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Posts Tagged ‘veteran’

Photo: Tony Luong.
Robert Vallières brings a raptor when he speaks to veterans about how birds helped his recovery, like here at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire. When asked the worth of this Great Horned Owl, he told the vet: “I can’t put a value on it.” 

Tomorrow, November 11, is Veterans Day, one of only two federal holidays that hasn’t been switched to a Monday. The other is July 4. I saw today’s story around this time last year and decided to save it for you.

Purbita Saha and Tony Luong wrote at Audubon magazine in 2017 about a former soldier who found solace in Nature and then used his insights to help other veterans.

“The first bird that saved Robert Vallières,” they report, “was a Black Hawk helicopter. It was October 1990, and the then 28-year-old Army soldier was serving in the Persian Gulf War. While riding in the back of a truck on a mission to fortify a foxhole in the remote Arabian Desert, a heavy beam slammed into him, sending him flying and causing severe head injuries and swelling in the brain. The chopper sped Vallières to a field hospital for emergency care. …

“After being honorably discharged, Vallières returned to Concord, New Hampshire. While he appeared to be on the mend, he continued to grapple with chest spasms and Gulf War Syndrome—the mysterious mix of symptoms, including headaches, exhaustion, and memory problems, that plagued up to a third of returning veterans. On top of that, he had lingering effects from a pre-deployment aneurysm, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. … The PTSD led to serious depression and horrific anger, he says. He was overwhelmed with trying to readapt to civilian life when he saw a newspaper ad for a birding trip in the White Mountains. Remembering his hikes with his nature-loving father, also a veteran, Vallières signed up immediately. Up on the slopes, as he scanned the leafy ledges for passerines, a Peregrine Falcon hurtled into view, seizing a Northern Flicker mid-air in a puff of feathers. He followed it back to a snag, where it tore the woodpecker apart, yellow shaft after yellow shaft. ‘I was glued,’ Vallières says. …

“Vallières credits that Peregrine with saving him from despair. The encounter sparked a full-fledged birding obsession that ultimately helped shape his philosophy on healing. He quickly signed on to monitor raptor nests with New Hampshire Audubon. The first site he claimed was Joe English Hill, near Concord, where he and his son Andrew would watch American Kestrels speed rodents to their begging chicks’ mouths. As his identification and observational skills deepened, his responsibilities multiplied. He began tracking breeding Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles, aiding in the recognition of an uptick in chicks that confirms the birds’ nationwide resurgence since the pesticide DDT was banned.

“Vallières finds strength and hope in their comeback. ‘They keep my defeats in perspective,’ he says. And, he discovered, while painkillers reduced his chronic pain, his ailments often temporarily vanished in the presence of birds. Besides taking his mind off the hurt, tracking wild birds also allowed Vallières to beat back depression and regain much of his physical strength. …

“He began rehabilitating raptors, first with Audubon, then with the local wildlife hospital Wings of Dawn, where he learned to train unreleasable birds as educational ambassadors.

Working with the feathered charges allowed him to pay forward the care and kindness he’d received from doctors, nurses, and therapists, he says. It also made him feel like less of a burden.

“Given the profoundly soothing effect raptors had on Vallières, he was motivated to share the experience. He brought other vets to the New Hampshire Audubon hawkwatch platform to take in thousands of Broad-wingeds during fall migration. He cowrote a memoir, Wounded Warriors, about his experiences in battle and birding. And he started bringing rehab birds to the New Hampshire Veterans Home and Manchester VA Medical Center. (Vallières is a patient at the latter, receiving therapy for his chronic pain, taking drawing lessons to relieve stress, and learning cognitive exercises to combat memory loss from a second aneurysm in 2012.)

“On the Friday before Memorial Day, Vallières made his rounds at both facilities. In the solarium of the medical center that morning he saluted each of the 15 seniors, many in wheelchairs and Vietnam and Korean War caps. Then he introduced a male Great Horned Owl that is permanently grounded due to a wing injury. Vallières walked around with the raptor on his arm, lifting it above the veterans’ heads so they could feel the rush of its beating feathers. The room buzzed with questions and anecdotes of pet cockatoos; placid faces broke into grins. With his audience transfixed, Vallières related his story. He showed them sketches he has drawn of being airlifted out of Kuwait, shared dark reflections of his struggle with PTSD, and explained the important role that birds have played in his recovery.”

