AHERO Magazine - Winter 2022

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A L A B A M A coasting presents



From Burnt-Out Warrior To Wildland Firefighter Dillon Dupree's transition from Marine to wildfire fighter - pg. 21

Stewards of wildlife & wildlands - pg. 10

Introducing BBQ4AHERO in partnership with Team Grilla Grills - pg. 26




AHERO Mission Military and Veteran suicide* statistics are hard to pin down, but overall, the figure ranges from 20 to 22 such suicides occurring each day.

The mission of AHERO is to reverse the upward trajectory of this statistic and, indeed, to substantially reduce the daily number of such suicides. AHERO works toward this goal by introducing those who have suffered serious physical/emotional trauma while serving to resources and programs that can help increase their overall quality of life. This includes: • Developing an informal support network of Veterans across the country. • Encouraging constructive communication and engagement. • Boosting Veteran morale. 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 military service and combat. The network will be selfsustaining and support Veterans across the United States of America. AHERO is a 100 percent volunteer-run, 501(c)(3) charitable organization. More than 95 percent of all donations received go directly toward benefitting the Veterans we serve.* *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.


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TABLE OF CONTENTS AHERO Mission............................................................................................ 3

AHERO ON THE MOVE Founder’s Message ..................................................................................... 6 Hunting Season – Veterans Reconnect.......................................................... 8 Conservation and Land Management ......................................................... 10 AHERO & Tall Timbers Partnership.............................................................. 12 AHERO Profile – Veteran Kevin Carter ........................................................ 16 17 Days Fighting a Different Kind of War .................................................... 18 From Burnt Out Warrior to Wildland Firefighter ........................................... 20 Lee Stuckey’s Thank you to Bass Pro Shops.............................................. 22 The Bonding Power of Chow...................................................................... 23 BBQ4AHERO Takes the Field ..................................................................... 24 How Grilla Grills Came to Support AHERO ................................................ 26

IN SERVICE TO OUR NATION Freedom Quest 21 ..................................................................................... 30 Uniting Us As Americans ........................................................................... 33 Remembering September 11, 2021 ............................................................. 35 Letter from Fire Chief Cranor ..................................................................... 36 Blacksheep’s 9/11 Flyover ......................................................................... 37 Goldstars Tribute Wall ............................................................................... 38 Why I had to do this .................................................................................. 40 The Frenchy Connection............................................................................. 42 A Note from the Virtual Wall ...................................................................... 44 Tribute to Doc Eagles.................................................................................. 45 Introducing Minority Veterans Healthcare Coordinator................................. 46 Song for Silas............................................................................................. 47 Tristessa’s Corner: 25 Years After Khobar Towers....................................... 48 Profile: Col Gilda A. Jackson ..................................................................... 52 Frenchy Donates his Collection ................................................................. 53 UFW’s Commitment to Military Students (Personal Stories) ....................... 54 Africatown’s Buffalo Soldiers Project Next Steps for Africatown................ 58 Artist Chosen for “Chappie” James Bridge Monument .............................. 59 Monument to Women Vets Expands its Vision .......................................... 60 4 AHERO MAGAZINE


ALL IN 4AHERO HighPoints4AHERO – Jeremy Thompson’s Update .................................... 62 My BRAGGTAGZ Story............................................................................... 64 Kappa Sigma Golfing≠≠4AHERO................................................................. 66 Healing Paws’ New Leash On Life for Veterans.......................................... 72 Jimmy vs Jim (Part 2).................................................................................. 74 MCL/TEL Charity Run Huge Success ......................................................... 75 Music4AHERO............................................................................................ 78 A Night of Music at Kick Back Ranch.......................................................... 84 Southwind Marina Hosts AHERO’s Vets .................................................... 86 They Came, They Fished, They Connected................................................. 88 Yoga on the Beach...................................................................................... 94 Saturday Night at the Elks Club ................................................................. 96 Grady Bentley Tells His Powerful Story ...................................................... 99 Titan FC hosts Gold Star Parents.............................................................. 101 The War Horse Project Update.................................................................. 102 A Gift to AHERO Called Stacey ................................................................ 104 AHERO Salute to 2022 ............................................................................ 105

SUPPORTING AHERO Levin Papantonio Rafferty............................................................................. 2 Levin Papantonio Rafferty........................................................................... 11 Southwind Marina...................................................................................... 93 Living Waters .......................................................................................... 100 The Hansen Team..................................................................................... 106 Liberty Sertoma ....................................................................................... 107 Aylstock Witkin Kreis Oveholtz ................................................................ 108


Managing Partner/CEO Danny Calametti

Assistant Editor Lynn Feehan

President/Publisher David Calametti

Editorial Assistants and Writers Jeremy Clarke, Norm “Frenchy” LaFontaine, Tristessa Osborne

Editor in Chief Dave Glassman Senior Editor Connie Conway


Published by Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC Photographers Stacey Paden, Jef Bond, Ira Verbois

Art Director Randy Jennings

david@alabamacoasting.com • danny@alabamacoasting.com • 5758 Huffman Drive North • Mobile, AL 36693 • 251-694-0457 ©2022 Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.


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Founder’s Message Welcome to Our Winter 2022 Issue of AHERO Magazine!

It’s been just two months since my actual retirement from the Marine Corps, and I have been blessed to tour around some of our AHERO communities to thank everyone for their continued support. AHERO is growing and we are excited about some of our new training opportunities and our work force development partnerships with Tall Timbers as well as with various state and federal conservation agencies. These programs will focus on ensuring our Veterans find a new sense of purpose and pride in belonging after their military service, so they can continue to serve their communities and country. Since our last issue was released, we have had numerous AHERO events, including our Golfing4AHERO event thanks to the Kappa Sigma fraternity, an AHERO deer and axis hunt hosted by Cedar Hills Outfitters, an AHERO deer hunt at AHERO Farms, and a Music4AHERO event at the Kick Back Ranch & Event Center in Ramer, Alabama. The Kick Back Ranch & Event Center has stolen the hearts of our whole AHERO team thanks to the generous owners’ gracious donation of the use of their 46’ Hatteras sportfishing boat for hosting our Music4AHERO events. More importantly, Mindy Newell is one of the kindest and best Americans I’ve ever met. We are blessed to have her, her daughter Christy, husband Jerry, and their entire Kick Back team in our AHERO family!

Finally, I am just hugely excited about a new partnership with Grilla Grills due to the fact that their awesome marketing director, Drew Turnipseed, is a longtime friend and classmate of mine since our mutual attendance at the Marion Military Institute. Drew is not only a good friend but also a highly decorated Veteran after serving several years in the U.S. Air Force. I have no doubt that this will be a great partnership, and I look forward to helping our Veterans alongside the very Veteran-supportive Grilla Grills company. I continue to be amazed at how awesome our AHERO community is, and am always humbled to be a part of this great organization. God bless you all! Please know that we never stop being grateful for your loving support and continuing efforts to help AHERO save our Veterans from taking their lives by instead giving them a sense of purpose and a reason to live. God bless you all … and Semper Fidelis!


Lee Stuckey Founder and CEO AHERO Magazine

To connect with us, please go to AHEROusa.org/contact 6 AHERO MAGAZINE


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Hunting Season: A Great Reason for Veterans to Reconnect! By MGySgt Mark Oliva, USMC (Ret)

Any one of us who spends time in the woods, fields and marshes knows there’s healing when we hunt. The return of fall is a good reminder for each of us to reach out to fellow Veterans to invite them to go with us as we head out. Programs for hunts and fishing trips are a big part of what AHERO does. They offer a chance for each of us to connect with other Veterans to share our passion for the outdoors. More importantly, it’s a chance for us to cement the bonds of who we are. We’re hunters and anglers, but we’re also a family of Veterans. Our connections to one another didn’t end when we hung up the uniform. If anything, that transition to another phase in our lives reinforced the need to stay connected and reach out to one another. The need to connect to other Veterans is no less important today than it was the moment each of us became part of the AHERO family. The time spent in the deer blind or on the deck of a fishing boat is just the surface of what we’re trying to do. The important work of connecting with others is the real mission. We’re working to connect with more Veterans every day because the work we’re doing is literally saving lives. Our events give us a chance not just to get a Veteran back into the woods or holding a fishing pole once again. Sometimes it is teaching how, while the challenges might be different for each Vet, there’s still a way to get back to the traditions we love.



Our events are also an opportunity to learn about one another. It’s a chance to connect with those who have shared experiences and know that there are others – just like us – who have dealt with the same struggles. At AHERO, we’re all working through our own healing and trying to help someone else heal. We call it “screen porch therapy.” For AHERO, this is the most important thing we can do. The hunt, the time on the water, the quiet in the woods become secondary. And the volunteers who lend their time, money, talents, and access to property get it. They know that the time outdoors is what brings us together, but that time spent with one another is what allows us to connect. We can’t wait to get together with new AHERO groups in the coming year! That opportunity to connect, though, doesn’t have to wait on a scheduled event. We each enjoy our own passion. For some of us, it’s in the woods. Others find it on the water. Still others find it in music or on a golf course. That’s why AHERO is taking every opportunity to connect with Veterans no matter what their passion is … to find a reason to make a meaningful difference in the life of another Veteran. So here’s my challenge. Join us in AHERO’s mission. Contribute, volunteer, share a meal or start a conversation on the porch. Think about the people in your own circle who might benefit from one of AHERO’s outings. Think about the person who needs to get plugged back in with other Veterans. Get them out and get them connected.

Think about this, too: Each of us has opportunities to connect on our own. Hunting season, for many of us, is a chance to enjoy our passions. Invite a Veteran to join you. Share the hunt. Share the experience and share a bit of yourself. Hunting season is a special time of the year for me. It’s even more special when I get to share it with someone else. I can’t wait to do that again this year at AHERO’s events, where I’ll get to meet entire groups of Veterans. But it’s true that I also look forward to an opportunity to do this on my own. Hunting season is a great excuse to reconnect. Make room in the woods for a fellow hunter this year. There’s nothing more special than sharing the experience with another Veteran!

MGySgt Mark Oliva, USMC (Ret), harvests a ringnecked pheasant during a recent hunt in South Dakota. Oliva is a member of AHERO's board of directors.

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Conservation and Land Management Ensure Therapy for Nature as Well as the Soul By Tamar Doull

Research conducted by psychologists M.P. White, I. Alcock, J. Grellier and their colleagues has associated good health and wellbeing with time spent in nature. These scientists found that the reduction of stress, anxiety, anger, fear, and blood pressure was observable in individuals who spent at least 120 minutes, or two hours, in natural settings. In other words, being in nature makes humans happy. In addition, it can help manage pain. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to do everything we can to preserve nature. Wildlife conservation refers to organized efforts to protect nature and its inhabitants. Tall Timbers and AHERO (America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors) understand the importance of conservation and wildlife management through a sound mission that benefits the health of anyone involved in outdoor recreation as well as individuals involved in programs focused on preserving and protecting public and private wildlands. All of these areas are important to help wildlife flourish while giving Veterans and members of the community a redefined sense of purpose and bolstering conservation programs. Lee Stuckey, founder and president of AHERO, is fond of quoting an ancient proverb that may have come from Africa or our NativeAmerican societies: “It takes a village to raise a child.” This wise saying sums up what AHERO stands for. AHERO’s mission is to fight the invisible enemy of Veteran suicide right here on American soil. Doing this requires helping Veterans to heal from wounds received during war and the stressors that come from military service. Connecting, supporting, and networking with Veterans and patriotic Americans has been very successful over the past 12 years, as AHERO’s outdoor events brought Veterans together from all over the U.S. to experience nature’s healing power.

To date, AHERO has been able to develop a support network that encourages constructive communication and engagement. This support network enables the organization to boost morale as it teaches how to develop and implement healthy routines and introduces its participating wounded Veterans to resources and programs that enhance their quality of life. Tall Timbers is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1958 in the Red Hills region, a 300,000-acre conservation focus area located between Thomasville, Georgia, and Tallahassee, Florida. Concentrating on land conservation, the organization’s efforts are having a positive impact on promoting clean water efforts, sustainable forests and wildlife conservation, and responsible outdoor recreation. The leadership and staff of Tall Timbers are considered to be “stewards of wildlife and wildlands. As such, the organization is best known for its methods and technologies used in the practice of prescribed burns for land management. Years of research and experience in fire science make the organization a leader in this important field. Its mission is “to foster exemplary land stewardship through research, conservation and education.”

Tamar Doull, AHERO Volunteer 10 AHERO MAGAZINE


One way of putting good philosophies into action is through programs. Landowners can attend programs, classes, and events offered through the organization’s varied partners. These include: • The Prescribed Fire Training Center, which offers a flexible curriculum of classroom instruction on foundational topics for prescribed fire practitioners • The Southern Fire Portal (SFP), which provides landowners with information about fire science and technology • The Southern Fire Exchange (SFE), which works with partners from a variety of sectors and acts as a middleman, so to speak, between natural-resource management communities and fire-science professionals. Tall Timbers itself hosts fundraiser events and private functions such as business meetings and social gatherings. In addition, its remarkably beautiful landscape and historical main building, Beadel House, make it a popular venue for weddings.


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The AHERO & Tall Timbers Partnership

Opens Career Paths Worthy of Heroes By John McGuire, Director, Tall Timbers Private Lands Prescribed Fire Initiative



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Herbert Stoddard Sr. In 1958, Herbert Stoddard, along with his colleagues Henry Beadel, Ed Komarek, Roy Komarek, and Leon Neel, founded Tall Timbers.

Stoddard's son, Herbert, Jr., called "Sonny," was a WWII Army Captain with 5 Battle Stars in the European Theatre. Sonny returned to south Georgia after the war, finding solace in the woods around Thomasville and working in natural resources. He, too, was a tremendous advocate for prescribed burning, just as his father was. “In his later years,” noted Sonny’s obituary, “he practiced conservation and forestry on Sherwood Plantation and traveled promoting controlled burning. He held a lifelong love and reverence for the natural world.”

Herbert L. Stoddard

In the spring of 2020, Tall Timbers – a nonprofit dedicated to research, conservation, and education – was enlisted to conduct prescribed burns under the vibrant longleaf pines on the AHERO Farm in Macon County, Alabama. AHERO had the vision to turn the event into a celebration of Veterans learning about how fire is used as a tool in forest management, and so the Tall Timbers/AHERO relationship was begun. The burn event at AHERO was an operational success: The fire did the intended job, and the event also served to introduce several Veterans to potential career fields in forest management. Following the event, Major Lee Stuckey came on as an intern with Tall Timbers through the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion. The program was novel in that it allowed Major Stuckey a soft transition from active duty to retirement – a luxury many service members do not have. Stuckey and I soon determined that our organizations could benefit each other. AHERO is committed to assisting Veterans with reintegrating into civilian life and finding the right career, and Tall Timbers is interested in workforce development to meet the need for more prescribed fire to protect forests, firefighters, and communities. A partnership between Tall Timbers and AHERO seemed a good fit. Alabama has a large Veteran population, and their unemployment rate is higher than the state’s general population. Additionally, when Veterans are released from active service, they

become part of a group with an even more dire rate – an increased risk of suicide. A worthwhile career, solid earnings, a strong support network and a sense of purpose are all key ingredients to help address this epidemic of Veteran suicide. Training for a job in natural resources addresses those criteria, while also aligning with research findings that engaging with the natural environment has critical therapeutic value for Veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Currently, the natural resource management sector has significant bottlenecks in its capacity to respond to conservation requirements in many states, Alabama among them. Veterans interested in nature-based employment can certainly assist in this workforce capacity issue. Indeed, programs that train Veterans in land management may well be saving lives as they save the environment.

John McGuire & Major Lee Stuckey at Lee's retirement


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With Tall Timbers’ deep history on the use of prescribed fire as a land management tool, Stuckey and I focused on the subject of wildland fire training. As those who know Stuckey understand, the Marine worked with speed and efficiency. By mid-summer, he had identified three Veterans who would serve as “test subjects” in the pilot training program. Through the summer of 2021, we were able to train the three Veterans to become certified burn managers in the state of Alabama, in addition to earning their federal wildland firefighter credentials. By September, we’d found seats for all three on contract fire engines heading west to participate in managing the wildland fires we all were hearing about, with names like Dixie Fire, Memorial Fire and KNP Complex Fire.

The value of these experiences is best described by one of the Veterans, a south Alabamian who served in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Specialist Shane Herring: “The challenges I faced post-retirement were businesses looking at me as a liability due to possible PTSD incidents, as well as health issues stemming from my time in service. Finding someone who was willing to take a chance on me to prove I was fit for duty was my biggest obstacle. The best part about my training and experience in wildland fires is that it places me back on a close team that I can rely on to help me throughout the incident. It also has given me back a sense of purpose and drive I thought I would never have again.”

L-R, Norm (Frenchy) LaFountaine, Jamie Popwell, Flag recipients Dave Glover (USArmy), and Bob Cinato. 14 AHERO MAGAZINE


The partnership between AHERO and Tall Timbers, as well as our pilot project’s success, showed there are great opportunities open to Veterans who want to transition to this field of work. This winter, we will be training up to 15 Veterans in the use of prescribed fire – a critical practice for managing forests and reducing wildfire risk. Veterans interested in this proposed training are encouraged to reach out to AHERO. There are tremendous workforce opportunities in natural resources that can benefit our Veterans and our environment. The need is so great that Tall Timbers recently created the Quail Lands Job Board (www. TallTimbers.org/Jobs) just for the niche market of jobs on large private quail-hunting properties. Many such natural resource jobs

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U.S. Army Veteran Shane attended the Tall Timbers/ AHERO partnership's firefighter training program and is now a certified burn manager in Alabama and a federally certified wildlands firefighter.

require skills largely learned in the military, meaning interested Veterans may need only minimal training. This is the beginning of a partnership between AHERO and conservation organizations such as Tall Timbers. AHERO is the hub and conservation organizations are the spokes to this newly forged “wheel” of opportunity. Moving forward, it will open new career vistas for our Veterans who want to stay engaged in, and critical to, a new mission of protecting and restoring our nation’s natural resources.

Private land owners and public wildland managers alike see the value in maintaining the health of forests and hunting grounds.

Firefighters in training. AHERO MAGAZINE

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Veteran Kevin Carter Contributes His Fire-Management Expertise By Connie Conway

Kevin Carter uses the latest techniques to create and control the burn, achieving environmentally beneficial results.



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Small, maneuverable vehicles move controlledburn specialists quickly in and around wildland sites.

