World War II Veteran Freezes To Death In His Home

January 29, 2009

When I first read this story after being sent a link to the story by Haole Wahine, I had many emotions going through me. Feelings of shock, frustration and extreme anger to name a few. Anger that the health and welfare of one of our veterans was less important to a power company, than the ‘almight dollar.’ Outrage that the power company would even think about putting the lives of people at risk in temperatures, like the ones being experienced in Michigan right now.

Marvin Schur, center, stands with his nephews Gerald Walworth, left, and William Walworth in this photo taken in Pompano Beach, Florida

Marvin Schur, center, stands with his nephews Gerald Walworth, left, and William Walworth in this photo taken in Pompano Beach, Florida


On January 17th, 93 year old World War II Veteran Marvin Schur was found dead in his home in Bay City, Michigan by his neighbors. His death was caused by hypothermia. A few weeks before, the utility company notified Schur that his power could be shut off, because he was more than $1,000 behind on his utility payments. On January 13th, just 4 days before he was found dead in his home, the utility company had installed a ‘limiter’ at his home and left a notice on his door. The limiter device was set to shut off Schur’s electricity when usage surpassed a pre-programmed amount. The week that Schur died, saw frigid temperatures with nights dipping down well below zero each night. According to the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Schur, he died a ’slow, painful death’ as the temperatures in his home fell below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.2

“Now that I know it was hypothermia, there’s a whole bunch of feelings that I’ve got going through me,” Jim Herndon, a neighbor of Schur’s said. “There’s anger, for the city and the electrical company.”3

In many states, where the temperatures often reach below freezing during the winter months, laws are in place to protect people in this type of situation, due to the severely low temperatures that often occur. Apparently that isn’t the case in Michigan. According to the neighbors that found Schur’s body, on his kitchen table was a utility bill with a large amount of money attached to it. Evidence that his intention was to make a payment on his bill.

The week that Schur died, the temperatures in nearby Saginaw, Michigan was 23 degrees for a high and a low of minus 4 degrees, on January 13. For the next three days, the temperatures dipped even lower, dropping to as low as minus 10 on the 14th. According to the neighbors who found Mr. Schur’s body, the furnace in his home was not running and the insides of the windows were covered with ice.

The outrage and anger directed towards the power company, since the details of Schur’s death has been made public, has been swift and harsh, as well it should be. Since Schur’s death, the power company, Bay City Electric Light and Power has removed around 60 limiters from homes that it had installed on homes, because of late payments.

“It has never been our intention to put anyone at risk,” Phil Newton, the electric department director said. He further stated that in 28 years of working in the electric utility field that he’d never experienced a situation like Schur’s case. He further went on to say that his staff is doing a lot of soul searching and asking themselves if this situation could have been avoided.4

This situation should have never happened. I realize that utility companies aren’t in the business of providing charity, but give me a break! This happened in the middle of the winter, in sub-zero temperatures and the victim was a 93 year old man who was living off of his retirement. This man was a veteran. Is this what our veteran’s have to look forward to? I certainly hope not!

Since this incident occurred, the Bay City Electric Light and Power company is re-evaluating how they handle situations such as Schur’s. They are reviewing Schur’s particular case and how it was handled and determining what procedures should be changed. Unfortunately for Mr. Schur, their actions are too little, too late. Not only was this man 93 years old, but he was a proud veteran of World War II, who earned a Purple Heart during his time in the Army as a medic.

“I am just livid over this,” said Jerome Anderson, 55, who lives across the street from Schur. “It’s unconscionable that something like this could happen.”5

Family members, after learning the cause of Schur’s death were shocked and outraged as well. It’s a given that the elderly and the very young are at an even greater risk of hypothermia, after even after exposure to even a small drop in temperature. As I stated earlier, most states have regulations in place to protect the elderly and the very young in these instances and many prohibit the cutting off of power during times of extremely low temperatures. I hope, with this tragedy that city and state officials in Michigan will take a strong look at what their lack of even the slightest human empathy has caused. John Sellek , a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the office was reviewing the circumstances of Schur’s death.6 I hope that the city and power company are held accountable for the death of Mr. Schur. In my opinion, it’s the only course of action and they should be held accountable.

Marvin E. Schur, 93 year old World War II Veteran was laid to rest on Wednesday. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders flanked the entrance of the Bay City Funeral Home, to pay their respects to this fallen hero.

Rest in peace Mr. Schur and thank you very much for your selfless service to our country.

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The Army’s Approach To Sexual Assault Response & Prevention

January 28, 2009

One of the most under reported crimes in the United States and most likely the entire world is sexual assault. Sexual Assault is also one of the most horrendous crimes to be committed against a person and one that can have lasting and devastating effects on it’s victim, and often their family members and friends as well. This holds true in the military as well as the civilian world. On Monday, a Blogger’s Roundtable was held to announce some of the initiatives the Army is aggressively putting out there, to combat and hopefully reduce or eradicate the crime of sexual assault amongst its ranks. I’ll explain some of the new initiatives that the Army is doing to combat this horrific crime amongst it’s ranks. Victims of Sexual Assault often don’t report the crimes, for many reasons. Those reasons include but aren’t limited to, fear of reprisal from their attacker, fear of not being believed, the fear of having to relive the crime during the investigation and in court, etc. The list could go on and on. In the military, just like in the civilian sector, victims of sexual assault often don’t report these crimes committed against them. The statistics in the Army alone are staggering. In the years since 9/11/2001, 1,800 Soldiers have been punished for sexually assaulting their fellow Soldiers. That’s only the ones who were punished. That number doesn’t include those crimes where they may have not been enough evidence to prosecute, or those crimes that weren’t reported.

