Military

Veteran’s Day Discounts

Mosul, Iraq 2004

Mosul, Iraq 2004

Every year, numerous businesses step up and show their support for our veterans and active duty service members by offering discounts and free meals on Veteran’s Day. It is a nice gesture and it is something that I try to take advantage of every year. Even though I am no longer in the military, it is an amazing feeling to know that there are people out there that still support and appreciate the time I served. To view a list of current promotions for Veteran’s Day this year, please check out this link. This list probably doesn’t cover all of the great offers available, but it should at least have an option for everyone regardless of where you reside.

Please share this information with as many people as possible. And don’t forget to thank a veteran this Veteran’s Day (Monday, November 11th).

Remember: If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran!

Camp Freedom, Iraq 2004

Camp Freedom, Iraq 2004

Me & MWD Lucky (Best bomb dog ever!)

Me & MWD Lucky (Best bomb dog ever!)

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Honor Flight 101

Last month, I wrote about inspiration after seeing the Honor Flight documentary. I had never heard of the Honor Flight Network prior to that point, but I immediately knew it was an organization that I would be proud to get involved with. And this past weekend, I escorted my very first group of Honor Flight WWII veterans!

I arrived at DCA on Saturday morning and obtained my Gate Access Pass (permits entry to the gates for personnel not actually travelling). Once at the gate, I met the 4 other local volunteers that would be escorting the Honor Flight for the day. In addition to myself, there were 3 active duty military members and one other military veteran.

As the plane approached the gate, the Washington Airport Authority Fire Department “saluted” the plane with their fire hoses!

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Then, an announcement was made in the terminal about the incoming WWII veterans and asked the surrounding travelers to stand and greet the veterans as they came off the plane. The immediate wave of support was overwhelming! Everyone gathered around the gate and cheered on the veterans as they made their way into the terminal. It was very emotional and I was extremely choked up the whole time. Since I absolutely hate for people to see me cry, it took every shred of energy I had to fight back the tears. What can I say….patriotism makes me sappy. Even this tough girl has an Achilles heel.

We had two busloads of veterans, guardians and other volunteers that were all part of the SW Florida Honor Flight hub. Once we got everyone loaded up, it was time to visit the memorials. Our first stop was the WWII Memorial. The veterans all seemed in awe of how grand and beautiful the memorial was. I heard one veteran comment, “Something like this… I don’t mind our government spending my money on!” There were local groups of volunteers that were standing by to cheer for these veterans and welcome them to their memorial as they got off the bus.

While at the memorial, I walked around and offered to take their pictures. Some of the feisty veterans said they preferred to have a “pretty girl” in their pictures so they asked for me to be in their pictures instead, to which I happily obliged. A few of the veterans were even more flirtatious. I spent some time talking to a veteran named Lionel and when I mentioned my husband, he said, “You’re married? What am I doing wasting my time talking to you?” I told him I would let him know if things didn’t work out with my marriage.

In addition to visiting the WWII Memorial, we also visited the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery to watch the Changing of the Guard. It was a lot for these senior veterans to do all in one day. It was enough to wear out even the young volunteers! But the veterans didn’t complain about being tired because for them, this was the opportunity of a lifetime and they didn’t want to miss a thing!

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Of the 16 million WWII veterans, only about 2 million are still alive, and almost 900 of them die every single day! The Honor Flight Network is committed to flying as many of the surviving WWII veterans as they possibly can to Washington, DC so they can visit and reflect at their memorials before it is too late. If you live in the DC area and you would like to volunteer, please visit http://honorflightdca.wordpress.com/ to view the schedule of when volunteers are needed. If you are outside of the DC area, you can still get involved by volunteering with your local Honor Flight hub.

Editor’s note: I had volunteered with the expectation of being assigned to one veteran as his guardian with hopes of interacting with that veteran for the entire day. However, the 50 veterans that flew to DC from SW Florida were already assigned their personal guardians for the day. Their guardians assisted them in getting to the airport and made the journey with them from Florida. The role of the local volunteers was more of a floater/general escort. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get the one-on-one interaction that I was hoping for, but I was still proud to participate in such a worthy cause.

