30 October 2014

Preparing for Third Fight, Guard Chaplain Cuts Tresses

Blog-editor's note: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, we were able to point to efforts like the Minnesota National Guard's "Pink Tank Project." This year, we wanted to signal-boost this recent National Guard news release, about an Iraq War veteran who is fighting a third round with breast cancer with faith, humor, and resolve.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Pink is the color of warriors. "Attack!"


"North Carolina chaplain fighting breast cancer on her own terms"
By Staff Sgt. Mary Junell
North Carolina National Guard

Released Oct. 22, 2014

PHOTO: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mary Junell
RALEIGH, N.C.—Two weeks ago in Franklinton, North Carolina, National Guard Chaplain Maj. Melissa Culbreth sat laughing and joking in a chair on the front porch of the farm where she works, while her signature red hair was done in five braids.

The porch was full of friends, family and fellow soldiers watching and waiting for the braids to be cut off and collected.

Sgt. 1st Class John Setera, who had deployed to Iraq with Culbreth in 2009, draped a black, plastic hairdresser's cape around her and grabbed the clippers.

As the clippers buzzed, chunks of Culbreth's hair fell down the front of the cape and onto the floor at her feet.

"I wanted to take my hair on my own terms," Culbreth said. "Instead of letting the chemo take it."

This was the second party she has held to shave her head shortly after starting chemotherapy for breast cancer; the first was in March of 2010, when she was less then two months home from a deployment to Iraq with the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

"I’m not sure which is going to be harder,” Culbreth said, "not knowing what is going to happen over the next 18 weeks, or knowing what is going to happen over the next 18 weeks."

Culbreth, who now serves as the brigade chaplain for North Carolina National Guard's 449th Theater Aviation Brigade, began her most recent round of chemotherapy the week before her party. This is her third diagnosis and third round of chemotherapy.

"I know what chemo is like because I’ve done it. To know I’m going to be doing that again, and going through all the side effects. Again. Right now that’s probably the hardest part. At the head-shaving party Culbreth had in 2010, about 17 people shaved their heads to show their support. At this party, four people shaved their heads and many had a strip of their hair dyed pink. Culbreth said she has lost track of the total number of people who were not able to make it to the party who have done the same.

"It's been cool," she said. "It's been people from a girl I went to middle school with and high school with, to soldiers I deployed with to Iraq, to present-day folks that I served with in Charis Foundation and worked with as therapists."

About 30 people gathered at the farm to celebrate Culbreth and support her in her fight, including Sgt. Carrie MacCollum, with the 1132nd Military Police Company, another of the soldiers who deployed with Culbreth in 2009.

"She’s being the boss of the situation," MacCollum said. "She’s not letting cancer beat her, she’s beating cancer. She took it upon herself to shave her head and she’s taking her hair, not cancer. So she’s beating this and we’re all here to support her with that. We’re beating it with her."

Culbreth spent the evening surrounded by her family of friends and soldiers who she draws on for support.

"The military is my family," Culbreth said. "That’s who I have depended on since I got in in 2006. They are my brothers and sisters. I wouldn’t know what to do. Some of the first people I told were buddies that I deployed with. My unit, my brothers and sisters in the guard, my participation in the 30th Infantry Division Association, those are the people I depend on. The whole Guard is family thing seems like a pithy saying, but I’m living proof that it’s more than that, that it's true and it's honest or there wouldn’t be so many people here tonight."

Culbreth has spent eight years in the North Carolina National Guard as a chaplain, being part of the support system for other soldiers. She said that sometimes being a chaplain it feels as if she is invisible, but at the party she realized how many people care.

"Sometimes you feel invisible," she said. “You’re the fire extinguisher; break in case of emergency. When (life gets hard), everybody wants you there, but sometimes you wonder if people notice in the meantime, and the answer to that is yes, because tonight shows people care. And that’s really important to me."

28 October 2014

Giving the Gritty Gift of Military-themed Poetry

A collection of poetry is like a comic book, or a pamphlet of daily meditations: Easy to pack. Easy to read and re-read. Easy to pick up and put down. (Poetry is both transportive, and transportable. Discuss.)

The right poem can also stick with you for years. It doesn't have to be "great," as defined by some professor's syllabus or publisher's list of best-sellers. But it does have to be shared.

Because, when it comes down to it, finding that one poem means that the writer successfully communicated something—a joke, a thought, an image, an experience—from his or her life, to yours. Why not try to multiply that connection to even more people?

