venture to say it was an entirely delightful day … as every August Warrior Hook-Up Fishing Friday has been since AHERO initiated its signature Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up event back in 2012!

Among the guests was one Ricky Garcia, a Veteran whose extraordinary story was told in our Summer 2022 issue, and whose ability to experience this event was facilitated by the teamwork of many wonderful volunteers.

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Dustin Tuller and Dave Glassman anticipate arrival of our First Responders and Veterans ready to fish! Volunteer Randy Schreiner stands ready to help our Veterans board. The traditional "pre-boarding nosh" before heading out into the sea air.

On board, Capt. George Pfeiffer of the gorgeous 65’ Emerald Spirit fishing vessel and his three crew members below are ready for “anchor aweigh” while helpers to bring USMC Veteran Ricky Garcia aboard line up for the photo. (l-r) AHERO volunteers Quincy Sheard, Tamar Doull, Lee Stuckey, Maria Garcia (Ricky’s mom), Ricky Garcia, Jeanette Prince (Gen'l Manager Southwind Marina), Bill Woolfin (Southward Owner), J.R. Smith (CEO of Guns to Hammers), Yoga trainer Doug King (Col, USMC Ret).

Fellow Veterans and volunteers, aware of Ricky's mobility issues, lend their strength to bring him on deck.

Enjoying the sea air and good conversation.

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See ya!
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Ready to head out to sea (l-r) Marshall Harmon, Randy Acevedo, Ken Biland, A-Squared Capt Andy Arnold, Paul James IV, Paul “Sonny” James III, and Shawn York.
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Meanwhile, back at the marina, entertainers (l-r) Brennan Crimm and Kelly Scott Presley warm up their instruments to play once the fishing folk get back in.

Above: After the day's fishing, we're headed in.

Left: Movin' their feet while awaiting the fleet, Al "Pinecone" Stuckey and Kitt Lough cut a rug (um, a deckboard?) as Kitt’s dad, CDR G.K. Lough, US Navy (Ret), (far right), smiles on, tapping his own ever-ready dancin' feet!.

Below: Bringing in the catch ...There's a bit of showing off, but these beauties snagged by Vets and crew are appreciated ... earning one fisherman a big fat unwelcome KISS as a reward!

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86 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 ALL IN 4AHERO Take it off myself? Sure I can. But – eeew!
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Jeannette Prince knows a thing or two about preparing a filet! More fish! Food preppers get set for the meal.
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First ... The Warm Up. OK! Good form! Out of his chair and onto the sand – Dustin's upper-body strength shows everyone how it's done!

SATURDAY: THE DAY NEVER STOPPED MOVING!

Starting with Yoga on the Beach, which – as the photos show – stretched bodies even as it lifted spirits to meet the challenge of a demanding but very effective Yoga instructor, Doug King. As was indicated, Col King is a retired US Marine. He is also – as anyone who knows him will tell you – a man possessed of superb leadership abilities and determined to share the therapeutic and fun attributes of Yoga, breathwork and mindfulness with team AHERO.

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Yoga expert Doug King is a Great Example to us all! (He's got his eye on you – so show some energy!)

After rallying at the Surf & Sand Hotel, our AHERO Warriors proceeded to be met and led by our traditional magnificent contingent of American Legion Post 340 Riders Escort across the bridge and up through Pensacola to the lunch event hosted by AL Post 340, on Ashland Avenue.

This year, the Escort was joined by an extraordinary (and big!) group of “Jeep Peeps,” which is to say, dedicated Jeep-loving supporters of our military Veterans. Their story by member Daelyn Ghelardini is here in this issue. Backed by Pensacola Jeeps, the group held its rally this past November at Six Flags, in which they raised their goal amount of $22,222.22 at the 2nd annual “Mission 22” on behalf of Veterans and Mission 22!

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Patriot Guard Ride Captain, Col Shaun Maynard, USAF (Ret), leads the ride escort to the American Legion Post 340. Pensacola Jeep Club supports with 100+ cages in support of the ride. Riding4AHERO Jersey
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As far as the eye can see… motorcycle enthusiasts and Jeep Peeps from all over the Gulf Coast are on hand showing support! PGR Assistant State Captain CMSgt Ray Doyle, USAF (Ret) displays Old Glory. All the way from Houston, TX … JR Smith participates in the escort with proud display off his Guns to Hammers Veterans Support Organization. Pensacola Jeeps was well-represented in the Veterans Escort to AL Post 340's welcoming event!

Saturday evening brought our heroes together again for AHERO’s Meet & Greet followed by its traditional Testimonial Dinner at the Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge 497. This is an always-inspiring evening of fellowship, music and deeply moving talks by AHERO’s leadership and guest speakers. In “plain speak,” they tell of having walked the paths of devastating loss, pain and discouragement before ultimately reaching out to find help, hope, and frequently a new and brighter path to engaging life.

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Mr. Robert Pageant demonstrates his deep appreciation for AHERO and our service men and women by creating the AHERO Flags to be presented to sponsors and donors. l-r: Ken Odom, Robert Pageant, Dan Smith, Lee Stuckey One by one, Veterans and First Responders rise to testify – to tell something about themselves, perhaps about their service or their reasons for taking the step to reach out to AHERO, and what they’ve found. Pulling together this great group of happily dining Veterans and guests for a single perfect photo takes a bunch of patient and well-practiced AHERO volunteers!

SUNDAY: THE LEAD-UP TO “SO LONG” BUT NOT “GOODBYE”

After a final Yoga session on Sunday, it was breakfast and off to the airport for some guests, and on to High Point Church in Gulf Breeze for others. There, our themes of fellowship and connection continued in the warm love and wisdom of Pastor Shawn York’s eloquent message.

Later, after a great lunch at Flounders on the beach, all who remained gathered for final goodbyes back at the Elks Lodge … still filled with good food, positive outlooks, and great memories of AHERO’s 11th Annual Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up!

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Lee Stuckey, AHERO's Founder, hears with his heart every AHERO Veteran and First Responder's story. Special Forces combat Veteran Randy Acevedo, from Puerto Rico, stood to recount his reasons for coming to AHERO. Former Special Agent Dennis Haley, with his 50 years of law enforcement experience as a detective and investigator, takes in the emotion expressed by the participating Veterans and First Responders. Former Wounded Warrior Regiment Officer, Col Mike Corrado, USMC (Ret), uses his love of music to create and share his testimonial songs. Kevin never seems to meet a person he doesn’t like. Or an elk.

How the “Jeeples” Went the Distance for Mission 22 – and 4AHERO!

Pensacola Jeeps (informally known as “Jeeples”) is what we call our unique group of people aiming to raise funds and awareness for charities as we build a community of Jeep owners and look to inspire adventure by hitting the trails.

