Category Archives: veterans

The Meaning of Veterans Day

Susie Sailor girl.. age 19
Susie Sailor girl.. age 19

A rare and welcome cool breeze wafted through the gray cinder-block corridor, carrying on it the faint, distant notes of a nameless, yet familiar holiday tune. The sun had yet to rise which may have contributed to the vague notion that December – at least for the moment – had arrived in Florida.

I was nineteen, an entire coast away from everything I knew to this point in life, and homesick. Basic training was in full swing and it had barely paused to acknowledge the holidays.

That winter the meaning of Veterans Day began to transform for me. I’d yet to understand how much my life would change, that soon our Company Commander would arrive with a team of MPs to remove the drill weapons that stood silent century in the center of birth we’d come to call home. That war would be declared in Iraq, or that 25 years later the same surreal mixture of pride and fear that my own mother must have felt would be visited upon me. 

I’ve often written about what my time in the Navy meant to me, the honor of serving alongside so many selfless, heroic, determined brethren.   Many times I’ve climbed upon my infamous soapbox in support of those who came before me, and those who continue to take up the gauntlet of service.  Today though, Veteran’s Day comes to me with new meaning.

It was another December day, oddly enough the same, rare cool breeze wafted off the San Diego bay. This time it carried on it the equally familiar hymn of Marine Corps. In a sea of hundreds of young Marines, all dressed alike,  all standing at rigid attention, I easily found my son.

He is mine.

That day a pride like I’d never known filled me, bringing along with it an ever-present undercurrent of fear. He will serve, no matter where or when. Those who hold his fate in their hands can never know how important, amazing… irreplaceable, he is. 

He’d volunteered for this.  Worked for it. Earned it. 

That will forever bond us to each other in the same fashion that the invisible umbilical chord always will.  We have served. Willingly, with pride.

When you stop to thank a Veteran today, keep in your thoughts those that love them, for they serve as well. 2013-12-05 12.32.07While a simple “Thank You,” goes a long way on Veterans Day or any day, if you’d like to do something more tangible to show your gratitude to those who have served and are serving, consider some of the apps and organizations below. One of the beautiful things about living in this digital age is that technology makes giving back an easy thing to do.  

Veterans Call  – This app allows users to give to as little as $5 in a monthly donation. These micro-donations add up as users choose charities to support, inviting friends and family to do the same.

Hero Miles – As someone who travels a lot, this is one of my favorite ways to give back. I belong to almost all the airline rewards programs there are out there and rarely (if ever) use the miles I’ve accumulated on all of them. 

Hero Miles is a program run through The Fisher House Foundation that allows you to donate your unused airline miles to veterans and their families. Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t get to a loved one in need who was far from home because the airfare was out of reach. This program helps to ensure that military families don’t have to face this scenario.

22Kill – The driving idea behind this movement is to raise awareness that nearly 22 veterans a day take their own lives. While that statistic may warrant some scrutiny, the fact is that awareness saves lives. Veteran suicide hits very close to home for our family, so I add this group into ways YOU can help because even after hashtags die out that doesn’t mean the problem is solved.  #22pushups for #22Kill

If you’re giving to veterans charities that aren’t giving the overwhelming majority of their funds to veterans or their families, you aren’t helping. ~ The Street

Considering giving to a veteran’s charity?  Start by grabbing the Charity Navigator app.  Believe it or not there are a whole lot of veterans charities out there that spend the bulk of your donated dollar on anything but direct help for veterans. Check this app before you click donate.

However you choose to thank a veteran know that we truly appreciate being acknowledged, though just about all of us will tell you it was OUR honor.

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!  

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The Greatest Casualty is to Be Forgotten – Memorial Day is for Remembering

With Memorial Day right around the corner. A surefire sign is all the sale flyers clogging my mailbox and junking up my spam filters.  Everyone (myself included) is talking about holiday menus and impending summer fun. And while I’m looking forward to all of that as well, I thought I’d dust off this post again in hopes that we can all keep memory in our Memorial Day.

The bulk of this was written several years before my oldest son became a Marine – an event that forever changed what saying “my fellow veterans,” means to me. 

