Guam. Really?

Guam does not usually add stress to my life. It is a little dot in the Pacific and can be hard to spot on a map if you don’t know where to look. The island is hot, humid, and beautiful. The people are abundantly kind, generous, and friendly. It is very laid-back. I know this because I used to live there. I have a lot of family there. And unless a big typhoon is forecast, Guam doesn’t keep me up at night. This is in stark contrast to my current island, Manhattan.

Guam

Guam…..(photo credit, chotda)

New York City skyline

Not Guam

For many people in the Pacific Rim (and beyond) the news from North Korea lately has caused some anxiety. My mom is one of those people and she asked if any of my troops, “had heard anything at work.” She was looking for some kind of reassurance. I told her that no one is going to tell me “anything.” But I called one of the guys anyway and he confirmed my suspicions about how National Security works: Random civilians are not on the need-to-know list. Then he kindly called my mom to tell her that everyone is paying close attention, is highly trained, deeply dedicated, and other things that helped her feel more at ease.

My danger plate is full

When it comes to danger, I got used to worrying about troops in the Middle East. When you know people in harm’s way, the news feels personal. After a while, I learned to do what many military families do… limit how much news I watch. I would give myself a CNN “time-out.”

My first “time-out” occurred after I thought my adopted soldier’s base was attacked and overrun. The initial information in the news matched his area. It turns out it happened at a base close by: COP (Combat Outpost) Keating. It was a horrible battle. Because there were casualties, there was a mandatory communication blackout while next of kin are notified. It was weeks before I found out if my soldier was okay. During those weeks I poured over every article trying to find information on him.

Even though that was years ago, there have been others that I’ve prayed for in different situations. So you can understand why I am not emotionally prepared at this time to take on additional worry-regions. If one area of the world wants to flare up, I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist that another area calm down. Of course, I dont want that flare-up to be where my family is, or yours, or people in general. In fact, I would simply prefer an outbreak of world peace.

The safety zone

I was relieved when one of my soldiers left Iraq and got transferred to Korea. I figured I don’t have to worry about him now. But the truth is, “less safe” can happen anytime, anywhere. Troops are on call 24/7 and can be sent anywhere, anytime. They don’t get the luxury of saying they are weary of conflict. One soldier wrote me, “You know who hates war? Those of us that have to do the fighting and pay the price.” But they raised their hands to serve for those they love and millions of random civilians. So I will bring my hands together to pray for their safety and ours. I will never take a “time-out” from that.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Call In Your Battle Bunnies

Every soldier has a battle buddy. They don’t go it alone. That’s also a good idea when you volunteer for an Easter/military kids project that turns out to be bigger than you expected.

My heart said yes

I was busy at work and home when I saw the request to send Easter baskets to kids of deployed troops. My heart said “awwww” and I signed up to take one family. I figured I could swing that. My little Sofia was 5-yrs-old and would “help.” Then I got the info and it turns out the family had five children. At that point, I should’ve asked a friend to join in. Having another mom and child do it with us would make it easier. Also, the more love that goes into something, the better. But I had to do this myself. You know why? Me neither.

Mistake #2

I let Sofia pick out ALL of the contents. I didn’t have names of the children but I had genders and ages. In my daughter’s mind, she KNEW them and knew exactly what they would like. I was touched that she wanted to look out for these kids who were missing their dad. In fact, I was so mushed out that I didn’t have the backbone to say no to anything. We wound up with heavy baskets.

Mistake #3

This is actually a repeat of my first mistake- thinking I have to do everything on my own. After Sofia and I made the baskets, we had to get them to the shipping store. I live in Manhattan and do not own a car. The shipping store was both too far to be convenient and too close to take a cab. I could’ve called my friend with the double-stroller and it would’ve been easy. Instead, I did this:

I got two large black garbage bags and put 3 baskets in one and 2 in the other. Because of the irregular shape, the only way I could carry them is with my arms straight out to the sides. If you met me, you’d see how petite my arms are. So I’d walk 15 feet then put the bags down for a second. Then walk 15 feet and put the bags down again. Picture this on a New York City street. I looked like I had an odd attachment to my garbage and that I was taking it out for a walk with my daughter. Hip and cool. That’s me.

filling easter baskets

Sofia, in her Little Mermaid phase, filling the baskets.

packed Easter baskets

Five finished baskets

 The good news…

Despite my production mishaps, the good news was that five kids and their mom had a nice surprise that Easter. It meant a lot to Sofia to do something kind for these children. And a deployed soldier knew that complete strangers cared about his family. That’s what matters most. A bonus lesson for me was realizing how ridiculous it is not to ask for help. People are kind, my friends are awesome, and others will be there for you if you let them. But you have to ask. In this case, I should’ve called in my battle bunnies. After all, no matter what the situation, we’re stronger when we’re in it together.