And “Jeeping” together is what we do!

WHAT ORIGINALLY MOTIVATED US

We wanted to be more than just a group that gets together and has fun “going off-road.” We love doing that, of course, but we hoped to incorporate the love of driving our Jeeps together into something that would make a positive impact on our community.

A good portion of our members are Veterans or still active duty, which is why organizations that provide support for them sparked our interest. The organization called Mission 22, for example, which focuses on combatting the Veteran suicide rate of 22 per day, motivated us to host our 1st Annual Mission 22 Show & Shine event in 2021. That event was great. So of course, we decided to make it an annual occurrence.

On November 12, 2022, we hosted the 2nd Annual Mission 22 Show & Shine event and had a wonderful outpouring of support from local businesses and the community.

Amazingly, we raised a total of $22,222.22 to benefit our Veterans and Mission 22!

PENSACOLA JEEPS: A CULTURE OF “BRINGING IT!"

Our group doesn’t only support organizations focused on Veterans. In the past, we have held charitable events for autism awareness, breast cancer awareness, and others. But we were totally excited when Navy Veteran Carmen Davidson, a Pensacola Jeeps member, asked if we wanted to take part in the Veteran Escort that AHERO and the American Legion Post 340 had organized to occur during AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up Weekend this past August.

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The Mission 22 Six-Flags/Pensacola Jeeps Rally set its fundraising goal on behalf of Veterans at $22,222.22 – and made it down to the penny! Many folks participated in making the event a success, and a number are pictured here at the check presentation. Holding the check are (l-r) Daelyn Ghelardini (who wrote our story here) along with Donte Kinter, Andy Powell, and Dannie Cortese. Behind them are (l-r): Doug Schwartz, Jacob Margeson, Nathan Ball, Don Dewey, Cathy Dewey, David Benauer, Britney Benauer, Kenneth (Mission 22 Representative), Tony Molino, Michelle Sowder-Eckhardt, Christine Sternjacob, and Danny Walters.

We couldn’t have said yes quick enough! Being part of something that seems as simple as driving our Jeeps had a big impact on our members just because of who we would be driving our Jeeps for that day.

Now we hope to be more involved with AHERO in 2023! As one former member of our Pensacola Jeeps groups best put it: “The way we come as Jeeples puts everything – personal affairs and feelings – aside … [because] to raise money for charities that are near to our hearts has meaning. So being a Jeep owner is more than just owning a Jeep. It’s a saving grace. It’s an outlet. It’s a brotherhood. It’s family.”

ARMY VETERAN BLAKE HOLCOMBE’S STORY: Jeeping to me is more than just owning a Jeep. It’s about the family you create around you when you purchase that Jeep. I’ve been a Jeep owner for over a decade, having bought my first one while I was still active duty Army stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. When I made that purchase, I joined a unique club and quickly became the vice president of that club.

I even had my reenlistment ceremony with our Jeeps behind me while I raised my right hand and swore to protect this nation! Because I knew it was more than just a group of Jeep owners; it was a brotherhood.

Fast forward to now. The trails, the fresh air with top and doors off … the adrenaline pumping while climbing high terrain … It’s all part of therapy and overcoming.

The fact is, I struggle most days with depression and PTS. I’ve seen the cause and effect of Veteran suicide too many times. Those that took their lives couldn’t find the outlet that might have saved them.

Which, for me, was Jeeping.

January 2014. That’s when Jeeping really did save me. In despair one day that month, I attempted to roll my Jeep while traveling at 80 mph. That was me making an attempt to take my life. Thankfully God and “Terra Jean” (my 2002 Jeep Wrangler TJ) had other plans. The rollover didn’t … couldn’t … work.

From that day forward my life changed, I saw that I had a purpose. My purpose had

become helping others to press through and stay in life.

NAVY VETERAN CARMEN DAVIDSON’S STORY:

I bought my first Jeep Wrangler a mere few years ago. At that time, out of the Navy, I didn't fully understand what I was buying. I simply knew that I needed to be able to tow a tractor for work between properties, and that I wanted to feel the wind in my hair as I did it.

Wow – ! Was I surprised to realize that it was so much more. Getting waved at by the driver of every other Jeep coming down the road was only the beginning.

It's not just about modifying your vehicle, or climbing over objects on trails, or throwing candy out to excited kids while driving in a Veterans Day parade. It's really about family, community, and camaraderie.

We always say that in the military there is a fellowship that is second to none. Well, I can say with confidence that in Jeeping, I managed to find my “second,” after all!

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Never a problem parking for Jeeples!

A Mouse4AHERO

Some people just make stuff happen. AHERO has been fortunate over the years to be supported by many such folk. The model is to steadily increase the number of Veterans and First Responders we can bring to enjoy the events AHERO runs using the generous gifts of supporters and the help of tireless volunteers. Participants have told us the experience lifted their spirits, got them plugged into our family, and moved them to “tell two friends.”

This mindset enables AHERO to maintain its lean structure of all-volunteer board members and staff. A lean structure that, since its establishment in 2009, has pursued its mission to fight Veteran suicide by helping more and more Veterans – who have faced serious challenges – get back into life.

Some people dedicate their whole lives to a few important things. A man called “Mouse” (aka Ron Schreiner) has spent 40-plus years of his life as a family man, sought-after auto mechanic, and a guy who supports his Gulf Coast community. Mouse knows everyone and consistently shares his network and talents to get things done. He is a patriot who loves this country and demonstrates his deep appreciation for the First Responders who serve our communities and the military Veterans who defended our nation and sacrificed as a result of their service.

SPECIFICALLY …

Each and every August, you can find the Mouse-Man shifting his focus towards AHERO and engaging his network for support of the annual “Warrior Hook-Up” weekend. He introduces generous boat owners and donors to AHERO’s initiative, participates in planning meetings, and always ensures that plenty of dedicated fish cleaners are on hand to do the “dirty work” of converting the day’s catch into hundreds of pounds of filets for that evening’s fish fry and main-event testimonial dinner at the Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge on Saturday night.

In baseball terms, Mouse is like a utility infielder for AHERO. He can play pretty much any position but maybe can’t commit to the full nine innings, if you get my drift. Which you very possibly don’t.

The full nine innings would represent being a full-time volunteer staff member able to be present at every event, all year round. But Mouse keeps eyes wide open for AHERO dayto-day as he goes through life as a local, longstanding vehicle mechanic and community good neighbor. He “knows where AHERO’s at” throughout the year. So, when he hears about something that might benefit our organization and the Veterans/First Responders we support, he’ll connect the dots to AHERO and always let me know.