These are numbers that I know well, as my job involves working with victims of Sexual Assault as well as victims of Domestic Violence. Those numbers, as high as they may seem, are just the tip of the ice berg. I can say with absolute certainty, that many more sexual assaults occur in the military and in the civilian sector. Crimes that are never reported to authorities. That means that there are many victims out there, who are suffering in silence unnecessarily.

What do we generally think of when we hear the words sexual assault? I’ve asked that question of people many times and almost unanimously they say that when they hear those words, they picture a evil looking stranger breaking into a home or approaching a woman on the street, and forcibly raping her. Unfortunately, movies and television play a huge part in our perception of what we think of when we hear the words sexual assault. While there are sexual predators out there, who commit that type of sexual assault, that’s by far the minority of crimes that are reported. Instead, in a large majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone that the victim knows. Often it’s someone that they believed they could trust.

On Monday, I participated in a media roundtable event via teleconference, in which Army Secretary Pete Geren, Carolyn Collins program manager of the Army’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, Brig. Gen Rodney Johnson, the provost marshal general of the Army and Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army’s deputy chief of staff and Lt. Gen Black of the Army’s Judge Advocate General talked to the media about what the Army is doing to combat and hopefully eradicate this horrific crime amongst it’s ranks.

Secretary Geren announced that he has approved the addition of legal personnel to help combat sexual assault amongst the ranks, a crime which he deems is “repugnant to the core values of the Army. In the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, 15 new prosecutors will be hired and a dozen or so trainers who have experience in prosecution or sexual assault litigation experience in one of many attempts to more effectively prosecute sexual assault and harassment in the Army.

“Since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve had 1,800 Soldiers that have been punished for sexually assaulting a fellow Soldier,” Geren said. “Soldier-on-Soldier violence, blue-on-blue — sexual assault is a crime everywhere, but in the Army it is a crime that is more than just a crime against the victim. In the Army it is a crime against the core values that bind our Army together.”1

The new positions in the JAG corps will be filled from within the JAG corps by prosecutors who have proven themselves as especially effective prosecutors and those who also have experience prosecuting sexual assault. They will focus exclusively on sexual assault cases as well as on training the rest of the prosecutorial and defense staff on this type of criminal case. Each person chosen for these positions will have experience in prosecuting sexual assaults and they will have received specialized training as well. Each person picked for these positions will serve in that capacity for a minimum of 3 years. Many will be focused on the larger military installations, such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Hood, Texas, where there are large concentrations of Soldiers. For example, at Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the Armed Forces, there are approximately 53,000 Soldiers stationed there.

Other measures that the Army is putting into place, are the hiring of an additional 30 special investigators for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. These 30 new agents will be assigned at 22 of the Army’s largest installations. Their primary focus will be to assist the Army’s CID agents in investigating the crime of sexual assault. According to Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson, those new agents would provide insight into how civilian juries look at sexual assault cases and what kinds of evidence is needed to successfully prosecute a sexual assault crime. Those investigators would also be able to look at statistical data to identify sexual predators, as well as to get information on victim behaviors to aid in the investigative process. There will also be 7 highly qualified experts coming on board to assist in training and provide other assistance to the CID investigators.

“We at CID already have highly skilled agents investigating these crimes,” Johnson said. “But bringing the civilian expertise onboard will simply be a valuable tool to glean insight and a fresh perspective in many areas. Our special agents and supervisors will be working shoulder to shoulder with those highly qualified experts on our most challenging and complex cases.”2

Mrs. Collins mentioned a pilot program that the Army has started, where improvisational actors from Catharsis Productions are brought in to provide training. This new approach is called “Sex Signals.” The two pilot sites were Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Bragg, N.C. Each production lasts about 90 minutes, during which time the actors will act out various “dating’ type scenarios. The audience is very involved in the interactive training and walk away with a much different view on what may or may not be considered sexual assault. The production was so effective at Fort Hood, that the Fort Hood and III Corps Commander, Lt. Gen Rick Lynch has arranged for actors to come to Fort Hood each week to present the program to incoming Soldiers at Fort Hood. The program addresses different situations that a person might become involved in while dating and how it can easily turn from a consensual encounter to one of sexual assault. To further increase awareness about the problem of sexual assault in the Army, commanders will be receiving sexual assault prevention kits. Those kits are composed of DVDs, posters and other relevant information that can be distributed to their Soldiers.

With all of the new initiatives that are forthcoming, it’s hoped that sexual assault in the Army will dramatically decrease and eventually be totally eliminated. While that may seem like lofty and unreachable goals, it tells me that the Army is very serious about doing everything possible to eradicate this horrific crime from within its ranks. I’m excited about how proactive the Army is being when it comes to Sexual Assaults and my hope is that the other branches of the military will also be as proactive.

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Taking The Classroom To The Student

January 27, 2009

When a Soldier deploys, whether he or she is active duty, or National Guard or Reserve, they put their lives at home on hold, for how ever long their deployment. With the op-tempo being the way that it currently is, that can mean anywhere from 12 to 15 months and in some cases even more.