“Had it not been for Kevin Carter, CEO of Attack One Fire Management, our wildland fire training program for Veterans wouldn’t have been possible this summer,” said John McGuire of Tall Timbers. “Kevin did the heavily lifting of negotiating free software, classroom training, overseeing the ruck test, formalizing the Veterans' firefighting credentials, and finally sending a couple of Vets out on his engine into action.” As a U.S. Navy Veteran, Carter, whose company operates out of Medart, Florida, serves as a shining example of what can await motivated Veterans looking for careers in natural resource management. “And, by the way, Kevin’s also done some strategic prescribed burning at AHERO Farms,” McGuire added. Keeping areas such as these free of wildfire threats enhances their attractiveness to wildlife – not because wildlife gets the science behind the idea that forest wellness equals habitat wellness. If deer and gamebirds do have a grasp of that, we humans certainly haven’t been privy to it so far. More likely, it’s simply the animals’ natural reaction to the new growth of tender young leaves and plants that burn-managed ground produces to feast on, as well as the lush new grasses to duck into for cover! Whatever the case is, Kevin Carter knows his part to play in this partnership with nature, says McGuire, “and he plays it to the benefit of all.” AHERO MAGAZINE

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Although I am a member of the Poarch Creek Tribe of Indians in Alabama, I was born 45 years ago in New Haven, Connecticut, because my father was in the Marines. We traveled quite a bit around the United States until he retired from the USMC. I am a retired disabled Veteran, having enlisted in the U.S. Marines right out of high school in June 1994. Two months later, in August, I was stepping onto the yellow footsteps in Parris Island, South Carolina. After basic, I was stationed in Japan, Korea, Philippines, Africa, Jacksonville, and Cherry Point – both in North Carolina – and at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In addition, I was deployed to Iraq four times and Afghanistan three times. After 13 years in the Marines, I spent seven additional years in the Army, then left the military and went to work as supervisor of a cleaning crew at Wind Creek Hospitality, which is owned by our Tribe, and I currently work for the Land Management and Forestry Department on the Poarch Creek Tribal Lands. MEETING MY AHERO BROTHER Back In March of this year, I didn’t know that I was about to meet a long-lost brother I never had. That was the month I met a crazy guy who told me I had won a fishing trip with a group of other disabled Vets. On the day when we met, a friendship was made, and I became part of a brotherhood. That “crazy guy” was Maj Lee Stuckey, who was getting ready to retire from the U.S. Marine Corps. Nowadays we often talk together, discussing our lives and what’s going on in them. 18 AHERO MAGAZINE


A few months later, Stuckey, who oversees AHERO Farm in Shorter, Alabama, brought up the topic of land management and taking care of the farm. He was interested in how controlled burns were used as a wildlands care and conservation practice. I was really interested in the topic since there had been so much in the news about the California wildfires, and about all the other fires out west. So we went together and got our burn managers certification. Later on, I decided to look more into this fire-burning business and found that I could become a wildland firefighter. What I liked, of course, was the challenge of it. I thought, “Okay. Let’s do this!” There was a test you had to pass, which involved a 3-mile pack in Alabama’s 1000-degree August heat (a slight exaggeration). With the help of AHERO and Lee, and the support of my wife and four kids, I had come this far, so I took the test. I made my time, passed, and was now a wildland firefighter. I was so proud to have accomplished this! So now I waited for “the Call.” OUT OF THE FRYING PAN AND INTO THE … FIRE! It came in September. Kevin Carter from Attack One Fire Management in Florida called me and said, “Jason, California is really burning. Are you ready to go out there and help?” I said yes, of course. So only a few weeks after going through the test, I was packing up gear that had been issued to me, and on September 17, I was at the Montgomery

airport at 3 a.m. for a 7 a.m. flight. You know how that goes. Anyway, on September 18 it was boots on the ground and I was ready to go! We were headed to the “Monument Fire” that was burning in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the largest national forest in California, which is in northern part of the state. The fire had been started by a lightning strike in late July. It was the most awesome experience I’d had in a long time. Being 11,000 feet above sea level about killed me, but I got used to it fast. The people I was with taught me so much about the way wildland firefighters live and fight fires in those mountains. I had my own small tent where I slept every night, so it was basically like going camping, only worse, and yet better at the same time. We ate at the campground where we were sleeping. A catering truck served us our breakfast and dinner, and the food was pretty awesome! Lunch was in the bags they gave us to take along out to work. For 17 sometimes-very-smokey days I worked with the firefighters. Every day was a learning experience, full of awesome scenery, excitement, and hard work – but also fun. We’d do a lot of cleanup and, although it was very tiring work, it always felt good to know we were helping California’s wildlands with our efforts. So I can honestly say I would do it again in a heartbeat! Digging firebreaks. Grass, overgrown brush, trees or logging slash – all are fuel. Two primary methods of fuel-reduction are prescribed fires and mechanical thinning - removing brush or creating fire breaks. (Photo-US Dept Agriculture website)

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17 Days Fighting a Different Kind of War for Love of the Land By USMC Veteran Jason Stephens


From Burnt-Out Warrior To Wildland Firefighter By USMC Veteran Dillon Dupree Marine Veteran Dillon Dupree, now a professional wildlands firefighter, volunteered to tell his story of discovering purpose in his life after enduring years of near-total despair. His down-to-the-bone-honest telling of what happened to him was recorded for You Tube with the backdrop of California’s awe-inspiring Sequoia National Forest behind him as he took a break from firefighting. It is transcribed here for AHERO Magazine, and we thank him for allowing us to carry it. ~ The editors

I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. I wrestled in high school, was a two-time state placer and team captain, a running back in football and I threw discus and did pole vaulting in track. I was also first chair bass in symphony orchestra and a command master chief in ROTC. ROTC is where I found my passion for the military, and I knew almost immediately I wanted to be a Marine and even turned down a scholarship to Shorter [University] for wrestling just so I could join immediately. About a month later I found myself in Parris Island for Boot Camp. I found myself at the top of the class and I actually completed Boot Camp as company honor grad. I finished training and I hit the fleet at Camp LeJeune. Almost immediately, we deployed to Afghanistan. I was a wrecker operator for 2RF Quick Reaction Force for CLB2. Unfortunately, Afghan wasn’t a cakewalk for me. I lost a couple of really good Marines – one personal friend, Dale Means. I was actually on the recovery mission for him. When we returned, we had a change of command and that’s when I met Lee Stuckey. He was my company commander, and he took over and helped us deal with the loss of the two Marines in combat. Shortly after, he helped us deal with the loss of another Marine, Bethel, who shot and killed himself. So it was pretty rough for myself and many others in our unit. Lee ended up being a real rock for us in a time of need. Stepping forward, I finished my time honorably and was discharged in May of 2015. I took on many jobs: I worked in nutrition 20 AHERO MAGAZINE


A comparison shot, showing the huge girth of these massive, amazing trees.

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate shops, gyms, went into medical sales, became a carriage driver – I even went to cosmetology school! But I wasn’t able to keep a single one because I wasn’t conducting myself properly. I guess I never really gave myself a chance to heal. I continued to bury my problems deeper and deeper, and I would wash it all away with alcohol – doing it all the while with a smile on my face. I was battling something within me that I just couldn’t put my finger on, battling depression, falling deeper down a rabbit hole. I knew if I kept this up, I wouldn’t be able to return or I’d probably wind up dead, to be honest. I guess, looking back at it now, I was struggling with something really bad, and I just didn’t know how to deal with it. Then it hit me. I remembered Lee and AHERO. I took my final leap of faith, reached out, and he immediately welcomed me with open arms.

I found myself at his farm in next to no time, discussing what’s going on in my life and my struggles and what AHERO has to offer for me … and I was just sold immediately. From point on, I found a purpose to really keep going. I knew I‘d truly found something special. Lee introduced me to many other Vets who were going through the same thing, all really recovering from a battle within. He helped us realize that we still have a purpose here. As soon as he told me about the landmanagement program, I was more than eager to signed up for this! If you’ve been blessed to be in a position of influence either financially or politically, I really urge you to get behind this program and support with the means appropriate to you within your authority. This training program in natural resources and wildfire fighting has really made a huge difference in my life. I know

Firefighters are scrambling to save the American wonders that are these ancient, beautiful trees.

it for sure it’ll help countless other Veterans just like myself. I now live for Marines like LCpl Dale Means and others we have tragically lost and those who are suffering from PTSD like myself. I want to thank Tall Timbers and AHERO. I’m now a wildlands firefighter. I never thought I’d be doing something like this. I’ve really, truly regained a sense of purpose in doing something I love. Sometimes all you need is a little help to take a step in the right direction and AHERO is there to show you the way. I encourage anyone [reading] this to get behind this movement to help stop Veteran suicide and to help Veterans such as myself find a sense of purpose … to fight these fires and get behind the conservation of the land. Thank you, Lee Stuckey, and thank you Dave Glassman, and thank you AHERO.

Burned out ... but this Sequoia is still alive! AHERO MAGAZINE

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Lee Stuckey Brings a Big THANK YOU in Person to the Folks at Bass Pro Shops This summer, Lee Stuckey and AHERO volunteer, Tamar Doull, visited the folks at Bass Pro Shops’ magnificent location in Prattville, Alabama. Bass Pro Shops are always an adventure for anyone planning their next exciting outdoor experience. This visit, though, was an opportunity to bring a message of thanks from AHERO’s Veterans and volunteers to the people who make that happen, and to

let them know how much their grant award to AHERO will mean to them all! “We are really blessed to have Bass Pro Shops supporting AHERO through their generous donation of three Muddy Bull Blind shooting houses,” Lee said later, in an interview. “These spacious shooting houses are bound to enhance our guest-Veterans’ hunting experiences during the great hunts we host at

AHERO Farms, when just coming together to enjoy some time in the woods that they’ve missed or always wanted to try really lifts their spirits. I really wanted to meet Dave Harre, the market manager for Leeds and Prattville, as well as Prattville’s co-manager, Chris Peterson, to let them know how truly appreciative we are.”

Lee Stuckey with Tamar Doull, an AHERO volunteer, and Bass Pro Shop Assistant Manager Chris Peterson (all 3 on far left) with the staff of Bass Pro Shop in Prattville, Ala., during a visit to thank them for their grant of 3 shooting houses for AHERO.



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The Bonding Power of Chow By Jeremy Clarke

You’re probably familiar with Lee Stuckey’s life-changing event. How, more than a decade ago in his garage late at night, he was about to eat a bullet but was saved by the caller i.d. on his cell phone. “Mom calling,” it said. Stucky put the gun down, decided to live. Thought about the hundreds – thousands – of other warriors, his people, who fought the beast of depression constantly, as he did. AND THE AHERO MISSION WAS BORN. Around that same time, about 800 miles away, Dave Shidler, owner of a high-quality, auto-industry engineering and metal-stamping company in Holland, Michigan, and USAF Staff Sgt Mark Graham (Ret), his company’s head of technology, were preparing to grill some chow after a long day of fishing. As they struggled with the grill they were using, the pair had the same spontaneous thought: “Why don’t we just design and build

our own perfect grill?” said one of them. “Yeah,” the other agreed. “Something that incorporates hi-technology and actually works!” And a new company, Grilla Grills, emerged. THE PLOT THICKENS … A few months ago, while digesting his daily dose of social media, Stuckey happened upon an old friend he’d worked with at Alabama’s Marion Military Institute some twenty years ago. (Meet Andrew “Drew” Turnipseed, former USAF battle airman and accomplished New York chef. Also, coincidentally, the head of marketing at Grilla Grills.) In true Stuckey style, the two resumed their friendship like they’d never been apart. If you ask AHERO Founder Lee Stuckey or Vice President Dave Glassman to define what makes a great AHERO event, they probably won’t say “the fishing” or “the hunting.” Nor would it be “the music,” or “the arts,” or “golf.” (Ok, Lee might say “the hunting … !”) But it’s a sure bet that both would say, “It’s the bonding.” Bonding is sharing the richness of life that gets ignited, or reignited, while breaking bread. It’s the tall tales told around the table about the yuuge, 90-lb king mackerel that somehow got away, or the trash-talking stuff we won’t quote here, or the yarn about going mano a mano with some pissed-off mama moose. And the shared war stories. The gains and, yes, the losses. In short, the chat that “seasons” that chow and results in the making of 4 a.m. friends who can be called when the beast of depression sneaks in.

This is the secret sauce that Lee and Dave have perfected over the years. And it is powerful, indeed. DIFFERENT PATHS, BUT POURED FROM THE SAME GIVING MOLD Drew Turnipseed shares that commitment to relationship-building through serving and feeding others. So, when fate intervened to renew the friendship between him and Stuckey, it’s no coincidence that a kind of partnership of purpose would result between AHERO and Grilla Grills. Prior to our interview with him, we learned that Drew was not only a renowned chef but a sommelier (wine expert) in a swanky Manhattan establishment. In meeting him, I registered that he was a humble fellow. As a military man he is quite decorated, but I sensed he’d rather decorate a cake than talk about medals. Drew was recently brought on at the Michigan-based grill company, and, with social media as his primary utensil - the M.O. of the company is to connect with people directly, rather than to sell Grills through big box stores. Which plays into Drew’s strengths: Relationship building, sharing recipes and cooking hints on his (almost daily) videos and spreading the good word: word of mouth, if you will, in enticing, mouthwatering socialmedia morsels! Get to know more about Drew (read our Q&A with him here) and you’ll quickly understand why he and Lee were so close in school and re-connected immediately. Via different routes, they’ve arrived at the same Mission: build communities, serve them from the heart, feed their spirits. Make the “sauce” full of zest and the act of “grilling” a joy forever. Life the way we like it at AHERO: full of zest and joy!

Jeremy Clarke, a seasoned professional writer and marketing consultant, has been volunteering his time and talents to AHERO for two years. Originally from Great Britain, Clarke’s commitment to the U.S. as his home has been ongoing for a couple of decades. We at AHERO Magazine are grateful and proud to be able to feature his fine work on our pages. AHERO MAGAZINE

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BBQ4AHERO Takes the Field! By Dave Keel

I used to be a baseball player. Throughout the 90s, I got very close to fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a Major League baseball player, spending time with the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees organizations. Though I never quite made it to the top of the mountain, I was fortunate to rub elbows with some of the greats – guys like Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera. Though I didn’t make it to the big leagues, I did build a career as a minor leaguer. I was privileged to live all over the U.S, and one thing I learned as a result of all those travels is this: There are more things that make us Americans alike than make us different. It’s true. If we really look, we’ll find the things that unite instead of divide us … and in the mind of this fat boy, food is the greatest of those things! Still, not all styles of food preparation are created equal in this respect. One genre reigns supreme when it comes to breaking down all barriers between people of varying backgrounds and lifestyles. BARBECUE. OR, MORE ACCURATELY, BBQ. Now, you may ask, “But what about the many vegans?” If you know what you’re doing and can sling some wicked “cue” … well, let’s just say I’ve cured a few folks of their veganism, no regrets. Yes, BBQ is the king of all gatherings-todine. Of course, you need space for such cookery and gatherings, and the great outdoors is a natural for that. It’s nothing but space. So it’s the best venue for cooking BBQ. And as it turns out, the “O” in AHERO just happens to stand for Outdoors! (See where I’m going with this?). Sampling great barbecue on a cold day. Nothin' better!



Plus, once fired up and underway, great BBQ launches an all-out assault on the five senses: First, the smoky, tangy aroma that spreads out for what seems like miles is unparalleled as a people magnet, generating salivation. Second, the sound of meat sizzling on the grill lets you know its flavors have engaged, it’s almost ready to eat! Third, the beautiful mahogany color of perfectly smoked meat is so pleasing (teasing?) to the eye. Forth is the feel of silky, tender, juicy meat as your teeth sink in … and right on the heels of that – Fifth, comes the taste! And between the texture and that taste, you must keep eating, no matter how stuffed you are, because you want these delicious flavors to linger on your palate for hours! This past November, Veteran Bradley “Robo” Robison, who completed multiple tours as a U.S. Marine and is coowner and head brew master of Fractal Brewery in Huntsville, Ala., hosted the BBQ4AHERO Team at his brewery. The team cooked for 40 Veterans in town for a separate event hosted by Horsepower Therapy, a Veteran nonprofit geared around muscle cars with a mission similar to AHERO’s. The event marked the first of many being planned at Fractal to engage the Huntsville Veteran population.

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate SO WHY IS THIS BBQ ARTICLE IN A MAGAZINE FOR AND ABOUT AMERICA’S HEROES? To sum it up, BBQ has done its job as the great unifier pertaining to my relationship with AHERO. Among other common interests (mixed martial arts, hunting, fishing, to name a few) it seems AHERO and I have been known to participate in BBQ competitions, though independent of each other. Enter Huntsville, Alabama, and the Whistle Stop Festival. Huntsville is my home and the location of Redstone Arsenal where I work as a DoD Contractor. There is a huge Veteran community here, and I interface with them daily. The Whistle Stop Festival is the local BBQ competition, featuring an amateur division and a professional division that qualifies the victor for the Kansas City BBQ Association Championship in Kansas City, Missouri. In both divisions, hundreds of teams compete in the Whistle Stop Festival. That means thousands of potential AHERO supporters! Many who compete and attend are Veterans and DoD contractors who are incredibly sympathetic to the cause. Mix in the newly minted relationship with Veteran-owned and operated Grilla Grills, and you have a perfect storm for AHERO support. So I am taking this opportunity provided by AHERO Magazine to introduce the BBQ4AHERO Team and its coming entry into the Whistle Stop Festival in September 2022 … armed, of course, with an array of donated Grilla Grills, the finest on the market. As I mentioned before, I used to be a baseball player. Well, my ever-competitive fire has migrated to the world of competition BBQ, pun intended. But there is truly a higher purpose in my story here. Because the BBQ4AHERO Team will be instrumental in bringing a new, Veteran-loving community (Huntsville, Alabama) into the fold. Huntsville, as you may know, was recently named Alabama’s most populous city, surpassing Birmingham. So it’s about time for this market to get off the bench to pitch great BBQ4AHERO! For more information or to support our BBQ4AHERO Team in the next BBQ “playoffs,” please contact Info@AHEROusa. com. God bless!

Dave Keel with Scott Camp. Now retired, Camp was U.S. Army 82nd Airborne MOS-19D. He transitioned to Aviation (Blackhawks), a SERE Instructor who completed multiple tours in Afghanistan

BELOW: Master of the Grill Dave Keel knows his way around a great, succulent beef roast, saucy rack of ribs, grill-prepped sea-catch, or spiced-right chicken!


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Talking Creative Connections, Grilla Grills & Supporting AHERO AHERO Magazine Interviews Chef Drew Turnipseed

. HERO from Lee A t ou ab l al d ar “I he how things for me was But what clinched the tes that … it has ra st on m de O R E AH od length of time go a d an h, ac re heart, the nded its services to wou ed id ov pr ng vi of ha Vets.” nipseed ~ Chef Drew Tur AM: You’ve have had a pretty varied career, as a military guy and working and feeding people. You’ve been all over the world. But let’s start with why you joined Grilla Grills as director of marketing in the first place. DT: Sure. I liked that it was a family-run company, Vet-friendly, and a very high-quality manufacturer. I also thought it was kind of brave the way serving others is part of its DNA. I knew having a job that combined the work I love doing with folks I truly enjoy would be perfect. The fact that a lot of them happened to be fellow Veterans was a bonus. Wrap it all together and you can see why I wouldn’t trade that “job package” for the world! AM: I get it. So you knew that Grilla Grills was already working with many non-profits before you came on board?

DT: Yes. But I noticed they were doing a little for a so many of them. I wanted to flip that. Engage with a just a few and be able to do more for them, like helping them build supportive relationships by creating communities around the grills we’d take to them. Feed more, connect more … Really just do more for them. AM: And were you able fairly soon to put your ideas on the front burner at Grilla – if you’ll pardon the pun? I mean, how does the company go about selecting which charities to work with or donate grills to?

DT: There is no formal process for how we choose among them. We would like to say yes every time, but unfortunately that is just not sustainable. 26 AHERO MAGAZINE


AM: That probably isn’t easy, since you’re a Vet, having served in a specialized area in the Air Force as battle airman. But I understand that you’d rather that stay in the background, given that it’s Grilla Grill’s relationship with AHERO we’re highlighting here, rather than your story. DT: Well, I’ve spent the majority of my civilian life in the public spotlight, and I understand the value of public engagement. I’ve used media platforms to promote, expand, and shed light on every brand or company I’ve worked for, including my own, which I successfully ran for years. But I have never made reference to specifics of my military service. It’s just not what I do. AM: Understood. It’s always something we ask, realizing that plenty of Vets just prefer not to elaborate on their experience.

DT: When I wanted to get involved with AHERO on behalf of Grilla, it really was my expectation that we would be sponsoring a great organization, but on the back end. I don’t mind being interviewed and attending events, but the extent of my involvement is rooted primarily in behind-the-scenes support.

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Apple Pecan Cake On the GRILL?? Absolutely! Find the recipe at GrillaGrills.com/recipes/ apple-pecan-cake Grilla Grills captures the Spirit of the AHERO Hat!

AM: We’re certainly grateful for that support, as you know. But how did you go about changing the model Grilla Grills had been using?

DT: I saw that we’d do more good by consolidating funds and offering sponsorships to select organizations for extended periods of time. To me, it’s much better to build long-term, meaningful relationships rather than simply cut this and that one a check and call it a day. So I had been working on streamlining the process, to make it more effective. AM: As you know, AHERO has that same “relationship building” model in mind – albeit in a somewhat different context.

AM: Pretty impressive product development and market presence!

DT: It is. We grew fast because we have this unique culture that seems to resonate with folks. At first it was word of mouth, then came creating a social media reach. We stay highly engaged by maintaining a rigorous events schedule, an aggressive contentproduction schedule for social media, and well targeted e-commerce ads. AM: And product cost? With all that infrastructure, personnel, and quality R&D engineering, your grills can’t be cheap.

DT: That’s correct. On average, our grills range from $600 to $1200. With accessories, the average purchase runs more than $1000.