Fellow traveler and military poet Fred Rosenblum sent me a copy of his poetry collection "Hollow Tin Jingles," published earlier this year by Main Street Rag Publishing Co.

Like me, he's exploring his military experience and engaging others through short, one-page poems. He's big on wordplay and small on capitalization. He seems to gravitate toward sardonic humor. Unlike me, however, he's a Vietnam War-era veteran, a former U.S. Marine and mortarman. He enlisted in 1967.

Some of the poems in "Hollow Tin Jingles" were first written in the 1980s. Others are more recent. Rosenblum retired in 1998, and says in interviews that he's only recently hit kind of a publishing groove.

Rosenblum has had poems appear in the first two volumes of "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors," an annual series published by Southeast Missouri State University Press. He's also had work published elsewhere, including the Spring 2014 issue of Consequence magazine, as well as the 2013 issue of Blue Streak: A Journal of Military Poetry.

Rosenblum's poetry delivers not only the experiences of combat, loss, and suffering in Vietnam, but also unadulterated doses of music, drugs, and sex downrange. Such details may seem foreign and exotic to veterans of more-recent conflicts, but—like all war stories—they ring true ... or true enough. It was a different time, and a different place. Everybody has their own war.

You can find samples of Rosenblum's poetry at his publisher's website, as well as other venues on-line. This isn't a very traditional review, I know—if it's even a review at all. But I do want to share a poem here that has resonated with me—one to which I've returned again and again. I'm O.D. envious of what Rosenblum manages to pack in these few lines. It appears on page 40 of "Hollow Tin Jingles":
by Fred Rosenblum

I was kicked
in the head of a scramble
to take cover
in a rainwater ditch

with a pusillanimous soul
our hands
tembling in the transfer
of effigies
and menthol

huddled in the mud
replete with petitions
to a Lord who would randomly
select of us for death

huddled on the line
near a C-130
her crippled wing surrender
atilt on a tarmac
oily-black billows of smoke.
In a May 2014 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Rosenblum says that he doesn't write for therapeutic reasons:
I'm not really a student of the healing-through-art school of thought. It really hasn't worked for me. There are workshops all around the country where people go to write and they find it therapeutic. It's just not that way for me. [...]

What I get out of it is I'm able to give a voice to people who can't spill their guts. It also gives me a chance to talk about something that I know and to play with words at the same time.
I'd like to think that there are many Fred Rosenblums out there, dropping their words like shells into tubes—dialing it in, walking it in—until they find their targets.

Seek out their work. Find a military-themed poem or two that resonates with you. Share it with others. Talk about the reasons why.

Give voices to people who can't spill their guts.

22 October 2014

Comic's First Issue Tells of World War I Code-Talkers

The comic book "Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers," recently released by the Indigenous Narratives Collective, Austin, Texas, helps introduce readers to a rich history of Native American soldiers on 20th century battlefields.

The comic is written and illustrated by Arigon Starr. A series and/or collected volume of comics is planned.

The practice of using speakers of Native American languages to encrypt military radio transmissions is well-known and celebrated in some circles. It even served as the inspiration of a 2002 feature film "Windtalkers." (Admittedly, that film had shortcomings, including the fact that it focused on a non-Native American protagonist.)

However, few realize that the practice originated not with the use of Navajo speakers in the Pacific Theater during World War II, but with Cherokee and Choctaw speakers in World War I France.

During that war, Cherokee men assigned to the U.S. 30th Infantry Division used their language during to pass communication between headquarters and front lines.

Some 14 Choctaw men similarly served in the U.S. 36th Infantry Division. The first issue of "Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers" comic tells the story of Cpl. Solomon Louis and other Choctaw soldiers. According to the Choctaw Code Talkers Association website:
Code Talker Solomon Bond Louis, 142nd Infantry, was from Bryan County. He is credited with being the leader of the original Choctaw Code Talkers during the war. Seeing his buddies at Armstrong Academy enlist in the armed services, Louis who was underage, pretended to be 18 so that he too could join. He received his basic training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. 
He was sent to Ft. Worth, Texas where he joined an all-Indian Company which was part of the 36th Division. In France, Louis was stationed at Division Headquarters with James Edwards on the other end of the telephone line out in the field at the front line. Edwards informed Louis in Choctaw what the Germans were up to.
In World War II, 27 members of Iowa's Meskwaki (Sac and Fox) people used their language skills in the North African Theater. They were assigned to Iowa's 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.