As a Soldier, they leave everything behind to do our nation’s bidding. Perhaps their family is expecting a new baby. They might not be able to be home for that. If they’re National Guard or Reserve, they leave their full-time job behind and perhaps lose the opportunity for advancements. Or perhaps one of their children is graduating from High School. Again, they might not be able to attend that event. Some Soldiers, are students themselves, and when they deploy, they put their education on hold. Some will return to school once their deployment is over and others don’t. Colleges often aren’t willing to work with the students to complete their class if they end up deploying in the middle of a semester. When my son deployed to Kosovo, in 2001, the spring semester wasn’t quite over with at the college he was attending. While most of his professors were more than willing to work with him and allow him to take his exams early, there were a couple that weren’t. Unfortunately, he had to drop out of those classes.

Recognizing the importance of attending college course, one university has decided to offer face to face classes, by taking the classroom to the students in the middle of the war zone in Iraq. The University of Maryland is the first US college to offer these classes. Not only does this allow student Soldiers to continue to work on their education, but it also offers them a few hours away from the chaos of war, and gives them a sense of normalcy.

One student, SSG Bryan Julain had never attended college prior to his deployment. When offered the chance to do so in the war zone, he jumped at the chance. Now, not only is he juggling his rifle and dealing with the stressors of war, but he’s also taking on textbooks and homework and he loves it.

“It’s actually quite nice,” said Julian. “I’m in the National Guard, I’m a police officer back home, so my definition of normal is probably different from someone else’s.”1

Currently Julian has been in Iraq for 5 months, serving as a medic and has another 7 months to go on his deployment. He figured during his downtime it wouldn’t hurt to take a couple of classes to keep himself busy. So he enrolled in sociology and criminal justice classes. His goal once he returns home to his job is to one day become a detective.

In the past, some colleges have offered on-line courses that Soldiers could take. The problem with that is the fact that internet connections in the country tend to be very slow and if a communications blackout is imposed due to a death, then they don’t have internet access at all; sometimes for several days.

Currently there are 6 University of Maryland professors in Iraq teaching classes. Before they go, they are provided with military training, they learn about Iraqi culture, safety protocols and anti-terrorism. Each are assigned military protective equipment. Classes can sometimes be a challenge. Attendance policies in place, allow students to miss classes due to having to be on a mission. One professor, Mark Fisch, remembers teaching one class, as mortars and rockets began exploding outside the classroom.

“Obviously, you have to stop lecturing and deal with that,” he said. “There are incoming mortars, but it’s rare.” 2

Classes are held on Joint Base Balad, which is located about 40 miles north of Baghdad. The building that houses the classrooms was formerly Saddam Hussein’s air force academy. While University of Maryland has offered courses on military bases for the past 60 years, this is the first time that classes have been offered in the war zone itself.

Currently there are about 300 military personnel taking classes. Most of them are younger than 30 years of age. The classes typically last for 4-6 weeks. The military pays for their tuition and students rent their textbooks for about $20.

According to Professor Fisch, being able to teach Soldiers in Iraq has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of his career. His intentions are to continue to team classes in Iraq for another 6 months before heading back stateside.

“We are educators, we are entertainers and we are a few hours when they don’t have to be on missions. We are a few hours when they can actually be normal college students.”3

This is a fantastic opportunity for our Troops. I’m impressed that the University of Maryland is willing to undertake this very important mission. Not only does attending these classes allow student Soldiers a break from the warzone, but it also can help their careers. College courses often are helpful when a Soldier is putting in his or her packet for promotion. I hope that many more Soldiers take advantage of this awesome opportunity.

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The Art of War

January 26, 2009

Matt Larsen, Creator of the U.S. Army Combatives

I have finally gotten around to enrolling in the hand-to-hand combat class known as Modern Army Combatives or just Combatives.  In the past I have avoided this class like the plague.  The core elements of the class are ground fighting/grappling techniques.  If you have ever watched UFC on TV, the class teaches you the same techniques and skills.  As a boxer it is completely unnaturual for me to find myself wrestling on the ground.

After day one, I can say I have found a new respect for the class.  Today I spent basically 8 hours getting my ass kicked.  I have found myself sitting in front of the computer, completely dehydrated, sore from head to toe; I am drinking glass after glass of water and doping up on Bayer.

The morning started with the 14 of us learning Combatives Drill One.  This included achieving a dominate position over your party/enemy, whether this is to  be on top of your foe or to achieve a position that leaves your counterpart with their back to you.  Next we learned to escape your foes dominate position and place yourself back in a dominate position.  We drilled this over and over,  at a slow speed so everyone could learn each of the steps.  I can tell you, it was incredibly repetitive and became very boring.  But, with everything in the military and in life in gerneral, you must crawl before you walk and you damn well better walk before you run.

After breaking for a brief lunch, we returned.  We continued to learn a few submission moves to include arms bars and chokes.  Once we ran through those for the next we moved on to our run stage.  First we grappled one versus one to achieve the dominate position, next moving to one versus one to achieve submission.  From their we moved on to a drill known as the bull ring.  Here, you fought everyone in the class.  If you found yourself the “bull” every member of the class would grapple with you one after another with no rest in between.  Just as you thought you were done with one person, another would be shooting in to achieve a dominant position and ultimately make you submit.