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© Gina left the mall, 2013

 

The Doctor Will See You Now*

If you’re a veteran, “now” means a 273-day to 2-yr wait to process a disability claim. I will never forget the night I got a deeper sense of what this means. It was a round-table discussion with the local VA (Veterans Affairs), “to tell them what you think.” I assumed my invitation was a mistake because I’m a civilian. But the host felt my perspective might add something. The event was in December 2012 but news reports in the past week made me relive it.

The group 

Attending this discussion was myself, a gentleman from the VA, and the following retired service members: 1 Marine, 1 Sailor, 1 Airman, and 2 Soldiers. Only one of the vets was female. We started going around the room sharing stories. Each one had a red-tape ordeal. Then it was the female vet’s turn, “No one here is going to like my story.” She told me to speak before her and she’d go last.

My 2 cents

“These delays can influence whether a family thrives or even survives.”

I told him about a family I had helped. The dad came home from Afghanistan with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) He could not hold down a job without medication and therapy. While waiting for his claim, the family burned through their savings. Finally, his benefits kicked in. But by this point, they couldn’t afford the gas to get to the doctor’s appointments located more than an hour’s drive away. After they pawned their wedding rings, they approached one of the charities I volunteer with to ask for donations to pay for gas.

“After all their service and sacrifice, why are our veterans turning to people like me? They should not have to rely on the kindness of strangers.”  I wondered how many families were torn apart the by emotional, financial and physical stress.

I also told him I suspect he’ll be getting more vets than he thinks in the coming years. One of my troops was given sleeping pills for a few days after his buddy committed suicide. That’s it. Many troops fear that going to therapy will negatively impact their careers. I was told once, “If you’ve got to choose between two guys with equal credentials and one can handle things and one has been in therapy, who you gonna pick?” So if troops that need help don’t get it during their service, what kind of shape do you think they’ll be in coming out?

The female vet

She had been raped while deployed. Her attempts to get help through the VA were not positive experiences. So she walked away and never went back.

When she started speaking, I think we collectively held our breath for a moment. Her story was hard to hear. But she told it with grace and courage to this group of mostly men. Sometimes her voice or body trembled, but she had a fierce determination to not be defined by or ruled by this event or it’s aftermath.

As you would hope, the response from all was respectful, supportive and caring. The VA administrator was very moved and felt terrible that she was not able to get help at the VA. He clearly wanted to make things right.

Under the lights

The meeting ended and we all left. Outside, the female vet was waiting at the crosswalk for the light to change. Two of the other vets and myself were walking past and we all paused for a moment to chat about the meeting. I said to her, “You know what you did back there, right?” She shook her head no.

I told her, “You braved the pain to share your story with someone who has the power to change things. He’ll go back to the VA and tell others who can affect change as well. That means that any woman who has had this horrible experience will never go through what you did. She will be treated better. She will get what she needs to heal. And on behalf of those women and the families who love them, I thank you. Thank you for your courage.

We both got teary, she opened her arms and we hugged good-bye. Then we went our separate ways into that December night surrounded by the brightly colored lights and happy wishes of the holiday decorations all around us.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

When The Troops Supported Me Right Back

I never thought troops would send me a care package. Or letters and emails just when I needed a morale boost most. But they did. It really took me by surprise. It meant a lot to have people I’ve never met care enough to think of me. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a small taste of what mail call feels like for our troops.

No-Vent Zone

Everyone has bad days. But unless it ends with a happy twist like the time a mariachi band boarded my crowded subway car and burst into song, I don’t mention it. I keep things light. Luckily, my daughter Sofia provides plenty of humorous mishaps and mild public humiliations for me to share. You don’t think it’s possible for your 5-yr-old to accidentally “pimp you out” in an elevator but, you’d be wrong.

I had gotten to know a few troops well and they knew I was getting divorced and looking for an apartment to rent. I didn’t vent about this. Just a statement of fact. But you don’t need details to figure out that this is not fun. The apartment search had the bonus of coinciding with Thanksgiving which made getting approvals harder since everyone was on vacation. I needed to move the first week of December. That month was filled with change and challenge.  And, as it turned out, some very special mail deliveries.