A Facebook page for the Indigenous Narratives Collective is here. The $5 "Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers" No. 1 issue may be ordered here. Use the code GAKAC2014 to receive 10 percent off, and a second issue will be donated to a Native American student of history.

A $15 limited-edition poster, illustrated by Kristina Bad Hand, features the cover design for the first trade paperback collection of the comic series. It is available for sale online here.

20 October 2014

Mil-Poetry Review: Mena's 'The Shape of Our Faces ...'

"The Shape of Our Faces No Longer Matters" by Gerardo Mena

Iraq War veteran and former Marine medic Gerardo "Tony" Mena's 2014 collection of poetry, "The Shape of Our Faces No Longer Matters" delivers poetic reports from both downrange and home.

Among other awards, Mena is a past winner of a national veterans writing contest conducted annually by the Missouri Humanities Council, Warriors Arts Alliance, and the Southeast Missouri State University Press.

His work has previously appeared in the related annual anthology series "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors" published each November, and his poetry collection is the first of a "Military-Service Literature" series, which is also published by the press.

The 80-page book comprises 58 poems, divided into three nearly equal sections. The first section, "How to Build a War Machine," presents anecdotes and impressions of war. The Second, "I Painted Myself (Burning)," eulogizes times and men. The last, "Welcome Home, or the Sound of Your Blood Humming," deals with aspects of returning to peaceful society.

Among his free verse, Mena tosses into the footlocker a few familiar types of poetry, such as haiku, while also experimenting with new-found forms. There is, for example, one poem written as screenplay. Another, titled "Survivor's Guilt," mimics the official administrative routing slip attached to Mena's Navy Achievement Medal with "V" Device.

At times, Mena is wonderfully descriptive and reportorial. His poems are generally short, less than one page. He grounds many of his more-powerful works with facts and introductions. "We had a conversation full of sarcasm, just like old times," he writes in introducing a poem titled "The Marriage of Hand and Spear." (He had called a buddy who was recovering in hospital from burns to 45 percent of his body.) "But then he became silent, and ended our conversation with, 'Doc, I still have these dreams. Every night I watch myself burning. Every night I re-live the burn, and every night it is you that throws the match and laughs.'"

Powerful stuff—and practically a poem in itself.

At other times, Mena becomes more ethereal, more surreal. As a recovering journalist and as a reader, I tend to gravitate toward his grittier, more concrete work, but I still appreciate his dreamy searches for new metaphors—the plum blossoms and powder-white sands, the wars painted blue, the stars in our mouths. I do not always understand what he means, but I enjoy going along for the ride.

In either mode, Mena's work is accessible and plain-spoken. He accurately captures the dark humor and magical thinking of troops in contact. In "Hero's Prayer," for example, the narrator ends an impassioned psalm with this fragment:
[...] Let my last breath be whispers of curses
and sworn vengeance.

As the rigor washes
over me, turn my smile
to marble, for I have though
well. Do not let me die
from an incoming mortar round
as I jerk off in the porta-shitter.
Another example: In relating the story of lucky buddy who was merely ejected from his vehicle gun-turret position by an incoming mortar round, Mena uses the first-person perspective:
I dreamed that I opened my mouth and slowly
swallowed an entire rocket.
When I awoke,
I was a rocket.

I had rocket guts and rocket blood.

My rocket feet were plastic fins [...]
In one of his signature poems, "So I Was a Coffin," Mena successfully marries the real and the surreal, stitched together with strings of melancholy:
They said you are a spear. So I was a spear.
I walked around Iraq upright and tall, but the wind began to blow and I began
to lean. I leaned into a man, who leaned into a child, who leaned
onto a city. I walked back to them and neatly presented a city of bodies
packaged in rows. They said no. You are a bad spear. [...]
The poem won first-place in a 2010 winningwriters.com "war poetry" contest, and the poet can be heard to read "So I Was a Coffin" in a multimedia video posted to YouTube here.

In the poem, Mena was first a spear, then a flag, a bandage, and a coffin. Now, he is a book.

He is a good book.

You should read him.