Categories: General, Military | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

USS Arlington LPD 24

This past weekend, Rob and I took a day trip to Norfolk, VA for a very special military ceremony. The US Navy commissioned the USS Arlington on Saturday, April 6th. The USS Arlington is one of three namesake ships to commemorate the victims and heroes of 9/11. The USS New York was commissioned in 2009 and the USS Somerset is scheduled to be commissioned next year. The USS Arlington LPD 24 (landing platform/dock) will transport troops into war zones around the world and will be a constant reminder that the American spirit cannot be broken.

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The ship’s name plate was made out of steel recovered from the Pentagon after the attack (top left picture below).

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Members of the Arlington County Fire Department, Arlington County Police Department, and families of the victims that died at the Pentagon were invited to attend the ceremony. Rob was a first responder at the Pentagon on 9/11, so it was very special for us to attend such a meaningful ceremony honoring all of the heroes and victims. Members of the ACFD attended the event looking sharp!

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The Commissioning Ceremony

The commissioning of a naval ship is a time honored tradition hundreds of years old. The ceremony marks the transition of the ship into active duty. The national anthem was played and then a representative read the commissioning directive. The American flag and commissioning pennant were then raised and the ship officially became a member of our naval fleet. The commissioning pennant is the very thin one at the top (center) of the picture below.

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And seen again in the bottom right of the picture below (look closely, it’s as thin as the ropes that raise it!).

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The prospective commanding officer read his orders, officially assumed command, and set the first watch. Then the ship’s sponsor (Joyce Rumsfeld) gave the first order: “Man our ship and bring her to life!”

At that point the crew rushed on board the ship and lined up along the railings.

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The ship’s engines were turned on and they sounded the mighty horn!

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Then the crew saluted as the colors were retired.

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The Tour

After the ceremony concluded, we were allowed to tour certain parts of the ship.

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Rob in control of the bridge.

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Four types of aircraft on the deck.

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Although we didn’t get to see it, the ship has a “tribute room” to honor the 184 people killed at the Pentagon as well as the emergency personnel that responded to the attack.

I’m sure many of you are wondering if they smashed a bottle of champagne on the ship. No, wrong ceremony. But that did in fact happen at a different ceremony! The christening took place in March of 2011 and Joyce Rumsfeld had the honor of smashing the champagne bottle.

Categories: General, Military, United States, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Inspiration Incarnate

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A couple of weeks ago, Rob and I went out for dinner and a movie. I didn’t know much about the movie we were about to see. I only knew that it was a documentary and that it involved veterans. I walked into the theater blind, not knowing what to expect. But I left knowing exactly what I needed to do! It was absolutely the most amazing feeling to watch this movie and feel truly inspired. I have felt inspiration before, but not quite like this. It was the kind of feeling that became more than a feeling, because it demanded action. I left the movie theater knowing that I needed to get involved with this project immediately!

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(BTW – Our local movie theater has these sweet, plush recliners!)

The movie is called Honor Flight and it documents a non-profit organization that flies WWII veterans to Washington, DC so they can visit their memorials. Of the 16 million WWII veterans, only about 2 million are still alive. But, almost 900 of them die every single day! And most of them have never been to Washington, DC to see the memorials erected in their honor. The Honor Flight Network has made it their mission to fly as many of the surviving veterans as they possibly can to Washington, DC so they can visit and reflect at their memorials before it is too late.

As a veteran myself, I have the utmost respect for ALL of our nation’s veterans. But, I am ashamed to admit that I had never really given much thought about our WWII veterans. Why is that? Maybe it is because that generation never talked about their experiences during the war. They came home, put their duffle bags in the basement, and acted as if they had never been gone to begin with. Both of my grandfathers were WWII veterans. I was very young when one of them died, but I was always close with my paternal grandfather. I knew he was a veteran and I knew he was a recipient of the Purple Heart. But other than that, I knew nothing of his experiences. I recently asked my dad if my grandfather ever spoke of the war to him. No, he hadn’t. His memories remained locked up in those duffle bags that were banished to the basement.

I am an Iraqi War veteran and watching this movie made me realize that my grandfather and I might have been able to bond with each other telling our war stories. He might have been willing to unlock those duffle bags and open up to me about his experiences if I was willing to share my stories with him as well. Sadly, we never got the chance. My grandfather passed away while I was still deployed to Iraq. His stories will remain untold.