The gift

My adopted soldier and his wife sent me a box. Inside were birthday and Christmas presents for Sofia. (Her birthday is at the end of November.) What a delightful and touching surprise! But what really got to me was the house-warming gift for our new home. A little cactus plant. It was sweet and hopeful and I loved it. It was also the first and only object in the apartment after I signed the lease.

What I didn’t know then was that my furniture delivery would be weeks late and this cactus would become a continuing source of sunshine through dark winter days.

What my adopted soldier and his wife didn’t know was that my birthday is near Sofia’s and that’s when the box arrived. This unexpected kindness was the best birthday gift I could have gotten.

A little house-warming gift from my soldier and his wife.

A little house-warming gift from my soldier and his wife.

It would be weeks before the furniture would arrive.

It would be weeks before the furniture arrived.

The letter

The furniture was late so we had mattresses on the floor and stacks of boxes. With no table, we ate our meals “picnic” style. And no Christmas decorations were up yet. I unpacked Sofia’s toys first so I could sorta set up her room.  Everything felt undone and overwhelming.

Then came the first time I had to take Sofia to her Dad’s place. After I dropped her off, I walked into the cold night with my heart feeling gutted without her. I went to my new lobby filled with strangers to check my mail. I had just done my change of address so I was surprised to find a card. Upstairs, in my undone apartment, I sat in her room and the emptiness was crushing. Then I glanced at the envelope in my hand and thought, “Who the heck is this?”

I didn’t recognize the name and in my achy blur, I didn’t notice the return address was Afghanistan. It was a Christmas card with one of those long letters that details the past year. It was from a combat medic that I had sent a few magazines and a letter to back in August while she was waiting to be adopted. Because of that small kindness, she had included me on her Christmas list.

As I read on, I discovered that she was mother of three. Her youngest was Sofia’s age. All of sudden I started crying. This woman would not see her children for a year. I would see Sofia in 30 hours. This woman lived in a combat zone. I lived semi-unpacked. Suddenly I thought: maybe I could suck it up for the next 30 hours. This mom I didn’t know helped me feel grateful for the blessings I had. With my spirits lifted, I went out that very minute and bought a Christmas tree and some lights.

In the coming days, cards from family and friends filled my mailbox. More troops surprised me as well. I loved them all, but I will always be especially thankful for the timing of that first card.

The email

It was New Year’s Eve and Jim, one of my soldiers in Iraq, asked about my plans. I told him it was going to be low-key. I really just wanted to be home with Sofia. Then I wished him and his family well.

That year, Sofia was determined to stay up till midnight and watch the ball drop. But she was struggling to stay awake. The countdown began and she said, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, Zzzzzzzz”  And she was out. I hugged her tight and just after midnight my email pinged. It was Jim.

“I hope your evening with Miss Sofia is one you cherish as one of your best New Years yet”

I broke out into a big smile. Grateful for the kindness of being remembered. Appreciating all the ways my troops made me feel special when I was having a tough time.  And more determined than ever to do the same right back for them.

New Year's Eve

New Year’s Eve

© Gina left the mall, 2013

No Pet Left Behind

For humans, it can be exciting when the Army transfers you to Germany. It can be less than a thrill for fur-covered family members. The Army doesn’t move your pets. You do. Which is usually not a problem. However Meg, an Army wife, didn’t count on Unhelpful Airlines (not its real name) and the “catsicle” opportunity when she tried to fly with Tike and Cheshire.

Tike, exhausted from travel.  Or maybe just being a cat.

This is Tike exhausted from travel. Or not. With cats, it’s hard to tell exhaustion from relaxation.

Cheshire, just before the packing began.

This is Cheshire just before the movers came. I think she senses something’s up.

Unhelpful Air

Meg made sure Tike and Cheshire got the required shots, microchips, and paperwork (5 copies, just in case.) Then she called Unhelpful Air to find out what size crate she needed for this trip to Germany. They asked her how big the plane was. They said different planes had different requirements.

MEG:  Umm….I was hoping you could tell me that.

Eventually she got the info. Then Meg and her husband (and the cats) drove from Ft. Knox, Kentucky to St. Louis, Missouri. They shipped their car and went to a hotel. The next morning, they would fly from St. Louis to Atlanta to Frankfurt.