17 October 2014

Traveling 'Meditation on War' to Tour Minnesota

PHOTO: Minnesota Humanities Council Veterans' Voices
A traveling exhibit that pairs Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs with literary meditations on war will tour multiple sites in 2014-2015 as part of the Minnesota Humanities Council's Veterans Voices program. "Always Lost: A Meditation on War" opened Mon., Oct. 13 at Carleton College, Northfield, Minn. through Oct. 24. According to the council, the exhibit "brings home the personal and collective costs of war and honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In a related event, Iraq War veteran and poet Brian Turner, author of the recently published memoir "My Life as a Foreign Country," will read his poetry and prose at Carleton College's Weitz Center for Creativity Tues., Oct. 21st, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. The event is open to the public. For details, click here.

Additional of installations of the "Always Lost" exhibit include:

  • November 3 to November 17: Southwest Veterans Association, Marshall


15 October 2014

Writing Contest Seeks Stories of Human-Animal Bonds

As part of its annual "One Heart, Four Paws" Valentine's Day celebration of the connections among humans and animals, Central Iowa non-profit Paws & Effect is conducting its first-ever writing contest for youth, adult, and military writers. Deadline is Jan. 5, 2015.

Established in 2006, the Des Moines, Iowa-based non-profit is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that raises, trains, and places service dogs with military veterans and children diagnosed with medical needs. The organization also trains therapy animals and hosts dog-agility events.

Editors are seeking previously unpublished flash-fiction, non-fiction, and poetry on the theme of human-animal connections.

Winners selected in each of the following categories:
  • Youth (Ages 6-12)
  • Open—Fiction, Non-fiction, and Poetry
  • Military service member/veteran—Fiction, Non-fiction, and Poetry
Winners in each category/subcategory will receive:
  • Recognition at the Feb. 13, 2015 "One Heart, Four Paws" gala event.
  • A monetary award of $100.
  • Publication of their work(s) in a commemorative broadsheet, chapbook, or other physical object, to be distributed at the event.
All submitted works will also be considered for inclusion in a commemorative anthology, to be published later in 2015.

There is no submission fee for the Youth category. Youth submissions should be made via postal mail, using this downloadable form, or on-line here at Submittable.com. All hardcopy entries become the property of Paws & Effect and will not be returned. Send entries to:
"One Heart, Four Paws" Youth Contest
c/o Middle West Press
P.O. Box 31099
Johnston, Iowa 50131-9428
Guidelines for Open and Military/Veteran categories include:
  • Limit one submission in each category per person.
  • Poetry: up to 3 poems (5 pages maximum).
  • All prose (including fiction, non-fiction, essay, and memoir): 750-word limit.
  • Submissions exceeding the limits will be disqualified.
  • Include a biography of 75 words or less with each submission. Past and present members of all branches, services, and nationalities may submit to the Military/Veteran category.
  • Winners and contributors will be notified by Feb. 1, 2015.
  • This project acquires first North American and anthology rights.
  • Judges' decisions are final. Judges also reserve the rights to make additional awards in each category/subcategory, and to decline making awards within one or more categories/subcategories.

13 October 2014

34th Inf. Div. Association Celebrates 67-year Reunion

PHOTO: 34th Inf. Div. Assoc.
By Master Sgt. Daniel Ewer
Minnesota National Guard public affairs
Released Oct. 4, 2014

The 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division Association held its 67th annual reunion at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center Oct. 3-4, Johnston, Iowa. Service members, veterans, and their families enjoyed a wide range of activities including firing weapons, life saving demonstrations, Afghanistan operations briefings and a tour of the Gold Star Military Museum at nearby Camp Dodge. The two-day event culminated in a formal banquet and memorial service.

The weekend's agenda was full of the usual camaraderie-building events. The annual business meeting. however, was far from boilerplate. After many years of what is known in the military as "steady-state operations," the 34th Inf. Div. Assoc. debuted significant changes in its priorities and set the stage for even more development. "I've been to many of these business meetings," said one member. "It is usually pretty quiet. We covered a lot of ground today!"

One of the most significant changes for the association was reflected in its new website, www.34ida.org. Just as Veterans Service Organizations and military alumni organizations nationwide struggle to remain relevant as their membership ages, the association is reaching out to younger Red Bull soldiers. The updated website, for example, is an attempt to include veterans of all eras.

In addition to the website, the association has recently developed marketing booths to help recruit members and increase awareness at public events in Iowa and Minnesota. New recruiting events offering a free drink to new and lifetime members have also been successful.