We owe so much to veterans, but you know as soon as a war starts that many, if not most, will be physically or mentally wounded or never come home. And the services to help them will be limited. All by itself, that’s a good reason not to go to war. Sometimes it’s necessary, of course, as the Ukrainians who take up arms today already know. Below is art that shows why they do it.

More at Audubon, here. No firewall. A description of the art is at WordPress, here.

Protecting the children: Kathe Kollwitz’s ‘Grieving Parents’ at Vladslo: ‘Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground.’

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Photo: Sierra Sullivan via KCRA.
Mike Sullivan, 72, says his two older brothers were carpenters who made him toys when he was a child.

I saw this story of good works several places online and saved it for Christmas Day.

CNN’s Amy Chillag wrote, “A real-life Santa’s workshop is churning out toys in Desert Hot Springs, California. A 26-year Army veteran and his wife have spent most of the last decade making toys in a woodshop behind their house. It’s a labor of love that started as a hobby.

” ‘After retirement, I got bored and needed something to do,’ 72-year-old Mike Sullivan told CNN.

“The couple joined a woodworking club and one of their projects was to build toys for kids.

” ‘Christmas time, we had a chance to see the kids get the toys and see how much joy it was,’ said Sullivan.

“They were hooked. … Mike and Judy Sullivan spend nearly every day in the shop.

” ‘We’re both in good health and are able to be out here six to seven days a week for eight to 10 hours,’ Sullivan said. ‘It’s so much fun.’ …

“Mike buys the lumber, the drill bits and saws and makes the patterns — cutting and sanding away. Judy is quality control and decorator.

” ‘I run my hands over all the toys and feel for something that’s not supposed to be there — a loose wheel or splinter,’ said Judy. She also spray paints and decorates. …

“This year, their toys were especially needed with so many parents out of work due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy.

“The Sullivans … are extra careful scheduling folks at intervals to come check out the toys. ‘We try to enforce safe distancing and masking,’ said Mike.

“This week, they’re delivering hundreds of toys to a kindergarten class, the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and a church food pantry. They’ve mailed toys as far away as Indiana and Texas. Not only are the toys free, but the couple pays for the shipping although, they admit, that’s getting tough.

” ‘As long as I can afford it, I can send them where I can,’ he said. …

“The Sullivans’ toys will also be distributed to children during a drive-thru giveaway with social distancing, ‘making sure everyone is safe and happy and healthy.’ …

“The couple makes trains, cars, trucks, pull and push toys (little alligators, elephants), ducks you put on a string and pull along behind you. They also make educational toys: alphabet puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, stackers with different size blocks on a pole. …

“Judy Sullivan said they watch [their grandchildren and great-grandchildren] play with the toys and see what they like and don’t like about them. ‘If they drop a toy on the floor and break the head of a duck, we better reinforce that.’ …

“Mike says while he’s full of shrapnel from his service, that doesn’t slow him down in the toy factory. ‘You have to adapt and overcome.’

He refuses to charge for his toys. Maybe it’s because he knows what it’s like not to have much money.

” ‘My dad was a miner, we were considerably poor,’ said the retired Army first sergeant, who grew up in Montana.

“His older brothers were both carpenters and made toys for him when he was a child. ‘Most of the things I got were handmade toys. They were wonderful toys, I know how much I enjoyed them.’ … Those memories stick with him and he inherited their love of wood. ‘We do it for those who are less fortunate than we are now.’

“Their daughter says her parents spent $19,000 out of pocket last year on supplies (she does their taxes). …

“The hundreds of wheels and axles for the cars, trucks and trains are especially costly. With their kids’ encouragement, they started a GoFundMe to help.

“Mike hopes anyone who wants a Christmas present next year will reach out to him, and he’ll do his best to get it to them, wherever they are.”

More at CNN, here, and at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Marc Wallerce (left), owner of the Winthrop Marketplace, greets Jeffrey Carson of Mi-Amore as Carson picks up food for distribution to families that need it.

Wow, there are as many ways to get food to people who might otherwise go hungry as there are people who want to end hunger. It was only a couple weeks ago that I posted about a food initiative in Toronto. Here’s one in Massachusetts.