DT: Right. I heard all about AHERO from Lee. But what clinched things for me was how AHERO demonstrates that, as a charitable AM: What are Grilla Grill’s long-term goals that you can share? organization, it has the heart, the reach, and a good length of time of having provided its services to wounded Vets. All of which added DT: Our goals are, of course, to make money and continue to grow the business. But we want the quality to stay the same. With that up to make supporting it a no-brainer. comes some concession on just how big we want to be. We want to keep our target audience as anyone who loves to grill. AM: Could you walk us through a bit of the structure of the Grilla company? AM: So … foodies? Upscale younger people? DT: There’s Edmar Manufacturing itself, Grilla’s parent company. DT: No limits, that’s the point. Those groups, too, but all people who It represents more than 40 years of engineering, metal shaping, and manufacturing right here in the U.S. So Grilla is a very healthy love to grill, from blue-collar workers to high-powered business executives and everyone in between. We have a grill to fit pretty American enterprise. The Michigan location has a staff of about much anyone’s needs and we work at never alienating anyone. That’s 15 in the front office, and an entire warehouse team. In Texas, something I really love about this job! Our customers consist of seven people work at the store, with separate warehouse crew and people who love great food – which is everyone. Makes my job much management supporting on the logistics front. We have other easier. warehouses, offices, salespeople, and support staff, too, that serve both Edmar and Grilla Grills.


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AM: And yet your grills are never in the big box stores, the Costco’s of the world. Why not?

DT: It’s our Direct-to-Consumer business model. Going through retailers is a decision that does not align with the kind of products that we want to put out. Those large companies place orders on such a scale that it is all but impossible to keep up without ultimately seeing a change in the way the grills are made. We don’t want to go down that road. AM: Most of us realize that high quality and low prices are often just not compatible. This had to have come up for Grilla … DT: Of course. We work hard to keep costs down as much as possible. Across Edmar and Grilla Grills we employ a lot of American workers and they’re treated extremely well, with excellent pay, retirement, and health insurance. All of our product development, research, inspecting, distribution, sales, customer service, warranty replacement, etc., is done right here in the U.S. That will NEVER change. But we’ve had to have the grills actually made to our specs in China so we can keep them affordable. AM: What other business partnerships do you have slated? Can you give me a quick thumbnail roundup? DT: There’s Certified Piedmontese specialty meats from Nebraska, Four Roses Bourbon from Kentucky, New Holland Brewery and Journeyman Distillery here in Michigan. Also, Aucker Auctions from New York City and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, and others ....

AM: It was great news for AHERO that Grilla Grills decided to partner with us as one of the 501 (c) 3 organizations you are concentrating on supporting. Between the big check given and the number of high-end grills you are providing to enhance our Veterans’ lives, your company is affirming AHERO’s mission. And your recipes are amazing! What’s next on that score? Haute cuisine? Tailgate specials?

DT: It’s great for us to be able to be giving back to groups like AHERO and Brandley Ball’s Military First charity as well as several others. On the “giving back” side, we are working with you guys, Bradley Ball from Military First, and several others. As for haut cuisine or tailgating, my friend, the answer is BOTH. We’ll be putting out my next cookbook shortly. AM: Great! Send a copy so we can feature it in a coming issue of the magazine – and grill up even more delicious storms at AHERO’s upcoming events! Meantime, thanks so much for the interview, Drew.

It was heartening to see Lee reunited with a schoolfriend. While you took different paths, you have certainly come together with a shared set of values and the desire to serve and feed the troops around the latter-day campfire: the Grilla Grill.



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Love Tri-Tip roast? Check out this recipe at GrillaGrills.com/recipes/tri-tip-roast/Tri Tip Grill AHERO MAGAZINE

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On this day, the residents of Greater Pensacola gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of an event we now, as a nation, have come to call simply, “Nine Eleven.” Speaking at the opening of the ceremonies was the Honorable Gary L. Bergosh, Circuit Court Judge of the First Judicial Circuit. Presiding over Escambia County Veterans Court, which has participants from Escambia and Santa Rosa County, Judge Bergosh is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. Here below is most of his speech: We are here to solemnly remember the attack upon our country 20-years ago today. We honor those who were killed and wounded in those attacks. We also honor those who protect us from any further harm, specifically: our military and our first responders. While the recent events in Afghanistan have left many in this country bitter, in this dim era where we find ourselves, it is important to return to the light of our rights, inherited or bestowed to all of us. Two hundred forty-five years ago a radical and revolutionary country emerged in the new world that dared to declare that all men are created equal; that dared to declare that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed. And that dared to declare, “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” This shocked the world’s despots – the absolute and autocratic rulers who committed unspeakable savagery upon their own people. No more in this great country! Our ancestors pledged not only blood and treasure but what they treasured most – their sacred honor. Some of you, like me, served our country honorably, and we pledged our sacred honor in an oath that, once taken, was never to be abandoned. We dared to declare: I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the 30 AHERO MAGAZINE


The Honorable Gary L. Bergosh, LtCol USMC (Ret).

same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter; So help me God. An oath to a sacred document, an idea, a Constitution that created this great republic, where we elect our leaders to serve us, the citizens, and the common good. No oath to a to a prince, pope, or any monarch. No. An oath pledged with sacred honor to liberty, which means freedom. This great country’s motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin for “out of many, one” – indivisible. One country, one people united behind the ideal of liberty and justice for all. Liberty is what unites Americans as America. The freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The right to bear arms, to be free from unlawful search and seizure. We all recognize these freedoms, but what is most fascinating are the rights left to the people of this great nation. The Ninth Amendment to the Constitution says: “The rights given to the Government

shall not deny rights retained by the people” and furthered by the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” A republic under the Constitution with rights given by the governed, retained by the governed for the benefit of the governed. Today, we remember the attack on our country, our way of life and our liberty. Twenty years ago today, those who abhor our freedoms and those who chose subjugation of women, minorities and the weak, attacked the core value that unites us as a country – freedom, liberty. We can never forget that liberty comes with a cost, which is paid in blood by our patriots, who we honor this very day. To long endure as a nation, each new generation must defend our liberty, which is the core of America. We declare here today fidelity to our Constitution. To establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. May God continue to Bless America.

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Eliott Dosev, 2 years old and proud to wave the flag of our great nation!

Brent Lane and Jill Hubbs observe the turnout of enthusiastic area citizens.

Escambia County Mounted Deputies

Marines of MATSG-23, Naval Air Station Pensacola present the Colors to commence Freedom Quest ‘21.

(l - r) Col Karl Schwelm, USMC (Ret), Commandant of the Cpl J.R. Spears detachment 066 of the Marine Corps League and Maj Tom Richey, USMC (Ret).

Dr. Edward Meadows, President of Pensacola State College, welcomes all to Freedom Quest. AHERO MAGAZINE

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IN SERVICE TO OUR NATION We Honor Their Sacrifice

“The Freedom Quest celebration was a wonderful event. As a Navy veteran and a person who distinctly remembers the impact of the events on 9/11 twenty yea rs ago, it was ver y important for our community to come togeth er to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those who pai d the ultimate sacrifice while ser ving this great nation.” ~ Pensacola Police Chief Eric Ran dall

Pensacola Police Chief Eric Randall.

GySgt “DJ” DeJesus, USMC (Ret), retired police officer and Blue Knights International Motorcycle Club member points to the thin blue line.

Maj Cris Dosev, USMC, and CWO5 Roberto Fernandez, USMC (Ret). 32 AHERO MAGAZINE


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Speaking at Freedom Quest, Escambia County Sherrif Chip Simmons offered meaningful insights on the commitment, courage, and dedication of America's First Responders.

Escambia County Sheriff's Department Motorcycle Deputies – traffic division.

Sue Straughn, WEAR TV News Anchor & Public Affairs Manager, spoke at the event

Lawrence Powell spoke at Freedom Quest '21 on behalf of Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson.

Uniting Us As Americans

It was a humbling honor indeed for me to participate in Pensacola’s first “Freedom Quest” event. In reflecting on its relevance and importance as a Veteran of 20 years in the United States Army, I understand that freedom is not free and wasn’t free for the civilians, first responders, and service members who lost their lives on – and because of – September 11, 2001, as well as the families who mourn them. From the White House to every home in the United States, the universal order should be to always honor these heroes and to broaden the platform for doing so in small towns and cities throughout the land. Freedom Quest is an organizational conduit to that on a local basis. As communities participate, the benefit will be to unite us again as Americans in ways we saw in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and can surely find our way back to again ~ U.S. Army Veteran Lawrence S. Powell Neighborhood Administrator, City of Pensacola


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IN SERVICE TO OUR NATION A Deepened Sense of Purpose

"I don't think any of us will hav e the right words to describe how we felt on Septem ber 11th. What I do know is my purpose and pas sion to ser ve and defend our countr y only deepen ed following that day. We were ready to do whate ver was needed to answer the call of our nation.” ~ U.S. Navy Capt Keith Hoskin s (Ret) Capt Keith Hoskins (r), USN (Ret) , former Blue Angel pilot, Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron Commander, and Naval Air Station Commanding Officer. Capt Hoskins spoke at the Freedom Quest '21 9/11 remembrance event.

Marines MATSG-23, Naval Air Station Pensacola Honor Guard conduct the 21-gun salute in tribute to the fallen service members represented on the GoldStars Tribute Wall

Gold Star Daughter Jill Hubbs speaking at Freedom Quest '21. Hubbs herself is an eloquent reminder of the families whose fallen and still-missing loved ones never came home.

On display at Freedom Quest – The JLTV (Joint Light Tactical vehicle), used by Special Operations in place of the traditional Humvee.



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Freedom Quest 2021 Honors the Memory of September 11, 2001 By Lynn Feehan When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the people of the United States still remembered the horrors of World War I. The “war to end all wars” had ended only 21 years before and Americans were almost unanimously against joining a new fight. It was unfathomable that the Unites States would be forced into the war. But for an attack from Japan … Broadcasting live on December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Congress and a stunned nation; “Yesterday, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” When the unthinkable happened, what American living at that time didn’t remember the moment they heard the news that the United States was attacked? More than 2,400 U.S. service members and civilians were killed during the airstrike on Pearl Harbor by Japan. It was, of course, followed by the largest, most deadly war in the history of the world. Painfully marked by the sacrifice of loved ones’ lives and lengthy, difficult deprivations, it lasted until September 2, 1945. Never again would the United States endure an attack on its soil. Until September 11, 2001. Sixty years after we were compelled to enter World War II, 2,977 people, mostly Americans but also hundreds of foreign nationals, were killed in an attack on U.S. soil by foreign adversaries. WHERE WERE YOU? When the unthinkable happened on September 11, 2001, is there an American who doesn’t remember when they heard the news that America was under attack? I was working from home that day. The TV was on in the background, when suddenly there were images of a plane flying into the Twin Towers in New York City. Work was set aside while I tried to wrap my head around what I was seeing. The news was unclear about what happened. Then another plane flew into the second tower,

and a plane crashed into the Pentagon, and one more plane goes down in Pennsylvania. As I sat alone and watched the horrific events unfold, I cried for the lives that were being destroyed. How were we caught by such surprise? So unprepared? Our great nation would never be the same again. My oldest son, who was just shy of 16 at that time, would in a short 3 years’ time, join the Air Force and serve for 10 years. Following two tours participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he would succumb to PTSD before he reached the age of 30. My youngest son, five years younger than his big brother, was only 11. I am grateful his interests led him in a different direction as an adult. FREEDOM QUEST 21 When Lt. Col. Dave Glassman USMC (Ret) initially spoke of his aspiration to organize an event, “Freedom Quest 21,” for our Pensacola area, he spoke of the upcoming 20th anniversary of September 11. He hoped that the event would spark unity not only in our area, but also across the region and nation. “Nine Eleven is the seminal event of our time,” said Glassman. “No tragedy since Pearl Harbor has taken so much from us yet given us so much as it unified our nation. Twenty years later, we want to remember what brought us together. We have so much in common as citizens of this great country and everyone, young and old, is invited to join together and celebrate those things that unify us.” With precious little time to realize that goal, Glassman’s unparalleled drive and considerable circle of friends managed to accomplish it in outstanding fashion. The first thing I saw walking up the road to “Freedom Quest” was the magnificent, enormous American flag that had been raised earlier by a team of volunteers, a reminder of what we stand for as a county. Throughout the morning, the public attended the free event that celebrated America and honored our military, our first responders, and our Gold Star families. The poignant GoldStars Tribute Wall stood sentry with a memorial to those fallen from

each branch prominently displayed in front of the wall: A stark reminder of some of the greatest sacrifices over the past twenty years. Local law enforcement, firefighters, and military personnel answered questions and demonstrated their equipment throughout the area. The Escambia County Sheriff ’s Mounted Posse upon their horses, the Pensacola Police K-9 Unit dogs and their handlers – all drew large crowds. And it seemed every child attending the event got a close look at the Pensacola Fire Department ladder truck and received the must-have “Firefighter” hat! WSRE Director Jill Hubbs spoke as a member of the Gold Star Surviving Families Connect committee on the sacrifice of our loved ones, and how she became a Gold Star child when her father’s plane went down in Vietnam in 1968. Glassman’s goal to promote unity and patriotism was realized that Saturday in the atmosphere of respect and enjoyment of the heartfelt speeches and the songs that were played. The only thing that could have been better was a group hug at the end of the day. GOD BLESS AMERICA. OORAH!

“Where were you when the world stopped turnin' on that September day?

~ American singer/songwriter Alan Jackson AHERO MAGAZINE

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A Letter From Fire Chief Ginny Cranor Freedom Quest my sincere gratitude to the organizers of nd exte to like ld wou I rs, ghte firefi our Families, On behalf of munity heroes brought together Gold Star com and ily, fam , ntry cou by e mad s ifice 21. This tribute to sacr many supporters. rans, first responders, elected officials, and active and reserve service members, Vete ent of New York In less than 15 minutes, the Fire Departm ver. fore ice serv fire the ged chan , 2001 the towers fell. September 11, e than 25,000 people from the site before mor ng uati evac ly safe le whi est brav its (FDNY) lost 343 of dings do fail but those firefighters did not. This confirmed that “indestructible” buil heading up.” tain Paddy Brown reported, “We are still In his final moments, FDNY Truck 3 Cap brother firefighters, after my Pensacola firehouse TV, surrounded by my I began watching the events unfold on a – come watch!” just hit the World Trade Center. Big fire e plan A y! “He ide, outs d yelle nt tena Lieu er – a lot of ng required for this fire in the North Tow staffi and ues, resc ics, tact the t abou Eight of us talked one said a word. Until the e crashed into the South Tower, and no chatter. Fifteen minutes later, a second plan t just killed hundreds of firefighters.” massive collapse. Then someone said, “Tha firefighter suffered a tragic loss: the death of a brother had ent artm dep fire own our ck, atta the Ten months prior to remain a painful honor. Now, and we did. His funeral and burial detail inside a house fire. We had to find him, hundreds of firefighters and d it said: “Thousands have just perished … hear n agai we ges, ima ible terr the hing watc sisters to find and bury.” police officers. Hundreds of brothers and words when a photo of a brothers and I cheered with a few choice Months later, I remembered how my fire an FDNY uniform patch with t pictured in the cockpit was holding up pilo tary mili The e: tabl the hit t pilo ter figh a handwritten sign – a note to us all. “This is for you,” it read.

those loud cheers, and am Now, twenty years later, I still hear and feel ed forces who sacrificed so overcome with appreciation for our arm y day since. much ever y day before 9/11/01 and ever ds by the GoldStars Tribute As an American, I was moved beyond wor stars memorializing the men Wall at the event: more than 7,000 gold country during the Gulf, and women who died in service to our sacrifice of their families. I Iraq, and Afghanistan wars, honoring the a tribute and an important was moved by how Freedom Quest was it started with an enormous reminder to all: Never forget. And how ks and ended with cheering. American flag held between two fire truc 21, for sharing this with our Thank you, organizers of Freedom Quest community. ~ Pensacola Fire Chief Ginny Cranor



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All Eyes on the Skies as Brent Lane Calls BlackSheep’s 9/11 Flyover

The air crackles; the announce r’s voice is heard .... followed by an engine’s rum ble high above, approaching. The crowd hears it, looks up.

Someone asks: “What’s the airc


Lane calls out : “BlackSheep On e is a Nanchang CJ6, painted in Korean Era USMC Co rsair paint scheme with VMFA-451 markings.”

Voices wonder: “Where is it?”

Lane: “BlackSheep will pass ove

Someone points, says: “Here it

r at 500 ft and 200 mph.”

comes!” The crowd murmurs: “Who’s the pilot?” Lane: “BlackSheep is flown by Pau l ‘Trash’ Hamlin, Captain, USMC.” Vivid blue, BlackSheep tilts, exe cutes a graceful dip acknowledging the heroes among us.

Brent Lane calls out : “BlackShe ep saluting Veterans and First Responders and Gold Star & Sur viving Families!” Then it is gone into the histor y of Pensacola’s Freedom Quest ‘21’s 9/11 remembrance.


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The GoldStars Tribute Wall By Samuel Nicoara, President & Founder, GoldStars Tribute Wall Throughout our nation’s history, many have served with honor as members of its military. Most recently, they have served in wars dating from The Persian Gulf War, initiated on August 2, 1990, through the violence and combat of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – the latter only drawing to a close this year, 2021. These men and women put the welfare of the nation before their own. They remind us that real freedom comes at the highest price of all. To honor them and the families who must endure their sacrifice, a symbol was conceived that could be brought to cities and towns in their honor. A TRAVELING MEMORIAL Thus, the GoldStars Tribute Wall was created in 201l, a traveling memorial of their sacrifice.

To contemplate the Tribute Wall and its thousands of names is to recognize the reality that the “blank check” to our nation that those who join its military sign may one day be “cashed”: They might not survive. Thus, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who choose to take that path truly do put their lives on the line. The Tribute Wall is meant to be an affirmation of that and of our respect for, and gratitude to, those who paid this ultimate price. MESSAGES GOING FORWARD Keeping us aware of those heroes who sacrificed so much on our behalf is important for the historic information it reveals: The ideal of a world safe and free forever of war and despot leaders has not yet been achieved.

Pictured above: The eloguent Battlefield Memorial appropriately "escorts" the completed GoldStars Tribute Wall. 38 AHERO MAGAZINE


The GoldStars Tribute Wall reminds us not to be lulled into thinking it has. It is only relatively recently, the memorial shows us, that more than 7000 died in combat to keep our country and freedoms safe – for now. We need the Tribute Wall to remind us of those fallen heroes and keep alive the spirit and sense of purpose they showed us. The Tribute Wall ensures that our Gold Star mothers and fathers will not fade into obscurity, for they represent the legacy of their sons and daughters who died in the service of our nation. They carry with them a grief that most of us will never know or understand. Yet even in the midst of their pain, these families are beacons of life. They strive to keep the memory of their soldier, sailor, airman or Marine alive by working to help active-service members and Veterans when they can.

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate AS AMERICANS, WE DO NOT FORGET “We will never leave a fallen comrade,” notes the soldier’s creed. This speaks to every American, reminding us to never give up and forget the 80,000 service personnel still missing since World War II. Their fates still need to be known. Nor should we ever forget that in our 245 years as a nation, we have never lived under tyranny. The right to voice our opinions, to vote for our leaders and worship as we choose or not at all, to learn the facts and debate our positions … we have all these and so many other freedoms guaranteed under our Constitution. Here, they are our accepted “rights.” But we must never let the sacrifices be forgotten that have made this true. We cannot lose sight that our country has committed its greatest treasure – our sons and daughters – to sustain these rights. Nor can we ever forget that because of the sacrifices demanded of them, this country is still the greatest beacon of freedom the world has ever known.

GoldStars Tribute Wall at night.

Founder and designer of the GoldStars Tribute Wall Samuel Nicoara and his wife, Jolita Maleckaite, put the final touches on the Tribute Wall.