For example, he is the one who put me in touch with O’Reilly Auto Parts years ago. Wonderful, caring people that they are, these folks do a donor collection from each of about 15 store locations in the greater Escambia and Santa Rosa area each year. All of it in support of the annual AHERO Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up for our Vets. All because of Mouse.

This much-loved man has introduced his boat-owning friends to us – generous individuals who have provided their boats, deck hands, and fuel to take small groups of Veterans out fishing. It’s a pricey thing to run a crewed boat out to deep waters to fish … but there it is: They just do it.

HOW WE INSTANTLY KNEW WE HAD A TRUE GEM IN MOUSE

He’s always been quick to lend a helping hand with logistics and other support items. These can include anything from commercial cooking assets and coolers to the dedicated and very skilled fish cleaners necessary each year for the big fishing day event.

He even shows up with his RV so as to be able to provide A/C cooling-off respite to others during set-up and tear-down, enabling longer hours of volunteering. And sometimes that RV even provides overnight accommodations for another volunteer or participating Veteran!

The fact is, our friend Mouse is among the very first, original AHERO volunteers. One who came to us kind of out of the blue.

Years ago, having heard about the first Pensacola Beach AHERO Warrior Hook-up in 2012, this fellow shows up unannounced at

the following year’s (second annual) event. I only glimpsed him from the back so who he was didn’t register at first. All I knew was I was grateful there was another guy helping the severely wounded Veterans off vehicles that had brought them there and onto those taking them to their assigned hotels and the HookUp’s activities.

But then I turned back again and saw him assisting a particular Veteran in his wheelchair. “Hey, that’s Mouse!” I said, startled because he hadn’t signed up as a volunteer.

That day back in August 2013 began his participation and support of every one of AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up events. And he’s been with and very much “4AHERO” ever since. So, yes, our friend Ron “Mouse” Schreiner is very much a true gem.

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AHERO volunteer and master car mechanic Ron "Mouse" Schreiner at work in his famous state-of-the-art garage. Gotta love all that great wall decor!
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Generosity to Nourish the Heroes We Love

Every year during the AHERO Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up event, this organization receives a very special kind of supportive “donation” – in the form of hundreds of servings of fresh, delicious meals that range from breakfast foods to sandwiches to tangy, tasty dinner dishes for our participating warriors to enjoy.

Hand prepared with love, they are delivered at no cost to AHERO. This amounts to a hugely generous contribution made by some very caring individuals who want to understand the debt of gratitude we all owe our Veterans and First Responders.

We recently asked the wonderful owners and managers of ALOHA Grill, Firehouse Subs and Bagleheads to tell us a little about why they make this super-kind annual effort. Below are the statements each of them sent.

FIREHOUSE SUBS

During my time in the Reserves, I was a stay-at-home mother to two wonderful children. Upon leaving the Reserves in 2015, I got a job with a local county sheriff’s office but quickly realized that civilian law enforcement wasn’t for me. In 2017, I found my calling at Firehouse Subs. I was hired there to work as a crew member and quickly rose through the ranks. I am now the general manager.

The Firehouse Subs mission speaks for itself: “To carry on our commitment to and passion for hearty and flavorful food, heartfelt service, and public safety.” I’m very proud to work for a company that not only speaks this mission but carries it out on a daily basis.

The particular store where I work has been a sponsor of AHERO for as long as I have worked there, if not longer. We have provided sandwiches for the Veterans and volunteers during each Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up. I had not heard of AHERO prior to working at Firehouse Subs. But any organization that supports Veterans of the US military is right by me, especially those Veterans that are healing from physical and psychological wounds from their military service and time spent fighting for our country.*

*Karen’s story of her military service and the challenges she has worked through to succeed is in this issue’s “In Service To Our Nation” section.”

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Ken Odom's Firehouse Subs place ... Always a loyal AHERO supporter! Preparing to start making great sandwiches for the AHERO Warrior Hook-Up.

ALOHA GRILL

“We the people” … Those three words define the most free, inclusive, and successful country that has ever existed. But such freedom comes at a cost: a cost that requires the strength and dedication that the current and past members of American’s military have exhibited and continue to exhibit with their family’s support. It is a cost they pay and paid for, and one they too often continue to pay forever.

The very least we, as Americans, can do is to support and honor the men and women who have kept us – “the people” – free. It is, and has been, a great honor for Deborah and me to be able to show our gratitude to the men and women who are supported through the AHERO organization.

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For the last several years, ALOHA Grill has placed each official annual AHERO Warrior Hook-Up poster on this wall in the restaurant for all to see. Here, Lee Stuckey and Colonel King reflect our AHERO pride in this gracious display. A sampling of the some dishes ALOHA prepares for AHERO's Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up each summer. Delicious, tangy food? You betcha!

BAGELHEADS

Editors comment: Manager Brenna Duley (“Duley,” to her friends) put her “support our guys and gals in uniform” convictions into action some years ago, providing yummy bagels for AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up event. When we asked her to tell us about why she loves doing it, she sent a hand-written note that activated a real “lump in throat” response from those of us who put AHERO Magazine together. Here’s what she said:

While it has been an honor to bless others through donations at Bagelheads, AHERO has always been a passion project for us. I met Dave Glassman at Bagelheads almost immediately after losing my friend, Bobby “Doc” Gnem, in an amphibious exercise, along with eight other Marines.*

While I grieved for those who had passed, my mind immediately went to service members who have survived, and to the living family members of those who haven’t. In AHERO, I simply couldn’t think of a better organization to support.

From our AHERO hearts to yours, Paul and Deborah, Karen, and Duley: THANK

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* In our “In Service To Our Nation” section
Good times with good friends at a great placeBagelheads!
YOU!
here, read the story of the tragic event that compelled Duley’s decision to have
Bagelheads support AHERO. Bagels for a perfect AHERO Warrior Hook-Up Breakfast!

Redbeard Gives Them Wheels

Editor’s note: Trying to get a semi-annual magazine out before the stories inside have developed changes – this is every editor’s teeth-gnashing challenge. Jeremy Clarke, a writer who never lets a story go to press without making sure it’s as good as it gets at that point, called in a halt just as we were about to put this issue to bed. “Hold up!” he said. “Just got the update on the Riley trike-build!” So we held up.

It was worth it. Be sure to read this great story all the way through to the end to see what we mean:

In 1987, Dave Riley, a U.S. Coast Guard rescue diver at the time, purchased a brand new Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. It was Dave’s pride and joy, a custom bike on which he put 16,000 miles of fun, possibly accruing a couple of speeding tickets in the process.

In 1997, while still in the service, he contracted a rare and horrendous flesh-eating virus that left him missing the lower portion of each arm and each leg. Which, in turn, left him unable to ride his beloved Harley.

But he didn’t sell it. In fact, for twenty-five years, it sat in his garage. Gathering dust.