Alison Arnett writes at the Boston Globe, “In 2014, Jeffrey Carson heard an NPR piece about how much food was wasted in America despite ongoing hunger. It hit a nerve with Carson, who himself had grown up in a family dependent on food stamps and had just had his first child, and he determined that he wanted to do something about it. ‘I wanted my daughter to come up in volunteerism that was part of our life,’ he added, not just something ‘we volunteered for once a year.’

“So Carson and his wife, Suzanne, both veterans, began to work on creating a nonprofit in Winthrop where they live. The idea for Mi-Amore seemed ‘so simple,’ says Carson: Food was going to waste — in the United States it is estimated that as much as 30 percent to 40 percent of edible food is wasted each year — and yet there were people who went hungry. As military officers, both he and his wife were used to finding solutions to problems, Carson says.

“There were many snags along the way, but today Mi-Amore provides food for 40 elderly people, single-parent families, and recovering addicts in Winthrop. Unusual among food relief programs where recipients must go to a central soup kitchen or food aid office open only restricted hours, Mi-Amore’s eight volunteers, all Winthrop residents, pick up the donated food three times a week and deliver it to the homes of the recipients. Most families get at least one delivery of food a week. The program has a board of town residents, and donations of surplus food from the Winthrop Marketplace, several restaurants, assisted-living centers, and schools. …

“Half of the recipients are children. When asked about recovering addicts, Carson says that ‘recovering’ can be a loose term but is quick to recount what one board member, a school nurse, told him. ‘Having food in your refrigerator sometimes is the line between recovering or not,’ she said, adding that the stress of no food can push some over the edge.

“The beginnings of Mi-Amore, in its third year, weren’t smooth, Carson says. After he and his wife did the structural work to set up a nonprofit, he contacted restaurants and other businesses about donating food that might go to waste, surprised when he got refusals or no answers. But then, Carson said, he met two women, Amie Hanrahan of The Arbors Assisted Living Communities and Ann Vasquez of La Siena restaurant, who immediately ‘got it,’ Carson says. … From that beginning, the program started to gain momentum.”

I’m not really surprised that two former military officers have shown perseverance when faced with the challenges of launching something new. As Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, a former Marine, has often said in the context of what sorts of people he’d like to see run for office, veterans are generally people who are motivated by public service more than personal gain.

Jeffrey and Suzanne Carson strike me as perfect examples of veterans motivated by public service.

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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Sam Lubbers, a veteran, was homeless off and on for many years. Today he is living in an efficiency apartment in a renovated mill and enjoying the stability and hope that comes with housing. I interviewed him for the 2015 Rhode Island Housing annual report. (Check out the pdf. I was the first writer on most of the other interviews, too.)

When Sam moved into his new quarters, G. Wayne Miller at the Providence Journal filed this report on Rhode Island’s long-term goal.

“Since Rhode Island was selected a year ago as one of just five states to participate in the Zero: 2016 program — a national initiative spearheaded by the New York-based non-profit Community Solutions — 163 homeless veterans have been housed, according to the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. …

” ‘It’s really all about the collaboration, communication and advocacy for these men and women,’ said David Gendreau, a veterans’ case manager for The Providence Center, a partner in Zero: 2016 and operator of a comprehensive housing program for veterans.”

The goal unfortunately remains elusive. Sam told me how his heart hurts because whenever he walks into the city, he sees homeless people he recognizes as former military through their boots, hats or other identification. He always speaks to them, maybe buying a sandwich or suggesting where to get help or temporary housing. “I have a hole in my heart for the homeless,” he told me.

Fortunately, in Rhode Island at least, the passage this week of Question 7, means more funding for housing for veterans and low- and moderate-income families in the state. So three cheers for a state that is being both practical and caring.

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I love thinking about sunlight and shadow. Dickens uses them a lot for Richard and Ada’s story in Bleak House — maybe my favorite book of all time.

“So young, so beautiful, so full of hope and promise, they went on lightly through the sunlight … So they passed away into the shadow, and were gone.”

Many of you know what the decades-long case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce did to Richard and Ada’s bright hopes. I’ve come to think that it was not so much Richard’s fevered expectations of an inheritance that brought the most sorrow, but his need to fix blame. Blame is corrosive.

When I interviewed a formerly homeless Marine last week and he started telling me about how upset he was that something bad had just happened with his benefits, I was touched by how he kept reminding himself how to cope, saying, “I believe in fixing the problem — not the blame.” Words to live by.

