The $100 Bet That Forever Changed Kaleb Wilson’s Life

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Kaleb Wilson in wheelchair on a pier with his wife in his lap

Seven years ago, Coast Guard veteran and PVA member Kaleb Wilson took a $100 bet that changed his life.

Some friends dared him to jump off a pier. He was 22 years old, and he figured he’d do it—it’s $100, right?

So, he dove in headfirst and hit the bottom, shattering several vertebrae. Instead of celebrating his win with friends, he found himself in a New Orleans Trauma Center, paralyzed.

One Goal

With his sweetheart Brittany by his side, he fought tooth and nail with one goal in mind: He wanted to walk down the aisle on their wedding day. She had been there for him during his recovery and rehab, and now he made it his mission to be there for her, standing across from her at the altar, and dancing at their wedding. With a lot of love, support, and hard work, he made it happen.

Wilson had been interested in joining the military ever since he was a little boy. He was a swimmer in high school, and started looking into programs with the Navy and the Air Force. But it was the Coast Guard that caught his attention. He was drawn to rescue swimming. “I knew it was where I needed to be,” he says.

He was a part of the Coast Guard for three years. After he graduated from boot camp he was assigned to a station in New Orleans, where he worked doing search and rescue missions, intercepting drug shipments, escorting vessels into the Gulf, and patrolling rivers and lakes. He loved his job, and he enjoyed the culture in New Orleans. He was a young man enjoying his career, living in a lively city, in love with a beautiful girl. Wilson was on the list to go to “A” school in November of 2012 when he took that fateful dare that landed him in a wheelchair.

A New Normal

Becoming paralyzed presents a whole host of challenges, of course, not just for the injured, but for those closest to them. Wilson and Brittany had to work together with trust and focus in order to adjust to their new normal. They relied on each other, and became stronger together. He proposed in 2013; they married in 2014, both of them standing for the ceremony.

Kaleb, in wheelchair and Brittany Wilson pose outside with their two young daughters, all smiling
Kaleb and Brittany Wilson with their two daughters

They also relied on Paralyzed Veterans of America. During rehab and recovery, PVA helped Wilson with benefits information, and later on, with vocational rehab benefits allowing him to return to school to pursue a chemical engineering degree. A couple of years ago, Wilson competed in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in swimming, and was inspired to join the Mountain State chapter of PVA, serving on the Board and as Treasurer.

He has attended two Games so far, most recently in Louisville, where he brought home seven medals in swimming, rugby, and field events. “It’s nice to be around people who are in a similar situation as I am, who understand what you are going through,” he says. “Brittany loves it, too, because she gets to socialize with other wives who know what we’re dealing with, and we get to come together with friends who live around the country.”

Giving Back

He and Brittany are in the process of moving to Illinois, where he will transfer his membership to the Vaughn chapter of PVA and do some volunteering for fellow veteran Noah Currier with his Oscar Mike Foundation.

“It’s not just money that keeps these programs running, it’s volunteers, too. I don’t want to be somebody who just takes, takes, takes. I want to give back.”

Today, Wilson is a loving and happy husband, and delighted father of two little girls, with a third child on the way. He is also a proud veteran of the United States Coast Guard.

“Seven years ago, I sustained my injury that ended my time actively serving in the Coast Guard, but that did not take away the fact that I still am a Coastie. I still feel at home around my fellow Coasties; I still feel connected in the way I always have. I may not serve beside them anymore, but I will always be a part of them!”

Source: https://blog.pva.org & craighospital.org/blog/wilsonwedding

Free Legal Answers now offers help to veterans

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Veteran looking up something on his smartphone

The American Bar Association online program ABA Free Legal Answers, which lets qualifying users ask civil legal questions to volunteer attorneys, has expanded to offer help on immigration and veterans’ questions.

The project, called Federal Free Legal Answers, fills a critical need for legal help during the pandemic, when many lawyers cannot meet clients in person and many Americans are suffering through the recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a collaboration of the ABA Commission on Immigration, the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

The new service started this month at abafederal.freelegalanswers.org.

“Many veterans, immigrants and asylum-seekers have problems that can’t be solved easily without a lawyer’s help,” ABA President Patricia Lee Refo said. “Fortunately, they can now turn to a trusted source for help. Many volunteer lawyers are standing by, ready to assist.”

For immigrants and asylum-seekers, lawyers at Free Legal Answers can answer questions about such subjects as deportation, green cards, DACA and naturalization. For veterans, eligible dependents and survivors, lawyers can answer questions about VA benefits, discharge upgrades and other issues.

Users are pre-screened for financial eligibility and can ask up to three questions a year, or up to five during the pandemic, when needs are greater. Legal guidance takes place online and is limited to civil matters. Users cannot be serving a criminal sentence and cannot ask questions about criminal matters.