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Why I Had To Do This

I have been asked a number of times why I do what I do. Is it ego? Is celebrating our Veterans and organizing events and community service what I do because something’s missing from my life? Is a moderately comfortable military retirement not enough? I think that if you asked any number of people in their mid-fifties what drives them, you’d probably get a bunch of different answers – possibly depending on their family and financial situation. My answer is that I was raised in a nurturing environment and have a fabulous family: three great kids, seven healthy grandchildren, a wonderful sweetheart, and a mom, dad and stepdad who are still very much a part of my life. I feel incredibly fortunate. I had 22 years in the US Marine Corps, got to fly giant CH-53E Helicopter beasts, made tons of truly great friends. I have few complaints. And despite what some of you who know me well might characterize as my overbearing, controlling self, the real reason I do much of what I do is that I really care about my country, my community, and my friends. In terms of time and resources, I’m in the fortunate position of being able to do what I do. And I care because I feel our freedoms, our security, our communities, our country – all are under threat. You might ask, under threat from what? My answer would be from apathy and complacency. I honestly feel we in the United States live in the greatest country on earth. And I feel like I live in the most wonderful part of the country! So I am blessed, and that inspires the obligation I feel to fight for my fellow Veterans’ needs, to be anchored by our Constitution, and to maintain and protect the things that so many of us take for granted. On September 11, 2001, all of that was attacked. The 2,996 civilians and first responders who died that day, the 7,057 U.S. service men and women who were killed since, and the estimated 100,000 Veterans who have taken their own lives and/or died as a result of alcoholism, overprescription or overdosing of medications in those 20 years – all these wear heavily on my heart. So it was incredibly important to me that we not forget that day, not forget the brave souls who died on or due to it, not forget the Veterans from previous wars who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation. And that we continue not only to remember, but also to pay tribute and show gratitude to those courageous Americans, first responders, and military members whose loss we must honor forever, and to their families who have been left with the devastating, ongoing grief of missing them. I am compelled to remind all that our Constitution guarantees our freedoms, regardless of our cultural or socioeconomic differences, and that it therefore must be defended. So Freedom Quest is an invitation to all Americans, and those who hope to become Americans, to come together to reflect and celebrate our first responders, military members and Veterans and our Gold Star and surviving families. I can get emotional when I reflect on our history, and how we got to this fortunate place and relatively privileged lives we lead. But I’d like to offer a quote that dramatically describes how I feel. It comes from the American writer Jack London, who wrote this 105 years ago: I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.



SSGT Dustin Tuller, U.S. Army (Ret), along with his daughter Katherine and son Zach, reflects on his combat experiences and service with his fellow soldiers.

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate The word “patriot” has sadly become politicized. But at its core, that word, in our country, should describe someone who upholds the importance and value of one of the things that differentiates us from so many other nations: our unique U.S. Constitution. While many other nations have a document with the name “Constitution,” ours was the first in the world to remain effectively in existence (ratified) since 1788. Not to mention to have served as the most effective and inspiring example of a blueprint for democracy for countless other countries ever since then. Our three branches of government are subservient to the Constitution and, as such, are controlled by “We The People” through the elections process. It upholds our inalienable rights as delineated in the Bill of Rights. To me, in the interest of preserving and protecting our Constitution, it is incredibly important that we take moments such as those at Freedom Quest 21’s remembrance of 9/11 to put aside our differences as a free people and focus on what unites us: remaining, as a nation, “Indivisible, Under God.” Semper Fi, Dave

LtCol David ”Tbone” Trombly unveils the 13 stars to the GoldStars Tribute Wall to honor the 11 Marines and the Soldier and Sailor that were killed by terrorist event in Afghanistan on

Firefighters and Law Enforcement Officers of Escambia County, Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.

Veterans of military service reaffirm their oath of office at a ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial located near the courthouse in downtown Crestview

Our Oath of Office I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. AHERO MAGAZINE

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The Frenchy Connection

Anniversaries I’ll Always Remember To those who know me, I might be described as “Obsessed” with “Connectivity.” Admittedly, I am! I don’t think that is a bad thing as over the years I believe a lot of folks have benefited from one thing or another in my “and now, …the REST of the story” twocents worth inspired by Paul Harvey. More than 20 years ago, when I first came to Milton, Florida, one of the first local events I attended was a classic-car show where the proceeds were to go to a Veteran’s post. I met a lot of folks there from the Veteran community – one of note being Mrs. Maria Lyon. In short order, I found out that she was the Gold Star Mother of Marine Cpl Paul D. Lyon, who had been killed in the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, on 23 OCT 1983. After a brief introduction I found out that the local Disabled American Veterans chapter was named for her son, and that she was active in the chapter. I immediately asked her to sponsor my life membership in the Lyon Chapter as a transferring member. I then asked her to tell me Paul’s story, and we instantly became kin. Between the loss of her son in Beirut and my loss of a close friend I’d served 42 AHERO MAGAZINE


AHERO's very own hero, Frenchy (aka Norm LaFountaine).

with in Vietnam who was killed in the same bombing, Maria and I formed a bond. That close friend of mine was the sergeant major of First Battalion, 8th Marines, Frederick B. Douglass. As the years progressed, I met Maria’s husband, Paul Lyon Sr., a retired Navy chief, and I made it a point to seek out Maria at the Milton Veterans events to pay my respects to the mother of a fallen Marine and fraternal brother. After a few years of little contact with Maria, I decided to arrange for her to be introduced to the family of

a new group of Gold Star Families – a group that had not existed previously – and to the family of Marine Cpl Jonathan “J.R.” Spears, for whom the Marine Corps League Detachment in Pensacola is named. Ironically, Cpl Spears had been killed in action in Iraq on 23 OCT 2005, exactly 22 years after Cpl Lyon died in Beirut. I reconnected with Paul and Maria over Memorial Day, 2021, but Maria became ill and sadly passed away in August before plans came to fruition to bring the Lyon family into the newly formed Gold Star and Surviving

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Families Connect (GSSFC) group. Not long after that, in October, Paul Lyon Sr. unfortunately passed away. The family of Cpl J.R. Spears played a significant role in the placement of the Gold Star Families Monument that now stands in the Veterans Memorial Park Pensacola. Gold Star Families will tell you that one of their greatest fears is that their loved ones will be forgotten. Like those families, Veterans themselves often live from one significant event of someone dying to another, identified as “anniversaries.” I know that I do, one of mine being every 23rd of October, when there is one in addition to those of Cpl Paul Lyon (Beirut): SgtMaj Frederick B. Douglass (Beirut), and Cpl Jonathan R. Spears (Iraq), and Navy Cross Recipient: the passing of Cpl Ernesto Gomez, who I served with as a helicopter crew chief in Vietnam, who died here in 2007. Every day is an anniversary – and a remembrance – for someone of someone lost. With four on 23 October every year, I have an acute understanding of how others must deal with theirs. Time seemed to have forgotten the Lyon family for a while, but now there is a new tree planted at Saint Rosa Lima Catholic Church in Milton, in memory of Cpl Paul Lyon and renewed memories of his family in this community. So another positive conclusion to this story is that there are now a few more surviving families here who are connected and bonding.

My Privilege of Raising Our AHERO American Flag at Freedom Quest ’21 As an American, and especially after serving more than four years in the Marine Corps with a tour in Vietnam, and three years in the Army Guard, I place love of my country’s flag high on my list of priorities when it comes to the activities I most respect and hold in highest regard.

The opportunity to play a small part in assisting firefighters, law enforcement, and first responders – and just being in their presence – as we raised the AHERO 18’ x 36’ American Flag at Freedom Quest 21’s somber remembrance of September 11th gave me a rush of pride. This surge of feeling watching as our flag goes up is always an experience few others can compare to!. Semper Fi, Frenchy

Semper Fi, Frenchy


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A Note From The Virtual Wall On 25 November 1971, two CH-53 helicopters of the 37th ARRS, call signs JOLLY GREEN 70 and 73, departed Bien Hoa Airbase to pick up survivors of a crash near Can Tho (variously described as a CH-47 CHINOOK or C-7 CARIBOU). During the pickup JOLLY GREEN 70 took hits from enemy fire. After dropping off the crash survivors at Can Tho, the crew of JOLLY GREEN 70 checked their aircraft and decided it was capable of the return flight to Bien Hoa Airbase. JOLLY GREEN 70 was crewed by • MAJ Robert B. Swenck, pilot; • CPT John W. George; copilot; • TSGT lames R. Thomas, pararescueman; • SGT R. L. Sneed, pararescueman; • SGT H. L. Theriot, flight engineer; and • AlC Thomas D. Prose, pararescueman.

HM3 Tom "Doc" Eagles & Maj Roger "Duke" Herman, USMC.

The two JOLLY GREENS departed Can Tho in tactical formation for the 95-mile flight to Bien Hoa to the northeast. During the return flight, they encountered a 100-foot to 300-foot-high cloud overcast with moderate to heavy rain showers. At 1550 hours, while flying below the cloud cover, JOLLY GREEN 73 lost contact with JOLLY GREEN 70. V'Jhen radio contact could not be reestablished search and rescue efforts were begun. JOLLY GREEN 70 was located approximately 18 nautical miles southeast of Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Saigon, in a tributary ( Song Na) of the Nha Be River, near the village of of Anh Toi Dong, Quang Xuyen District, Gia Dinh Province, South Vietnam. The aircraft wreckage was close to the north bank of the river. While the south bank of the river was secure, the north side was considered enemy territory. Vimeo.com/641161214 Two crewmen (Theriot and Sneed) survived the crash and reported that the aircraft had been hit by enemy ground fire. Sgt H. L. Theriot was rescued by HM1 T. Eagles a USMC Advisor and four VN Regional Force soldiers. Sgt. R. L. Sneed was rescued by a local VN fisherman-Mr. Pham Van Dieu and turned over to HM1 Eagles. The next evening a local fisherman found the remains of AlC Thomas D. Prose floating with the remains while in a small local fishing boat tied off to the remains in the water which were still attached to the gunner’s belt and thus the helicopter was now located. There were reports from a local fisherman that a third person was sighted alive in the water after the crash; this person was tentatively identified as TSGT Thomas. Salvage efforts began at once with U.S. Navy diver locating and searching the submerged wreckage. The aircraft was raised with cables and the bodies of Major Swenck, Captain George were recovered. While the wreckage was being towed to a more secure location, the cabling broke and the wreckage sank once more. On 27 November, divers once again searched the wreckage for Thomas' body, and the wreck was raised a second time for a further search. Thomas was not found, nor was he found during ground searches of the riverbanks downstream. His body was never recovered.



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A Video Tribute to Doc Eagles, True Hero and Much Loved Friend The Pensacola Yacht Club Marines and the Cpl J.R. Spears Detachment of The Marine Corps League celebrated its annual joint Marine Corps Ball, 246, on 10 November 2021. Roger Herman, founder of the USMC/Vietnam Helicopters Pilots & Aircrew Reunion, now known as the USMC/Combat Helicopter & Tiltrotor Association, produced his own Veterans Day and Marine Corps Birthday Video Tribute to US Navy Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Thomas “DOC Tommy” Eagles. Roger and Doc Tommy flew medevacs

in a UH-34D squadron together in Vietnam and remained lifelong friends after leaving the war zone. The tribute was downloaded from Vimeo, edited and put on a flash drive by Mike Cotton and crew at Mike Cotton Productions so that it could be viewed at the Marine Corps Ball at the Pensacola Yacht Club. This is a combined ball consisting of the Pensacola Yacht Club Marines (an informal group of Marines that are active duty, retired and Veterans from all age groups and skill assignments) and

the Marine Corps League, a more formally organized Veterans organization – again, of all age groups and military skills. The Pensacola Yacht Club Marines (known as the ROMEO’s … Really Old Marines Eating Out) meet for lunch every last Friday of the month except in November and December. The Cpl J.R. Spears Detachment of the Marine Corps League meets on the second Tuesday of the month.

You can view the video tribute to Doc Eagles online at vimeo.com//641161214 AHERO MAGAZINE

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Minority Coordinator for Veterans Healthcare Program Provides Answers & Help Marthena Moffett, MLS (ASCP)cm, MBA, has been employed at the Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System (GCVHCS) in Biloxi, Mississippi, for 21 years. One of Moffett’s collateral duties there is being the minority coordinator of the Healthcare System Veterans Program. The GCVHCS has four outpatient clinics. Three are located in Pensacola, Panama City, and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and one is in Mobile, Alabama. Through targeted outreach activities, Moffett is able to promote benefits and programs while educating and assisting minority Veterans with any of their specialized needs. Her care and compassion for all Veterans comes from a family history of military service. Moffett’s father and brother served in the army, as did her husband, Howard Moffett. Due to their combined 45 years of service, she has seen her family members go through their own issues in getting the benefits they earned and rightly deserve – often calling phone numbers but getting no answers. She wanted to assist them and other, similarly struggling Veterans, in their quest to resolve their issues. Moffett is also a licensed clinical laboratory scientist, which means she performs diagnostic

testing of blood and body fluids in a clinical laboratory. This work allows her to also aid in Veterans’ healthcare journeys by assisting their providers with diagnostic work-up results. As the program’s coordinator, she will visit and talk with different Veterans, highlighting and outlining the program for them while also seeking to understand their individual needs and concerns. This can include making phone calls to healthcare providers, social workers, prosthetics providers, or to different entities within the Veterans Administration system. Other services Moffett can provide include reaching out to government offices and organizations based on her analysis of a particular Veteran’s situation. Thus, she might inquire about a home or education loan for an individual, or even contact the US Treasury office, if that’s warranted. In effect, she can be the bridge or mediator to a Veteran getting the right, effective help with healthcare, education, living situation or other concerns and opportunities in order to move forward productively and optimistically in his or her life. “It takes that one person to be a light to others,” says Moffett. “And she’ll shine brighter through working with others every day.”

MVCP RESPONSIBILITIES: • Promote the use of VA benefits, programs and services by minority Veterans • Support and initiate activities to educate and sensitize internal staff to the unique needs of minority Veterans • Targeted outreach efforts to minority Veterans through community networks • Advocate on behalf of minority Veterans by identifying gaps in services and make recommendations to improve service delivery within their facilities 46 AHERO MAGAZINE


Marthena Moffett, MLS (ASCP)cm, MBA Assistant Chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Service Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System 400 Veterans Ave. Biloxi, MS 39531 228-523-5545 Office 228-233-7874-Work Cell

MVPCs are located at Regional Offices, Health Care Facilities and National Cemeteries

A Never-Ending Love

A charitable organization’s ability to help others rests with the good people who dedicate their time and deeds to that cause. Retired U.S. Army SGT Matt Kopcsak, with his wife and caregiver Kim always at his side, has exemplified both the purpose and the value of AHERO’s mission. For, as a combat Veteran who sustained horrific wounds on the battlefield, Matt found healing in connection and the commitment to others that are the foundational tenets of AHERO. Matt then went on to spend years “paying it forward” to other Veterans by developing the Riding4AHERO program. He spread the word, inspiring motorcycle enthusiasts throughout the Gulf Coast area and bringing many more Veterans into the AHERO fold. The Kopcsak family’s story of sacrifice and love did not end with Matt’s injuries and struggles and Kim’s extraordinary devotion to his care. On March 16, 2020, the couple’s lively and loving 2-year old son, Silas, perished in a tragic accident that brought the entire AHERO family together to mourn and offer its support. Silas was taken far too early. But as Matt and Kim explain in the song they have written for him (printed here), he will never be forgotten. AHERO is committed to being part of his remembrance. ~ Dave Glassman

Song for Silas

You will never know how much I love you. Although you had to go, I am always thinking about you. If I could take your place, I would do it a thousand times. Now there’s a you-shaped hole in my life. And though I won’t be the same, you taught me to be brave. Although it wasn’t for long, you taught me what love is. The last two years I haven’t slept at all. But I could sleep again if I could hold you just once more. You were too good for this world and this life. You were hand-picked for paradise. And though I won’t be the same, You taught us all to be brave. And though it wasn’t for long, you taught us what love is. Though we won’t be the same, you taught us to be brave. Although it wasn’t for long, you taught us what love is. You will never know how much we love you! ~ by Matt & Kim Kopcsak AHERO MAGAZINE

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Tristessa's Corner

25 Years After the Khobar Towers Bombing, A Friend Lives On In Memory By Tristessa Osborne up in our situation had been challenging. I knew I needed direction and discipline if I wanted to succeed in life. So I made my 20-year commitment to my country in 1992, and following basic training, I was one of three airmen selected as jet-engine mechanic, specifically for the F-15, the “Fighting Falcon.” Tristessa: That was great news to me, your little sister. I missed you, but I was so proud of you! That field wasn’t exactly easy. Donovan: No. It was highly complex and demanding. Then, after learning basic jet engine maintenance at Chanute AFB in Illinois, I was assigned to Homestead AFB, Miami, in August 1992. Which might have been great, but my first week there, Hurricane Andrew blew in – all Category 5 of it. Evacuations, relief and support missions followed. Afterward I was able to select for F-15 wings, which landed me with the 33rd

Meeting to remember a tragic moment of sacrifice - Loving brother Donovan with his proud sister, Tristessa.

My brother, U.S. Air Force Veteran TSGT Donovan Osborne, was born into to a family and world in which violence and the constant threat of it were the norm. He suffered years of abuse that no child should be subject to. Donovan endured his abuser’s rages, but never allowed them to define his life or character. Instead, he became a protector. First it was as the protector of our mother and myself, his younger sister. But soon he developed into being a young man who wanted to serve and protect others. Donovan’s decision to join the U.S. Air Force filled me with relief. My brother would be joining a “family” that would have his back just as he would have theirs. What we couldn’t know then, though, is that his path would lead him to a moment when his inborn response to protect would be thwarted by a tragedy in 48 AHERO MAGAZINE


which he played a role he never would have knowingly accepted. It is 25 years since the July 25, 1996, terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Nineteen American servicemen died in the attack, among them Donovan’s friend and fellow airman, Senior Airman Jeremy A. Taylor. When asked if I would write the story of these two friends and that tragic event for AHERO Magazine, I decided to have a chat about it with my brother. Our “chat” became this story: Tristessa: I remember how you always stood up for me when we were kids and things got tough, Donovan. You always seemed so grown up. And then you suddenly decided to join the Air Force in 1992. Why did you? Donovan: I was 23 and wanted to better my future, to have a meaningful career. Growing

Donovan Osborne visits the Khobar Memorial.

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Fighter Wing at Eglin. We were called “The Nomads.” My specialty in the squadron was aerospace propulsion craftsman and jet engine maintenance. So I had a team, a new family, and home. Tristessa: That must have been a relief. Did it change you? Donovan: Not in the first few years. I definitely “made my mark” living on base but not necessarily in the brightest of ways. I needed to learn a new way of living, but I was still fighting some old demons, so … the police and I unfortunately became close friends. Then, after a few tough lessons, I got onto a better path and was able to live off base. Tristessa: You met Jeremy Taylor pretty early on, though, right? Tell me about him. Donovan: Sure. There were 70 to 80 airman working in the 33rd Propulsion Flight. Jeremy, a senior airman, and I became pretty close friends. He was a consummate airman, but we had good times cruising around Fort Walton in my IROC Camaro, jamming tunes and just living life. It was an important time for me because although Jeremy was great fun, he was also dedicated to serving his country. He was someone I seriously respected.

USAF SSGT Donovan Osborne, with the 7th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Strike Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Nellis AFB, Nev., inspects for cracks on an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter engine.


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IN SERVICE TO OUR NATION My last memory of him is a happy one, but also sad. He had come to the end of his enlistment without ever going to Saudi, which he really had wanted to do. The Air Force was looking for volunteers for Operation Southern Watch, a no-fly zone in southern Iraq, and I had volunteered to go. But Jeremy told me he wanted to reenlist and that having an active deployment would be the ideal reenlistment scenario. He convinced me to trade jobs, meaning he would deploy instead of me. So we – his buddies and I – gave him a proper send off, playing pool and bar hopping just before he left. Then he was off with the 58th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing. Tristessa: You didn’t see or hear from him after that? Donovan: No. It was only a short time after their arrival that Khobar Towers, a building that was housing U.S. military members, was bombed. We were at the shop working when we heard about the bombing. We didn’t know who had been killed or hurt and I hoped Jeremy wasn’t among them. If he was, wouldn’t it be because he took my place, that I was supposed to be the one who died? I was completely shaken. Tristessa: But he wanted to go to Iraq. He volunteered! Donovan: I know. But I volunteered, too, though not so much because I wanted to go. I just felt that was the right thing to do. Anyway, the search for survivors went on for days. When we finally got the list of the 19 who died and Jeremy was on it, everything hit me even harder. But there was work to do, I had to be busy. Then we heard that the plane would be coming in with the survivors. I was there as they came off the plane. There was a lot of anguish and yet tears of relief, too … Tristessa: It must have been so hard, thinking about your friend then. Donovan: [Softly] Yeah. Those days and months were tough for everyone. Tristessa: I remember that you were able to meet his family, right? Donovan: I was. Services were held for our fallen “Nomads,” and I was able to volunteer as the liaison for Jeremy’s family. He had talked about them quite a bit, so it was an honor to meet them and escort them through the memorial services and events.