I must state it was definately a brutal day.  I am excited, but at the same time cringe when I realize that this is only day one and their are four more days of progressivly harder drills.  I will continue to keep you posted on the outcome of the days.  For now I leave you with the history of the Modern Army Combatives Program (MAC-P). Read more

Planting The Seeds Of Stability

January 25, 2009

When a National Guard unit deploys to a war torn country, they take with them, not only the skill set they were trained on in the military, but the often varied experiences and expertise from their civilian job as well. Some may be businessmen, students, doctors or nurses, lawyers or even farmers. The things that these Soldiers can bring to the table during a deployment, are often as varied as the personality of each Soldier. Members of agricultural development teams currently deployed to Afghanistan, are shining examples of what the National Guard stands for. Their emblem alone signifies this: A minuteman holding a musket in one hand and the other hand resting on a plow. At a recent media roundtable event, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Army National Guard Chief,Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, spoke about the capabilities that these Soldiers bring to the development of the countries that they are deployed in. Joining them for the event via video teleconference was Army Col. Stan Poe, who is currently in Afghanistan leading a team from Texas National Guard, and Sultan Huessen Abasyar, who is the director of Ghanizi provinces agriculture, irrigation and livestock office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team members conduct bulk density soil samples in Marawara District, Afghanistan. Photo By: U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle

U.S. Department of Agriculture and Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team members conduct bulk density soil samples in Marawara District, Afghanistan. Photo By: U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle

According to data that the men provided, about 85 percent of the population in Afghanistan is involved in agriculture. The deployed teams are working on what the country needs to better support their citizens who are engaged in agriculture, as a means of support.

“For the US Army to consider having teams like the agribusiness development teams … concerned only with agriculture and advancement of improving agriculture in Afghanistan - is in my opinion one of the best ways to not only help the people of Afghanistan improve their economy and living standards, but to help Afghanistan prosper as a nation for future generations,” Sultan Abasyar said through an interpreter.1

The team from Texas, is composed of 58 members. 10 of those members are experts in various farm related disciplines. Their job is to assist the Afghan farmers with various tasks. Those tasks might involve things such as seeds, fertilizers, irrigation projects, electricity and social analysis. The remaining members of the team are National Guard Infantrymen. However, every single member of the team has a farming background. While their main job is be a security force for the team, each of them are knowledgeable in farming and how to get crops into the ground and then harvest them. As is evidenced by the rebuilding projects in Iraq, our Troops aren’t in the country, just to fight, but also to help the country move past the war, rebuild their country and stabilize the country and it’s economy. Each National Guard Soldier in the team is able to bring with them, the expertise of their civilian jobs.

Each of the teams have ties with universities and organizations in the United States, in order to help them best serve the Afghan population that they are working with. For example, the Texas team is in constant contact with subject matter experts at Texas A & M University. The staff at Texas A & M is able to assist the teams with soil analysis and provide suggestions for what crops might do well in that particular soil and climate.

“Water is the limiting factor in Ghazni,” Vaughn said. ” A lack of water is not the problem in Afghanistan,” he continued. “The management of the water is the problem.”2

The teams have worked on several projects with the Afghan farmers. They have assisted by putting in dams on mountain streams. This helps to lengthen the growing season by a month. Other projects include water management techniques, to help prevent floods and control erosion of the soil, micro-generators for the farms and installing windmills and solar powered collectors, to enable the farmers to have the electricity they need to operate their farms more efficiently.

Another project the team is exploring is creating jobs in the region by helping to create industries that will utilize raw materials that come from the farming industry. Members are working with local government officials on putting in a feedlot for cattle. More things than meat can be taken from the cattle industry. Because of this fact, the teams are working to construct a building to house a place for butchers to slaughter the animals that come from the feedlot. They are also working on a tanning facility, that can tan the hides of the animals and make leather. They are also looking at creating cold storage facilities and possibly a wool washing factory. Each new facility that is opened, strengthens the farming industry as well as create jobs for the people of the region. With jobs available, it’s hoped that the citizens will be less likely to align themselves with the Taliban. This in turn makes their communities a much safer place for them to live and raise their families in.

They new projects are many and very exciting to the citizens of the region. These projects will make Afghanistan a much safer, more productive and a more stable place for it’s citizens. Due to the stability the country has experienced over many many years, the country basically lost an entire generation of farmers. Recognizing this, the teams are working with officials from Afghanistan, as well as officials from Texas A & M, to create schools to train teachers and provide materials, that can be used to educate current and future generations of farmers in Afghanistan.

By using the expertise of Soldiers such as the team from Texas and another from Missouri, the Army is tapping into a very important resource. By using Soldiers from the states where agriculture is one of the primary industries, the Army is able to provide a very valuable and much needed service to the people of Afghanistan.

“This is what we need for long-term solutions in Afghanistan,” Vaughn said. “This is a poor country and if we can improve the way they farm, we are making a huge contribution to stability in the nation.”3

This is a wonderful service that our Troops are providing to the citizens of Afghanistan. I think it’s great that the Army is tapping into the expertise of their National Guard Soldiers and putting that expertise to work in a way that will not only strengthen the economy and stability of Afghanistan, but forge a strong bond with the people, by helping to improve their living conditions and creating jobs.