Free Legal Answers began in 2016 with a single website in Tennessee and has since expanded to 45 states and territories. To date, it has received more than 136,000 inquiries and more than 8,600 lawyers have volunteered to answer questions.

“The Free Legal Answers website is a great resource to the public,” said Jocelyn Dyer, AILA’s senior pro bono counsel. “It’s so important for people who are seeking advice to be able to get accurate answers to their questions, especially during the pandemic, when legal service providers might have more restricted hours, intake and availability.

Attorneys can volunteer at  www.ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org and selecting “Volunteer Attorney Registration.”

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.

Source: American Bar Association

Feeding an army in D.C.: Chef José Andrés steps in to help feed huge influx of National Guard

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National guard wearing a black protective face mask takes a plate a food from a food booth outside Capitol Hill

By Kevin Rector LA Times

Early Saturday afternoon on a partially cordoned-off street in Washington, D.C., Peter Baca pushed a big stack of boxes containing thousands of cookies toward the doors of Jaleo, a Spanish-inspired tapas restaurant that famed chef and humanitarian José Andrés opened in 1993.

Inside, workers with World Central Kitchen — Andrés’ emergency response nonprofit — were busy assembling meals for thousands of troops guarding the city in anticipation of President-elect Biden’s inauguration Wednesday and in reaction to the pro-Trump mob that on Jan. 6 stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Baca, of the veteran-focused Dog Tag Bakery in Georgetown, said his cookie gift was “a small token to say how much we appreciate their service to our country.”

Federal officials are scrambling to catch those responsible for the deadly attacks — five people, including a Capitol police officer, died — and prevent future violence by turning downtown Washington into a fortress, with more than 20,000 National Guard troops and thousands more police officers and federal agents manning roadblocks and checkpoints.

The swiftness of the mobilization resulted in less-than-perfect circumstances for the soldiers, with hundreds of Guard members forced to rest on the marble floors of the U.S. Capitol in between shifts.

World Central Kitchen’s CEO Nate Mook said when he and Andrés saw viral images of the sleeping troops, they felt like they had to do something.

“This is a situation that nobody’s had to face before; it’s being figured out minute by minute,” Mook said. “And we know — because we see this in all types of crises and emergencies — that food can sometimes be an afterthought, and sometimes people are left working long shifts without food.”

So, they reached out to government leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and offered to tap their expertise in feeding large groups of people at a moment’s notice, as they did after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

The officials took them up on their offer. They started handing out meals Friday night. By Saturday evening, the organization had distributed about 4,000 meals. They planned to repeat the effort Sunday, and don’t plan on halting the special mobilization until Inauguration Day, he said.

In a show of thanks, Pelosi joined Andrés on Saturday in passing out meals and thanking the troops, who seemed surprised and elated to be getting a free lunch from a famed chef instead of a pre-packaged military meal.

“This is a really difficult time; folks are working long shifts,” Mook said. “They were so happy to get some fresh food to eat.”

Photo Credit: LA Times

Read the full article on LA Times.

Hiring Veterans With TBI And PTSD—Do’s And Don’ts For Employers And Hiring Managers

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American soldier in uniform and civil man in suit shaking hands with adequate national flag on background - United States of America

Do learn where to find and recruit veterans with TBI or PTSD. Don’t assume that veterans with TBI or PTSD are unemployable.

Do learn how to communicate with persons who have TBI or PTSD.

Don’t assume that veterans with TBIor PTSD lack the necessary education, training or skills for employment.

Do ensure that your applications and other company forms do not ask disability-related questions and that they are in formats that are accessible to all persons.

Don’t assume that veterans with TBI or PTSD do not want to work.

Do consider having written job descriptions that identify the essential functions of the job.

Don’t ask if a person has a disability or injury during an employment interview.

Do ensure that requirements for medical examinations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Don’t assume that certain jobs are more suited to persons with TBI or PTSD.

Do relax and make the applicant feel comfortable.

Don’t hire a person with a disability who is not qualified to perform the essential functions of the job—even with a reasonable accommodation.

Do provide reasonable accommodations that the qualified applicant will need to compete for the job.

Don’t assume that you have to retain an unqualified employee with a disability.

Do treat an individual with TBI or PTSD the same way you would treat any applicant or employee:with dignity and respect.

Don’t assume that your current management will need special training to learn how to work with people with TBI or PTSD.

Do know that among those protected by the ADA are qualified individuals who have TBI or PTSD.

Don’t assume that the cost of accident insurance will increase as a result of hiring a person with TBI or PTSD.

Do understand that access includes not only environmental access, but also making forms accessible to people with cognitive or psychological disabilities.

Don’t assume that the work environment will be unsafe if an employee has a disability.

Do develop procedures for maintaining and protecting confidential medical records.