While the opportunity has passed for me to learn about my grandfather’s experiences, I still have the chance to make a difference in the lives of other WWII veterans. The Honor Flight Network covers all of the expenses to fly veterans to Washington, DC, as well as arrange their meals and transportation around the city. But, they still need volunteers to help the veterans get around. Given their age, most of them are either in wheelchairs or need assistance walking. That is where I come in. I have volunteered to become a guardian for upcoming Honor Flight missions. Each veteran gets assigned to their own guardian that will remain with them throughout the day. It is the guardian’s responsibility to help the veteran get around, take care of his general well-being, and basically treat him like a VIP for the day. Living so close to Washington, DC, getting involved with this program was a no-brainer for me. I am currently signed up for my first guardian-ship on Saturday, May 4th and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all. Please stay tuned. But in the meantime, please watch the Honor Flight movie trailers below and help spread the word about this worthy program. If you would like to volunteer to be a guardian (all-day commitment) or an airport greeter (not an all-day commitment), please email DCA.Honorflight@gmail.com. To view the schedules for needed volunteers, please visit http://honorflightdca.wordpress.com/. If you would like to donate money rather than your time, please visit the Honor Flight Network.

What inspires you? Has the feeling of inspiration ever taken such a hold on you that it turned into more than a feeling? What inspires you to actually step up and get involved or to try to make a difference?

Of all the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation – and as a culturally diverse, free society.” ~ Honor Flight Network


Categories: General, Military | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thankful with Coffee

A couple of months ago, I was inspired to adopt two soldiers through two different programs. You can read the original post here. Although I served my country for almost 9 years, fellow blogger Gina reminded me that there was still more that I could do. Renewed with gratitude and remembering the hardships of deployment, I took action. The soldier adoption programs are a huge commitment that many people are not ready for. However, there are simpler ways to make a difference without the long-term commitment of adopting a soldier.

Cup of Joe for a Joe

Green Beans Coffee has a Cup of Joe program that allows you to buy a cup of coffee for a deployed soldier. Green Beans Coffee has several locations on deployment bases and it is an easy way for you to give the troops a “taste of home.” Each cup of coffee will cost you only $2 and you can buy as many (or as few) cups as you would like. You can include a personal note that will be given to each soldier when they receive their cups of coffee. You also have the option to include your email address if you would like to hear from the soldier that receives your cup of joe; or you could choose not to receive a response. Just this morning I purchased 3 cups and included this note:

Dear Soldier,

I realize a cup of coffee isn’t much to make up for the fact that you are away from your home and family during the holidays, but I hope it will at least let you know that you are not forgotten. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.

Happy Holidays!

As we go about our daily routines, most of us are thankful for coffee. Instead, I propose we should be thankful with coffee.

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Categories: Military | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Send a Message with a Bottle (of ketchup, that is)

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While recently dining out (on Veterans’ Day), I noticed the bottle of Heinz ketchup on the table had a special “Our Turn to Serve” label. For a second year, Heinz has partnered with the USO and the Wounded Warrior Project to help support our troops. How it works: There is a quick response (QR) code on the back of specially marked bottles that can be scanned with a smartphone. The code gives access to step-by-step instructions on how to send a personalized “Thank You” card to a veteran. For every “Thank You” sent, Heinz will donate $1 to the Wounded Warrior Project.

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Of course I had to try this out! I scanned the code with my handy iPhone and I was immediately prompted to select a post card design. After selecting the post card, I entered my name and email address and then typed a personal message to one of our troops to thank them for their service. You can then choose to send the post card to a particular troop you many know, or you can allow the USO to pick a troop at random. This took less than 5 minutes and I was able to send a post card to a service member for free and in turn, Heinz donated $1 to the Wounded Warrior Project. This is what I like to call a Win/Win situation!

If you don’t want to search for the specially marked bottles (or if you don’t have a smartphone to scan the code), you can also participate online by clicking here. Please spread the word for these two very noble causes.

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Veterans’ Day Appreciation = Good for the Soul, Bad for the Waistline

Even though it has been almost 8 years since I separated from the army, it still means a lot when people take a moment to say “Happy Veterans’ Day.” I am extremely fortunate to have wonderful friends and family that sent cards, picked up the phone, typed emails, or even sent a simple text message to thank me for my service. Those two simple words…thank you…mean a great deal to veterans. Don’t ever discount that due to the simplicity of the gesture. It means a lot when those close to you take a moment to express their gratitude. Interestingly enough, it was seemingly more meaningful when complete strangers recently did the same thing.