Tristessa: How did it all affect you? I mean, in time? Donovan: I’ve struggled with feelings of guilt for not going instead of Jeremy. I know how it caused his family so much pain, how his little sister had her life altered. It made me think how yours would have been, if it had been me. It’s hard to explain, but in the end it’s something you have to find balance for. I know what happened is the epitome of the sacrifice we sign up for. To me, it’s so important to remember to keep the families of the fallen in our memory, as well as those who fall. I just want everyone to do that. Tristessa: Is there something about Jeremy that gives you comfort, Donovan? After everything that happened? Tristessa notes: After his 20 years as a member of the U.S. Air Force, Donovan retired. He continues living his life productively, proud of his service, with family and friends here and abroad. As adults who have weathered the “storms” we were dealt, we are able to live the lives we always wanted, having conquered the sorrows of the past as a brother and sister together. A special note from the writer to SSG Michael “Doc” DeVito, Special Forces (Ret): Thank you, Doc, for sharing your moment of healing and for your continued participation and support of the AHERO community.

Remembering our loss at the Khobar Towers; Exhibit & Re-Dedication

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COL Gilda A. Jackson, USMC (Ret): Military-Barrier Breaker, Golf Lover By LTC Madeline Bondy, US Army (Ret) Who knew? Asked to interview retired USMC Col Gilda Jackson, one of my first questions is what had motivated her to join the United States Marine Corps. Her answer is unexpected. She says, “Lucille Ball.” Huh? “Like, I Love Lucy?” I ask. “That Lucille Ball?” “Yes,” the Colonel says. Jackson graduated from a small Catholic high school and went on to attend Ohio State University. But while in high school, she had heard Lucille Ball's radio promo for military service. It piqued her interest. She set about learning what the service could provide and – still only 17 years old – was impressed enough to go to the local U.S. Post Office, where military recruiting offices were then located, to discuss her options. Most of the recruiters had gone off to lunch, she remembers. But one, a United States Marine Corps recruiter, was there and talked to her. Jackson was actually interested in the Air Force. The Marine recruiter helpfully mentioned that the USAF recruiter would require her to take a test but reassured her that he could help her take it if she wished. She accepted, took the test, and was later contacted by the USAF. But when they learned her age, they said she wasn't eligible to enlist. Then the USMC recruiter contacted her. “Your scores were high,” he said. “I’d like to sign you up.” It was 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. But, again, she had to tell him her age. At that time, women had to be 21 years of age to enlist. Any age less than that would require a waiver signed by a parent, and Jackson's mother had made it clear she wasn't signing any such waiver. Discussions ensued. Young Jackson lobbied hard on her own behalf. Finally, after some thought, her mom agreed to sign the waiver. “But ONLY,” she said (and she was quite firm on this), “with the understanding that you will go back to Ohio State after duty and complete your degree.” 52 AHERO MAGAZINE


SUCCESSFUL MILITARY AND CIVILIAN CAREERS Jackson entered the service, attended boot camp and completed her three years. She then returned to the university. There she finished her 4-year degree using the Montgomery G.I. Bill and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps upon graduation. Her occupational specialty was aviation supply. She held numerous assignments in this field, including working in the F35 project office watching development of the F35 from conception to test plane. Throughout her 33-year career, Jackson saw many changes in the roles of females in the Marine Corps and other services. From the very few career fields open to them when she joined the service there are now many that offer women opportunities to grow and excel. Jackson was the first African American female selected for promotion to the rank of colonel in the Marine Corps. When asked what some of the important lessons and attributes of leadership were that she learned during her service, the first she mentions is, "To listen – really listen, comprehend, understand.” The second, she says, “is to be truthful." And the third is “To learn the role of servant-leader*. To be a servant-leader and a servant-person.” “Truth is extremely important and should not be compromised,” she says, adding that unfortunately, there are some who don't want to see the hard truth. Instead, it is reported in a different manner to achieve the intent of the receiver. A LOVE OF THE GAME OF GOLF – BORN WHILE SERVING! COL Jackson enjoys the game of golf. It has taught her many lessons, she says, and came into her life because of work. As a group commander (a lieutenant colonel), the wing commander would visit and meet with other commanders. After the meetings, they would head to the golf course (Jackson did not play at the time). It was during one of these golf outings that a change

in exercise locations occurred. Jackson's group had been scheduled to go to Key West. This was changed to Hunter Liggett during a round of golf. The next day her sergeant major came in and said, "LtCol Jackson, you need to learn to play golf.” Asked why, the sergeant major explained how the change of location occurred and said, “We didn't defend our location.” So LtCol Jackson took five golf lessons and after the next meeting, she played golf. COL Jackson still enjoys the game. Through it, she has met many people and learned many lessons. She talks about learning the discipline of the game – not to just swing away. “It takes concentration, focus,” she says. “It is a very strategic game.” After retirement, COL Jackson worked with Lockheed Martin's F35 division for just shy of 15 years. Her career, both in the Marine Corps and with Lockheed Martin, paved the way for many other young people to follow. Servant-leadership is “a particular style of leadership in which the leader serves others and places their needs first in a humble approach to meeting collective goals” – from the NCO Journal in the Army University Press (online at www.armyupress. army.mil/Journals/NCO-Journal/Archives/2019/ April/servant-leadership/ )

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Frenchy Finally Finds a Suitable Repository for his Personal Collection of Military, Combat and Veteran Based Experiences and Storylines

Frenchy with UWF Archives and West Florida Historical Center Director, Dean Dobolt and Assistant Director, Tim Bugler

The University Archives and West Florida History Center collects, preserves, and makes available research materials about the West Florida region, its history, people, and development from earliest settlement to the present. We take pride in celebrating the life and accomplishments of individuals and families by giving a home to personal histories and stories, including those of our military Veterans and service people.


"We help researchers, students, and others who study our history, but we can't do that unless we encourage people to donate the letters, diaries, photographs, audio and video memories of their story so they can be saved now to be available in the future," says University Archivist Dean DeBolt. Stacksview bell glass plate collection Lindbergh in Navy Curtiss Hawk, Pensacola Naval Air Station, October 9, 1917

Correspondence of Bryce Griffith Archive Display Navy Life on Pula Anna (West Caroline Islands), 1944 AHERO MAGAZINE

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UWF’S Deep & Long-Standing Commitment to Military Affiliated Students By Executive Director Claire Stewart, UWF Annual Giving and Institutional Communications Positioned on the Gulf Coast in the cradle of naval aviation, the University of West Florida has been serving military personnel since its first class in 1967. Today, with one in five UWF students affiliated with the military, the school is focused more than ever on the needs of our nation’s heroes as they pursue their educational dreams. In October 2011, in an effort to support the growing campus population of these students, the Military and Veterans Resource Center (MVRC) opened as a “one-stop” location supporting students eligible to receive educational benefits under the various U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs programs. The space provides a sense of community and a place of refuge where students can connect, commiserate and share their common experiences as they transition from military to civilian life. Annually, the MVRC serves between 12,000 and 16,000 students. Services and resources available to them across the campus include: • On-campus VA VetSuccess Rep (assisting with benefits, etc.) • Writing-assistance lab • Tutoring support • On-campus childcare • Mental health counseling • Military-affiliated scholarships. RECOGNIZED FOR MILITARY-FRIENDLY EDUCATION EXCELLENCE In the last few years, UWF has received national recognition for its work assisting military students. The Military Friendly Schools list named it a Gold-Level University in the “large public school” category for 2021-2022. For the second consecutive year, UWF was the only large public university in Florida to earn the gold distinction for success in helping Veterans make the transition from the military to school and preparing them for rewarding careers in the civilian world. 54 AHERO MAGAZINE


“UWF takes great pride in being recognized annually as a military friendly university,” UWF President Martha D. Saunders said. “This honor represents the numerous programs and sustained efforts carried out by the university that foster continued success for all of our military affiliated students.” This ranking is another in a long list of accolades that distinguish UWF as an institution committed to sustained success for Veterans, active duty members, future Army and Air Force officers, and other militaryaffiliated students. Accolades include receiving the Military Friendly® University designation for over 10 years; being named in the “Top 25 Best Colleges for Veterans” by U.S. News and World Report; and recognition as a Military Friendly Spouse School and Purple Heart University by the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. INNOVATIVE COURSES, COMMITTED STAFF The UWF community is keen to the needs and interests of military members in all areas of their university experience, including their academic and research efforts. In 2019, a trio of students at UWF developed a new camerabased system to help military canine handlers monitor and coordinate with their dogs. The project began in a Hacking for Defense (H4D) class, a UWF summer course in which students work in teams directly with the defense and intelligence community. UWF was the first Florida university to participate in the H4D program. The course paired the team with a client in the U.S. Army, and the task was to boost the combat effectiveness and situational awareness of both the canine handlers and their dogs. By improving the mounting system and video stream capabilities of the camera, the team created an innovation that enhances the visibility of the video for canine handlers, increasing team efficiency in high-stress situations.

Executive Director Claire Stewart

The MVRC continues to expand in size and scope under the directorship of Lori Milkeris, a U.S. Air Force Veteran. Milkeris was recently awarded Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers – Northwest Florida Chapter. The director’s commitment to UWF’s military Veterans and active service members is absolute. “We recognize the sacrifices that military members and families go through, and we want to commend them regularly for that by supplying a UWF support system,” Milkeris said. “Our hope is to provide the resources they need to succeed academically here at UWF for their families and for themselves.”

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Another Kind of Service: Helping Our UWF Military & Veteran Students Succeed By Director Lori Milkeris, LCSW, UWF Military & Veteran Resource Center I am an Air Force Veteran (F-16 crew chief ) and a single mom of two. I began attending UWF in my mid-thirties in 2009. My daily routine was taking care of the kids and home, attending classes, completing assignments, working with others for group assignments and then returning home. I also worked as a bartender around my schedule of studying and being a mom. It seemed my life was stuck on repeat. Often, I would sit and wonder, “When will I meet people and have the college experience? Why don't I get to hang out and join the clubs? Why do people say college is supposed to be such a fun time and a learning experience, but I’m just showing up and going through the motions?” I felt more mature than the others sitting in class with me, and I had many more responsibilities. Then I had a tragic experience happen in my life. It meant I would need more money to help support my family. While going through that struggle, an outstanding advisor mentioned the new Military and Veterans Resource Center (MVRC) that had just opened up on campus three months before. She had seen an advertisement that VA work-study students were needed in the new center, and you had to be using your GI Bill benefits to get employed. Thankfully, I fit that requirement. I showed up in front of the director, and that moment changed my life. I walked into a place where they spoke in acronyms as I did and had military experience. Some had the same family responsibilities, some felt just as disconnected as I did; others felt frustrated for being older or for not understanding all the new requirements of academia. There was a new way to write and a new way to act, and many students who did not look at life like I did. But from the moment I walked through the MVRC doors, I was back with my people. Those people have now become my family. They have watched me struggle and helped me thrive. I have succeeded in climbing from being a VA work-study student, to being a graduate who achieved a master’s in social work in 2013 and a licensed clinical social worker in 2015. I developed and became the

mentor-coordinator at the MVRC and then the VA work-study supervisor. I was moved to the assistant director position in 2017 and became the director in 2018. The MVRC started as a place to go and find comfort amongst the challenges, and now I get to help so many others like me who hope to become something more than they were before they started college. The MVRC at the University of West Florida is a place where active-duty military members and those who are transitioning, as well as Veterans, dependents, and spouses can come and feel connected to the university. The goal is to help them become grounded in the difference between educational and military training and connect with other students in the same situation. The MVRC gives the military population at the university a place to feel comfortable. Our core mission is to process VA benefits and DOD funding for around 1300 students who are using their benefits; however, we know that is just the surface, so we also support more than 2000 students with much more. Our doors are open to all military-affiliated students even if they are not using VA education benefits. We want active-service and Veteran parents who have children attending college here to know we will take care of your family like they are our own. We have a VetSucccess* on-campus counselor on staff (a VA employee) who helps with all things VA. Our mentor-coordinator is a licensed clinical social worker whose goal is to assist with any struggle, big or small. We assist with tutoring, have a bi-weekly newsletter, support groups and workshops, and so much more. We participate in events on and off campus. This year we had a 22 Veteran/ROTC-cadet team in a boat for the local Pensacola Dragon Boat Festival race in which we took third place out of 24 teams. We had also placed third in our first year participating in the race in 2019. We also have a float in the Pensacola Veteran’s Day Parade every year honoring all those who have served and are serving the nation.

Director Lori Milkeris

In addition, we host the Pensacola Veterans Support Organization Network (PVSON). This network allows us to connect with other support organizations in the community, giving us valuable resources to collect for our students. We employ VA work-study students as well as interns at the university. The goal is to have Veterans help Veterans as they navigate through their academic endeavors. We want to ensure that we meet people where they are. Individuals come in with a hope of getting connected to an outside source so they're not always studying or feeling alone. Maybe they're new to the area or fresh out of the military. When a student doesn't know the civilian world as much as is needed, it can be stressful or overwhelming and sometimes selfdefeating. The camaraderie that the MVRC strives for hopefully removes those frustrations and barriers, leading to our students’ success. *The VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) program aims to help Veterans, service members, and their qualified dependents succeed and thrive through a coordinated delivery of on-campus benefits assistance and counseling, leading to completion of their education and preparing them to enter the labor market in viable careers.


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IN SERVICE TO OUR NATION Military Linguist, Struggling Vet, Graduate Student: Success Favors the Intrepid By USAF Veteran Kenny Porter, UWF Class of 2022 There I was … out of the U.S. Sir Force. And not because I wanted to be. I’d been “force shaped” out (essentially let go) because, after asking to cross-train into Arabic, Urdu, or Pashtu as a ground linguist, my career field was going to split: I’d have to become a Korean airborne linguist. Definitely not what I saw myself doing. It was 2007. Once out, I worked at a couple of jobs, the last one leading me away from media and marketing, which had been what I’d thought I wanted. Suddenly, instead, I was working as a case manager for disabled Veterans with significant barriers to employment. That job changed me. I was seeing their struggles – how they felt swallowed by red tape, confused advice. But I also was feeling their triumphs when they had them. Almost unconsciously, I was relating to what those Veterans were going through and telling me. Not willing to compartmentalize my work life, I sought counseling services. I needed them. I was disgruntled myself. My Veteran brothers and sisters were trying to get their lives together and I was too limited to help them! That’s when it dawned that the good advice I was offering them was actually the advice I should be taking myself! If I really wanted to do more for them, to advocate for them, I would need a college degree. TRYING TO GET ON COURSE It had been years since I’d taken a class. But when I ran into an old school-friend up from where he now lived in Tampa, he suggested that I move there and start college. He wanted a roommate, so I moved in and enrolled in Hillsborough Community College using the G.I. Bill to get me started. What I didn’t realize was that I needed a lot of help reintegrating into civilian life and being in a civilian college. I had a tough time trying to talk to anyone. Fellow students, my instructors, the college staff … no one seemed to be a Veteran; and if there was a Veterans' organization on campus, I never saw it. I felt alone and was irritable and short-tempered, even in class. Seeing 18- and 20-year-olds talking when our instructor was trying to teach just rankled. 56 AHERO MAGAZINE


I wasn’t focusing on what I needed to learn. Hey, I was a linguist! I’d always been academically smart. Still, I was struggling. English literature, algebra, science – didn’t matter which course, I was blowing it. I wasn’t enjoying college KENNY TO KENNY: TOUGH IT OUT, PAL! The truth is, I was struggling with life in general. But I kept on. Fall semester 2008, spring semester … summer semester. Trying to hit my stride. Then my dad had a heart attack and soon after, my mother suffered a stroke. I drove back home to Milton, Florida, found that both my parents were okay, but I grabbed the chance (excuse?) to drop out of school and come home to be near them. I would start fresh (again) and maybe try finding a job this time. How many times had my superiors in the Air Force told me I’d have no problems finding employment after the military? Countless times. So what was going wrong? Whatever it was, I had a difficult time finding a job for a couple of years. Finally, I decided to enroll at Pensacola Junior College (now Pensacola State College, or PSC). I’d do just one class per semester. But I dropped out again, anyway. I had landed a job in traditional media, in the sales and marketing department. I tried to learn as much as I could as fast as possible. I sought out additional responsibility. I found I was enjoying the work and had developed new aspirations.

THE WORK … AND THE PAYOFF It all led me to re-enroll at PSC. I found Veterans’ services were available there, and these helped me feel included, supported. I quit work to focus on school. With help from the Veterans’ services office, I was able to earn my associate of arts degree. I decided to apply to the University of West Florida (UWF) … and was accepted. I transferred as a senior this past year, choosing the BA of Communication program with a focus in public relations. I will graduate in summer 2022 and plan to go on to graduate school here at UWF in strategic communication and leadership. The Military & Veteran Resource Center (MVRC) here at UWF has been a big part of my transition to becoming a more active student Veteran. The staff, the work-studies students and fellow Veterans – these people are family to me. Any success I have at this school has their prints on it. So I continue to advocate now for student Veterans here on campus and the services the MVRC offers. As I work toward my future, I am also looking to eventually intern at a public affairs office in one of the military installations. Being out of the military doesn’t mean you lose sight of all that being part of it has done for you. It’s a time for learning all the things it can continue to do for you and others, and for our country.

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Taking Control: The Power of Storytelling for Veterans By U.S. Navy Veteran Theodore Siren, UWF Graduate Student Barely two years out of the Navy, failing at my marriage and every college course I was taking, my only coping mechanism was to drink about it. I was killing myself. It wasn’t intentional, but I certainly wasn’t too concerned with the outcome. When my wife left for the last time, I wasn’t worried about being alone: I was sleeping with Jim Beam, making love to the bottle first thing in the morning, and going about my day as though nothing was wrong. After eight years of active duty, I was waiting tables in a kitschy German restaurant and playing rock star on the weekends to make ends meet. I was back in college as a biology major with hopes of a career that could allow me to provide for my son. But it was all surface. I was going through the motions so everyone would leave me alone. Alone, I was in the bottle. I was losing control. I only saw my son on the weekends, and thanks to work, it wasn’t even every weekend. Weeks became a haze. My son’s smile was the only real thing – the anchor that kept me alive. I could say I don’t know why I started writing, why I opened my laptop instead of the pills I was considering mixing with my usual nightcap. I could claim that I don’t know why I began the painstaking process of pushing my thoughts through the keys trying to form somewhat coherent plots instead of just punching out. I was slowly, painfully, flying apart at the seams, coming completely undone, piece by piece, and daily drowning deeper into the bottle, into depression, so why write? Now, nearly eight years later, with a much clearer picture of those bourbon-stained days, I realize I was attempting to control a story, any story, even if I couldn’t get control over my own. Storytelling became a way for me to become reacquainted with myself. Through the fictional characters I was creating, through a reignited love of reading, I began the long climb out of what had become a very dark hole. A few years later, after finishing my bachelor’s in creative writing, I became a graduate student in literature at the University of West Florida, interested in therapeutic writing or narrative therapy, with a focus on Veterans. Hoping to create a unique

internship opportunity, I contacted UWF’s counseling services, noting they had a number of counseling services offered, though I didn’t see anything specifically for Veterans. I was directed instead to the Military Veterans Resource Center (MVRC). MVRC Director Lori Milkeris and I had met previously when she helped me get my academics back on track. She connected me with Melissa Helmly, the intern coordinator at the time. Together, we worked to establish something that could assist Veteran students. With my background, I focused on the types of difficulties former service members can face, regardless of the amount of time since their separation from the military, and concentrated on a setting that could allow Veterans to find constructive, healthy ways to cope with whatever they might be feeling or facing. To that end, the Creative Coping workshop was born. While the workshop is not therapy and is not meant to take its place, Creative Coping was designed to demonstrate how creative writing can help manage the added stress of life. During the pandemic especially, the community we built offered the solace of a safe haven. We met other Veterans; we wrote and shared our thoughts, our dreams, and our experiences. At each workshop, I would suggest a prompt: anything from memorable boot camp experiences or thank-you letters to other Vets on Veterans Day, to our last day in the service and what it felt like walking away. We would take 20 silent minutes to write without worrying about grammar, grades, or even spelling. Then, if anyone wished, they could share what they wrote. Not everyone did, but it was a comfort to see that even the people who didn’t share seemed to gain from hearing what others had experienced and written. Once everyone had the opportunity to share, I invited them to make a decision: They could keep the story, refer back to it in times of need, or they could destroy it – rip it up, burn it, eat it, whatever. The important thing was to send what was written “back out into the universe,” to loosely quote the friend and mental health professional who suggested the

exercise as an effort to drive home the point that regardless of what has happened, or what will happen, we author our own stories. We have the power to control our stories. At UWF and the MVRC, we are continually working on ways to reach out to Veterans, to meet them where they are and help however we can. I still have a few pieces that I wrote during those workshops; I have the scraps and shreds (the pieces, if you’ll forgive the pun) of a few others. Both serve as reminders of the stories I’ve survived and of the ones I still have left to tell.