Don’t assume that reasonable accommodations are expensive.

Do train supervisors on making reasonable accommodations.

Don’t speculate or try to imagine how you would perform a specific job if you had the applicant’s disability.

Do understand that a person with TBI or PTSD is on a course of recovery and reintegration with the community.

Don’t assume that you don’t have any jobs that a person with TBI or PTSD can do.

Do expect, with proper access to treatment and support resources, that the person with TBI or PTSD will regain significant functioning in their work and personal endeavors.

Don’t make medical judgments.

Don’t assume that a person with TBI or PTSD can’t do a job due to apparent and non-apparent disabilities.

Don’t assume that your workplace is accessible.

Source: AmericasHeroesAtWork.gov

Operation Coming Home Gifts War Veteran with Mattamy Home

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Service-disabled war veteran stands with family and friends in side the livingroom of his new home

The recipient of Hero Home 23, Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew Polizzi was surprised with the ultimate gift, just in time for Christmas.

Polizzi and his family have been selected to receive a brand new Mattamy home for free through Operation Coming Home.

Polizzi served for fourteen years, deployed four times, and received the Purple Heart from an injury in Afghanistan. Together, Polizzi and his wife have three children, all under the age of 10. For the past 10 years, they have constantly moved, having lived in eight different homes during the time span.

Operation Coming Home has been building Hero Homes since 2008 in Wake County through a partnership with the Home Builders Association of Raleigh and Wake County and the US Veterans Corps.

“Since Operation Coming Home began in 2008, our team has had the privilege to support and contribute to this exceptional cause,” said Bob Wiggins, President of Mattamy’s Raleigh Division. “Operation Coming Home is a project that the Mattamy team in Raleigh is very passionate about. It is an amazing feeling being able to give something as special as a home to individuals who have risked their lives to protect our freedom.”

Mattamy Homes will build Hero Home 23, located in one of the Division’s newest communities, Oak Park in Garner, North Carolina. This is the second home donated by Mattamy Homes and the 10th from the Royal Oaks team, which was acquired by Mattamy Homes in 2017.

“The Polizzi family’s new home will be conveniently located in the desirable area of White Oak,” said Donna Kemp, Vice President of Sales for Mattamy Homes. “We’ve chosen a beautiful home site for the family, and they get to come in and choose all design selections and personalize the home just for them. It’s humbling and extremely rewarding to give back, especially to a deserving veteran and his family. To be able to provide a life changing gift such as a home is an amazing feeling.”

Polizzi and his unit were on a security patrol in Afghanistan in 2010 when they came under heavy enemy fire. Polizzi quickly created and detonated a bomb that saved his entire unit, allowing them to pass only later to come under fire again. Polizzi was shot in the leg. He was treated for five weeks at an airbase, then finished his deployment.

The Polizzi family’s new home is anticipated to begin construction in February 2021 and be ready for move-in during the summer of 2021.

About Operation Coming Home

Operation Coming Home (OCH) is a partnership between members of the Triangle Veterans Association (TVA) and the Home Builders Association of Raleigh/Wake County. Made up of Veterans and non-Veterans, this team is honoring the sacrifices of the severely wounded Veterans of recent Middle Eastern Wars by building custom homes for them, at no charge.

About Mattamy Homes

Mattamy Homes is the largest privately owned homebuilder in North America, with 40-plus years of history across the United States and Canada. Every year, Mattamy helps more than 8,000 families realize their dream of home ownership. In the United States, the company is represented in 11 markets – Dallas, Charlotte, Raleigh, Phoenix, Tucson, Jacksonville, Orlando (where its US head office is located), Tampa, Sarasota, Naples and Southeast Florida – and in Canada, its communities stretch across the Greater Toronto Area, as well as in Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton. Visit www.mattamyhomes.com for more information.

Ray Chavez, Oldest Pearl Harbor Vet, Will Get Post Office Dedicated in His Honor

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Ray Chavez, oldest Pearl Harbor vet, smiles at 106th birhday party wearing a lei

By Brenda Gregorio-Nieto and NBC 7 Staff

Ray Chavez, the oldest veteran survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor will have a San Diego post office dedicated in his honor after congress passed a bill introduced last year by Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52).

The bill, H.R. 3005, was proposed to rename the Poway Post Office on 13308 Midland Rd. as the “Ray Chavez Post Office Building” in honor of the American hero who died in 2018 at the age of 106.

The bill was recently signed by President Trump after it passed in both the House and Senate without amendment, and with unanimous consent.

“When I found out he was the oldest [Pearl Harbor] survivor in the country, passed away in November [2018], I thought, what a fine tribute this would be not just to him and his family and his community, but to all the veterans who served,” Peters said last year.

Chavez’s daughter, U.S. Navy veteran Kathleen Chavez, said her father would have been humbled by the honor, just as he was in life when he received attention for his service.