Don't Forget What Memorial Day is About

Memorial Day – like Veteran’s day – is not about the sales or that long awaited three-day weekend. It isn’t about nabbing a great deal on a new mattress. We live in The Land of The Free… because of the brave.  Let us not forget those who serve, but especially on Memorial Day let us not forget those who gave all. 

Memorial Day is not Veterans day. Though the bulk of this post is about my experience as a veteran, I think it’s important that we make the distinction.  This isn’t a day to thank me for my service, it’s a day to honor those who died in service to this nation. 

Think that just means stopping by crumbly old memorial in a historic park somewhere that marks the site of a battle? Think again. Yes we should honor all those who paid the ultimate price of freedom, but I challenge you to make it a point to honor those lost in recent history.  Those who never came back and those that came back only to lose the battle at home.

An average of 22 veterans take their own lives daily. DAILY! Yes, they are causalities of war. Heroes that fought for your freedom the same as any lost on foreign soil.

Enjoy your three-day weekend, grill up something tasty. While you’re at it stop by a local veterans memorial, buy that poppy from the Vet set up in front of the big box store. Ask them about their story, let them tell it. Listen with an open heart, hear what they don’t say. In the retelling they honor those who never came back. Keep the memory in Memorial Day.

(originally published November 11, 2009)

Today is Veteran’s day and I always thought it was a bit awkward to say “Happy Veteran’s Day”. Not because I’m not happy to have served my country. I think it has something to do with knowing some of the hardships that come along with that service. I was a 19 year old kid when I left the familiar surroundings of my small town and boarded a plane for Navy basic training in Orlando, Florida. It was just after Thanksgiving 1990 and I couldn’t believe how cold it was in Florida, I thought this was supposed to be the sunshine state! I was scared out of my mind, lost and really regretting being the first person in my family to have joined the Navy.A few weeks into training our Company Commanders came into our compartment and removed all the drill weapons. They then announced that the Operation Desert Storm was underway. We were allowed one call home. With the sound of Bing Crosby singing “I’ll be home for Christmas” playing over the PA I called my parents. That was the first time it really hit me what it meant to be a member of the armed services.

 

Yep that’s me on the right all snuggled up to Fifle the mouse from An American tale. I’d go on to cry every time I heard the theme song “Somewhere out there” while serving a continent away from my family and friends. Okay I STILL cry when I hear it.  To my right is the best buddy any sailor could ask for Michelle Graf! 

I went on to become a Navy Airman and made it to 
my first duty station in Rota, Spain. Rota was a stop on the way to both Iraq and Somalia when I was there. Ships came through with Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Air Force Airmen. I count myself privileged to have served, partied, jaw jacked, worked my butt off and mourned with many of them.

Among them all I was honored to serve under Admiral Jeremy Michael “Mike” Boorda. Admiral Boorda is to this day someone I admire beyond words. He worked his way up from the lowest of enlisted rank, Seaman, to go on and become an Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations. I was honored to have had a one-on-one conversation with him. When he reportedly took his own life a hole was ripped in my heart and memory. He was honest and honorable, a person who stood up for what he believed, championed the underdog and no matter what others may think they know, he was a true hero.

With so many currently serving and so many giving the ultimate sacrifice there are those who’s loss has faded in our collective memory. Yet they are heroes all the same and I have not forgotten them. 

Remember you don’t have to support war to support a Veteran or honor the fallen.

 

The Hidden Heroes of Veteran’s Day

Hidden Heroes of Veterans DayTrue heroism is a quiet thing. It does not seek the spotlight nor is it dependent upon the recognition of others. It comes from a place of selflessness where doing the right thing is the only option. And yet no hero stands alone. Behind each is a hidden hero, a quiet corps of support and caring there in times of peace and struggle.

This Veteran’s Day, as I pay homage to those who came before me, served alongside me, and currently serve, I choose to also honor the silent heroism of the military caregiver. Having been both an active duty servicemember and a military spouse, now a Marine mom, I know firsthand that service is not a solitary undertaking. And yet I have little grasp on what it means to be the caregiver for a wounded warrior in a post-9/11 world.