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Suicide Among The Ranks: What The Army Is Doing

January 22, 2009

Suicide is a tough topic to discuss. In it’s wake, it leaves so many victims, who often blame themselves for what happened. With the death of the person who committed suicide, come many questions, often the survivors blame and beat themselves up, because they didn’t recognize the signs or discounted them. Over the past several years, suicides in the military services, especially in the Marine Corps and the Army have seen a dramatic increase. In the Army it’s become a huge concern, from the highest ranking officer, to the lowest enlisted servicemember. Just this past year alone, there have numerous suicides reported among the recruiting cadre in the Houston area. It’s a trend that’s become extremely alarming. The question has been asked over and over again … ‘What are we doing to prevent suicides amongst the ranks of the Army?’ In the past, the stigma attached to a Soldier seeking psychological help has been something that has kept many of them from seeking help. They didn’t want to be labeled as a coward, a wimp or a wuss. Leadership often told these Soldiers to ’suck it up and soldier on.’ Psychological problems were seen as a weakness in the military culture. Because of this stigma, many would not seek help for their problems, and might feel that suicide was the only answer for them to be able to escape the emotional pain that they were dealing with.

The Army is working hard to change the mindset and eradicate the social stigma that comes with seeking psychological help. This past week, the Army held the 2009 DoD/VA Annual Suicide Prevention Conference in San Antonio, Texas. More than 750 people attended the 4 day conference, from specialists in the field, active duty Soldiers, to VA and private groups such as Social Workers, Chaplains, Researchers and family members who have been affected by military suicide. The goal of the conference was to find ways to reduce suicide amongst the ranks and to prevent the needless tragedy that suicide is.

“The secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff have both emphasized, ’seeking help is a sign of profound courage and strength. Truly, psychological and spiritual health are just as important for readiness as one’s physical health,” said Brig. General (Dr) Loree K. Sutton, special assistant to the assistant secretary of Defense Health Affairs and Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury director.1

According to Sutton, the Soldier’s ethos of never leaving a comrade behind should apply to psychological wounds as well as physical wounds. Just because you can’t see a wound, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Sutton stressed things that fellow Soldiers can do to assist with suicide prevention. As she stated, everyone deals with problems in their lives and it’s important to be able to recognize the warning signs when a friend or comrade isn’t coping well with their problems, to reach out and offer assistance and intervene early … before it’s too late.

Each day of the conference was filled with breakout session workshops and training that was focused on different suicide related topics. Topics covered were things such as crisis intervention, crisis negation of a suicide in progress, prevention strategies and mental health initiatives. The keynote speaker at the event was Major General Mark Graham. Graham had an especially poignant message, as a Soldier, a husband and a father who experienced the effects that the suicide of a loved one has on a person. Graham himself lost one of his sons to suicide. Since then he has been active in speaking openly about mental health issues, especially PTSD. In 2003, Graham’s then 23 year old son Kevin was ranked as a top cadet in his ROTC class. Kevin hung himself after struggling with depression for some time. His son was afraid to disclose to anyone about his mental health issues out of fear for his own military career. A year after losing Kevin, Graham’s oldest son Jeff, who was also serving in the Army, was killed by an IED in Iraq. Graham and his wife made the decision to continue to serve, in memory of their sons.

“Both of my sons died fighting different battles,” Graham said. Graham is the commanding general for the Army’s Division West and Fort Carson, Colorado.2

As he began his speech, he asked the members of the audience to think about three questions that he posed to them. Those questions were: ‘Who is that person who had wounds that you can’t see? Should they be ashamed? Are they less of a man or woman?’

“I can think of few subjects more important than this one,” Graham told the audience. He shared that people need to be able to talk about the challenges and stigma that is associated with mental health and thoughts of suicide. “Leaders, be compassionate. Soldiers, it’s OK to get help,” Graham said. “Untreated depression, PTSD and TBI deserve attention. Encourage those who are afflicted to seek help with no embaressment,” he added.3

As General Graham told the audience, suicide is something that knows no boundaries. It can affect anyone, regardless of race, their rank, their social status, people from all walks of life and regardless of their socio-economic position. He emphasized the ACE program, which is the Army’s suicide prevention program. ACE stands for: A=Ask your buddy. C=Care for your buddy. E=Escort your buddy. He also emphasized that the DoD/VA operated a 24/7 national suicide prevention hotline. That number is 1-800-273-TALK(8255)

Below is information that the Army provides to all Soldiers about the importance of suicide prevention and what they can do. The information instructs them on what they should do if their buddy appears depressed, what to look for. It also provides information on what they should do if they find themselves feeling depressed as well.