This past June, Riley met American Legion 340 Riders Director Mike Dinkel along with Frank Garrett at the AL Post 340-sponsored AHERO Darts event hosted by Bill and Tina Conn. Dinkel and Garrett - both highly experienced bike mechanics - took an interest in Dave’s plight … and there and then decided to do something about it.

Dinkel, who runs Redbeard Cycles in Pensacola, takes his work and his clients' needs very seriously. All of his Google reviews are 5 stars. He said, “If I have the opportunity, which I now have, to get a fellow Vet back on his bike, I’m going to do it.” Still, as competent and courageous as that “fellow Vet” is, there was no way he could ride safely on two wheels.

Garrett recalls that Riley was able to start the bike, get it into gear and even turn the throttle with adjustments to his hook. “He could probably get up to speed,” Garrett said. “The problem was, could he stop?”

The answer was: Nope. The other answer was, if he couldn’t be on two wheels, why not make it three?

IN RODE THE FOLKS FROM COMBAT HERO BIKE BUILD (CHBB)

Help to accomplish this goal came from CHBB, a Florida-based 501(c)3 organization dedicated to helping Veterans regain the freedom of the open road. CHBB Treasurer Terry “Circle-T” Sharp and crew have been focused on making it possible for combat Veterans, many of whom are missing limbs, to reclaim that freedom on bikes uniquely customized for them.

CHBB was founded by friends John “Hardcharger” Barker and Ray “Too Tall” McDowell, with the intention of raising funds in order to improve the quality of life for these heroes. To get them back in the saddle, so to speak.

CHARLIE LATER

WENT ON TO SCALE OTHER

“heights.” Most notably in 2016 when, on his third climbing attempt, he conquered Everest (not, as we hope is clear, on his beloved CHBB customized bike).

In 2010, US Army Special Operations EOD technician, Brian Mast, was also struck by an IED in Afghanistan. The blast claimed both his legs. It definitely did not claim his spirit.

Mast drives a car, and he went on to master scuba diving and skiing. In 2015, he became the second recipient of a special Combat Hero Bike Build motorcycle with sidecar. A year after that, Brian Mast, very much on the road to freedom, was elected to the U.S. Congress.

As you read this, if your heart isn’t full of respect or you don’t have the hint of a tear in your eye for these awesome men, you might be reading the wrong magazine.

CUSTOM-BUILT … THE REDBEARD WAY

"Each bike is tailored to each rider," says Terry Sharp. "No two bikes are the same. Individual needs are evaluated, and great pains are taken accordingly. This ensures a comfortable fit for each hero owner."

Ordinarily, only five machines can be made each year. This year, though, says Sharp, they intend to deliver seven.

CHHB has already secured partial funding for Dave Riley’s bike – code name “Operation Phoenix Rising.” A new trike rear end will be required from experts at the aptly named Frankenstein Trikes, in Pleasanton, Kansas.

Fact is, Riley’s bike will require extraintensive customization, necessitating more work. And that’s because it’ll be the first time anyone will have designed and built a “Trike for a Quad.” Dinkel and his team are having to create brand new functionality to ensure Dave can enjoy his bike fully, and safely.

So there is much work to do. The dream is for Dave to ride his new trike in August 2023, participating in the AHERO Warrior Hook-Up ride with his brother and sister riders, from the Pensacola Beach ball across the new General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. Bridge to AL Post 340.

Which means he’ll need to get his bike sometime in June in order to have several weeks to get acclimated on it. It’s going to require some heavy lifting. It will take Mike Dinkel at Redbeard more than a hundred man-hours, for example. Hours he is freely

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donating, to finish Dave Riley’s bike.

But even with Redbeard’s generous gift of those hours of skilled work, we are about $10,000 short. And we need those dollars real soon. If you would like to help get Dave Riley back on the road, please donate at CombatHeroBikeBuild.org or call Terry Sharp at CHBB, (314) 703-5687. Thanks.

HOLD THE PRESSES! Updating...

As we know, Redbeard owner Mike Dinkel has the throttle wide open and, with able assistant Jay Limerick, in working to transform the bike into a trike … But now Mike and his band of brothers and sisters of ALR 340 apparently have also been revving up the fundraising.

Under the noise of the big V-twins, they have, over the past few weeks, quietly raised over $10,500, with more in the tank!

And, befitting the always humble and giving nature of these riders, all the donors wish to remain anonymous. They have a credo: "Cause before applause."

'Nuff said.*

* We’ll have the story plus photos of Riley’s Trike ready for you in our next AHERO Magazine issue.

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Bike-transformation genies Frank Garrett (left) & Red Beard's Michael Dinkel (right) plan to re-engineer Dave Riley's Harley into a safely usable "ride" for him after his 25 years of being sidelined from the riding he once loved! Info Flyer - Project Pheonix Rising

AHERO Considers a Plunge Into New Waters: Diving4AHERO

AHERO’s iron-clad, ongoing commitment is to provide healthy outdoor activities to our Veteran/First Responder participants whose wounds and injuries incurred during their military service or their high-stress jobs have left them at risk of succumbing to serious depression.

Anyone asking why gets the same answer. Because, as so many AHERO participants have told us, just being a part of these activities with their peers has changed their outlook on life for the better.

Whether it be on an AHERO senior hunt in the wooded hills of Alabama, a Warrior Hook-Up deep-sea fishing trip in the Gulf waters off the beaches of Florida’s Panhandle or Alabama’s Coast, or a Music4AHERO evening’s program of talk, laughter, and great entertainment by our musicians, the feedback is so often the same. Participants report that they’ve discovered enjoyment in something they’d more or less given up on doing until “someday” … or ever again … because of their physical limitations.

Riding4AHERO, Golfing4AHERO, High Points4AHERO and our other event categories grew out of the two hard facts that motivate this organization. The first is that the rate of Veteran suicide has continued to trend upward as have the stress levels suffered by our First Responders.

And the second is that in order to do all we can to fight these trends – even if we can do it only one or 10 or 50 at-risk Veterans/First Responders at a time – it takes effective, lifeaffirming programs that must be paid for by constant fundraising.

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ALL IN 4AHERO
Amazing underwater photographer Teddy Allison brings his skills to capture the vivid scenes AHERO's D4A team participants will experience!

A PRELIMINARY DIVE INTO WHAT’S COMING

All puns aside, inspiration has struck AHERO again. A partnership is brewing that has the potential to allow us to offer a unique program involving deep-sea-diving training and spear fishing, but one that goes further by also aligning with concerns of the community. AHERO’s board members are currently in discussions with members of the Gulf-centric organizations Ocean Strike, Reef Soldiers, and the Escambia County Department of Marine Resource Management. Their purpose follows a familiar framework but one that is unique to our Gulf waters:

• To partner together in an AHERO program that offers healing opportunities for our Veterans and First Responders through underwater events and participation in research projects.