A number of items were proposed and accepted at the business meeting. The association established:
  • A working group to review the membership dues structure. Any changes to the dues would be implemented in 2016.
  • A working group to investigate the possibility of sponsoring commemorative items, such as a fine art historical print or association coin.
Each year, there are changes in the association board. To support the objective of making the association more attractive to enlisted soldiers, it is encouraging to note the new president is a senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Willie Adams. Adams is the highest-ranking non-commissioned officer of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Inf. Div. (2-34th BCT).

In other business, a memorial project concept was presented briefly to the association, which would honor recently fallen Minnesota Red Bull Soldiers. The concept for this memorial features a portrait etched in marble of each fallen Red Bull. Facing this marble wall is a bronze sculpture of two life-size figures; a modern Red Bull soldier taking a moment to reflect on the names of his fallen comrades, and a National Guard Minuteman offering comfort to the grieving Soldier. The memorial will overlook the Rosemount Veterans Memorial Walk in Rosemount, Minn. The 501(c)3 non-profit project is currently seeking donations.

Future events are also encouraging progressive changes in the association. The 2015 reunion will be hosted in Minnesota for the first time in many years, by the newly-formed "Commander's Own" Chapter. Two years later, the 34th Infantry Division will celebrate its centennial on Aug. 25, 2017. A 34th Infantry Division centennial committee is forming to ensure the Red Bull will be honored throughout Iowa, Minnesota, and military communities.

09 October 2014

Minneapolis, Omaha to Ruck Up Against Suicide Oct. 25

PHOTO: Ruck Up for Life-Omaha  Metro
Midwestern activists seeking to increase awareness against military veteran suicides will conduct 23-mile "Ruck Up for Life" events Oct. 25, 2014 in Omaha, Neb./Council Bluffs, Iowa and in Minneapolis, Minn.

The distance is symbolic of the 23 U.S. veterans per day who are estimated to take their own lives. The events are open to both military/veteran and civilian participants, who will each carry backpacks weighing from 25 to 35 pounds. Participants will walk/march as a team.

The first "Ruck Up for Life" event was conducted in 2013, organized by Iraq War veterans Landon Steele and James Blumenschein, who were moved to action after five soldiers from their unit of 160 had committed suicide.

A portion of proceeds from the Minnesota event will go to the family of Timothy S. Lisk, 24, who died Aug. 21st, 2014. The remainder will go toward The Next Objective, a Minnesota non-profit organization that keeps veterans engaged and connected by providing grants for gym memberships, and challenge events such as mud runs and ruck marches.

The Minnesota event will launch from VFW Post 246, 2916 Lyndale Ave. S, Minneapolis, shortly after 8 a.m. Click here for a route map. Volunteers are needed for safety and health tasks along the route.

For a Facebook page for the Minnesota event, click here.

The Nebraska/Iowa event will launch from Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa, shortly after 8 a.m. For a route map, click here.

For a Facebook page for the Nebraska/Iowa event, click here.

07 October 2014

Guard Medico: 25% of Vermont Deployers have PTSD

According to news reports, a medical spokesperson for the Vermont National Guard claims that 25 percent of that state's citizen-soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in 2009-2010 may be diagnosable with various symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.). Approximately 3,000 Vermonters deployed to Afghanistan with 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.). One of those soldiers, Pfc. Joshua Pallotta, 25, committed suicide last month. His family cites PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (T.B.I.), injuries sustained during his deployment.

"We want people to know that our son took his life because he was struggling with PTSD that he couldn't get out of, he couldn't see another way out and we just don't wan't this to happen to another veteran ever again," his mother Valerie Pallotta told WCAX-TV in this Sept. 29 story.

An Oct. 3 news report from TV station WPTZ reads:
Col. Martin Lucenti, the Vermont Guard's chief medical officer, said earlier this year that about 25 percent of the 3,000 soldiers who were part of the Guard's 2010 deployment to Afghanistan have PTSD symptoms of varying degrees. [...]

Lucenti said another Guard suicide since Josh's is under investigation. Over the past decade, guard officials have tallied 10 suicides; nine from the Army side and one from the Air side, he said.