• Have the courage to ask the question, but stay calm
• Ask the question directly, such as, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

Care for your buddy:
• Remove any means that could be used for self-injury
• Calmly control the situation; do not use force
• Actively listen to produce relief
• Never leave your buddy alone
• Escort to the chain of command, a chaplain, a behavioral health professional or a primary care provider

An information card is also distributed by the Army called:
Suicide prevention: Warning signs and risk factors

Warning Signs: When a Soldier presents any combination of the following, the buddy or chain of command should be more vigilant and consider help:

• Talk of suicide or killing someone else
• Giving away property or disregard for what happens to one’s property
• Withdrawal from friends and activities
• Problems with girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse
• Acting bizarre or unusual (based on your knowledge of the person)
• In trouble for misconduct
• Soldiers experiencing financial problems
• Soldiers who have lost their job at home (such as Reservists or Guardsmen)
• Soldiers leaving the service

When a Soldier presents any one of these concerns, the Soldier should be seen immediately by a helping provider:

• Talking or hinting about suicide
• Formulating a plan to include acquiring the means to kill oneself
• Having a desire to die
• Obsession with death (music, poetry, artwork)
• Themes of death in letters and notes
• Finalizing personal affairs
• Giving away personal possessions

Risk factors are those things that increase the probability that difficulties could result in serious adverse behavioral or physical health. The risk factors only raise the risk of an individual being suicidal - it does not mean they are suicidal.
Risk factors often associated with suicidal behavior include:

• Relationship problems (loss of girlfriend or boyfriend, or divorce)
• History of previous suicide attempts
• Substance abuse
• History of depression or other mental illness
• Family history of suicide or violence
• Work-related problems
• Transitions (retirement, permanent change of station or discharge)
• A serious medical problem
• Significant loss (death of a loved one, loss due to natural disasters)
• Current/pending disciplinary or legal action
• Setback (academic, career or personal)
• Severe, prolonged and/or perceived unmanageable stress
• A sense of powerlessness, helplessness and/or hoplessness

Suicidal risk is highest when:

• The person sees not way out and fears things may get worse
• The predominant emotions are hopelessness and helplessness
• Thinking is constricted with a tendency to perceive his or her situation as all bad
• Judgment is impaired by use of alcohol or other substances

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A Promise Tucked In A Bag

January 21, 2009

Death of a loved one is very hard for any of us to handle. Anytime one deals with the death of a loved one, it’s often difficult to find closure and move on with life, without that person. When a parent has to bury their child, it’s often very difficult, as under most circumstances, our children will outlive us. When our loved ones die as a result of a traumatic event, such as a traffic accident or in combat, we’re often left with many unanswered questions.

For one Michigan woman, some of her answers were finally answered on Saturday, when she met the medic who was present when her son, 29 year old Carl Thomas was killed as a result of an IED in Iraq on September 13, 2004. While the pain of the loss of her son remains and will remain with her for the remainder of her life, and she’ll never have full closure, being able to have her questions answered about her son’s death, provided Alfeeria Johnson with some measure of comfort.

Saturday, Johnson met Jeffrey Ward, the former Army medic who was one of the last persons to see her son alive. She had many questions for Thomas. For Ward, being able to meet Mr. Johnson and fulfill a promise that he made to Thomas during their deployment, provided some closure to him as well.

Jeffrey Ward served in the Army with Alfeeria Johnson's son, Carl Thomas. Ward brought Johnson news of her son's last moments. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

Jeffrey Ward served in the Army with Alfeeria Johnson's son, Carl Thomas. Ward brought Johnson news of her son's last moments. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

“I get to finally fulfill this promise I made,” Ward said. “I finally get to get rid of this burden.”1

Thomas and Ward met when both were assigned to 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. They met about 5 weeks prior to their deployment in March 2004. They became fast friends, as they faced the horrors of combat together, deployed to Camp War Eagle in the northeast part of Baghdad. According to Ward, Thomas wasn’t the typical Soldiers. He was competent and patient. He wasn’t one to yell or cuss when he became angry. Instead he remained calm and steadfast in his fatih in God. He kept Psalm 91 tucked away in his boot for protection.

“There wasn’t any drama there, just a solid dude. Unshakeable,” Ward said.2

Life at Camp War Eagle was tough. Daily mortars and grenades were commonplace. It was often said that if you made it back from the DFAC with all of your limbs intact, that was a victory. When Soldiers went out on patrol, they faced even greater dangers, IEDs and engagement with the enemy. Because of the dangers they faced, many of the Soldiers in the unit, including Thomas asked Ward to return at least the bands from their helmets to their families in the event that they were killed. That was a promise that Ward intended to keep, no matter what.

“I did it for guys that I knew were not going to have open casket funerals,” Ward said. Ward returned two bands to other Soldier’s families.3

Saturday he carried out his promise to Thomas as well. Inside a small, dusty plastic bag, was the band from Thomas’s helmet. He returned it to Johnson. That bag hadn’t been opened since he placed the band inside on September 13, 2004. With tears streaming down her face, Johnson closely examined the band that was imprinted with her son’s last name, his code number and his blood type.4

The band is the only thing that her son was wearing that day, that Mrs. Johnson has received. The remainder of his personal effects were given to his wife Lanea who resides in Arizona.

According to Army Spokesman Lt. Col. Richard McNorton with Human Resources Command, Army officials make painstaking attempts to gather, clean and return all personal effects of fallen Soldiers. Even down to the contents of their pockets. Great care is taken to preserving these mementos for the families. Things that are personalized, such as the Soldier’s helmet bands, dog tags, jewelry and watches are carefully cleaned and returned to the families. Sometimes however, items aren’t returned, as they may be too tattered or bloodstained.