“ … regardless of what has happened, or what will happen, we author our own stories. We have the power to control our stories.” ~ Teddy Siren AHERO MAGAZINE

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Next Steps For Africatown’s Memorial Garden & Buffalo Soldiers Project

AHERO Magazine’s Winter 2020-21 issue was pleased to carry a story by U.S. Navy Chief Jason Lewis on the Memorial Garden and America’s Buffalo Soldiers cultural heritage project underway in the Mobile, Alabama, community of Africatown. Chief Lewis was kind enough to send an update on the project, edited by AHERO below: In 1860, the last slave ship to sail, the Clotilda, went down in Mobile River. Its African survivors became Africatown’s descendant community. Now, drawing on the strength and resilience of their impressive forebears, today’s residents of this community have become the force behind the town’s potential for resurgence and long-term success. In 2018, the Gulf Coast Community Development Corporation commissioned urban designer Renee Kemp-Rotan, the CEO of Birmingham-based Studio Rotan, to create the Africatown International Design Idea competition. This was initiated as a means to



preserve this unique African-founded community as well as to respectfully interpret its history and elevate it as an authentic, African-centric cultural heritage destination. “Our motto is, 'If we can save the ship, we can save the town,’” said Kemp-Rotan, who has organized and programmed Africatown's design challenges around community-based plans at four sites and their 16 proposed venues. Competitors are challenged to explore and connect these multiple sites using Afro-centered architectural concepts. Together, the sites and venues will constitute a new, world-class cultural heritage tourism system called "The Africatown Cultural Mile." Kemp-Rotan described the competition as using design as a “transformative agent for truth-telling and spatial justice." She noted that architecture could raise public awareness about the history of slavery and the tenacity of the African people who endured it.

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Renowned Artist Chosen to Sculpt Bridge Monument Image of Pensacola’s USAF Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. By Cris Dosev The General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. Memorial Foundation, Inc. has announced that nationally renowned artist, Mr. Ed Dwight, has been selected as the sculptor of the statue of General James that will stand at the landing of the bridge upon its completion. Dwight, whose reputation for artistic excellence is widely praised, enlisted in the United States Air Force as a young man. After receiving a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering, he was commissioned an Air Force officer, became a fighter pilot and test pilot, achieving more than 2500 tactical jetflight hours by the age of 29. Capt. Dwight was selected to be the first Black astronaut by President John F. Kennedy. As a sculptor, for the past 30 years, he has completed over 100 projects and sculptures focused on historical African American figures. An artist’s rendering of the planned statue reflects the courage, strength of character, and place in history of General James, whose career broke down racial barriers and brought honor to his country and “hometown” city of Pensacola. His story has endured, inspiring the area’s – and indeed the country’s – generations of flight-loving, patriotic young Americans. The 10-ft statue of General James set upon a 10-ft pedestal will be joined by an F4 Phantom static display mounted as if in flight and painted in the combat scheme of General James's service during the Vietnam War. An 80-ft flagpole proudly flying a giant-sized flag of the United States of America will complete the composition. These three elements are planned to be positioned upon an elevated plaza aesthetically coordinated with the bridge flyover and corresponding landscaping of the

bridge landing and roundabout area. This extraordinary and inevitably iconic sight will warmly welcome all who enter the city of Pensacola after crossing the General Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. Bridge from the city of Gulf Breeze. The bridge is on track for completion in the 2nd quarter of 2022, with the opening date and

ribbon-cutting ceremony yet to be determined. The anticipated date of the memorial plaza dedication is September 18, 2022, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United States Air Force. Stay tuned for further developments at:



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The Monument to Women Veterans Inc. Expands its Vision to Include Museum By Connie Conway

The Monument to Women Veterans Inc. (MWVets) is a 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit corporation established in 2011 by women Veterans of the greater Pensacola area. Michelle Caldwell, its founder, is an accomplished and experienced community leader. For years, she has focused her organizational abilities and efforts on raising awareness and contributions for critical issues from feeding and clothing homeless Veterans to shining a light on the many important contributions our American women in uniform have made to their country. Now her vision to open a museum offering their story in images and artifacts has become a reality. In 1917, more than 100 years ago, a woman by the name of Loretta Walsh became the first female to technically enlist in the U.S. military when she joined the Navy. Prior to that, women have always, since our American Revolution, served in one essential but unofficial capacity or another in peacetime and in war. Now, we Americans rely on about 1.5 million women in our armed forces to serve alongside men as equals in duty, honor, and commitment. The MWVets organization opened its 35,000-sq.ft. museum this November with displays of memorabilia provided by the UWF Historic Trust and the Naval Aviation Museum. The building has been vacant since before Hurricane Ivan, when it housed a train depot, and is leased from the city of Pensacola. Actively seeking funds to meet the costs of this and creation of the Monument, the organization will use some of the museum’s 35,000 square feet for meeting rooms and training spaces for Veterans interested in learning new job skills. The goal of the Monument to Women Veterans project is to promote the recognition and appreciation of the women who, having provided great service, no longer wear the uniform. They, too, are Veterans whose voices 60 AHERO MAGAZINE


Welcoming the Museum's Visitors.

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate and stories must be heard and whose issues of post-traumatic stress, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, domestic violence, unemployment, and homelessness need to be addressed. Calling vivid attention to these voices and needs, the Monument, designed by worldrenowned sculptor Elizabeth MacQueen, will incorporate the elements of fire, steel, flowing water and a beam of light – a brilliant physical metaphor for the commitment, strength, care, and service of America’s Women Veterans. For more about the Monument to Women Veterans 501(c)3 charity and its museum or to make a contribution, please go to:


or visit the organization’s Facebook page. Displays inside the MWVets' useum feature examples of the paraphernalia worn and carried by our women in military uniform.

Judith A. Neuffer, one of the first six women pilots in the U.S. Navy, earned her wings in 1973. It was a long time coming, but that glass ceiling finally cracked wide open!

Kate Brown Treick and Sabrina Simpson help celebrate the opening of The Monument to Women Veterans Museum.

The Monument to Women Veterans, as envisioned by famed sculptor Elizabeth MacQueen, will feature elements including flames reaching as high as 30 feet into the air.

The Museum features photos, etc, From the collection of the Naval Flight Museum and UWF Historic Archives. AHERO MAGAZINE

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Hello From the Thompsons in Germany! HIGH POINTS d if I would like to post an update to our ly retired US When the editors at AHERO Magazine aske ical that, over here where I remain as a med ond resp only ld cou I , year this ng and ERO 4AH d our plans to conduct any charitable hiki nge cha year this of ges llen cha al glob Marine, the plans of so many others. climbing challenges, just as they did the managed to be mountains. But somehow our COVID year up s trip any e mak to ble una e wer we those lines, So baby 😂! Honestly, we had no plans along a had we … ause bec lf itse of and in t a high poin (and happily!) adjusted. but God has his own way and so we simply or during this gains in my recovery since my brain tum I believe that I made the most significant e or remade with the family or the brain finally mad e hom was I ause bec as it if sure not am year. I am stioning it and only thanking God that I que not am I on, reas the er atev Wh s. needed connection tly the head aches iness, double vision and vertigo, but mos doing so much better. I still deal with dizz tically. are gone and the tremors have reduced dras the worked on a second masters, completed and t men elop -dev self on rs hou y man I also spent ilian Advanced gram, the Department of the Army Civ Har vard Senior Executive Fellowship pro the kids while I of e to write a book (read: Meike took care tim d foun n eve I and rse, Cou hip ders Lea played academics). one has enough and focuses on finding a place in life where The book is called, “The Point of Richness” in life. There is gs able to focus on the most important thin is s thu and ties essi nec all er cov to ey mon d. family and friends and helping those in nee nothing more important than focusing on es some of my life real estate investing and the book chronicl I had found my point of richness through suicide) that led of hol abuse, homelessness and thoughts alco ion, ress dep D, PTS rce, divo r, (wa s to $0 debt saga l freedom from $100K in debt at age 40, ncia fina and s nes rich l ona pers to path me to the g” to the fullest. In addition, I offer tools for livin e “lov to te esta real from me inco sive and sufficient pas book will resonate and to repeat my successes. I believe my the reader to use on their own journeys in the book 😊. tion that need it. AHERO has honorable men se tho s help and ily fam ERO AH the with s to AHERO USA . Best of all, I will donate a portion of all sale the famous Italian trip from Stuttgart Germany to the top of bike ay 4-d a nize orga to plan I 2: 202 For sen from the AHERO community. mountain pass (Stelvio) with a veteran cho her time during is doing exceptionally well! Meike spent Lastly and most importantly, my family e she splurged tim ght herself another dressage horse. This bou she and e, tim ily fam ying enjo VID the family. CO old Hanoverian mare who fits right in with ar 4-ye a ght bou She . gem real a elf 4 and hers and got ran 250 miles in 6 months. Emilia is now 5 age at and ) tual (vir race foot first his baby boy) is Jonas completed is smarter than her older brother. Lukas (our ERO to us loving puzzles and anything that proves she AH from are eternally grateful for all the support and ther toge life our love We e. som awe e. and all the other disabled warriors out ther God Bless, The Thompsons 62 AHERO MAGAZINE


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WINTER 2022 63


The Math of Many Small Numbers: My BRAGGTAGZ Story By Diane Warner

“After reading AHERO magazine, I confess I felt a little unworthy to contribute at first,” said Diane Bragg, whose story we asked for earlier this year. Diane is the developer of the BRAGGTAGZ “faux” dog-tags that identify individual military members the wearers know and love. “Then, with your encouragement – and as I began to reflect on the value to others of my story – I changed my tune and realized I do have something to share! Thank you for inviting me to tell my story of why I chose to support AHERO in this very meaningful-to-me way!” Here is her story. ~ The editors The Monument to Women Veterans InI cannot remember a time when I did not support our Veterans. My dad was already out of the U.S. Army when I was born, yet I’ve always considered myself an Army brat. I have been involved with several companies in my life but always managed to work with those that supported our Veterans. It’s as if I was born with that gene. In 2013, our youngest daughter, Melanie, married a USMC SSgt Richard M. Kennedy, or Ric, as he is called. On that day I became a Marine Mom. I learned when your son or daughter marries a military person, you’re immediately considered a military family, and that’s what I’ve always felt ours to be. Their wedding took place in Michigan, at the home I share with my husband of almost 42 years, Tom. Our daughter and her new husband then headed to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he later met AHERO founder Lee Stuckey. From there, at the end of December of 2015, they relocated to Grissom Air Force Base Peru, Ind. And that was just fine with me because they’d had their first child by then, and now they lived only three hours away from us! A CHRISTMAS TRAGEDY COMPELS A HERO CLOSE TO OUR HEARTS In 2017, Ric, Melanie, their son, Reid, and new baby girl, Ivy, came to stay with us for the holidays. We were elated to have them here with us. Ric’s parents live just a few miles from our home, and this would allow us all to celebrate together. As a treat for themselves, Ric and Melanie decided to get a hotel on the first night and take advantage of the swimming pool with their kids after the long car ride. But within a few hours, Ric had received a call informing him that a Marine recruiter (SSgt Tyler Fox), from Valparaiso, Ind., had taken his own life 64 AHERO MAGAZINE


while at a family Christmas party. Ric’s focus of duties instantly shifted from being a husband and father of two enjoying Christmas with his family, to Casualty Assistance Call Officer (CACO). This meant another family had become his focus – a family that had just had their father ripped away from them. Ric informed Melanie that he must leave immediately. He traveled three hours back down to Indiana, where he began the process of assisting the Fox family with the painful funeral arrangements - and anything else they needed during the grieving process. HONORING A PROMISE Ric spent Christmas Eve expeditiously making arrangements, for which the Fox family thanked him profusely but then insisted he go home to his own family. The trip back should have taken only the same three hours, but the weather had other ideas. It would take this exhausted hero more than six hours to drive through a blizzard back to us in Michigan. Early morning, December 26, 2017, found Ric on the road yet again, heading back to Indiana to ensure all the funeral arrangements were taken care of. Then, after the funeral, SSgt Fox’s four-year-old son asked, “Momma, who’s gonna stay here with Daddy tonight?” With the permission of the funeral home director, Ric immediately assured the boy that he, Ric, would be proud to stay with his daddy that night. SSgt Fox’s parents brought him a mattress and food and he kept his promise to the boy, staying the night with his daddy. I do not believe there are words to describe the impact this experience had on our family. The effect on each of us was profound. It was heartbreaking to know what this family was dealing with; that was so terribly hard. At the

same time, we were all incredibly proud of Ric’s selfless actions. I ANSWER MY OWN “BUT WHAT CAN I DO?” QUESTION Yet another suicide, I thought. Another one! I went from deeply sad to angry. What was going on? “Somebody needs to do something!” I wanted to shout. Which was when this lightning bolt of a thought hit me: “Hey, YOU’RE somebody. DO something!” And so I did. I came up with the idea of military dog-tags for civilians to wear to support the military member in their life while contributing to support suicide prevention. I would call them BRAGGTAGZ. I started sharing the concept with several friends and getting good feedback, so I went for it. It’s a pretty simple idea, really. I have my own set. One tag reads, “Marine Mom,” and the other, “Love my Marine.” All five branches of our U.S. military are represented, and there are tags for 16 different relationships (spouse, grandma, brother, etc.). We also offer a set that reads “Military Supporter” and one saying, “Love our Soldiers.” Our goal was to make the tags as affordable as possible, so almost anyone could buy them. They’re priced at just $7.50 a set, with free shipping, and $1 from each set would go to AHERO, a charity I’d heard about and found particularly meaningful. Well, it all looked great on paper. But it took considerable time to pull a detailed business plan together. In the interim that followed, I made the decision to take my focus off the business in order to raise funds for AHERO in other ways, such as walks and an annual fund raiser with my Women’s Life group. We decided to do our own RUCK march* on Memorial Day to raise funds. Though a

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new organization, and small, we collected a decent amount. It would be one of the core lessons I learned, and one I’d like to share: Even though there were just four of us volunteers, we received many $5 and $10 pledges – and all of those individual small amounts added up to help us make a big difference. That’s what it’s all about. STAYING WITH THE DREAM Through it all, the inspiration to set my BRAGGTAGZ organization up and running never left me. I kept working on it. By late 2019, we finally had the tags ordered, the website was up and running, supplies were purchased, and we had everything we needed to get rolling. We booked a bunch of trade shows and were ready to get the word out, and then … COVID hit.

Through the website and social media, a few sales trickled in – but not enough to make the difference we were shooting for. Still, we persevered. Sure enough, the trade shows eventually began to open up and this fall we had the opportunity to do pull it all together and launch our BRAGGTAGZ dream. So, while I may have felt inferior to share my story – compared to larger organizations generating greater sums, our contributions would be smaller – I now choose to reflect on how mighty the cumulative effect can be of many small organizations such as ours collecting small amounts on behalf of our military heroes. Moral of the story: If you feel somebody needs to do something, remember – YOU can be that somebody!

To learn more about Diane’s wonderful organization,ß visit:


*A RUCK march is a term originally coined by the military. Its essential meaning is getting your gear from point A to point B in a backpack. AHERO MAGAZINE

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Kappa Sigma’s 4th Annual Golfing4AHERO Tournament: Another Success! By Frankie Muldowney Last January, I was elected by my fraternity, Kappa Sigma, to direct our 4th annual AHERO golf tournament was previously directed by Hunter Labbie. I was looking forward to helping our fraternity in any way possible and getting experience in putting together a prestigious philanthropy event the fraternity has established fit into that goal. At the same time, it would allow me to gain leadership skills that I could use for the rest of my life. What I did not know at the time is how many lives I was potentially going to impact by raising money towards the great cause of AHERO.



I learned that AHERO’s mission is to help men and women who have been wounded, injured or have suffered PTSD due to serving in the military find the support, activities and human connection they need to resist ending their lives by suicide. This made me realize why the tournament was so important to our Kappa Sigma fraternity. Hunter and I first met in April to plan the tournament, which was going to take place seven months from then. We began by getting a Facebook page up and putting together the sponsorship packet. From there, we went on to gather sponsors for the event and eventually to

put teams together of the people who wanted to participate. Plenty of them did. We ended up with 23 teams of very enthusiastic golfers! Fast forward to the tournament: After green’s fees, we were able to raise nearly $10,000 towards AHERO, while having a truly enjoyable and exciting tournament. And it's been a true honor for me to participate in helping to bring hope and the joy of living back into the lives of our great Veterans!

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Succeeding on the links. Closer ... closer ... YES!

The Tournament's army of golfers hits the course, ready to compete!

Making the it all happen-Kappa Sigma Fraternity Brothers (l-r) Hunter Labbie and Frankie Muldowney, organizers of the "Great Kappa Sigma Golf Tournament of 2021"

Master Chief Paul Slavin, USN (Ret)

Let the Master show you how.

Emma Robinson (L) and Kerri Hutchinson (R) arrivie in style. AHERO MAGAZINE

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Some people are just great golf watchers ... (but not players) ... Like Lee Stuckey.

Hunter Labbie addresses the ball.

Great form!

Yo! I could TOTALLY sink that ball in one peck! They ALL make VERY determined foursomes! 68 AHERO MAGAZINE


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Teaming up ...

Kappa Sigma brothers (left to right) Christian Lanuzo, Jamie Yanochik, Nelson Libbert, and Seth Edwards

Dressed for success!


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Celebrating – a great day on the links!

AHERO extends a huge THANK YOU to the Perdido Golf Club as well as General Manager Paul Slavin and Operations Manager Tony Cochran for their generous help and participation in the Tournament. And – once again – AHERO is enormously grateful for the tireless efforts of Kappa Sigma’s Golfing4AHERO event organizers Hunter Labbie and Frankie Muldowney and the brothers of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity for making this event the great success it always is!

Wait! Our foursome is ready to play! This club's the best!



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It was a beautiful day on the links – and all for the Veterans!

Kappa Sigma brothers Jacob Knox, Alex Najera, Cole Abel, Trey Campbell, David Clark, Rene Perez, Cody Dettman, Clayton Kittrell, Jamie Yanochik, Mason Mallory, Chance Hock, Reid Travis, Frankie Muldowney, and Hunter Schattie with AHERO Founder Major Lee Stuckey, USMC (Ret) at the fraternity’s 4th Annual Golf Tournament in support of AHERO.

Oh, the joy of sinking it perfectly!

Anybody tasty need a partner?