Every year, there are a lot of businesses that offer free meals and/or special discounts for veterans. I applaud all of the participating businesses for their gesture of appreciation and I wish that more companies would follow their lead. This past Veterans’ Day, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of others (both corporate and individuals). To begin with, I was treated to a free bagel from Einstein Bros. Bagels for lunch and a fabulous entrée at McCormick & Schmicks for dinner. McCormick & Schmicks honors veterans every year and I enjoy going there because their food is delicious. This year, I went solo because my husband was working and since I was by myself, I ended up sitting at the bar. The bartender asked if I was a veteran (so he could provide the special Veterans’ Day menu) and when I answered in the affirmative several people at the bar chimed in to thank me for my service. There were other veterans there, of course, and I thanked them for their service as well. It ended up being a wonderful dinner with complete strangers. People who know me well would probably be surprised by that because I am usually very quiet around people that I don’t know very well. Nonetheless, I enjoyed conversation with veterans from every war era, as well as civilians who never served. As I was saying my goodbyes to my fellow diners, the woman next to me, Ruth, shook my hand and then pulled me in for a hug. Those who know me well, also know that I am not a touchy-feely kind of person. Generally speaking, I do not like a lot of physical contact…especially with strangers. But for some reason, I genuinely welcomed the hug from this woman I had just met. It was so sincere. It was her way of both thanking me for my service, as well as expressing how grateful she was that I made it home safe and sound. I felt all of that just from this woman’s hug. I left the restaurant that night with a huge smile on my face and a warmth in my heart. The free meal was nice, but the appreciation of others was priceless.

Because Veterans’ Day fell on a Sunday this year, the federally observed holiday became Monday, November 12. Some of the participating businesses were offering special deals to veterans on Sunday, while others were doing so on Monday. A few over-achievers were even offering specials on both days! On Monday, Rob and I went out for lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and they treated me to a free pizza and a free drink. As we were getting ready to leave, the manager came by to shake my hand and thank me for my service and as if that wasn’t awesome enough….he gave Rob and I both an additional coupon for a free pizza at a later date!

As if my body actually needed more calories for the day, we went to Champps for dinner on Monday because they were offering a free cheeseburger and fries to vets. I just happened to be wearing my “I ‘heart’ my paramedic” shirt and the manager on duty that night was also a paramedic. To make a long story short, that shirt led to Rob getting the same Veterans’ Day treatment that I had been enjoying for the past 36 hours.

However, what actually made my Veterans’ Day even more special was that I received my first email from one of the soldiers that I adopted in Afghanistan. He received the care package that I sent him just in time for Veterans’ Day. It really was the perfect way to end my Veterans’ Day festivities, going full circle, if you will. I felt like I was given the royal treatment for two whole days and it was nice to pass along my own appreciation to those still serving. Did you thank a veteran this past Veterans’ Day?

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The restaurants mentioned above are just a few of the businesses that offered special discounts for veterans. To see the full list, click here.

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Categories: Military | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Making Up For Lost Time

Recently, I had done some reflection on how I got here.  My life has been an amazing journey and, in large part, I have the military to thank for that.  It has been seven years since I separated from the army.  In those seven years, I am ashamed to report, I have done very little (ok, let’s be honest….nothing) to support the troops that are still serving our country.  How could I let this happen?  I, of all people, should have remembered how meaningful it was to receive letters and care packages from people that I had never even met before.  People that just wanted to do something…anything…to remind the troops that they were in their thoughts and not forgotten.  But then, I had forgotten.

While deployed to Iraq in 2004, I had been in contact with Ron Aiello of the United States War Dog Association because I was very excited about the upcoming unveiling of a war dog memorial in New Jersey (my home state).  Shortly thereafter, several citizens had contacted Ron to find out what they could do to help support the troops and their K-9 counterparts.  Since Ron knew my contact information, he shared it with those that wanted to help.  The support we received was overwhelming.  They sent us care packages filled with human and canine goodies, they wrote heartfelt letters, and they hung up pictures in their offices of us with our dogs to remind them of our daily sacrifices during their typical day-to-day routines.  They did all of this without us even asking for their support and it truly meant a great deal to me at the time.

Nowadays, it is even easier to reach out to deployed soldiers to let them know you care about and support them.  There are soldier adoption programs through non-profit organizations like Soldiers’ Angels and Adopt a US Soldier.  I was recently inspired by Gina to start making up for the past seven years.  I served my country with pride, but there is still more that I can do.  More that I should do.  I am happy to report that I have adopted 2 soldiers (one through each organization listed above) and I am committed to making up for lost time.  I can only hope that my words of appreciation, encouragement and support will mean as much to them as my supporters’ words meant to me.