• By drawing on its collaborative character, the Diving 4AHERO Program will provide SCUBA certification opportunities for Veterans & First Responders to comprise teams of 6 divers to provide/promote camaraderie, relationship-building, and therapeutic benefit through underwater activities; work with OC & ECDMR to hunt/harvest invasive lionfish and perform reef management and maintenance operations; and help to improve and promote the greater Pensacola Beach Gulf Coast waters as a rich and interesting diving destination.

We will keep you, our loyal AHERO Magazine readers, posted as the program develops!

AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 105 AHERO Needs You! - www.AHEROUSA.org/donate
Diving4AHERO (D4A) Team Members: FRONT ROW (l-r): Greg Scott, Connor Scott, Jeannette Prince, Chris Simon, Dan Anderson, Mo Sheik, & Pepper BACK ROW (l-r): Dave Glassman, Collin Scott, Bob Sundius, Steven Bowden, Dustin “Hardway” Socia, Doug Pacetti, Joe “Doc” Hodge, Javier Costa, Norm “Frenchy” LaFountaine, Kerry Freeland, and Ryan Barnes Old Glory flies high with AHERO ... under water!

Inspiring Kappa Sigma’s “Tournament Troops” on Behalf of AHERO

Months before the 2022 Kappa Sigma 5th Annual Golfing 4AHERO Tournament at Perdido Bay Golf Club got underway on November 12th, the two event-organizing Kappa Sigma brothers, Hunter Labbie and Mason Mallory, kicked preparations into gear.

As Hunter (who always tells it best when it comes to “kicking things into gear”) told us at AHERO Magazine, here’s what started things off:

"It was that moment in the year to start pushing because, though months away, the 5th Annual Golfing4AHERO Tournament was quickly approaching. The years prior had yielded a very solid foundation for the tournament, and now there were no more COVID-19 regulations. Most importantly, there was no excuse to not make this year be a huge milestone for the program.”

Currently living in Jacksonville, Florida, 350 long miles away from Golfing4AHERO Headquarters (AKA the fraternity house in Pensacola), Hunter was relying on brother Mason Mallory and a handful of "all in," newly initiated Kappa Sigma men to begin the process and keep him informed.

“Many of the new brothers I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of meeting,” he told us. “Hard planning had started in March and goals were continuing to be met, but they weren’t being exceeded. Then, at 60 days out from tee-off, things started shaping up but not

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Golfers (l-r) Daniel Rogers (active Kappa Sigma Sigma-Xi brother and former chapter vice president) teamed up with Ted Rogers, Tom Tarrance, and Zane Tarrance for a foursome hitting the links for AHERO. Hunter Labbie, as told to AHERO Magazine The West Florida Kappa Sigma chapter's mighty gathering for its 5th Annual Golfing 4AHERO event at Perdido Bay Golf Club mirrors the event's great success!

really measuring up to the 5th Annual Golfing4AHERO Tournament. I started to worry because it seemed the committee had leveraged most of its relationships to raise money and recruit volunteers to participate in making it happen.

Still, Mason and I knew there were some stones left unturned. At this point, we took a leap of faith. We realized we had 20 pledges in the pledge class who as yet had no idea what AHERO really is and how instrumental its role is in changing the lives of many of our nation’s best and bravest. So we got together to give these young men some quick background on AHERO and its mission, and a quick stump speech to give to potential supporters about it.”

OFF AND RUNNING!

According to Hunter, the committee at that point was only expecting that group to go out and, with luck and willing hearts, raise a few hundred dollars.

“We could not have been much more wrong,” he laughs now. “By the end of week one, they had raised over $1000 and by the end of week two, more than $2,500! So now we’re beyond excited and very proud of this group who had gone out and each proved what a real Kappa Sigma man

should do even without officially being a part of our organization yet!”

Apparently, enough money was raised at that point to get the blood of enthusiasm and action moving fast. Read Jeremy Clarke’s story in our next issue about the Kappa Sigma brothers’ extraordinary energy and dedication to their goal of helping AHERO and others. Informally dubbing the yearly tournament they have established “Kappa Sigma’s Mercedes Benz Golfing4AHERO Classic,” Jeremy tells it true: These are classy guys, putting on a class act of a tournament every year – on AHERO’s behalf!

Ever a standout supporter of AHERO and the Veterans it seeks to help, Hunter,

in closing his report, left us honored by his signature constant confidence in AHERO and the tournament his chapter brothers make happen each year. “As an active alumnus of this KS chapter,” he said, “I know that the Kappa Sigma and AHERO partnership has not yet reached its pinnacle. I think I can safely speak for most when I say that the best of Golfing4AHERO is yet to come. We love AHERO, its Veterans, and this amazing great country we’re so fortunate to call home!”

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Kappa Sigma Sigma-Xi Brother Reid Travis prepares to send off a rocket!

For Love of a Very Special Son

On January 6, 2018, I had no idea my life would be taking a new path. There would be a very significant change in my life.

To start this story at its actual beginning, I should tell you that I was in the Army from 1983 to 1987. My career track was as an electronics and hydraulics repairman for the Hawk missile system. It was a good job, but the Army has a way of keeping your life full of changes.

I was chosen to be my battalion commander’s driver and, after that, the second-in-command’s driver. During the final six months of my four-year tour, I was trained as a lifeguard for Fort Bragg’s main swimming pool.

Does everyone remember “there’s a silver lining in every cloud”?

For me, that shiny lining appeared when I was fired as a driver. That “lining” wasn’t apparent right away. Instead, I was shocked and devastated, so I immediately went to see the battalion’s chaplain.

As we spoke, I found myself declaring, “I want to be a real Christian!” We studied together for a week. Then he took me off-base to a church where I experienced the teachings of the Bible. That will always be, by far, the greatest event of my life, and it has continued to deeply affect every aspect of my life since February 28, 1986, including who I married and my career choices.

Now I was fully prepared for challenges … coming in droves!

I married Kim, a Pensacola, Florida, native on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1990. Kim is a cytotechnologist and the mother of our two children. Daniel, who is a special-needs individual, is now 23. Our daughter, Alena, is 27 and a pathologist assistant working in Pensacola, where we have lived for the past 30-plus years. We are very proud of both our children.

Still, if you are not aware, raising a 6’4” special-needs child who is severally developmentally delayed is very hard. It’s a full-time job requiring a 24-hour-a-day commitment. Daniel needs constant medical assistance. This is something for which my changing situation in the ever-shifting Army had helped me prepare – the kind of aroundthe-clock schedule and requirements my special-needs son came with.