Read the full article onNBC Los Angeles.

Photo Credit: NBC LA

2020 USO Service Member of the Year Honorees Announced

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USO honorees pictured together in a collage

ARLINGTON, Va. — Each year, the United Service Organizations (USO) honors the heroism of junior enlisted service members, E-5 or below, with the USO Service Member of the Year Awards.

Service members from each branch of the military are nominated by their command leadership for performing acts of valor that go above and beyond the call of duty and who embody the standards and values of the Armed Forces and the USO.

“These men and women have brought great honor to their respective branches of service and to the country. They exemplified bravery and courage in the face of danger and placed service above self,” said USO CEO and President J.D. Crouch II. “Putting the mission first and doing the right thing embody the core values of the USO. We congratulate this year’s honorees for their outstanding contributions and for being a force for good in the world.”

The USO is proud to name the 2020 USO Service Members of the Year and share their stories:

  • Nolan P. McShane | USO Marine of the Year 2020 (pictured bottom right): Sgt. Nolan P. McShane was overseeing a training exercise in Twentynine Palms, California, when a Marine became severely wounded. Without hesitation, McShane controlled a chaotic site, confirmed tourniquet placement and inspected pressure dressings to help stabilize the wounded Marine before he was evacuated to a local hospital. McShane serves with the U.S. Marine Corps’ 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren J. Singer | USO Sailor of the Year 2020 (pictured bottom middle):Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren J. Singer was traveling over the Coronado Bridge near San Diego, California, when her heroic actions prevented a motorist from taking his own life. Singer serves with the U.S. Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 14 and is from Williamsburg, Virginia.
  • Staff Sgt. Nigel C. Archer, Jr. | USO Airman of the Year 2020 (pictured bottom left):Staff Sgt. Nigel C. Archer, Jr., displayed quick thinking, exemplary leadership and heroism when he noticed a vehicle had driven off a roadway and overturned near Comayagua, Honduras. Undeterred by the terrain and the language barrier, Archer quickly jumped into action and slid down a 50-foot embankment to rescue all nine passengers. Archer serves with the U.S. Air Force’s 728th Air Mobility Squadron and is from Havelock, North Carolina.
  • Mary Ehiarinmwian | USO Soldier of the Year 2020 (pictured top middle):While Sgt. Mary Ehiarinmwian was driving to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, the vehicle in front of her rolled over several times before coming to rest upside down on a steel property gate, almost impaling the driver. Without hesitation, Ehiarinmwian extracted the driver from the smoking vehicle and brought him to safety. Ehiarinmwian serves with the U.S. Army’s 523rd Engineer Support Company and is from St. Robert, Missouri.
  • Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew J. Fleming | USO Coast Guardsman of the Year 2020 (pictured top left):When Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew J. Fleming learned of a capsized recreational fishing vessel off the coast of Georgia, he quickly responded and resuscitated one of the mariners. He wrapped the other mariner who was exhibiting signs of hypothermia in his own jacket to retain body heat. Additionally, during the height of COVID-19, Fleming led efforts to establish protocols for a remote facility inspection program, safeguarding personnel from exposure to the virus. Fleming serves with the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector New York and is from Lawrenceville, Georgia.
  • Airman 1st Class Sikander S. Rahman | USO National Guardsman of the Year 2020 (pictured top right):Airman 1st Class Sikander S. Rahman exemplified great bravery during an off-base motor vehicle crash near Hartford, Connecticut, when his rescue efforts ensured the driver was removed in a safe and timely manner. Rahman serves with the Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Maintenance Squadron and is from Windsor, Connecticut.

Learn more about the 2020 USO Service Members of the Year here.

“On behalf of the USO, we commend the USO Service Members of the Year for their unwavering commitment to helping others in their time of need,” said SgtMaj Carlton Kent, 16th Sergeant Major of the U.S. Marine Corps and member of the USO Board of Governors. “Their selflessness and bravery—not only during the events they were nominated for but also throughout their everyday lives—epitomize what it means to serve. We are grateful for them and for all of our service members who sacrifice so much to protect us.”

Due to the pandemic, 2020’s USO Service Members of the Year will be honored via celebrations hosted by their commands or local USO centers throughout the month of December. Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren J. Singer will be honored as USO Sailor of the Year on Wednesday, December 16 and Sgt. Nolan P. McShane will be honored as USO Marine of the Year on Thursday, December 17.

Join us in expressing appreciation for all our nation’s service members this holiday season by sending them a message of thanks and support.