There were a lot of storms that winter and normally warm locales were cold. Flight delays were massive. Meg was hoping things would go smoothly. She called the airline the night before her flight, one last check that she had everything needed for her pets to fly. That’s when she found out that Tike and Cheshire couldn’t ride in the cabin as she had been told. The agent said the cats had to travel in the cargo area.

MEG:  Is it heated?

UNHELPFUL AIR:  No.

MEG:  Unheated?!  I would have catsicles!!

UNHELPFUL AIR:  Then you’ll have to leave them in St. Louis.

Meg told me, “You have to understand, I was seven months pregnant with my first child, about to move far from home….and now, after I did everything required, this agent tells me that I have to leave them behind? We had them since they were born. They are part of our family. At that point, I was a little emotional.”

At that point, Meg’s husband called a travel contact at the Army for help. They were able to switch airlines to Delta and yes, the cargo area was heated. But Tike and Cheshire would have to wait on the tarmac beforehand. It was stormy and below freezing outside. Meg was upset. Then the Delta agent took the extra step and called the Luggage Loading Manager to see if he could do anything. He agreed to keep the cats in his office until it was time to bring them on the plane. Meg said, “At that moment, Delta got a customer for life!”

This is how they traveled when in their crate on the way to Germany.

This is how they traveled when in their crate on the way to Germany.

Searching for home

Meg and family (furred and un-furred) lived in a hotel while trying to find a home to rent. It had to be good for the soon-to-arrive baby and allow pets. This took a while and in the meantime, they became close friends with a waiter at the hotel named Ralf. Ralf helped them look and acted as a translator when needed.

Meg searched the Automated Housing Referral Network (AHR). She found a place in Olsbrücken that seemed perfect. Ralf informed her that it was located at “the end of the world.” It was a bit of a drive to this very small town. When Meg went to view the home, she saw that beyond the backyard were hills…hills possibly alive with the sound of music. They moved in.

Olsbrücken, Germany

Now I have that song in my head.

What pets bring

Traveling and house-hunting with pets can be extra work, but think of all they bring with them. Such as unconditional love and the ability to reduce stress with their mere presence. That’s good for anyone, but I think it’s especially good for those in military life. Even when not deployed to a combat zone, troops will be separated from their families for weeks and months at a time for training. In their first year of marriage, Meg saw her husband for all of two weeks because of boot camp and training. It can be isolating for all involved. Pets are a positive force against some of those feelings. Meg knew that. She also knew she didn’t want to leave behind the chance to have moments like this:

Tike and baby Maximus.

Tike and baby Maximus.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

So this documentary filmmaker called and….

A film shoot and readers making a difference…just some of what’s happened since I started this blog a few months ago. As we end one year and begin another, I figured it was a great time to share the good things going on.

The film

They interviewed Rudy Giuliani, General Franklin Hagenbeck, General Spider Marks, Barbara Van Dahlen, veterans of the current wars, the Vietnam War and then called me. Yes. I was surprised too. Director Tom Donahue is making a film about issues facing veterans and the divide between military and civilians. After he read this blog he asked if would speak to him.

I’m camera-shy so this was a semi-terrifying request. But my not secret goal is to help close the divide between military and civilians. What if something I know can help? So I told Tom’s producer that if the men and woman I support could face what they do on my behalf, I guess I could face Tom on their behalf. She assured me he was not scary. She was right. Tom and his crew couldn’t have been nicer. Here’s a pic from the shoot. They have others to interview and the film will take about a year to complete.

Interview with Director Tom Donahue

Interview with Director Tom Donahue

One crazy week

The same week we filmed, I made my radio debut. Sandra Beck, one of the hosts of Military Moms Talk Radio had come across this blog and invited me on the show. I was pretty nervous but Robin Boyd (the host that interviewed me) was very warm and easy-going.  After a few minutes I relaxed more and got into a groove. Below is just my segment minus the ads.

That same week WordPress chose to Freshly Press this blog. Bloggers know that’s a big deal, a wonderful honor and mathematically difficult to achieve. There are millions of new blog posts a day and they pick a handful to feature. The post they choose was:

Coffee And A Serving Of Perspective

Readers in action

So many readers have taken action after reading a post, I’m beyond thrilled and totally floored. From sharing, re-blogging and increasing awareness to sending hundreds of cups of coffee, supportive messages and letters, even adoptions. I thank you all and want to give a special shout out to Dayna of Where In The World Is Dayna.  Her blog is about her travels. She is also a veteran and, after reading a post here, adopted 2 soldiers (one from each adoption charity I’ve written about) and did a post of her own about Cup of Joe. Thank you also to the wonderful Navy family blog Buoyed Up who has helped me spread awareness and has been supportive in many ways.