Lucenti estimated about 25 percent of service members returning from deployments have experienced some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. While that is a contributing risk factor to suicide, medical and behavioral health experts said there are many other risk factors, including stressors like employment, housing, and alcohol and drug abuse.
The 86th BCT was one of only three U.S. National Guard brigade-sized units ever to manage full-spectrum operations for assigned provinces while deployed to Afghanistan. The unit was followed in 2010-2011 by Iowa's 2nd BCT, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, and in 2011-2012 by Oklahoma's 45th Infantry "Thunderbird" BCT. The units' areas of responsibility included varying configurations of provinces within Eastern Afghanistan.

Pallotta served as a mortarman in Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry, a unit headquartered in Jericho, Vt. Again according to news reports, most of his deployment was spent at Combat Outpost Herrera, Paktiya Province, along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least two Vermont soldiers lost their lives fighting there in August 2010: Sgt. Tristan Southworth, 21, of Walden, Vt. and Sgt. Steven Deluzio, 21, of Glastonbury, Conn.

Pallotta committed suicide Sept. 23, 2014. A funeral was conducted Sept. 29.

Working together with the non-profit Blue Star Mothers of Vermont, the family has created a fund to assist citizen-soldiers who have been diagnosed with PTSD and/or TBI. The postal mailing address is: P.O. Box 195, Bakersfield, VT, 05441. A Facebook page is here. Or visit: www.bluestarmothersofvermont.org

A recent Facebook post by the organization reads, in part:
Donations have been pouring into the Josh Pallotta Fund, which will be used to help our Vermont Veterans who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. For those who would like to donate through our website, the donation page has now been set up so you can designate specifically where your donation will be targeted. For those who have already donated, please be assured that those donations have been targeted specifically to the Josh Fund. Acknowledgement letters will be sent out as soon as possible. The Pallotta family and the Blue Star Mothers of Vermont are humbled by the support that is being received.
An oft-cited 2012 Veterans Affairs study estimates that up to 22 veterans a day commit suicide. The Pallotta family has also expressed hope that the story of their son would motivate individuals who are considering suicide to instead reach out to resources such as the Veterans Crisis Line.

The Veterans Crisis Line is a toll-free and on-line resource staffed by trained Department of Veterans Affairs personnel, who can confidentially assist soldiers, veterans, families and friends toward local help and resources.

According to the Veterans Crisis Line website:
1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

05 October 2014

Former Mil-Vlogger to Fund Bone-Marrow, PTSD Film

Kenneth J. Raimondi is a former U.S. Air Force combat correspondent and video-blogger with 13 years of service, and was part of a multimedia team that conducted a 2010 tour downrange titled "30 Days Through Afghanistan." Now, he and a fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts, MFA in film classmate David Pinkston, are seeking to crowd-fund a feature-length story about other service-related passions: blood-marrow donation and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.).

A year after returning from Afghanistan, Raimondi was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a bone marrow disease. "I would ultimately need a bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, there was a match on the bone marrow registry, and when Cameron was called, he gave and saved my life," Ramondi writes. "The bone marrow transplant ultimately ended my military career, but set me on a path to filmmaking." A blog Ramondi wrote during the match and donation process is available here.

A Kickstarter fund-raising campaign page for Raimondi's film project, titled "Her Unlikely Kin," is here.

The effort ends Wed., Oct. 15. A Facebook page for the film is here.

A synopsis of Raimondi's feature film project reads:
Sarah Rassi is running out of options. She needs a bone marrow transplant and her only match on the registry is troubled war veteran, Peyton Sinclair. Can Peyton overcome his own battles with PTSD to step up and save Sarah's life? "Her Unlikely Kin" tells the story of two strangers, who by rare genetic chance, can offer each other new life.
"My goal is to make people aware of the miracle of bone marrow transplants. I want to show people that doctors and medicine are great, but that the cure for another human being may very well rest in your marrow. You can save someone's life," writes Raimondi. "I hope 'Her Unlikely Kin' shows this in a dramatic way that hits people in a way no commercial or news story can."

"I also intend to show a veteran with PTSD as a hero, not a victim. PTSD does exist, but it does not define you."

Because of health requirements for donation, Active- and Reserve-Component personnel represent a highly desirable population for DNA registry. Registry drives are often conducted through military installations and organizations, and more than 700,000 service members and Department of Defense civilians are currently registered. Blood marrow is only donated after a successful match is identified.

If you've ever had your cheek swabbed by Uncle Sam, you may already be registered as a potential donor. The "Be The Match Registry" is the new name for the National Marrow Donor Program (N.M.D.P.) registry. The non-profit organization is based in Minneapolis, Minn. To check to see whether you are already registered as a potential donor, click here, or call 1-800-MARROW-3.