Hopefully I have inspired you to make a difference as well.  There are currently soldiers on a waitlist to be adopted, so I applaud you if are willing to donate your time to show that you care.  However, please be aware there is an actual commitment involved with these adoptions.  People wishing to adopt a soldier are expected to write at least one letter per week and send at least one care package per month.  If that seems like too much for you, adoption might not be a good fit.  But there are plenty of other ways you can make a difference.  Even if it is only a one-time gesture, I can tell you from personal experience, it will mean the world to these amazing troops!

War Dog Memorial
 

 

 

 

Visiting the US War Dogs Memorial in NJ – December 2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Military | 5 Comments

How Did I Get Here?

Have you ever taken a moment to consider how you got to where you are in life? I mean really thought about it? Most people would probably say that the path their life has taken was the result of many choices they made throughout their lives. People are forced to make decisions on a daily basis and many times, those decisions have the potential to alter the trajectory of their lives. After recently reflecting on my own life, I came to the conclusion that my journey was hinged on one single decision. Of course there have been a multitude of miniscule day-to-day decisions that made my life zig instead of zag, but I realized there was one decision that was so impactful that the others almost seem inconsequential. The idea of it made me take a step back to consider what my life might have been like had I not made that decision. And the truth is, I don’t have the faintest idea! Making that decision has changed my path in such a way that I cannot even fathom what the alternative would have been.

When I was 18 years old, I joined the military. I know what you are thinking….so what, lots of 18 year olds join the military. But throughout my 18 years of existence, the thought of joining the military had literally never crossed my mind. And it probably never would have if it weren’t for one chance encounter. I was recruited at a pool hall!

Let me paint the picture for you. I graduated high school the previous year, but college did not seem to be a likely prospect for me. I was renting a room in someone’s basement (and prior to that I had spent some time living in my car) and I was working long hours as a waitress at a diner. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to college, it just didn’t seem feasible at the time. Whenever I wasn’t working or sleeping, you could probably find me at Cue Time, the local pool hall. Shooting pool was my favorite thing in the world and you could literally find me at Cue Time 365 days a year (yes, they were even open on Christmas!). I had been playing there for several years and at the time I was even good enough to compete in tournaments. There was a group of regulars there that become more like family than friends to me, especially the owner Frank. While my life didn’t have much direction, I was content because my pool hall family always watched out for me.

Then one day I was playing pool, minding my own business, when the woman at the table next to me started chatting me up. Her name was Sgt. Silver and she was a recruiter for the army. After a few minutes of chit chat she asked me if I had ever considered joining the army as means to pay for college. I actually laughed in her face! The idea of me joining the military just seemed so preposterous at the time. But she went on and on about all of the benefits and all of a sudden, the idea seemed less crazy. She gave me her card and suggested I think about it.

I gave it some serious thought and the more I did, the more it just seemed to make sense. I didn’t want to work as a waitress at a diner for the rest of my life. And I didn’t have some crazy pipe dream about becoming a professional pool player someday (I was young, not stupid). I knew I wanted to go to college, I knew I wanted to travel, and I knew I had more potential than I was letting myself believe.

So I wonder…If I hadn’t joined the military, would I still be a waitress at a diner? Or would I have transitioned to a more up-scale restaurant? Would I still be living in someone’s basement? Or would I be able to afford my own apartment? I will never know the answers to these questions, but I think it is safe to assume the following would NOT have happened had I not joined the military:

1. Lived in Korea for 3 years
2. Lived in Germany for 3 years
3. Traveled all over Europe
4. Completed Bachelor’s Degree (debt free)
5. Assisted US Customs in seizing over 3,000 lbs. of marijuana at the Mexican border
6. Provided security for POTUS in Berlin
7. Competed in an international K-9 competition (and win!)
8. Deployed to Iraq and lead troops (human and K-9 variety)
9. Met my wonderful husband
10. Completed Master’s Degree (debt free)
11. Attained my current incredible civilian job in Washington, DC
12. Own a beautiful home

This list is by no means exhaustive. Joining the military has led to so many things that I am extremely proud of. I am honored to have served our country, but I am also extremely grateful for all of the opportunities it provided for me, as well as the path that was set for where I am today. I hope to share more with you about those incredible 9 years.

Categories: Military | 3 Comments

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