About the USO:
The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. At hundreds of locations worldwide, we are united in our commitment to connect our service members and their families through countless acts of caring, comfort and support. The USO is a private nonprofit organization, not a government agency. Our programs and entertainment tours are made possible by the American people, support of our corporate partners and the dedication of our volunteers and staff. To join us in this important mission, and to learn more about the USO, visit USO.org or at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Source: PRNewswire

Former record producer switches buttons to join U.S. Army

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Future U.S. Army Soldier Kenny Oliver (right), poses with his recruiter

In 2011, Kenny Oliver was on top of the music world.  At just 20 years old, he found himself producing and co-writing the massive hit ‘Sexy and I Know It’ by LMFAO, a track that would sell upwards of 8 million copies and become a number one hit around the world.

Almost a decade later Oliver finds himself about to shift trajectory and embark on a career far removed from the world of pop music, as he prepares to become a U.S Army Soldier.

For Oliver, it means a chance to serve his country and realize a long-standing ambition, following a music career that saw many highs along the way.

Oliver, 29, was born in Moreno Valley, Calif., in 1991 and spent much of his childhood consumed with soccer, before music came calling.

“My first passion was soccer. My dad played it and we’d watch it together all the time. It was what I grew up on. Once I got to high school, I grew out of that and started going to music festivals when I was 17 and 18,” Oliver said.

“I really got into electronic and house music and I wanted to make my own music. As soon as I got out of high school, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo by Alun Thomas. Future Soldier Kenny Oliver (right), poses with his recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Moe.

Despite receiving no formal training, Oliver was able to teach himself the basics of creating electronic music and soon started to reap the benefits.

“I was entirely self-taught. I’d watch tutorials on You Tube on how to do certain things,” he said. “I had been a DJ spinning music, but when I started playing my own music, that’s when things started to take off.”

Oliver remixed the track ‘Party Rock Anthem’ by LMFAO and sent it to one of his friends, who had a connection to the band.

“My friend liked it and eventually it found its way to the manager for LMFAO. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I was working with my dad at his business, painting houses,” Oliver recalls. “I was working with him one morning, when I got an email from LMFAO saying they’d got my remix and wanted to meet me.”

Oliver soon found himself communicating with the band and seeing their relationship escalate from there.

“The band ended up calling me that day, we talked about their music and plans for the future. They’d already had success with some of their songs and 2011 was going to be a big year for them,” Oliver explained. “I went around to their house in Hollywood, where they played me the music they were working on. They kept inviting me over, to the point we were like friends and family.”

When presented with the rough version of ‘Sexy and I Know It,’ Oliver made several changes, which pleased the band and proved successful for all involved.

“They already had an idea for the song, so I made a new beat and gave it to them. They put the vocals over it and that was the final version,” he added. “My name went on the credits as a producer and I got a plaque for it as well. It was financially rewarding and to this day I still get royalty checks.”

Oliver continued to explore his music career, including a collaboration with will.i.am., founder of the Black Eyed Peas.

“At that time, Electronic Dance Music was getting into the mainstream pop scene and everyone was looking for that sound. So I met Will and started working with him doing some production,” Oliver said. “It wasn’t on the same scale of success I had with LMFAO, but I made two beats on one of Will’s songs that was released.”

Oliver decided to concentrate on his own musical career following this, playing the club scene and performing at festivals throughout the South West, but the emergence of COVID-19 affected his live music career.

“I’d been playing festivals and making my own music,” Oliver explained. “But since COVID-19 hit, all those opportunities have disappeared and my passion for the music has gone down a little.”

At a lull and looking for a new challenge, Oliver decided to enlist, something that he had always considered, but never explored.

“I wanted a new challenge for myself and get out of my comfort zone,” he observed. “I moved to Phoenix in 2017 to leave California and have some new scenery and excitement, so joining the Army is an extension of that. But to serve my country is my number one reason for enlisting.”

Assisting Oliver in the recruiting process was Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Moe, recruiter, Arrowhead Recruiting Station, Phoenix West Recruiting Company, who said Oliver has taken a huge step by enlisting.

“Kenny lives around the corner from me, so once I learned he was interested, I set up a meeting,” Moe said. “I didn’t really know his background at all until after he enlisted. I knew he did music, playing shows and traveling, but not the extent of his past and the success he had.”

“I think it’s an amazing thing, to be in that lifestyle for years and then join the Army and serve your country. He’s taking a step up that a majority of Americans aren’t willing to do,” Moe continued.

Oliver decided on becoming a religious affairs specialist and said the nature of the job appeals to him.

“I decided on that job because I want to help people. The duties and responsibilities appeal to me, setting up religious services and just being able to help people and make a difference in their lives,” he said.

As his ship date of Dec. 28 draws closer, Oliver said he’s trying to prepare as best as possible for Basic Combat Training, excited at the journey ahead.

“I’m excited for basic training … I’ve been preparing by watching You Tube videos and getting help from the recruiters,” Oliver said. “I’m trying to learn what to expect. I’m sure on the day I arrive at Fort Jackson, the nerves will hit me.”