My favorite reader idea this year

I love this idea because it’s such an easy way to get the community involved. Michelle from Liberty Harley-Davidson/Buell shared how they do Cup of Joe.

“We’ve been doing Cup of Joe for a Joe at our Harley-Davidson dealership for a few years now. It is SO wonderful to get those letters back. I share them online, and hang them up around our customer coffeepot to inspire people to drop something in the Cup of Joe bucket, then we send the coffee in batches”  (Pictures and links in the Ways To Make a Difference page)

A few words about comments

I am so grateful for the many thoughtful comments that have been left here. I do try to respond to all of them. Sometimes I get behind or miss a few. But please know that I appreciate every one. You deepen my understanding and inspire me. Sometimes your words bring me to tears.  But I guess that’s fair because I’ve heard I do that to others at times. Thank you for being open and honest and taking the time to write, even on the tougher topics.

Oh, and if there’s ever a topic you’re hoping I cover or you have a suggestion, you can leave a comment or email me privately here:  gina@ginaleftthemall.com

Proving me wrong

Whether you are civilian or military I would like to thank you for helping to make a difference all the ways you have. Thank you caring, increasing awareness, and helping me get closer to my not secret goal.

When I started Gina left the mall, I wasn’t sure if anyone beyond my boyfriend and immediate family (you know, Readers Without A Choice) would be interested. I am humbled and honored to be proven so wrong. Thank you for making this all wonderfully worthwhile. Happy New Year, and I wish you the best for 2013!  See you back here next year.

© Gina left the mall, 2012

Because I Asked

It was hard to understand this soldier. Slurring his words, he told me “check your email.” It turns out that answering my question about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) dredged things up for him. So he increased his meds and had a few drinks. I felt terrible. He told me not to worry because “it’s always there.” Yeah, that didn’t make me feel any better.

The question

On Veterans Day I had asked a few vets what they wanted civilians to know. Their answers helped increase understanding. I figured maybe I could do the same with PTSD. So I asked this solider who has PTSD If he could tell me what he and other combat veterans would want us to know. That is, if it wasn’t too much trouble and if he didn’t mind. Notice the amount of “ifs” in there. But soldiers are very mission-oriented, and he was going to make sure he completed the task.

It hurt to read his email. So now what? Because just hurting isn’t good enough. I want to DO something. Then I thought the holidays are coming and that can be a difficult time. Maybe knowing what some troops are going through will be helpful to them or those around them. Maybe at this moment, that’s what I can do. So, because I asked and because he answered, here’s what I now know:

Dear Gina,

I have been giving this a lot of thought. It is a much harder question than I think you realize. I went around work today and asked a bunch of the guys. The response was overwhelming silence. What is the number one thing we want people to know about PTSD? Nothing. We know way too much about it to wish that kind of knowledge/torture on our own people. True combat-related PTSD controls your life. It focuses all of its evil on making you wish you weren’t here anymore. It truly ruins the rest of your life, until you get to a point that you are able to control, or tame it a little. However, it is never gone… I can’t watch certain kinds of movies, news segments, enjoy fireworks displays, play paintball with my kids… Even certain smells bring me back. Those are some of the worst days.  Holidays, forget about ’em, I’m useless. All I can do is put on a fake smile, over take my meds, and drink enough to stumble through the day.

So what can I honestly tell you that I would want people to know about PTSD?  I wouldn’t want anyone to know what I know.  What do I think people need to understand about it? To understand about us?

POSITIVE
1) One thing is this, we are incredibly loyal!!  A grunt that has been knee deep in his buddy’s intestines, is a man that will stay by you no matter what the cost!!

2) Hard working. Our suffering is a sign that we know how to give everything we have, day in and day out for very very long periods of time! You wont find a career civilian with half the drive for success that we have.

3) Along with these things will come the need for perfection, correctness, reliability, and attention to detail. Because PTSD is partially the result of these things keeping us alive!!!

NOT SO POSITIVE
1) I have spent my entire adult life training to fight, learning to survive by going from zero to infinity in a split second with little to no provocation or warning. PTSD sometimes makes this an impossible thing to turn off.