Every couple of days, Daniel would be fighting just to stay alive because of the rare condition he had that caused severe seizures. My life as in the Army had prepared me for enduring hardships, and my son’s seizures, which started in 1999 when he was only two months of age, were only the first of several thousand he would suffer.

Life was difficult but, in a way, fairly stable. Then, in 2020, things just spiraled out of control. The pharmaceutical company I worked for had its third round of layoffs. I suddenly lost my job, and at the same time our house was flooded. A real estate deal we’d hoped to close on went bad in May of 2020, costing us a significant amount of money. That year, Kim also developed a serious eye problem (called “vitreous detachment”), which is ongoing.

Instead of moving that year, we decided to do a major remodel of our home while living in it. At some point, Daniel got Covid from one of the construction workers, so the entire family also got Covid. As anyone can imagine, it was a real challenge living on the same floor where your kitchen and bedroom where being remodeled over a three-month period!

We’d had a nighttime nurse for Daniel, but the nurse quit in late 2020 leaving me as the one on watch for him every night for four months. In addition, our 16-year-old family dog, Cocoa, a Shih Tzu, died, and was soon followed by Daniel’s service dog of 12 years, Dove. Both were beloved, and we could take comfort in knowing that they passed after full, happy and long doggie lives.

As all these events unfolded together, I needed the valuable training I’d received in the Army more than I’d needed it ever before.

The beat went on. In July 2021, my dad had a stroke three days prior to my mom's passing. It had caused him some temporary brain damage, so Dad wouldn’t learn until six weeks later that his wife of 53 years had died. Finally, because Daniel’s doctor hadn’t wanted to prescribe an antibiotic for him, our son contracted pneumonia leading into respiratory arrest. Daniel almost died while in the ER that time.

The battle of life is always in front – not behind us! How do you endure all these catastrophic events? Even the non-catastrophic ones can wear you down – like only being able to spend five full overnights in twenty years with the wife you love (that’s all we had). Or having care workers constantly in the house for the last 10 year (that’s been our life!). How do you not lay on the floor and crumble in desperation and desolation?

My Army experience, and especially our faith in God – and then a particularly effective supplement product that we discovered – all these positive things helped us to endure.

These days, I don’t shy away from saying that things have been hard – very hard. But the truth is that I literally count my blessings every day, reminding myself of all that I have and not to dwell on what I’ve lost.

I’ve learned to focus on the present and the future, not the past. If you live in the past, you sacrifice the joy of being present in important moments large and small.

Throughout all this time, there have been many great things that have happened to my family and me. In January of 2018, I had discovered, and ultimately became a part of, a health and wellness company whose product, which is based on redox cell signaling technology, has allowed me to better help my family as well as other Veterans and folks.

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The truth is, I am happy that I left the pharmaceutical business to work at something I take great satisfaction in. And I am endlessly grateful for the many gifts my faith has given me.

My motto in life that has served me very well: Get up. Get going. Get. It. Done.

To contact Erick about the work he is doing, please email him at Erick@HappyLivingNow.com

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Kim and Erick on a skiing trip with Daniel. Erick (center) and some Army pals.

No Longer in Pain: Retired

Marine Dave Glassman Attests to Redox Technology

I regard my time flying the venerable CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter in support of Marines with fondness and a strong sense of gratification. The experiences were not without the occasional near-catastrophic incident. One of these “experiences” resulted in multiple hard landings that sent powerful forces up through the pilot seat, injuring multiple vertebrae in my spine, leading to a medical diagnosis of stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis.

This led to pain and discomfort, sleep disorders, pain management prescriptions, and multiple MRIs over the ensuing decades. Still, the nearly debilitating pain stayed with me. But in March of 2022, I began a regimen of Redox Cell Signaling supplement which, within 12 days of usage, caused a significant reduction of my lumbar pain, improved my digestive function, and lengthened my periods of uninterrupted sleep at night.

I am a guy who reads up almost obsessively on topics that affect my health or that of the people I am close to. I really find the redox technology, its supporting research, and the explanation of its efficacy to be fascinating and, frankly, self-evident. For anyone who can identify with some of what I’ve been through, much of the best information can be found by scanning the qr code or at: Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=Redox+signaling+molecule

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4AHERO

"UnorthoDoc”

Hmmm. How do I describe Doc Hodge?

Whale ... (he’d drawl that out long, being from Tennessee). He’s … kinda loud. And very much loved. And respected. Seventy-two years old and counting.

Stands firm, like the 161-mph-sustained winds of Cat 5 Hurricane Michael wouldn’t have knocked him over.

“Doc!” A Navy corpsman, he answered the call, went to ‘nam.

I first met him a couple of years ago through Dave Glassman. Glassman had brought a Veteran to meet Doc, and as we arrived in his office with greetings, Hodge inhaled deeply, eyes trained on the Veteran walking into the room. Observed his gait, his stance, his breathing – apparently even the whites of his eyes, color and texture of his skin, his hands.

Then, before the Vet could tell Hodge what was wrong with him … Hodge told the Vet what was wrong with him. Had assessed his health, his ailments, his diet, liquids intake, lack of oxygenation. And had done it all inside of maybe 45 seconds!

SNAKE OIL? READ ON …

I’m pretty sure that, if you were to listen to him, you might at first think the man was making stuff up. As I initially suspected. This is because words hurtle out of his mouth at you fast, like a herd of Tennessee quarter horses. He does, quite honestly, sometimes express himself in distinctively Doco-logical terms that might depart from traditional medical parlance.

He’s a bit … unorthodox. But, make no mistake, this robust, noisy Southern gent knows his stuff. Like when Covid-19 hit, in early 2020.

Hodge had “set up shop” courtesy of the wonderful Dr. Deb Viglione of Living Waters in Gulf Breeze. And there, under the strict tutelage of one Dr. Jim Thorp, an experienced double-certified fetal medical doctor with expertise in the non-invasive procedure of something called ozone therapy,* he began providing the therapy to Veterans poleaxed by this virus.

I was at Dr. Viglione’s office back when an 82-year old Veteran, a sergeant major, came in on his hands and knees (literally!) and was

guided into Dr. Viglione’s exam room where Hodge administered the therapy.

Within 60 minutes, the sergeant major was feeling much better. The following week, brimming with gratitude, the same man walked 10 miles back for a second successful round!

Over the past few years, there have been many examples of Hodge helping folks improve their health this way. One area resident, a lady from Tiger Point, reports that she is “alive only because of Doc.”

The therapy involves water treated with ozone gas, which is administered in conjunction with Hodge’s “light saber,” a photo electric resonant light therapy (PERT) device, set in the housing of a regular flashlight. In addition, both Western and Eastern medical knowledge, accumulated over many decades, are applied.