Continue on to Dvidshub.net

Join the USO in Sending the Gift of Home to Troops Around the World This Holiday Season

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young girl with Christmas cap on hands soldier in a tank a gift bag

LONG BEACH, Calif.- This holiday season, the USO, the non-profit organization founded in 1941 dedicated to strengthening America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation, is bringing the spirit of the holiday season to the men and women who work to protect our freedom.

The USO will send the gift of home to our troops during the holidays, providing care, comfort and connection through virtual programming, care packages and opportunities for local communities to support service members and their families around the world.

“Hundreds of thousands of service members will remain on duty this holiday season, unable to return home to visit their loved ones. Now more than ever, they need our help to bridge the distance to family, home and country,” said USO West President Bob Kurkjian. “Even the smallest gesture can make a huge difference to the men and women who serve our country around the world. The USO is proud to offer easy options for local community members to make the holidays truly special.”

A full list of USO virtual programming and give back opportunities can be found below.

  • USO Wishbook The USO Wishbook is an alternative gift catalog that fuels the forces! Send a heartfelt gift to a service member, while providing critical support to help lessen the separation felt by troops and their families. Help a service member connect with their loved ones during the holidays by gifting a phone call home, a holiday meal, care package and more.
  • AmazonSmile Select the USO as your charity of choice with AmazonSmile for a simple way to support the USO every time you shop. AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases, at no cost to you.
  • Donate by Riding with Lyft Support the USO’s mission by donating through Lyft. When you opt in to donate on the Lyft app, select the USO as your chosen charity and your payment will automatically round up to the nearest dollar, donating the difference to the USO.
  • Campaign to Connect Campaign to Connect makes it easy to send messages of thanks to service members. Send messages of support to military members as a way to boost their morale and make them smile. Kind words can go a long way.
  • USO Holidays Military Virtual Programming (MVP) Series (Dec. 2 – Dec. 11) Service members and military families are invited to join livestream events with WWE superstar Mike “The Miz” and his wife, Maryse Mizanin; television personality and fashion designer Kristin Cavallari; actress Angela Kinsey; musician Jessie James Decker; and “A Christmas Story” star Peter Billingsley. Register at org/MVP.
  • The USO MVP Holiday Special (Dec. 17) Tune in to USO’s Facebook and YouTube platforms for the USO MVP Holiday Special featuring virtual visits with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski; sports analyst Terry Bradshaw; and other pro-athletes engaging with service members around the world. Tony Award-winning star of stage and film Idina Menzel headlines the virtual special with a performance featuring holiday and iconic Broadway tunes. Featured holiday set decor, provided by Balsam Hill, renowned for its lifelike Christmas Trees inspired by nature, has been gifted to the USO for distribution to active-duty military and families. Visit org/MVP to learn more.
  • Bob Hope USO Bob Hope USO will provide meals to hundreds of service members and their families this holiday season, as well as toy distributions to military kids on local bases. To find out how you can help donate toys to military children or support Bob Hope USO holiday efforts this year, visit uso.org.
  • USO Northern California USO Northern California is helping military personnel and families during the holidays by distributing holiday baskets, stockings and meals. For more information on how to support USO Northern California this holiday season, visit uso.org.
  • USO San Diego USO San Diego will offer a variety of holiday cheer this holiday season with meal distributions to families and service members in isolation this year. The USO Santa Store will serve 1,700 military children at Camp Pendleton, allowing kids to pick out gifts for their parents and receive a kids activity bag, stuffed animal, toy and candy cane. USO San Diego’s Giving Tree program aims to serve 800 military kids and will provide assistance to military families in need. To learn more about holiday giving with USO San Diego, visit uso.org.

Give today to bring home to those that miss it most during the holidays. Visit USO.org/Holidays to donate today and for other ways to give back this holiday season.

The USO continues its efforts to support service men and women and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional ongoing efforts include delivering care packages, activity kits, meal deliveries, and virtual programs for service members and their families. For additional information about the USO and how to support the USO mission, visit USO.org.

About the USO:
The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. At hundreds of locations worldwide, we are united in our commitment to connect our service members and their families through countless acts of caring, comfort and support. The USO is a private nonprofit organization, not a government agency. Our programs and entertainment tours are made possible by the American people, support of our corporate partners and the dedication of our volunteers and staff. To join us in this important mission, and to learn more about the USO, visit USO.org or at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Wreaths Across America is On the Road Again With The Annual Escort of Wreaths and Virtual Convoy

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Three Christmas wreaths pictured on a promtional image with the words Wreaths Across America

Wreaths Across America (WAA), is a national non-profit whose Mission to Remember, Honor, and Teach, is in part carried out with the placement of sponsored veterans’ wreaths at 2500 participating locations across America, most notably, at Arlington National Cemetery, each December.