Ward had attempted to return the helmet band to Thomas’s widow, but learned that she didn’t wish to have contact with him. Finally after some searching for other family members, he was able to contact Mrs. Johnson through a reporter who had written about Thomas in the Detroit News. The meeting would be the change for him to fulfill the promise he made to Thomas, and would bring some much needed closure to him as well. He knew that by meeting Thomas, he would have to relive that painful event again, answering her questions about her son’s death. Ward answered her questions with the detail she craved.

Ward himself was injured as a result of a car bomb. He returned from Iraq with a Purple Heart, fighting the demons that come along with combat injuries and watching your friends die. Once he returned home, life quickly unraveled for him. He was discharged from the Army in March 2005. He was diagnosed with PTSD and struggled fiercely with guilt over surviving combat when others didn’t. He began self medicating with cocaine and soon became addicted, eventually serving 6 months in jail. According to Ward, jail saved his life. He was able to break his addiction, as well as reconnect with his Christian faith.

The weekend was a time of closure and healing for Ward and to some extent Johnson, though her pain at losing her son will never fully heal. Ward spoke with Johnson and family friends, as well as Thomas’s sister, herself a Soldier stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. He attended church with Johnson and listened as the minister said something that had special meaning for him. “God has spared you another year. Make good on your promises.” For Ward, he was finally able to fulfill that promise that he had tucked away in a bag, four years before.

“I’m grateful that Ward was there and he made it,” said Johnson. “He made it enough to come and tell me what happened. It took four years, but he made it.”5

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Good Change. Bad Change. Who Knows

January 19, 2009

Today, the day before Barrack Obama is inaugurated as the next President of the United States, as I sit here contemplating what the future holds for our country, I can’t help but feel frightened about that future and what it will hold for our country and for our military. Many of our fellow Americans look to the future with hope, and unfortunately, I don’t share that same hope. I know that throughout his campaign, Obama proclaimed, “Change is going to come.” I have no doubt that there will be change. I’m just not convinced that it’s going to be change that is good for our country and our military. I hope for the sake of our country and the men and women serving in our military, that my sense of foreboding is wrong, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Over the past few weeks, as Obama has announced his cabinet and talked about changes he’s going to make, my sense of dread only grows more pronounced. Many things have contributed to that feeling, over the course of the elections and since Obama won the election. I think first and foremost was his callous and disdainful comments towards the patriotism of people in this country and his refusal to salute the American flag, during his campaign. His actions speak so clearly to me about his character. So many things throughout his campaign struck me wrong on so many levels. The ‘spiritual advisor’ whom he eventually pushed out of his campaign, for instance. My thoughts on that so called spiritual advisor are that, before he begins to point the finger and call people ‘racist’ perhaps he should look in his own back yard.

Then we look at some of the proposals towards changes in the military. Take for instance, one of the proposals that he will be considering on military and veterans healthcare. A proposal that I wrote about here. A proposal that will only take more money out of the pockets of our veterans as well as our Troops. Not only does that frighten me, but it makes me damn angry. So many of these men and women have dedicated their adult life to the military and were and have been promised to be taken care of, as far as their healthcare is concerned, for the rest of their lives. This proposal doesn’t seem to be taking care of our Troops and our veterans very well, in my eyes. Not only will our Veterans be charged even more for their healthcare, even more of them won’t be elgible for that healthcare. As well, our Troops would be charged more, for healthcare for their families. For some, those increased prices, might be what forces them out of the military. Remember, not everyone in the military is paid what a senior NCO or an officer is. You can read the article I wrote about these proposals, by following this link. Obama has also vowed to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy in the military that was put into place during the Clinton Administration. CJ has a write up about that particular issue over at A Soldier’s Perspective and addresses it quite well. Take some time to read his article and the resulting comments.

At this point, I don’t know, anymore than anyone else does what the next 4 years will bring to this country. Yes, change is going to come, but I’m not so positive that it’s going to be a change that is going to be positive change for our country. So, I look to tomorrow with much trepidation, much cynicism and little hope for positive changes. Only time will tell what the new administration will do and how it will affect us as Americans.

Creating Hope For The Future

January 18, 2009

Children in the United States have always had the opportunity to attend school and obtain an education, in order to prepare themselves to enter the job market and make a living for themselves and their families. Many go on after completing High School, to college to learn a trade in order to better compete in the job market. In war torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and others, the children often don’t have the opportunity to attend school, for many reasons. Sometimes, because their families need them to earn wages, in order to help provide sustenance and shelter for their family members. Other reason might be because of the dangers involved with going to school, or the fact that the building their school was held in, was damaged during fighting. Our children are very lucky that education is a top priority in our country and every child is required to attend school, at least until they reach the age of 16, at which time they have the choice to drop out, get their GED or complete their High School education. Often in other countries, while the children yearn to attend school, many reasons prevent them from doing so. Knowing the importance of education for the future of these countries, one thing provincial reconstruction teams have concentrated on, is ensuring that the children in these countries have the opportunity to obtain an education.

Recently, in one Afghan province, commitment to education was at the forefront, during a ground-breaking ceremony for the Maliki Surial girls’ school in the province’s Behsood district Jan. 11. When completed, the school will have 10 classrooms which will allow for 1,400 girls to attend school within a year.