Since learning about the therapy, Hodge has administered it to any number of individuals. He was graciously invited by some wonderful, patriotic folks up in Milton, who prefer to remain anonymous, to use their comfortable pool house as his office. We’re happy to report that folks who arrive with pain, or with quite severe shakes, almost always walk out smiling … and steady as a rock!

Whatever you may think of Doc Hodge, the man is making an appreciable difference in the lives of many of our Veterans and First Responders.

Hodge is very busy. But if you have long had unrelenting pain, maybe this extraordinary man can help. He does not charge those who have served. He obviously has costs and accepts contributions. But nothing is expected.

*Though it is being used with considerable reported success, ozone therapy has not yet received FDA approval.

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A dapper Doc Hodge attends the Marine Corps Ball.

Creating the Great Pensacola 3-Mile Bridge Reef #5

WHY CONSTRUCT ARTIFICIAL REEFS?

Artificial reefs have been used for hundreds of years around the world in fresh, brackish and marine waters. In its broadest sense, term “artificial reef” refers to any object intentionally or unintentionally placed into a waterbody by humans for the purposes of enhancing and/or attracting marine life.

The functions of artificial reefs vary in different waterbodies with different ecosystems that have different species of marine life. In the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, Escambia County’s artificial reefs provide structural complexity on an otherwise featureless sand seafloor. Artificial reef materials deployed by Escambia County Marine Resources Division (MRD) are comprised mostly of concrete and metals (as required by state and federal permits). These artificial reefs provide physical habitat features (crevices, ledges, and other surface area) which “reef species” of marine life prefer or require.

Although some of the food consumed by many of the fishes found at reefs actually grows upon the reefs, most food for reef fishes is foraged from the surrounding seafloor and water column above and around the reef. Analysis of the stomach contents of reef fish that were collected from Escambia County artificial reefs revealed a diet of shrimps, crabs, and other seafloor-dwelling shellfish and worms, as well as planktonic organisms constantly flowing past the reefs. By deploying habitat, the artificial reefs attract marine life as well as anglers and divers.

PASSING ON THE “3-MILE” NAME

As manager of Escambia County Marine Resources Division (MRD), I became aware of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) plan to replace the 3-mile long Hwy 98 bridge across Pensacola Bay in 2012. The potential to use the demolition materials of the old concrete bridge to construct artificial reefs was similar to the previous reefing of the

Interstate 10 bridge across Escambia Bay when it was replaced after Hurricane Ivan.

Each of the two bridges comprised approximately100,000 tons of concrete. I planned to deploy four “3-Mile Bridge” reefs in a similar manner as we had accomplished the construction of six “I-10” artificial reefs.

Because the demolition of the old 3-Mile Bridge was a component of the construction of the new bridge, the contractor, Skanska, Inc, would load the old bridge pieces onto barges, tow them to Escambia County’s permitted artificial reef sites in the Gulf of Mexico, and place the concrete on the seafloor at the designated locations. As MRD manager, my responsibilities were to select the specific locations for each reef deployment, mark the site with a buoy, and assist Skanska in the deployment of the artificial reef materials in compliance with the state and federal permits issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and US Army Corps of Engineers, respectively.

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#1 Scanning for precise target location was required when deploying specific concrete bridge components in order to keep habitat-enhancing “stacked” configurations under the permit-regulated 46-ft depth. #2 A buoy is installed indicating the reef site configurations under the permit-regulated 46-ft depth. #3 The tugboat tows the first reef deployment bargeload towards the target buoy set by MRD. #4 Barge-to-tugboat guidance enables precise positioning for the targeted drop. #5 The barge load hits the water almost on top of the buoy ... exactly as planned. #6 Some conformations of bridge material slide gently into the Gulf ...

Skanska’s method of towing the reefing barge to the target location, then sliding the 3-Mile Bridge pieces off the barge while underway was different than the method of deploying the I-10 bridge concrete from an anchored barge. Without anchoring the barge, there was very little control over the exact location of each deployment as the barge was slowly towed over the deployment target.

Although I initially started constructing several 3-Mile Bridge reefs, I quickly realized the best way to build effective, stable, and durable reef habitat was to focus the vast majority of the concrete on one reef: “3-Mile Bridge Reef #5.” This reef is located in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 10 miles southsoutheast of Pensacola Pass. Water depth at the seafloor is 95-100 feet.

Reef deployments started in September 2019. However, Hurricane Sally drastically changed the project scope and timeline.

Additional demolition and bridge repairs caused the project to expand from the original estimate of six to nine months to more than three years.

Required: Intricate engineering and the expertise of skilled tugboat captains.

On each day of reef deployment, I would travel to the reef site in Escambia County’s boat. I typically arrived at the reef site about an hour before the tugboat and barge. I would select the precise target location for each deployment based upon numerous factors including the exact size and quantity of materials on the barge, as well as the directions of prevailing winds, waves and water current that would determine the tugboat’s direction of approach to tow the barge directly into the strongest opposing force. By doing so, we could slow the tow and reduce the distance travelled if any delay in deployment occurred.

Experience and artificial-reef research

indicate the greatest reef-habitat features are complexity and height. Therefore, stacking subsequent reef deployments upon previous deployments would result in the optimal reef configuration. State and federal reef permits, however, require a minimum vertical clearance over the reef of 46 feet. For each of the 200plus deployment voyages, I had to balance the goal of stacking 100-ton concrete pieces with the avoidance of having a 30 foot-long concrete slab extend into the prohibited portion of the water column.

After scanning the existing reef and evaluating all of the factors described above, I would select the target location, deploy one or more buoys to mark the target, and wait for the tugboat and barge. During the final approach to the deployment target location, radio communications with the tugboat captain and reef deployment crew aboard the barge allowed us to work as a team to hit the target

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#7 ... and other deployments are accompanied by dramatic splashes! #8 Skanska modified four 35ft x 150ft steel deck barges by fabricating steel ramps topped with steel railroad track. Bridge structures were loaded via crane and held until ready for deployment as artificial reefs. #9 Four 183.5-ton concrete bridge deck spans being towed past the Pensacola Lighthouse on Pensacola Naval Air Station

coordinates with up to 1000 tons of concrete.

I was very fortunate to have worked with some of the Gulf of Mexico’s best tugboat captains, who were dedicated to building the best possible artificial reefs. These captains exhibited extraordinary skill in maneuvering the barge as close as possible to the target locations. The deployment barge crews also worked very hard – sometimes in adverse conditions and sometimes with uncooperative

equipment – to offload the reef materials when they heard me shout “Deploy! Deploy! Deploy!” over the radio.