There are also smaller national registries, which are listed here.

If funded, filming and other production of "Her Unlikely Kin" will take place in San Antonio, Texas.

03 October 2014

Nov. 1 Deadlines for VFW's Youth Writing Competitions

My youthful interests in three trophies: In addition to the
VFW's "Tall Corn Radio Award" (really, the "Voice of Democracy")
are others for marksmanship and ... advertising sales?!
I've long since gotten rid of a lot of trophies from my high-school days and earlier, but one that I've kept is what I jokingly call the Veterans of Foreign Wars' "Tall Corn Radio Award."

(Remember newscaster Les Nessman on the late-1970s TV sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati," who was winner of the coveted Silver Sow, Buckeye Newshawk, and Copper Cob awards? He and I share more than a few things in common.)

Actually, it's a golden version of a old-school radio microphone, a symbol of the organization's annual "Voice of Democracy" audio-essay competition. And one of my prized possessions.

While I've lost the audiotape of my winning entry—I think it was recorded on a reel-to-reel tape—I've never misplaced the big lesson-learned from my participation in the VFW event: That patriotism is best shared with others.

Bottom line: I heartily recommend participation in the VFW's writing and audio-essay programs to interested high-schoolers, particularly those who are enjoy public speaking and journalism.

The "Patriot's Pen" essay-writing competition is open to students grades 6 through 8. This year's theme is "Why I Appreciate America’s Veterans." The national winner will receive a $5,000 award. Deadline is Nov. 1, 2014. Click here for more details.

The "Voice of Democracy" audio-essay competition is open to students grades 9 through 12. This year's theme is "Why Veterans are Important to our Nation’s History and Future." Deadline is also Nov. 1, 2014. Click here for more details.

For more information, as well as entry forms, contact your local participating VFW post.

Students should also submit entries (along with a completed entry form) to their participating local VFW post. Click here for a VFW post locator.

01 October 2014

Celebrate Comrades-in-Arms, Pets at 'Day of the Dead'

A military- and pet-friendly celebration of La Dia de Los Muertos ("The Day of the Dead") will be hosted by Central Iowa non-profit Paws & Effect at Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale, Iowa, starting at 1 p.m. Sat., Oct. 18. Costumes are encouraged, as well as "shrines" commemorating the honored dead.

La Dia de Los Meurtos is a traditional holiday that originates in Mexico and other Latino countries, during which family and friends gather to celebrate their ancestors and other loved ones. It is usually observed close to Halloween.

"We share our lives with pets and people," says Nicole Shumate, executive director of Paws & Effect. "Paws & Effect wants to create an opportunity to join together as a community, remembering and cherishing all those whose lives have touched ours."

Since 2006, the non-profit has trained and placed service animals with military veterans, children with autism, and others diagnosed with medical needs. The organization also trains therapy animals and Pet Partners. Shumate notes that the event uniquely offers veterans an opportunity to celebrate fallen brothers and sisters in arms, as well as former Military Working Dog partners, and past service and companion animals. Think of it as a "Hail and Farewell" event, with those being celebrated no longer physically present.

A New Orleans-style memorial ceremony and jubilee procession will begin 1 p.m. at the Living History Farms' Church of the Land. Music will be provided by the Drake University Jazz Band.

The upbeat procession will culminate at the Living History Farms softball fields, where music will be provided by El Dorados. Participants can purchase food from Magnolia Kitchen and Grocery, and sample beer from Peace Tree Brewing.

Cost for the event is $25. Register on-line here.

In addition to Living History Farms and Paws & Effect, the event is co-sponsored by the Dan Sesker Memorial Poker Run and Iowa Chapter of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of Iowa (EANGI).

Paws & Effect received a $2,000 donation from the Dan Sesker group, which annually raises funds through a Memorial Day weekend motorcycle ride and poker run originating in Ogden, Iowa. Sesker was killed in action April 6, 2006, while serving in Iraq. His family honors his memory by supporting community nonprofits whose work benefits military personnel, veterans, and families.

Paws & Effect also received $3,500 from the EANGI to help offset the costs associated with placing service dogs with veterans. These funds also support community events such as Dia de los Muertos, which provide an opportunity to celebrate the lives of comrades and family members who have served in uniform.