Smashing shot! AHERO MAGAZINE

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Veterans Suffering From Trauma Get 'New Leash on Life' With K-9s at Healing Paws* By Sierra Rains

NICEVILLE — Eight Veterans enduring the mental health consequences of military trauma were given a “new leash on life” following their recent graduation from the Healing Paws for Warriors program. With their dogs, they completed more than 130 hours in two months of training. Each dog was rescued from an area shelter. As certified service dogs, they will be helping their new owners cope with various traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and military sexual trauma (MST). “There are people out there carrying these silent, invisible wounds and these animals are making a huge impact on them,” said U.S. Air Force Veteran John Zimmermann, who serves on the organization’s board of directors. Founded in 2015 by Fort Walton Beach residents, the program’s executive director is Michael Arena, a USAF Veteran having served as a medic for more than 23 years. After numerous deployments, Arena was diagnosed with PTSD and TBI. He suffered mentally and physically for years, but after going through a program that paired him with his first service dog, Orion, he soon regained a smile. Orion was the face of Healing Paws for many years until retiring in 2020. According to a study conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs, 22 Veterans and active-duty service members take their own lives every day. Many feel shame about their struggles with mental health. “When they show up, they’re very introverted at first and then you can see maturation the more comfortable they get,” Zimmerman said. Veterans who qualify for the program go through a lengthy interview process before they are paired with a dog. Dogs that exhibit the potential to be trained and do the work 72 AHERO MAGAZINE


of a service dog are selected, most often with a particular Veteran in mind. “Mike pairs them up with the dogs according to their personalities,” Zimmerman said. The training, equipment, seminars, and initial veterinarian care are provided at no cost to Veterans, who continue training after graduating and are recertified once a year. “It can be astounding to see the difference the dogs make … how these people are able to go back into society and get jobs,” Zimmerman said. “With each class, I see some changes taking place. I see confidence growing and smiles on the faces of our graduates as they begin to hope for something better,” Arena said. “Now they have a partner by their side to assist them with challenges they face and celebrate their victories.” Arena's second canine partner, Ava, was by his side as he congratulated the new Healing Paws graduates. “The program has, as of today, changed the lives of more than 50 Veterans and dogs,” Arena said. “These service dogs are now rescuing our brothers and sisters. I know how these Veterans feel, as I have my own proof next to me.” The criteria for the program are military service after Sept. 11, 2001; a verifiable diagnosis of PTSD, TBI, and/or MST; an honorable discharge or current honorable service; a stable living environment with no substance abuse or conviction of any crime against animals; and having no more than two dogs at home. Veterans who meet the basic criteria for participation can apply online at

www.healingpawsforwarriors.org/apply *From: The NorthWest Florida Daily News Reprinted (condensed) with permission

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Graduation Day – an important moment in the lives of these welltrained rescue dogs and their happy Veterans!

Happiness is a brave U.S. Veteran on the day a beautiful service dog becomes her guardian friend!


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Jimmy vs Jim (Part 2) By Jeremy Clarke

The Summer 2021 issue of AHERO magazine carried an article I’d written I about the struggles our friend Jimmy Graham was having with, amongst other things, PTS, depression, and being separated from his “tribe.” But essentially it described the stranglehold that whisky had on his life. Hence: ‘“Jimmy Graham vs Jim Beam”. The issue was that around 0900 he’d start drinking. And his day just would go downhill from there. Every day. Lee Stuckey and AHERO decided to send him to Warrior’s Heart in Texas, one of the most successful rehab clinics in the US, and exclusively for Veterans and first responders. Run by warriors, for warriors. Thanks to the great folks there, and other big hearted and deep-pocketed organizations (The Independence Fund and Thin Blue Line and the VA), Jimmy’s very-expensive treatment there was not only paid for but it also … seemed to be working. The problem with “success stories” is that they’re a little like ducks on a lake. You usually only see what’s on the surface. Not the legs pounding away underneath. And as anyone who’s ever tried to kick hard drugs or hard liquor will tell you, it’s hard. The progress isn’t linear, nor constant. And it doesn’t easily fit into a Hollywood happy-ending narrative. It’s always messy, complicated. So Jimmy’s fight-back has not been without speedbumps. And, it has to be said, relations with AHERO became a little strained for a few weeks. IT WAS MY “MISSION” TO HELP JIMMY. AND I FAILED Today, as I write this, it is September 23, 2021. Exactly three months since we published the story’s Part 1. And it’s with some trepidation that I dial his number. To begin with, I can’t tell if he’s still drinking. I dare not ask. He’s not over-friendly. “Um … how’s Jim Beam, sir?” I ask, kinda dreading hearing the answer. In his gravelly voice he replies “Well, Jeremy, I don’t know who you mean. I haven’t seen that 74 AHERO MAGAZINE


piece of sh*t for five months, before Warriors Heart.” “You promise? Like – really promise?” “Jeremy, I swear on all that’s holy I haven’t touched a drop of that sh*t.” “Excellent, man! So how are you feeling?” I ask, with more enthusiasm. “I feel great! I’ve lost over 30 pounds. I’m eating well. I don’t eat crap anymore. I drink a ton of water. I’m walking a lot. I’m no longer on parole, no longer on probation. I have my sh*t together, got my driver’s license back. I’m planning fishing and hunting trips, I’m in contact with my son every day. Life is good, my friend.” Moreover, he reports, he’s healthier in other ways: For the first time in many years, he says he has almost no back pain (partly Doc Hodge, partly because he’s carrying around half-a-backpack less of weight). When he came down to Pensacola, we parked to go get some lunch at a restaurant that was maybe 60 yards from the parking lot. It took Jimmy maybe 5 minutes to walk 60 yards. He’d be double-up, wheezing, complaining of pain in his back and feet. Today, he says he walks a few miles a day. TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK The reality was that Jimmy had stopped drinking liquor, but he was still at the beer. In the morning. In addition, when he was last in Pensacola, he posted a picture of himself with a cocktail. My heart sank. I felt that we’d offered him all resources we could. I felt we given him all the time we could. And it wasn’t enough. He was back to drinking. Could I console myself that he was drinking less? Probably not. "Was he still a suicide risk?” I asked myself. Then I asked him.

Jimmy Graham on his quest for sobriety. Hang in there, Jimmy ... You look great!

He said, “Jeremy I’m fine.” And I did believe him. The saddening thing is that some of Jimmy’s actions and words drove a wedge between himself and AHERO. And that stuck in my craw. THE SILVER LINING But Jimmy had changed, at least a little. He told me that with his friend Tom from Austin, Texas, he’s part of an online group called “Warriors Unleashed.” And that instead of Jimmy getting the help, Jimmy’s giving the help. Making himself available to fellow Vets in need. Doing it around the clock. Although in all honesty, I do not see a totally different Jimmy, what I DO see is much more of the GOOD Jimmy.

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MCL/TEL 37th Semper Fi Charity Run for Children a Record-Setting Success! By COL Christopher E. “Caveman” Holzworth, USMC (Ret)

On a beautiful, crystal-clear fall day in Pensacola, Florida, just two days after the Veterans Day holiday, 2021, more than 400 runners and 1000 Marines gathered at Seville Quarter to participate in the 37th Marine Corps League (MCL)/Total Employment HR Staffing (TEL) Semper Fi 5K Charity Run for Children. The event was organized by Running Wild sporting goods, a running and fitness hub in Pensacola. Opening Ceremonies for the event featured Lawrence Powell representing the City of Pensacola; Santa Rosa County Commissioner James Caulkins; Nancy (Pittman) Tebell, the daughter of the late LtGen Charles “Chuck” Pittman USMC (Ret); and the Marine Aviation Training and Support Group (MATSG)-23 Color Guard.

Marines of MATSG-23 assemble and prepare for the 5K Run at Seville Square.

Col Karl Schwelm, USMC (Ret.), current Commandant of the Cpl J.R. Spears detachment of the Marine Corps League addresses the race participants along with Lawrence Powell, David Trombly, James Caulkins, Kitt Lough and Nancy Pitman Trebell, prior to the national anthem and the starting gun. AHERO MAGAZINE

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ALL IN 4AHERO Singer Kitt Lough led the group in the National Anthem. In honor of LtGen Pittman, the start of the race was called by his daughter, Nancy. With the two major Marine Corps commands of the Pensacola area, MATSG-21/23, running in formation, the event was a stirring and unforgettable effort to give back to the City of Pensacola and show appreciation for the area’s support and assistance to our military Veterans and activeduty members who train here to capture their warfare specialties and prepare for the Marine Corps operational forces. No less than 71 local businesses and organizations provided sponsorship donations for the event – which raised $51,000 for local Children’s charities/organizations! This is now the largest one-day donation the event has captured in its 37-year history. It comes as a fitting conclusion to this year’s race, which was a final tribute to LtGen Pittman, who passed away in February 2020 survived by a large, loving family and leaving a legacy of honor and selfless service to our nation. Planners and runners, l-r -Caveman, Ed Rouse, Karl Schwelm, Ken Morrow, Dave GLassman and Ben Sandoval, Dave Trombley, & Bob Rivera flanked by Marines.

They're off – flags high!

COL Christopher "Caveman" Holzworth on the run (for charity)!

Out to support the cause!

A participant (unidentified) paces himself.

Former U.S. Army 1LT Paul Epstein, OH-58 Kiowa, Scout Platoon Commander.

The VFW Makes a generous donation to the MCL/TEL /Childrens Charities.



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Col Christopher "Caveman" Holzworth, USMC (Ret.)

First to break through!

L-R: MGySgt Bob Rivera, USMC (Ret), Col Wayne Forbush, USMC (Ret), Donna Deaton-Byrd, New Horizons of Northwest Florida, Shirlandria Carter of the Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast, Col Karl Schwelm, USMC (Ret), Wayne Brown, owner of TEL Staffing, Karen Robinson, assistant principal at Escambia Westgate School, Bradley Sanders, Public Affairs for the Gulf Coast Kids House, Frank Lay of LEAD Academy, Col Chris “Caveman” Holzworth, USMC (Ret) AHERO MAGAZINE

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The importance and influence of music and song in our lives is something we instinctively understand as part of the human experience. Most of us just take it for granted the way we might a lifelong friend that really “gets” us. At many AHERO gatherings, in fact, the presence of guitars, keyboards, and amps is a given, as if these are regular attendees or beloved old buddies who can be expected to show up every time. Music4AHERO embraces the Operation Song model and provides opportunities for singer/songwriters to collaborate with Veterans, enabling an alternative approach to storytelling or facing traumatic experiences on the battlefield through lyrics and musicianship. Together, they are writing music that evokes the conditions, feelings, and outcomes they’ve endured over the years. Once complete, each song is later performed for participants at the event and, in some cases, is refined and recorded in studio for distribution. These meaningful, music-accompanied moments occur throughout AHERO’s calendar year. From the AHERO Orange Beach Warrior Hook-Up that takes place in May, to the Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up in August and this December’s Healing Our Veterans Through Music event, AHERO makes it a point to reaffirm the powerful partner that music is in helping those who have given and suffered so much to heal. Kevin Adair performs a song collaboratively written by all 4 musician participants revealing a story of compassion during combat. 78 AHERO MAGAZINE


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WINTER 2022 79


Col Mike Corrado, USMC (Ret) reviews the lyrics to "Choose Love" prior to performing live on stage at the Kick Back Ranch Music4AHERO event.



“Being able to participate in an AHERO event, I witnessed first-hand th eir holistic approach in assisting transition ing militar y ser vice members, woun ded warriors and Veterans. Through AHERO’s programs and resources, they are able to assist Veterans with individu al needs, be it job and vocational help or wellness programs. Exactly the type of pr ogram our Veterans need and deser ve .” ~ Colonel Mike Corrado, USM C (Ret) Ponchatoula High School MCJ ROTC, Ponchatoula, Louisiana

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate Lee and Dave contemplate the future of Music4AHERO and the partnering with other organizations, such as the Kick Back Ranch, to offer more healing opportunities through music.


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ALL IN 4AHERO ºCol Mike Corrado, USMC (Ret) performs a song off his CD "What You Work For" with American songwriter, Jeff Silvey, on Keyboards.



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WINTER 2022 83


An Unforgettable Night of Music at Kick Back Ranch & Event Center By Ira Verbois

I’m not sure if anyone was more excited about being at the new Kick Back Ranch and Event Center in Ramer, Ala., than I was, partly because it had been a very long two years since I had attended an AHERO function. As I arrived at the center, the first thing I noticed were two longhorn steer and a beautiful watermill cottage. A winding road lead me past two lakes and into the event center, where I found singer/songwriters Jeff Silvey, Mike Corrado, Kevin Adair, and Mike Marston putting the finishing touches on a song they had co-written for tonight’s event. I settled in as their guitars began, and the gentle riff of the piano chimed in. Adair started singing and Corrado came in with the chorus. I knew immediately that we were all in for a special night of entertainment from these accomplished performers.

As they finished the song, the two grinned at one another. They knew they had nailed it. People began arriving and I saw old faces that I had not seen in a few years. It felt good to be home. With food and drink in hand, everyone greeted one another – maybe seeing old friends but definitely (I thought) making new ones! Several of the campers from the Kick Back Ranch joined us at the festivities, and soon the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association was presenting retired Marine Major Lee Stuckey, AHERO’s founder, with a generous check for his organization. As night fell around us, the talent began taking their places and the crowd quieted. Kevin Adair kicked off the introductions and then one by one the artists sang songs, most of which they had written. There were powerful messages contained in them but there were some songs that were just fun to hear.

The Kick Back Ranch and the Ramer, Ala., community come out in support of AHERO. 84 AHERO MAGAZINE


During a break in the performances, Stuckey spoke of the AHERO mission and what the men and women it serves mean to him. He highlighted some of the recent projects AHERO was involved in for these Veterans, such as featuring a wildlands firefighting class in partnership with the non-profit organization, Tall Timbers, Inc. Ten Veterans interested in training as wildland firefighters attended and were able to become certified in that. The program really seems to have resonated with one young man who has had a hard time assimilating into civilian life after the Corps, but who apparently has found a new purpose in life serving as a wildland fire fighter. It was just another example of how AHERO thinks outside of the box to try and help struggling Vets who need it. Former Marine Dave Glassman gave a passionate speech

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate saying how the suicide rate among Veterans is not declining and how AHERO is committed to helping those Vets who have these tough issues. Afterward, Glassman brought everyone together for a group photo shoot, and the smiles, hugs and handshakes that went around really told me that tonight was a success already! With the performers back in place, Kevin Adair spoke to the crowd about how the song for this event was written. Earlier in the day, the song writers had spoken with Grady Bentley. He described how Grady had been manning a gate in Afghanistan when a grandmother crashed the gate with her approximately ten-year-old granddaughter seeking medical help for a serious burn. The child’s uncle had thrown scalding hot water on her. The troops manning the gate had to make a decision immediately. Do we open

fire? Or do we take the chance that this is not a suicide-bomb attack? The grandmother had been told by the Taliban not to trust the Americans because Americans are just killers and do not care about the people of Afghanistan. That night, thought, the U.S. service personnel manning the gate and the grandmother both chose love. So this became the point of Grady’s song: American fighting men and women will choose love if that option is on the table. We hear of the isolated negative incidents that occur far more than we do of the daily devotion to humanity that is woven into our service. Finally, the moment I was waiting for. You could feel the emotion in the air. We knew why we had come tonight. It was more than the friendships, hugs, and handshakes. It was because of the bond that we share. The willingness of AHERO and like-minded

organizations and people to reach out when someone in the community is down. To not only reach out, but to crawl into that hole with you until the morning light has come: that dawn of a new day in which you feel alive again … then day when you’ve found a place to fit in.

Writer/photographer Ira Verbois kindly captured the spirit of this Music4AHERO event in photos for the magazine.


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For Us, Hosting AHERO’s Veterans is About “Paying” a Precious Debt By Southwind Marina Chief Financial Officer Jeannette Prince

Here at the Marina, we’ve been asked: “Why get so involved when AHERO’s volunteers ask? What does AHERO mean to you?” It’s true that most of us at Southwind Marina, including deck hands, captains, mates and management staff, have never even served in the military. But that hasn’t prevented us from knowing that the men and women who have served our great nation have made America the strongest nation in the world, the one that every other country envies. Here, we have rights and privileges that few other countries’ citizens possess. We are able to live our lives free from issues that plague so many less fortunate peoples of the world. We have these freedoms because we have friends, neighbors, ancestors and literally millions of other people we’ve never even known who, recently and throughout our history, have been willing to risk their lives to ensure and protect what is ours to enjoy. They were and are the men and women who unselfishly have deployed to places we’ve often never even heard of to safeguard our principles and families from the horrors that exist in other corners of the world.

THESE ARE OUR HEROES Some never return, having made the ultimate sacrifice. Others do come home but with their lives shattered by physical or mental-health issues, or both. That community of individuals is our community. The support they require to survive and thrive is and should be ours to give. At Southwind Marina, we feel strongly that these Veterans are owed the support they have earned. They have selflessly put their minds and bodies in harm’s way to keep America free. Two years ago, at the Pensacola Beach AHERO Warrior Hook-Up event, a participating Veteran came up to me to offer his sincerest thanks to us for sponsoring the event. I had tears in my eyes when I said why thank me? I should be thanking you! Now, two years later, I still consider supporting our Veteran community to be the most important thing we can do to express our thanks for what they have done for us. OUR REWARD I’ve tried to express my feelings many times to the Vets who enjoy the events we host. “It allows us to thank you,” I tell them. But it’s the

smiles and expressions on the faces of these men and women that you feel will live with you forever. It’s seeing that they know you are giving back and that you know they have sacrificed on our country’s behalf. We at Southwind Marina have made a commitment to AHERO to support our Veterans however and whenever we can. We have all heard the statement that FREEDOM IS NOT FREE, so here they are: the individuals who, with their fellow warriors, have paid that price. It is our honor and privilege to show them our gratitude for that by “paying back.” This year we opted to cook the fish that was caught by and/or for these Veterans. This is such an enjoyable thing to be able to do! So it’s now a goal at Southwind Marina to get the rest of the greater Pensacola area behind AHERO for everything its all-volunteer staff members do for the Veterans they bring to AHERO’s events. The smiles offered by each guest Veteran make us feel part of AHERO’s community. That means so much. And we love every one of you in the community who participate, support, and volunteer to make this event happen so beautifully every year!

Southwind - Set for AHERO's 10th Annual Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up Weekend. 86 AHERO MAGAZINE


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Southwind Marina owner, Bill Woulfin, thanks yet another Veteran for his service ... PJ Imhoff, USN.

Southwind’s CFO Jeanette Prince enjoys some British humor from AHERO’s own Jeremy Clarke.

AHERO's Busiest Summer Weekend!


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Friday on the Water, August ’21:

They Came, They Fished,

They Connected!

Dawn pearls the sky and, sure enough, there they are, the cast of this summer’s AHERO Veterans gathering for breakfast at Surf & Sand Hotel. Getting acquainted as they take a seat, chase any remaining sleep out of their heads with steaming coffee and choice grub, and talk of what-all is out there, waiting to give fight on the line. Some are happy to say they know these waters. They know the catch is bound to be great today. Others are new to the scene, tentative but ready to do what they never

have done but always wanted to do: spend a day deep-sea fishing. A number are set to apply their expertise learned elsewhere. But all have known something of life’s “other side” – something about the depth of despair, the physical and/or psychic pain that often seems a bitter reward for having answered the call of their beloved country. Still, none talk about it on this hopeful morning. Then it’s time. The boats are ready, the gear prepped and primed to be taken up. Incredibly, it all comes compliments of some hugely

generous boat owners, captains and seasoned crew members whose “gifts” of their vessels and time are what continue to make AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up Weekend the amazing success it is each year. There’s a rippling stretch of grayish-blue sea rolling out to where it meets the morning sky. Engines engaged, the boats cast off and our heroes head out to meet this summer’s enthusiastic AHERO moment of truth: fishing the Gulf to bring back Saturday night’s dinner!

The crew of the A-Squared arrives to take our AHERO Veterans out for a day of fishing the Gulf of Mexico. L-R are Maj Craig Nygaard, USMC, 1stLt William Young, USMC, GySgt Zac Stevens, USMC, Pastor Shawn York, Col Ken Biland, US Army, A-Squared Capt Andy Arnold, and Nick Cardenas. 88 AHERO MAGAZINE


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L to R: Joshua Hartley with his Blackfin Tuna, Kolby Odom, Ken Odom, Bruce Geairn holding his King Mackeral & John Odom - kneeling displaying his Cubera Snapper. 90 AHERO MAGAZINE


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TOP: Breathe Easy Captain Patrick Ivey, AHERO Founder Lee Stuckey MIDDLE: Al Stuckey, Rick Olson, Ryan Reeder, Doug King, Corey Hurst, Case Brundags BOTTOM: David Johnston, Billy Shreiner, Grady Bentley, Breathe Easy Owner Matt McDonald, Dontralisa Jones, Tamar Doull

L to R: Christy Peterson McCluskey, Alaina Denise Guerry, Capt Douglas Pacitti, Natalie Sayles, George Gagnon, Rob Libby celebrate the catch on board the 6-Shooter. AHERO MAGAZINE

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L to R: Christy Peterson McCluskey, Alaina Denise Guerry, Capt Douglas Pacitti, Natalie Sayles, George Gagnon, Rob Libby celebrate the catch on board the 6-Shooter.