After more than 200 deployment voyages, the final load of the old 3-Mile Bridge was deployed in November 2022. The resulting “3-Mile Bridge Reef #5” now covers an area of approximately 17 acres!

This mega-reef is comprised of more than 103,000 tons of concrete, making it one of

the world’s largest artificial reefs. Although it may exceed the physical mass of the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, it ranks second to the significance and honor of the “Mighty O.” It’s hard for me to express my appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of the creation of two of the world’s largest artificial reefs and the development of Escambia County’s artificial-reef program. These artificial reefs provide the basis for

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#10 After deploying a total of 254 deck spans, several hundred concrete pilings, headers, footers and other pieces remained to be reefed. Skanska modified an old "slide barge" to carry these to the reef site to be deployed by an excavator.

fishing and diving that supports over 2,200 local jobs and has an annual economic impact of more than $150 million dollars.

Information about Escambia County's reefs can be found online at Artificial Reefs (www.myescambia.com)

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#11 This image reveals how, with each successive barge load deployed, the reef builds up and out. #12 Final scan shows compliance with depth regulations while the multilevel conformation will allow excellent reef habitat development. #13 Doing the math. Final figures show materials for MRD's creation of the 3-Mile Bridge Reef weighed 110,133 tons!

Stalking the Ravenous, Destructive Lionfish in Our Gulf Waters

Welcome to Florida, the Sunshine State. Here, we have more than 185 state and national parks, including the largest tropical wilderness in the United States, the Everglades. Steeped in history, our state can claim two of the nation’s oldest settlements: St. Augustine, our nation’s longest continuously inhabited city; and Pensacola, its very first settlement.

Our mild winters, warm summers, beautiful white beaches, and emerald waters draw visitors all year long. Home to Walt Disney World, Florida is where just about everyone (and everything!) has a reason to come for a visit … or to stay.

“WELCOME” TO FLORIDA??

This state is also home to more invasive species than anywhere else in the continental United States. We’re the world leader in the reptile trade ... and when those critters get loose, they thrive in our Florida wild!

The largest example is the Burmese python, first sighted in the Everglades in 1979. Incredibly, it was not until the year 2000 that authorities recognized that the massive snakes were reproducing. Current estimates of wild pythons here range from a staggering 10,000 to 100,000 snakes! Partly due to the female’s ability to lay up to 120 eggs at a time, it’s also because there are no natural predators limiting this monster-size snake’s numbers.

In 2022, one of these pythons was found to have swallowed a five-foot-long alligator! It’s no surprise the species has wreaked ecological havoc across Florida’s Everglades since, as the world’s largest snake species, the Burmese python commands the most attention.

INTRODUCING THE DEADLY LITTLE LIONFISH

Around the same time that other invasive species, such as various lizards, were taking up residence here in the 1980s, the 7-to-12inch lionfish (originally from the Indian and Pacific oceans) were likely being dumped from aquariums into the Atlantic Ocean.

At first viewed as nonthreatening to marine life, its rapidly increasing numbers soon became concerning, as the lionfish can eat

anything up to two-thirds of its own body size. And it has a ravenous appetite for over 60 species of marine life!

Venomous spines covering its body offer protection from almost any predator, and the species is resistant to disease and infection. It has a lifespan of 16 years, and females release about two million eggs per year with the egg mass protected by a natural repellant.

All of which adds up to the lionfish threating biodiversity as it devours small marine species that thrive in reefs. Within its territorial range, one lone lionfish can reduce critical marine life by 80 percent in five weeks. Yet this relatively small survival-machine of a fish can survive for three months without any food at all!

A LION-FIERCE THREAT TO REEFS … AND TO US

It was named for its majestic lion’s mane look, of course, but the negative impact of this fish cannot be overstated. Loss of many species is already being felt economically all the way up the marine-life food chain. Commercial fishing has become more difficult. Tourism itself may eventually become affected.

More importantly is the toll it is taking on reefs. In addition to ensuring oceanic biodiversity, the world’s reefs produce up to half the earth’s oxygen. Forty years after it was first spotted off southeast Florida, the species has spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and as far north as Long Island, New York. If not managed, this “pretty little fish” could prove catastrophic to the planet.

ENTER THE INGENUITY OF HUMANS

With no clear ways to limit lionfish destruction, a new sport evolved. The first lionfish fishing tournament had arrived! This exciting sport, held in exotic locations, has dangers and thus has strict participation requirements. It’s perfect for lovers of fishing, but you do need a boat and to be skilled at diving.

In teams or solo (depending on the tournament), divers enter the water wielding a specific tool that catches one fish at a time.

They are cautioned that the venomous sting of the lionfish can cause extreme pain that lasts for days, and to seek medical attention immediately if stung.

The obvious dangers of diving for a fish with poisonous spines, and the expenses associated with equipment and boating, might dissuade many from participating. But prizes are significantly high, which generates interest. Several tournaments have prizes worth $10,000 or more! Awards are given for the most caught, the largest, and even for the smallest.

The ultimate goal of these tournaments is to remove the invasive lionfish from where they don’t belong. Since 2014, more than 146,000 lionfish have been taken from the Florida waters between Key West to Navarre in 170 tournaments, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. And in 2021, a four-man team in the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival tournament removed a record-breaking 564 lionfish in two days! Lionfish hunting has also spurred innovation to build more effective traps. And government grants have been recently distributed to develop new equipment to harvest lionfish at deeper depths.

YUMMY EATIN’

In the Caribbean, divers, fishermen, and chefs have joined forces to create a movement that further inspired interest in the lionfish. Executive Chef Thomas Tennant, famous for turning Cayman Island’s invasive green iguana into a rare delicacy, added lionfish to his menu. Another chef, José Andrés, coined the catchphrase: “Eat ‘em to beat ‘em!”

Today, thousands of restaurants all over the world serve lionfish on their menu. At the end of the annual Pensacola Lionfish Shootout tournament and Lionfish Festival, downtown restaurants serve fresh and delicious lionfish meals. Participants gamely try the new delicacy with “eat ‘em to beat ‘em” gusto.

And I, personally, can’t wait to try some!

116 AHERO MAGAZINE SPRING 2023 ALL IN 4AHERO

Mapping the Invasion - In 1985, few worried about a fish that seemed just a minor marauder (note tiny red dot indicating presence of the lionfish). However ...

... by 2020, the lionfish had spread exponentially. No wonder this seemingly harmless fish is earning nicknames such as "Pirate of the Caribbean" ... to which we may soon be adding "and of our beautiful Gulf Coast!"

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Fortunately, this rapidly spreading fish is quicklly becoming a spearfishing target due to its being a good-eatin' fish!

Southwind Marina Pensacola, FL

Where fish are caught - The catch is cooked Friendships are forged - Memories are made Heroes are honored!

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