Another highly anticipated piece of this annual event is the weeklong, miles-long parade of tractor trailers, wrapped vehicles carrying veterans and Gold Star Families, law enforcement and motorcycle riders, leading the escort of wreaths to Arlington for placement.

This year’s annual escort of wreaths will have a different look and feel due to the necessary changes being made throughout the country for health and safety. The physical journey – which will include one tractor trailer load of wreaths hauled by Gully Transportation professional driver JD Walker, who is also a Gold Star Father and NAVY Veteran, 11 wrapped CHEVY vehicles carrying Gold Star Families, and nine police cruisers – will take place from Tuesday, Dec. 15, through National Wreaths Across America Day, Saturday, Dec. 19.

“For those who have had the opportunity to participate in the escort of wreaths over the years, it is truly an experience of a lifetime,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, WAA. “The way

we have been welcomed into communities, over the years, with flags waving and streets lined with children and veterans, is something we always wished every American could witness. And now, thanks to PenFed’s support, we’ll be able to offer this incredible journey to all those who wish to participate. We are both grateful and excited to safely share the mission with all who want to participate.”

In partnership with PenFed Credit Union’s digital media content team, PenFed Digital, this year’s escort will also be shared virtually for the nation to join along from the safety of their own homes. PenFed Digital and WAA are overcoming pandemic-related challenges to ensure fallen heroes are honored safely. During the escort and leading up to its departure, viewers can follow along, learning about the mission and hearing stories from the people it impacts on Wreaths Across America’s Facebook and PenFed’s TwitterFacebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn pages. From the professional truck drivers hauling this precious cargo to the hard-working, dedicated volunteers receiving them on the other side of the country, we are going to share their journeys too!

“We are proud to partner with Wreaths Across America to tell the stories of our nation’s veterans – the men and women who served to protect our freedoms,” said James Schenck, CEO of PenFed Credit Union and PenFed Foundation. “It’s even more important that we continue to support the military community and give back during these uncertain times. This year is going to be especially memorable with both in-person events and the sharing of many incredible stories via social media with those at home. Everyone needs patriotism this holiday season and PenFed is proud to support Wreaths Across America’s mission to remember, honor and teach.”

The WAA escort will travel the route below – the nonprofit is asking Americans to plan to come out and wave your flags, share your signs and cheers of encouragement, as it travels through your community.

Tuesday, December 15

  • 9:00AM Coastal Washington County Institute of Technology

12 Addison Rd., Columbia, ME 04330

  • 11 am Parade through downtown Ellsworth, ME
  • 12:45PM Arrive atCentral Maine Veterans’ Memorial Park

Roderick Rd, Winslow, ME 04901

  • 3:15PM – Arriveat Ocean Gateway, Portland ME

14 Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland, ME 04101

Wednesday, December 16

  • 8:00AM Leave Portland (small detour through York Village)
  • 10:10AM Arrive at MA State Line
  • 12:30PM Parade through portion of Worcester, MA
  • 3:30PM Arrives atRegal Cinemas, Branford, CT

325 E. Main St. Branford, CT

  • 7:30PM Cross the George Washington Bridge

Thursday, December 17

  • 9:45AM Arrive atVietnam Veterans’ Museum, Holmdel, NJ

1 Memorial Ln, Holmdel, NJ 07733 

  • 1:30PM Arrive atHoly Rosary Church (The Guardian of the Defenders Memorial) 

3200 Philadelphia Pike, Claymont, DE 19703

  • 3:30PM Arrive atWhitehall Village

801 Mapleton Ave., Middletown, DE 19709

  • 6:00PMArrive at American Legion Post 278 Kent Island

800 Romancoke Rd, Stevensville, MD 21666

Friday, December 18

These stops will be held with safety in mind as we ask citizens to tune in to the local radio dials listed below and hear real-time updates from Wreaths Across America Radio who will be traveling in the escort.

Maine

  • Ellsworth, Maine (parade through town) – 5 FM
  • Central Maine Veterans Memorial, Winslow, ME- 9 FM
  • Ocean Gateway, Portland, Maine – 7 FM

Massachusetts

  • Parade through portion of Worcester, MA -97.1 FM

Connecticut

  • Branford, CT Regal Cinemas – 9 FM

New Jersey

  • Vietnam Veterans Museum, Liberty Park, NJ – 9 FM

Delaware

  • Holy Rosary Church, Guardians of the Defenders Memorial, Claymont, DE – 5 FM
  • Whitehall Village, Middletown, DE – 5 FM

 Maryland

  • American Legion Post 278 Kent Island, Stevensville, MD – 3 FM

Washington DC

  • 5 FM

PenFed Digital is the only group following Wreaths Across America’s escort from Maine, where the wreaths are assembled, to the laying of the wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery and around the entire country.