Hidden Heroes of Veteran’s Day: The Post-9/11 Caregiver

In the United States there are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers. Of these, 1.1 million (nearly 20%) are caring for post-9/11 veterans.

These caregivers tend to be younger than those of other eras. They are caring for a younger veteran often with debilitating injury, mental health or substance use condition.

Most are employed, and not connected to a support network. Many are caring for other non-military family members as well – such as children.

Many of these people experience care and/or stress related health issues, report strain in family relationships, and incur workplace difficulties.   

Imagine the strength of character and spirit this takes to be this person, then try to not use the word hero in describing that.

Ever so slowly, more people are starting to see that these caregivers deserve to be honored for their service as well. That recognition can be as simple as lending a hand with daily tasks to take some of the burden from their shoulders. Better yet are those out there fully embracing these heroes, supporting them, and lifting them up through programs designed to help care for the caregiver.

Vail Veterans Program - Healing on the Slopes

The Vail Veterans Program, founded by Cheryl Jensen -a thankful American with no military ties– in 2004, began as an adaptive winter ski program. That first season there were just seven wounded warriors finding strength and healing on the slopes. Over a decade later the program has welcomed into the fold 500 severely injured veterans and over 1,000 family members and caregivers.

This unique program, founded by one person with a passion for honoring those who serve, has promoted physical and emotional healing for so many. This year Cheryl and her team have launched a program focused entirely on the Caregiver Hero.

Over the course of three days in a world-class resort, these heroes lay down the mantles they carry and allow themselves to be cared for, lifted up and renewed. Here they will partake in self-awareness programs, yoga, meditation, outdoor recreation, and spa treatments. This is not pampering, it is rejuvenation to strengthen them in their mission.

Hidden Heroes of Veterans Day

One of the things I remember most about my days of service was the way a meal {usually lousy, ugh Galley food} shared helped to wind down a day’s work. At the time it just seemed like everyday stuff, but looking back I understand what was happening, we were bonding and drawing strength from each other. Hearing that group meals were part of this caregiver program made me understand that Cheryl and her team have an understanding of the importance of bonding through shared experience even over something as simple as a meal.

I was moved to find out that all services provided by the Vail Veterans program are 100% free. Not one dime is paid by these heroes. In Cheryl’s words, “They’ve given enough.”

If you’d like to join me in honoring these hidden heroes this Veteran’s Day {or any day, seriously a random Tuesday out of the blue is perfect for taking time out to be thankful, one day just isn’t enough in my opinion} here is a list of organizations that help military caregivers and how you can help through donating funds, time, dedication.

Vail Veterans Program - Helping Hero Families

Vail Veterans

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)

Women of Valor

The Fisher House Foundation

Let The “Crazy” Ones Out

The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone. ~Robin Williams.

I believe that there exists a filament within each of us. Rooted in our hearts, it entwines itself throughout our being as it attaches like an umbilicus to our minds. The molecules within are dense and strong, yet pliable, having the ability to withstand the onslaught of all that makes us. In some of us it can transfigure, becoming gossamer, at times a mere wisp of a root. Barely holding us together.

When that filament thins to transparency, or breaks all together, so much can be lost. 

Heroes

Words

Artists

Lovers

Beauty

Friends

Faith

Children

Hope

As the media cacophony reaches a crescendo about the life and addictions of Robin Williams, I imagine his filament. Growing ever thinner. Fading away.

Time and I again I hear someone on TV say things like, “…recently returned to rehab” or “…struggled with addiction.” Were he to have died from cancer the narrative would undoubtedly have been different.  We’d be hearing things like, “After a long and courageous battle with…” It seems that where mental illness is involved – addiction, depression – there is little room to acknowledge courage. After all a gifted, iconic, beloved, and wealthy star could have no “reason” to take his own life. 

Depression has about as much reason as a cancer cell does.

They both choose their victims at random. Preying upon people from all walks of life with no regard for the size of one’s bank account or contributions to humanity.  They eat away at the people we are, changing the very structure of our being, leaving behind destruction in their wake.