“Currently, the girls attend an open-air school where they sit outdoors and learn,” Army Capt. Elisabeth Leon, Nangarhar PRT lead engineer, said. “When the weather turns bad, they simply can’t go to school.”1

During the groundbreaking ceremony, officials urged those in the audience to do everything possible to make sure that the school reaches it’s potential. By ensuring that the school succeeds, they are also ensuring that the girls who attend the school, have the opportunity to succeed, far beyond their wildest dreams. They will be giving each of the young girls hope for their futures.

“The key to success in Afghanistan is education of all children,” LTC Steven Cabosky, Nangarhar PRT commandersaid. “While this school project will help, the hard work still exists. It’s up to all of you to make sure your children are able to go to school and receive an education. That is what will build a strong Afghanistan.”2

Before the Taliban government was defeated in 2001, fewer than a million children – almost none of them girls — attended school in Afghanistan. Since then, the number has grown to more than 6 million children, with 35 percent of them girls, according to NATO International Security Assistance Force statistics.3

With each new school that is built, or one that is refurbished, more chance for success and change is offered to the future of these countries. These children are the future leaders of their country. With the chance to obtain an education, they are being enabled to succeed and make positive changes in their country. This provides hope for their future and the future of their country.

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In His Vocabulary, The Word ‘Quit’ Does Not Exist

January 15, 2009

July 2005 is a month that will be forever etched into the mind of 2LT Richard Ingram. During that month, an event occurred that would forever change his life. Ingram lost him left arm in a roadside bombing, while serving in Iraq. That devastating injury didn’t stop him from following his dream to be the very best warrior that he could be.

Lt. Richard Ingram watches his dog Cooper jump into the bed of his pickup truck at a local pet groomer in LaGrange on Wednesday. Ingram lost an arm in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

Lt. Richard Ingram watches his dog Cooper jump into the bed of his pickup truck at a local pet groomer in LaGrange on Wednesday. Ingram lost an arm in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

This past December, Ingram made another milestone in his quest in being the finest warrior possible, when he became the first Soldier severely wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, to become an officer following their injury. When he was injured, he was an enlisted National Guard Soldier. Now a newly pinned 2LT, Ingram left for Fort Benning, Georgia on January 11th for officer training. Training that will prepare him to lead Soldiers into battle. That may be sooner, rather than later, considering that US Troops are still serving in Iraq and more and more Soldiers are being deployed to Afghanistan.

“I might have to try a little bit harder than everyone else, but I get the same results,” he said. “I’m in better shape now than when I had two arms.”1

Ingram is a role model. Someone that other Soldiers can look up to. Someone who other wounded warriors, approximately 3,722 of them who are classified as severely wounded can look up to. Something that young children look up to. Evidence of that is seen in his parents home, where a letter from a young second grade child is framed. That letter reads:

“I think Richard is very courageous for being in the war in Iraq. His mother works at my school. He lost his arm in an explosion. He went to a hospital in the United States. He had to have an artificial arm and use it. I want to be like him when I grow up.”2

What Richard has accomplished since his injury, gives hope to the thousands of other wounded warriors, that they too can succeed, whether that be in the military or in life outside the military. According to Lt. Col. Richard McNorton, about 113 Soldiers in the Wounded Warriors Program have continued their careers in the military, after being injured. Of that 113, Ingram is the only one who continued or restarted his career by completing Officer Candidate School.

According to Col. Michael Pyott, a military science professor at North Georgia College and State University, where Ingram completed the ROTC program to become an officer, Ingram was trailblazer. Col. Pyott said that it took some work to figure out how they could allow Ingram, who at the time was a disabled Army Specialist, earn his commission. Pyott said that the extra effort and red tape was well worth it. To be able to complete the training and rejoin the Army as an officer, Ingram had to prove that his disability would not make him physically unable to perform his duties. He did just that.3

“There’s no point in living, if you’re not living your life,” Ingram said. “I’m just glad to be alive.”4

Though it took him seven years to complete his degree, between being deployed and then recuperating from a severe injury, Ingram persevered. Although he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to be a frontline Soldier again, he knew that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his military career behind a desk. Initially after his injury, he took a medical retirement from the Army and returned to school. During that time, he realized that he was meant to be a Soldier and began working to return to the Army. On December 13th, Richard Ingram took his oath of office as a 2LT. He’s once again in the Army, this time as a leader. He will eventually be in charge of an engineer platoon with the 10th Mountain Division. More than likely, he’ll see combat once again in Afghanistan. Before he deploys again, he has a few things he’d like to accomplish, such as Airborne and Ranger School. Both of those courses are extremely difficult ones and many with both limbs aren’t able to complete both of them. According to a spokeswoman at Fort Benning, for an amputee to master either of the courses, is an almost insurmountable challenge.5

2LT Ingram’s friends and family all have complete confidence that he’ll succeed at both challenges. They know his strength of character and perseverance when times are tough and they know that if anyone is up to the task of beating almost impossible odds, that 2LT Richard Ingram will be the one to do so.

As I read this article about 2LT Ingram, I was amazed and inspired by the things this young man has accomplished, faced with the type of adversity that he’s had to face. He’s already accomplished so much and I have no doubt, that if given the opportunity, he’ll be able to accomplish anything and everything that he sets his mind to. I’m proud to say that he is just one example of the incredible men and women we having serving in this country’s Armed Forces. Men and women like 2LT Richard Ingram are what makes our military the best in the world. Thank you 2LT Ingram for your inspirational service to our country.

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