L to R: Skip Theisen, Jason Stephens, David Stephens, Vision Quest owner Jason Perry, David Norrell 92 AHERO MAGAZINE


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L to R: Lorenzo Arballo, Forrest Holt, Deep Thrills Captain Bryan Hopkins

Where Fish

are caught

- the


catch is cooked

are Made

- Friendships

- heroes

are Forged

are honored

SouthwindMarina.coM 850.492.0333


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Yoga on the Beach – Part of the Warrior Hook-up Experience In sessions throughout the weekend, limber and/or very determined AHERO guest Veterans and volunteers gather to follow the stretches, lunges and pretzel bends of AHERO’s own Yoga King – the inimitable Col Doug King, USMC (Ret), that is. A stern taskmaster (in true Marine tradition), King takes his subjects through balance-and-muscle-challenging moves

calculated to energize the body while focusing the mind and soothing the soul. Participants come away with a sense of accomplishment and hopefully a better understanding of how movement, stillness, and mindfulness interconnect. Two venues lend themselves to this valuable new AHERO tradition: On Thursday afternoon, it’s at Ryan Blackwell’s Well Trained

Appropriately, the Colonel leads his warriors ... in the "warrior 2" pose. 94 AHERO MAGAZINE


Gym in Gulf Breeze, and on Saturday and Sunday mornings, it’s at the Casino Beach Pavilion on Pensacola Beach. A no-pressure invitation is extended to all Warrior Hook-Up attendees, and reports have it that the colonel’s participants appreciate the opportunity to learn or recapture the pleasure of “doing yoga”!

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"Cool, yeah. It's a great view. So ... Yoga and mindfulness for my soul now, pizza later for my belly."

"Col Doug King, USMC (Ret) and Chantal Roy lead the AHERO gang of Veterans and volunteers on a Pensacola Beach mindful resilience & yoga session.

Hey, Glassman! Are you about to expire or are you just blushing 'cause you're showing off??

"Now ... just hold that pose for another five minutes ...

Want to get limber? Reach for your toes!

Yoga Instructor Chantal Roy achieves the impossible! AHERO MAGAZINE

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Saturday Night at the Elks Club:

Gathering to Remember, Pray, Laugh …

and Eat Fish!

Completing the traditions that run strong and true at each August Warrior Hook-Up are the Saturday Night Elks Club Dinner and Sunday Worship to say “So long for now” to AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up guest Veterans. On Saturday night, the very generous members of Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge #497 extend the hospitality of their lodge to AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up guest Veterans. There in the beautiful Elks lounge and dining hall, all enjoy a delicious dinner featuring some of the day’s catch.

As is the custom, members of AHERO’s leadership speak proudly and sincerely in those moments of the history, meaning, and purpose of this organization. The camera often seems to catch at least one tearing-up speaker or listener sitting at the tables. At that time, too, one or another guest will come to the microphone and bravely speak of their own riveting and deeply moving experiences in and out of the service, and the extraordinary brothers-and-sisters-in-arms they met along the way. Read Veteran Grady Bentley’s story here. Just as the AHERO

Participating Veterans Gather at AHERO's August 2021 Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up. 96 AHERO MAGAZINE


speakers had done, they turn on the light of hope, telling about finding kinship and comfort with fellow Veterans and the volunteers of AHERO, and about getting back onto the good path of truly living life. Sunday morning following the Elks Dinner is a time for those who wish to, to meet and give thanks at Sunday worship. Then all are off to drive or fly home, bringing new sources of strength with them … from new friends found in the fellow Veterans they can now reach out to, to old ones forever remembered.

AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate

The images we keep with us …

The music that tells our stories. AHERO MAGAZINE

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ALL IN 4AHERO L to R: George Hirst, Haleigh Tuller, Cheryl Tuller, Dustin Tuller, Scott Bunch, Zach Tuller, Katherine Tuller, Lexi Tuller share fishing stories from the day prior.

L to R: Veterans Isaac Brand, Natalie Sayles, Billy Schreiner, Grady Bentley, David Norrell, & Dontralisa Jones enjoy the Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge Testimonial Dinner event.

Eva Keck and retired U.S. Army Col Ken Biland (Ret)

Dan Smith and Sandy Milburn present a greatful Lee Stuckey with checks for AHERO from the Elks National Foundation ($2,000) and the Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge #497 ($1,000) to help AHERO pay for the airline transportation, lodging, and meals for the participating Veterans.



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How My Song “Choose Love” Chose Me By Staff Sgt. Grady L. Bentley, U.S. Army (Ret)

When Mr. Lee (Stuckey) asked me would I like to share some events that happened in my military career during AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up dinner at the Elks Lodge, I was like, “Sir, I really did not do anything special like save or rescue anyone. I mostly just did not want to die in a foreign country.” Still, I searched my memory and scrolled through my Facebook feed, looking for events that really did change who I was as a person and as a solider. Only one or two events stood out. The first one was why I joined the military in the first place; the second was something that happened in the military that made me look at life differently. Then, when the songwriters got together at the Kick Back Ranch Music 4AHERO event this fall to help me write my song, naming it “Choose Love,” they really captured why I joined the Army and some of the experiences that would shape who I am still in the process of becoming today. GROWING UP INSPIRED BY HONOR Like so many people from Alabama, I grew up in a small town. In our family, we didn’t have much but we did have a few great men who led by example. My daddy, grandfather, uncle, and other men in my life had all been in the U.S. military, and they told their stories to me while I was growing up. At the time, I didn’t quite realize that their stories were only part of what the military would offer me. But I knew that they were proud of what they were able to accomplish, and I wanted to feel that way as well. At first, I wanted to be an Alabama state trooper, but I was too young to attend the academy, so I thought, well, I can become a sheriff ’s deputy, it’s pretty much the same thing. But again I heard that “you are too young” thing. Then they told me, “You could work at the county jail until you turn twentyone, then then apply to become a deputy.” I thought, nope, not going to do that. But as time went on, I started going down the wrong

Grady Bentley tells his powerful story to a rapt Elks Dinner Warrior Hook-Up audience.

We were there to fight. But … I saw she needed help

After telling his moving story about helping an Afghan woman with her horribly abused granddaughter, Grady Bentley explained in an interview why he chose to trust her. "I knew she could have been coming at us with an I.E.D. instead of what looked like maybe a baby. And we were there to fight. But, you know, we were also there to win hearts and minds, and we had gotten to know the people – their customs and lingo and all. And I saw she needed help.” path, getting speeding tickets and just getting into trouble. I knew I needed to leave my small town as soon as possible if I wanted to change direction. One night at home I was watching some MASH reruns on tv, when that Army ad came on with its song, “Be all that you can be in the Army!” The very next day I was at the Army recruiting office ready to be all that I could be. I looked over at one wall where there was this poster of a military police officer, an MP. I told my recruiter, Okay, that’s what I want to do to – become a U.S. Army police officer.”

That was March 2000. It took time and training, but I became that military police officer in August 2002. THE REST IS HISTORY, AS THEY SAY Fast forward to 2003. I have just been deployed as a handler with a military working dog team (MWD) to go to Afghanistan to Bagram Airfield. My dog is called Britt, and for two months we work at the airfield doing checks on baggage and trucks coming in. Then we got tasked to go out as a MWD team on a Special Forces mission to Jalalabad AHERO MAGAZINE

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ALL IN 4AHERO just inside the Pakistani border. I was like, "Yes! I am leaving this fobbit crap to go see some real action! Grow my beard out like the Special Forces guys and find some weapons of mass destruction and maybe Osama Bin Laden!" So, when my dog Britt and I arrive and meet our new team in the middle of the night, we are all ready to go. After a couple of those missions (no luck finding old Osama), our time is up. But on the last night, I decide to work the ECP – the entrance control point. Two hours into our shift, around 0200, I hear this loud and bone-ache of a scream. An older woman is running this way. She has a child with her and something in her arms. It looks like it could be a baby. But is this a trick she’s working? Does she really have a baby in her arms? It could be a bomb! Then I see the little girl – she looks hurt. They’re coming toward me. So now the only thing I can think of is: Why would this lady trust an American soldier with her grandbabies? Is it a trick? But why me, out of all the others standing to with assault weapons pointed at her and the baby?

And I’m thinking, why is she coming to us at all? When the enemy finds out about this, she’ll be killed! CHOOSING THE RISK. CHOOSING LOVE. Then we come to realize that this is the lady who sometimes brings us water and snacks as we’re out on patrol. She pushes the little girl to me, puts the baby in my arms. We learn the girl has been burned and beaten and raped by her own uncle, the lady’s son. We are furious. We want revenge! Because who would do such things to their niece – their mother’s grandchild? I did not go out on a mission that night. Instead, I was able to stay in the medical bay with that little girl and her grandmother, all the while thinking about my own daughter that I had by now, back home. My Amber. The more I thought about all of this, the more the rage just grew and grew inside me! Then – it seemed like out of nowhere – a small hand took my hand that had formed into a fist and held it tight. It was the hand of a mother. She was looking me straight in the eyes and saying, “Thank you.” She reached

out and patted the American flag on my right shoulder and said, “Americans.” I’ve never felt so much anger and still such peace in one night. I knew right then what we were there fighting for, and that the blood that had been shed in that country was not in shed in vain. This experience plays over in my head every day. Why would this woman trust the lives of her granddaughters and her own life to an American solider? And this is the part I cannot figure out: There were five other well-trained soldiers out there that night. Why did she give the safety of her granddaughters – her legacy – to a small-town country boy from Alabama? I’ve got no answer to that. But I guess God blesses fools, too.

I Will Treat You Like Our Lives Depend Upon It. They Do. Living Waters Regenerative Medicine Center

Deborah D. Viglione, MD


Despite her elegant exterior, Dr. Viglione is indeed a lion underneath. USAF Maj. (Fmr) Deb Viglione not only fights for her patients but campaigns tirelessly to bring internationally renowned doctors to Pensacola to share their knowledge. And she brings common sense and courage to the table. She dispenses not only scripts, but valuable knowledge drawn from years of research utilizing leading edge modalities. “Dr. V” possesses a sense of care and responsibility for her patients, and will bravely go out on a limb, sometimes risking her own reputation and license, to get her clients and community the best care. Dr. V has been a friend of AHERO for many years - and has been the favored physician for our Veterans during this pandemic. She provides a 360o holistic approach to health and wellness. BUT MORE THAN ANYTHING, THIS IS ONE DOCTOR WHO REALLY CARES!

To schedule an appointment: ViglioneMD.com or 850.934.8138 100 AHERO MAGAZINE


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Titan FC and AHERO Bring Gold Star Parents of Jason Barfield to Fight Night By Coby Weinsier

Titan FC and AHERO have been philanthropic partners for nearly eight years now. AHERO's main goal is to connect Veterans with patriotic citizens of the community and help prevent Veteran suicide. Titan FC and AHERO have collaborated on countless occasions to provide opportunities for Veterans to gain support from members of the community, introduce them to tasks and resources benefiting their quality of life and improving their mental state. Titan FC COO and AHERO board of director’s member, Lex McMahon, holds this partnership close to heart being a Veteran and having gone through struggles himself. McMahon knew this was an organization that he and the Titan FC family had to work with right from the jump, and it has been beyond successful since the beginning. Over the last seven years, Titan FC has invited members of the AHERO organization to events, promoted the non-profit organization on the canvas of the cage and included it in promotional graphics on the UFC Fight Pass broadcast. This past summer, Titan FC hosted one of AHERO’s Gold Star families. Ray and Kelly Barfield sat cage side at Titan FC 70, on July 2nd, as their late son Jason was honored. “Having the Barfield’s, a Gold Star family, in attendance at one of our events was both humbling and rewarding as we were able to honor their son, Jason, and his ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation,” said McMahon. “We embraced Ray and Kelly and helped them celebrate their anniversary.” Numerous AHERO members have made their way to Titan FC events. The organization, along with Lex McMahon, continues to provide every resource possible for them to come take part in attending one of the best MMA shows on the planet. As AHERO's goal is to serve every Veteran possible, it’s safe to say the same can be said for Titan FC. The appreciation is mutual as AHERO Founder and CEO, Lee Stuckey, and AHERO Vice President, Dave Glassman, speak

extremely highly of Titan FC and its team. Glassman, who has served as AHERO’s vice president since the organization was brought to life in 2009, expressed how its members are attracted to martial arts and how the partners work hand-in-hand. “So many of our participating Veterans identify with physical types of activity, sports or conditioning-based exercises such as martial arts,” he explained. “Titan FC has been at the forefront of producing quality pro fighters and hosting world-class competitive events that include the sponsorship of AHERO Veterans in attendance.” The mutual support between the Titan FC and AHERO does not go unnoticed. As well as plenty of AHERO Veterans, Lee Stuckey has been to several of the promotions fight cards and is always a pleasure to be around. Stuckey and Glassman continue to show that they greatly value the partnership. “Titan FC’s support for our warrior class has elevated AHERO’s reputation,” they said. “It also has brought national exposure and recognition to AHERO for the effective programming and support that we offer to our nation’s wounded and injured Veterans.”

A huge part of the Titan FC and AHERO tag team is to spread awareness and shine light on Veteran-suicide prevention. It is beyond a tragedy that about 22 Veterans commit suicide every day. One of AHERO's goals is to help lessen that number and even eliminate such suicides one day. As a nonprofit organization looking to assist Veterans going through tough times, AHERO provides tons of resources to benefit its members. From fishing and hunting to music and hiking, AHERO offers tons of opportunities to these individuals. The nonprofit organization's staff is made up of all volunteers, many if not most of them Veterans. “The AHERO mission of preventing Veteran suicide resonates with me personally as I’ve been in that dark place, where taking my own life seems like a better option than living,” said McMahon. “I’m thankful to my partner Jeff Aronson and his wife Carolyn for helping me support AHERO’s mission by leveraging the global reach of Titan FC and UFC Fight Pass.”

On hand for the evening's event were (l-r) Ray and Kelli Barfield, former champion Urijah Faber, and Maj Lee Stuckey, USMC.


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Here at The War Horse Project in Milton, Fall and Winter are Upon Us! A note from the colonel …

ies of events, with several ser a d ste ho We P. WH the for r me sum It was a busy ines and handlers alike. “horses in the bay ” events beloved by equ ificent Freedom Quest 9/11, gn ma the s!) rse ho the ith (w ed end att o We als h a trafficking-awareness wit ng alo nt, eve nce bra em rem r yea 20Pensacola’s a Veteran suicide-awareness event event at Pensacola Harley Davidson, and in Navarre. D.C. for the Army AUSA , ton ng shi Wa to nt we t jec Pro rse Ho r Plus, the Wa conference to raise awareness. ns that hit Florida this season, rai vy hea the n bee has ge llen cha t ges Our big blematic water drainage. pro and as are ny ma in ing od flo ty per causing pro s to work with the county on the Much of our focus during this time wa ent to bear on drainage excavating, ipm equ ted ren ng bri to as ll we as m, ble pro nagement. We also added a ma d lan and ion uct str con t ver cul l, ova tree rem here are ver y popular! chicken coop – our chickens and ducks e completed the feed barn … and hav we rk, wo d har of r yea a ost alm er Aft a paint job now and a great logo is ds nee it All . ials ter ma ed laim rec m all fro to say who we are. and group activities that end with nts eve g atin icip ant are we rd, wa for ing Go d. a warming campfire and smiles all aroun farm. So we are ALWAYS looking The action and work never ends here at the willing to host or lead an event for for volunteers and individuals or groups involve all who are interested. can t tha t jec pro a or en, ldr chi or ans Veter ches, or sponsor an animal ben uct str con or ils, tra ar cle or , den gar a Come add know. Donations and enthusiastic right here that you can visit and get to gely appreciated. group projects are needed and always hu Join the Herd! Best,

Sean Hollenbeck



AHERO Needs You! - AHEROUSA.org/donate

Come join the herd! A place to feel love ...

and experience moments almost holy ... giving gifts ...

and receiving smiles in return.

A place where your breath might suddenly catch in your throat … as you watch power-and-beauty-in-motion thundering by.

A place to show up ready to give help ... and receive looks of welcome ... as you get to work ...

with a smile on your face and determination in your eyes …

so that when it's all done, you can take a picture of a new friend ... and celebrate the Season of Joy and a job well done together in the Florida sun! AHERO MAGAZINE

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ALL IN 4AHERO “Life is but a series of memories seen through our own individual lens and either discarded or captured and treasured. Stacey brings the essence of the moment to AHERO Magazine.” ~ Team AHERO

Sean & Gypsy

A Gift to AHERO Called Stacey By Connie Conway

In all my years as a freelance writer and editor, I’ve met many a hardworking person who has balanced any number of home and regular job duties daily just trying to find a bit of time for their writing, photography, music or other art “sideline.” Most often, these are no “sideline” endeavors at all for them; they are who and what they are: artists, pure and simple. And of those that I have known and/or have collaborated with professionally, none has been more hardworking than Stacey Bruntlett Paden, our AHERO photographer. Excellence will always let itself be known. The images Stacey has captured from the time she first delivered her work to us for the magazine have never failed to evoke emotions and illustrate stories eloquently the way only the best photography can. Her artist’s eye is 104 AHERO MAGAZINE


something that I believe she was born with, although she was relatively new to the camera when we met. Now a freelance photographer, Stacey continues to volunteer her work to the magazine. Sometimes it’s capturing the grace, power, and gentle warmth of our friends the equines at Sean Hollenbeck’s Warhorse Project farm. Other times, it’s evoking the love of country we all feel when we see the expressions on the faces of our Veterans pictured in ceremonies at the Park or our warrior-writers who tell their difficult stories on our pages. Stacey’s photos go to the heart of what matters. Working closely with us, the writers and editors of AHERO Magazine, she always finds time to help even through the harrying press of our deadlines (and her own). She seems invariably to do this with love, in spite of her

overloaded days as a single mom of two with a new house, a couple of dogs, and a regular job, who also goes to school – all while developing her photography business and doing the exacting job of curating her work. In short, Stacey Bruntlett Paden is a most amazing woman: a loving mother, fine photographer, true patriot, and friend. And a co-worker who makes our work look considerably better than it would without her! Thought you might like to know.


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Welcome 2022! Here's to a Happy & Healthy New Year! From AHERO Magazine to Our Heroes One & All! AHERO MAGAZINE

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We Only Do...


Community is at the core of what we do! Connecting families to homes and creating neighborhoods provides our daily inspiration.

Born and raised in Pensacola, we're kinda big on Real. Real people, Real listings, Real offers, Real deals. Eric and Angie Hansen

We work tirelessly with our partner agencies, such as Keller Williams and HomeFi Mortgage, to create the best real estate purchase opportunities for our clients.

The Hansen Team recognizes the immense contributions and sacrifices made by our military and Veteran members of the Florida/Alabama gulf coast community.

Bryon Stone HomeFi CEO

Patrick Walker HomeFi VP Sales

We stand with AHERO, committed to providing opportunities for our combat wounded and injured service members and Veterans to come together, share experiences, and build relationships that lead to healing.

The Hansen Team, Homefi Mortgage, and Keller Williams Gulf Coast are proud to support Liberty Sertoma's mission to improve the quality of life, through education and support, for those at risk or impacted by hearing loss within our community. Sertoma's ongoing projects further freedom and democracy, local youth, and many other communitybased needs as determined by each individual club.




www.AWKOLAW.com 844.794.7402 17 East Main Street, Suite 200 • Pensacola, FL 32502

We Salute Our Military Staff

The attorneys and staff at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz are proud to recognize the military servicemembers, veterans, and spouses working at our firm. We thank them for their service to our country and are honored to work alongside them as they continue their fight for justice.

Did you use the 3M Yellow & Olive/Black DualEnded Combat Arms Ear Plugs? Did you serve in the military between 2003 and 2015 and have been diagnosed with ringing in your ears (tinnitus) and/or hearing loss?