Yet cancer gets walks, runs, standing up to. While depression – mental illness – gets shoved into a dark corner, hidden in a closet, stuffed inside. Why? Does anyone really think that someone chooses mental illness? They just wake up one day and say, “Today I think I’d like to ruin everything I’ve ever worked for, and hey maybe destroy the lives of those who love me while I’m at it?” No, they don’t. The thoughts choose, consuming them like cancer.

Until society as a whole can open that closet, let The “Crazy” Ones out, and treat the suffering as equal to anyone with any other disease they didn’t choose to get, we will find ourselves here again. The shock and sadness will come back. More lives will be lost. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America*. It is the 3rd leading cause of death in people between 15 and 24 years old*. Every day 22 American Veterans take their own lives**. 

While we all talk about our favorite Robin Williams movies (mine: Good Will Hunting, Hook, & What Dreams May Come) can we each make a little time to reach out. If you suffer from depression, tell someone. Talk, they want to listen. Talking can help.

Suicidal thoughts are not personal. They don’t mean that the person having them doesn’t love you enough. They are a part of the pathology of an illness that thrives -amongst other things – on isolation, shame, and fear.  If you know someone who is fighting a courageous battle with metal illness, tell them you stand with them. You aren’t expected to understand molecular biology to comfort a friend with cancer, you don’t have to be a psychologist to aid in the war with depression. 

Countless people at this very moment walk around with paper-thin filaments holding them together.

If you need help right now, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call (800) 273-TALK

 

* Source: Centers for Disease Control

** Source: Veterans Administration

Veteran’s Day: A Letter To Those I Served Alongside

n’s DayDear Brothers and Sisters,

Some of us came for a cause, moved to serve by life-altering happenstance. Others arrived here in the footsteps of long family tradition. Many came in search of purpose, lost and hoping to find ourselves. A few arrived, escorted by lack of choice. We were so young. Children really, holding on with ever slackening grip to the carefree days of youth. No matter how, or from where we came, we would depart with bonds that tether us forever, together.

Through war, in peace, in times of victory and gathered together to ward off the pains of defeat, we are one. We have served this great nation. Some have given far more that others can comprehend, the scars of which they carry both outwardly and within. Yet, not one of us left without the tie that binds. In the hearts of all who have served rests the light of those who went before us, and hope for those to come.

My time in the uniform of the United States Navy, has long since passed. The pride I have in being one amongst you, a member of the family of Veterans who served, and continue to serve, defending the liberty of this country, fighting for the freedom of uncountable others, rendering aid to those in need, will not diminish with time. I am honored to stand along side of each of you, and shall always be.

With Gratitude,

Lara DiPaola
Formerly Aviation Boatswains Mate (90-94)
United States Navy

Photo credit: “Vietnam Reflections” by Lee Teter

 

This Veteran’s Day, would you consider lending your voice, time, support and/or money to charities that help heal the wounds -both seen and unseen- of my fellow veterans?

“Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.” -Michel de Montaigne

Operation Freedom Paws provides service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Musicorps is an amazing concept and effort! They teach music to veterans who’s lives have been forever changed by the loss of limbs, traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD. This past week a band of brothers -and actual band– took the stage with Roger Waters of Pink Floyd in the Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert.

Sew Much Comfort makes adaptive clothing for the wounded. I personally would never have thought about a something as simple, yet necessary, as clothing altered for those who have lost limbs. Read more about this wonderful effort in this post by my friend Candace at Army Wives Lives.

For more information on charities that may not have the backing of big corporations or foundations, but could sure use yours, see this post from the indomitable and inspiring Lisa Douglas, military mom to seven and author of one of my favorite blogs, Crazy Adventures in Parenting.

Let us also not forget that though today is Veteran’s Day, no veteran serves alone. They take with them, to all theaters of battle and peace, the hearts and souls of their families. One of my favorite organizations that helps support military families is Operation Shower, read all about the great work they do in this post by the ever gifted (seriously, I want to BE her) Dawn Sandomeno of Party Blueprints.