To find a cemetery near you to support or to learn how local events are being modified for safety in your community click here.

You can sponsor a wreath for $15 at https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/. Each sponsorship goes toward a fresh balsam veteran’s wreath that will be placed on the headstone of an American hero as we endeavor to honor all veterans laid to rest on Saturday, December 19, 2020, as part of National Wreaths Across America Day. You can text WREATH to 20222 to sponsor a wreath for Arlington National Cemetery right from your phone.

About Wreaths Across America
Wreaths Across America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992. The organization’s mission – Remember, Honor, Teach – is carried out in part each year by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies in December at Arlington, as well as at thousands of veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond. For more information or to sponsor a wreath please visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

About PenFed Credit Union

Established in 1935, Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) is America’s second-largest federal credit union, serving over 2 million members worldwide with over $26 billion in assets. PenFed Credit Union offers market-leading certificates, checking, credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and a wide range of other financial services with members’ interests always in mind. PenFed Credit Union is federally insured by the NCUA and is an Equal Housing Lender.

To learn more about PenFed Credit Union, visit PenFed.org, like us on Facebook and follow us @PenFed on Twitter. Interested in working for PenFed? Check us out on LinkedIn. We are proud to be an Equal Employment Opportunity Employer.

Retired Navy SEAL Lieutenant Jason Redman Shares his Secrets to Being a Leader and What it Takes to Overcome

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Former Navy SEAL Jason Redman and service dog Kharma stand next to each other on the grass

By Kellie Speed

Retired Navy SEAL Lieutenant Jason Redman certainly knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a true leader and overcome adversity.

After all, the Ohio native and author of “The Trident” and “Overcome,” is the recipient of numerous prestigious military awards, including the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, Purple Heart, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Navy Achievement Medal (five awards), Combat Action Ribbon (two awards) and US Army Ranger Tab.

On September 13, 2007, during a special ops mission as Assault Force Commander to capture an Al Qaeda High Value Individual, Redman’s Assault Team came under heavy fire. Despite being shot several times, including once in the face, he and his team fought valiantly to do what he does best—overcome.

“I wouldn’t have made it through SEAL training if I didn’t have some level of mindset that I could overcome adversity, but it really got tested several years prior to getting shot,” Redman said. “It was through leadership failure and having to push forward despite a whole lot of people not believing in me and, as a matter of fact, being resentful that I just didn’t leave. That, by far, was the longest and hardest road I have ever fought—much harder than my injuries.

“Having climbed out of that hole and built back my professional leadership and tactical reputation over the last several years, both in training and in combat, put me in a position that when I was wounded, don’t get me wrong it sucked, but I was like, you have climbed out of worse holes so this is no different.”

Redman said, “The number one lesson in leadership is you have to lead yourself. You have to set the example. You have to pull forward. The great news is that when you do that consistently over time, people will follow you.”

When writing that now infamous orange sign he hung on his hospital door, it served as a reminder to him and others to come forward with a positive attitude. “I wrote it as a little bit of a warning to people coming into my room that I wasn’t going to tolerate sorrow,” he said. “It’s hard enough to stay positive when times are really hard and it makes it obviously that much harder if you are surrounded by other people that are going to pull you down and inject a bunch of negativity into a hard situation.

“I said, I am going to set the bar and forward focus, and if you can’t handle that, then I don’t want you to come in here. There’s a flip side to that coin that I’ll be honest I don’t think I put a lot of thought into but it set the bar for myself. It gave me a benchmark, setting a destination and a course that I have followed and sometimes it was hard,” Redman said. “Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of hard days when I was having setbacks, when I was having infections, when I was having problems, and to be like, man I don’t want to be motivated. I want to sit on the X and feel sorry for myself. But I was like, you can’t do that, look at your sign. I think that’s important in life when you say, this is what I am going to do and when you put it out there to the world, you set a level of expectation not only for yourself, but for other people.”

What advice does Redman have for a veteran who may be struggling in civilian life? “You have to believe the power resides in you,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. I know I struggled a lot with post-traumatic stress and anxiety after my injuries and I hit a really low point a few years after I came home and was spiraling down.

“My wife is amazing. I had always taken for granted that she would always be there, but she kind of hit me with, hey, this is not working for me and our family. So, that’s when I went and got help. At the end of the day, to the veterans out there, you have to be proactive,” Redman explained. “Sometimes you need to recognize that you need to reach out and get somebody to help you. I am not afraid to reach out when I need to. But, you, the individual on that X, have to take the first step to get off it and recognize it may take several times to make progress. Just recognize those initial first tries are going to be the hardest, but if you continue and you grind and you have the discipline to keep pushing for that change, you will make momentum.”

Image Credit: Michelle Quilon – 3’s a Charm Photography

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