The first three photos were taken early Saturday morning, when the effects of sunlight and shadow were especially breathtaking. (I can never resist that old graveyard. You’ve seen it here in all weathers.)

The next three were taken at the playground near John’s house. Every few months, new creatures appear on that tall tree stump. (You’ve seen previous creature photos, too, on this blog.)

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I’ve blogged before about programs that use theater for healing purposes and programs that use the arts specifically to help veterans.

Now Dana Ferguson writes at The Los Angeles Times about Shakespeare getting into the act and easing vets into the job world.

“Fifteen years ago former Pfc. and military police officer Jerry Whiteside had two masks tattooed on his left bicep, one smiling, one frowning. …

“Little did he know that more than a decade later, he would be symbolically reunited with the images imprinted on his skin.

“His journey began at the end of a 30-year struggle with drugs and alcohol, he said. Whiteside, a Chicago native turned Angeleno who had served in the Marine Corps from 1972 to ’76, sought help from the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles. He completed a detoxification program in 2011 and for this summer was referred to the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles to do various jobs on the set of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Whiteside, 61, and some 30 other veterans of the Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and the Gulf wars assisted in building the set and working odd jobs with the production, which continues through July 28.

“Shakespeare Center artistic director Ben Donenberg said employing veterans stemmed from another of the company’s outreach programs, Will Power to Youth, which hires young Angelenos to study and perform Shakespeare plays. After seeing alumni of the program serving in the armed services and later seeking jobs at home, Donenberg said, the company decided to extend its employment program opportunity to veterans, starting last year. …

“One of the things we want to do as a company is to ease the transition to civilian life, and part of that is on the civilians; there’s only so much the veterans can do,” [Chris Anthony, associate artistic director at the Shakespeare Center] said. “The rest of us have to see them in a different light. It’s something we need to work on as civilians.” More.

Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times
Military veteran Jerry Whiteside passes out programs before each Shakespeare Center performance.

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Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP
Musician Julio Fernandez during a Voices of Valor music session at Montclair State University.

Today I am returning to the topic of veterans programs that help people overcome post-traumatic stress and reintegrate into civilian life. (Interesting how often these programs involve gardening or the arts — which we always knew were good for us!)

Samantha Henry at the Boston Globe has the story.

“During stressful times as a combat medic in Afghanistan, Mason Sullivan found solace in Vivaldi. New Jersey native Nairobi Cruz was comforted by country music, a genre she had never heard before joining the Army. For Jose Mercedes, it was an eclectic iPod mix that helped him cope with losing an arm during a tour of duty in Iraq.

“These three young veterans all say music played a crucial role in alleviating the stresses of active duty. Now, all three are enrolled in a program that hopes to use music to ease their reintegration into civilian life.

‘‘ ‘It’s a therapy session without the “sit down, lay down, and write notes,” ‘ Mercedes, 26, of Union City, said of the music program. ‘It’s different — it’s an alternative that’s way better.’

“The pilot program, called Voices of Valor, has veterans work as a group to synthesize their experiences into musical lyrics. Guided by musicians and a psychology mentor, they write and record a song, and then hold a CD release party. The program is currently underway at Montclair State University, where students participate through the school’s veteran affairs program.

“Developed by husband and wife team Brian Dallow and Rena Fruchter, it is open to veterans of any age and background. No musical experience is required.” More.

P.S. A word on the power of reddit. John posted my blog entry from yesterday in the Christmas category at reddit and it increased traffic to this site by a factor of 10 so far.

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I have blogged before on the use of the arts to help veterans readjust to civilian life. Today I’d like to highlight an initiative started by veteran Drew Cameron and Drew Matott. It focuses on the art that interests them most — papermaking — and is their way of giving back and moving on.

“The Combat Paper Project utilizes art making workshops to assist veterans in reconciling and sharing their personal experiences as well as broadening the traditional narrative surrounding service and the military culture.

“Through papermaking workshops, veterans use their uniforms worn in combat to create cathartic works of art. The uniforms are cut up, beaten into a pulp and formed into sheets of paper. Veterans use the transformative process of papermaking to reclaim their uniform as art and begin to embrace their experiences in the military.

“The Combat Paper Project is based out of art studios throughout the United States and has traveled to Canada and the United Kingdom, providing veterans workshops, exhibitions, performances and artists’ talks.” More here.

Photograph: Combat Paper

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