2) When we look like we might be having a moment, we probably are.  However, don’t run and hide, let us know you care. One time, we cared, and now we suffer, but we have never stopped loving what we fought for.

3) When veterans holidays (and possibly a few others that we individually tell you are days that give us fits every year) roll around- we might appreciate a special pat on the back, shake of the hand, or even (especially me) just a look. This look lets us know that you may not understand why I have tears in my eyes and want to just sit in a corner for a few minutes, but it tells us that we can take that moment for our own reflection. Remember, when you were 19 you were trying to figure out how to sneak beer into the theater. I was writing a letter to a mother, a wife, a sister, a father, or a brother telling them that I held their loved one in my arms as he passed away in combat. That I carried him as long as we needed in order to try to save him, and listened as he said his final goodbyes and I love you’s.

© Gina left the mall, 2012

The 3 Things Veterans Want You To Know

Before the Veterans Day Parade in NYC, I asked a few Vets this question: What three things do you want civilians to know?  I spoke to some Vets that were there with IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) and a Vietnam Vet. These were not in-depth interviews as there was an impending parade. You’ve heard of speed-dating? This was a speed-survey.  But I got a lot for investing just a few minutes.

Tireak, Marine Corps Veteran 

1. We need a hand up not a handout.  We’re proud.

2. We’re normal.  Don’t be afraid to learn about Veterans

3.  Tom Hanks had an interesting idea about service in a speech he made at Yale. He talked about our years of service and challenged them to match that service by helping Veterans transition from soldier to citizen.

I pulled this excerpt from Tom Hanks’ speech:

We all will define the true nature of our American identity, not by the parades and the welcome home parties, but how we match their time in the service with service of our own….Give it four years, as many years as you spent here at Yale, in acts both proactive and spontaneous and do the things you can to free veterans from the new uncertainty that awaits them.

Lyndsey, Army Veteran 

1. Please don’t forget the family.  I get a lot of thanks.  That doesn’t recognize the strength this takes for our family members.

2. Not everyone has PTSD.

Lyndsey mentioned trying to do a project at work involving soldiers. It was not embraced for fear that “something might happen” because of PTSD.   She felt this was an inaccurate perception and an overreaction.

3. Take advantage of our leadership skills.  Capitalize on our service.  We can handle stress and deadlines.  We already have.

Moses, Marine Corps Veteran

1. We’re still people. We’re human, not robots.  I still yell at the TV during the game. My Giants are killing me. (NY Giants lost that day)

2. We’re not helpless.  We’re used to leading and we love to serve.

3. Serve with us. You see Vets doing Team Rubicon, helping with Hurricane Sandy. Involved in giving back in so many ways.  Serve with us in the community.

Matt, Air Force Veteran

1.  We’re very motivated.  We continue to serve in different ways after [our military] service.

2. “Thanks” goes a long way.  When I travel I shake the hand of someone in uniform….I know it meant something to me.

3. Employing a Veteran is the best decision you’ll ever make.  They’ll be the best employee you ever had.

Maria, Army Veteran 

1. Embrace PTSD as normal.  It’s not a stigma.  It’s normal to be different.  Handling this kind of stress can take even greater strength.

2.  Employers shouldn’t think we are without experience because we don’t have industry experience.  Our skills are transferable.

3.  I would also say more support for the families.

Tom, Vietnam Vet

1. jobs

2. we want to know people care

3. jobs

ME:  Okay Tom, everyone wants jobs. Could you be more specific about what Veterans need?

TOM:  We need mentors in different fields.  Vets often don’t know how the skills they have acquired translate to a specific industry.  Personal attention makes a difference.  I organized a job fair but kept it small so they got personal attention.

A few more voices

This is obviously not the entire list of everything Veterans may wish to share.  (Also I’m missing Navy and Coast Guard here) but maybe it’s a conversation starter. I didn’t speak with Paul Rieckhoff who leads IAVA, but I heard him say three things that day that stood out to me so I’m adding them in.

1. Vets aren’t a charity, we’re an investment.

2. We’re not a problem, we’re the solution.

3. Make every day Veterans Day.  Put them on the frontlines of your company.

One day closer

Almost all of my volunteer work has been for deployed troops.  But each day, every one of them gets one day closer to completing their service.  To becoming a civilian again.   They will be shaped by their experiences.  Some will have scars both seen and unseen. But whatever their individual story, I hope they will find the support they need to come home and thrive.  Last, but of course not least, thank you to all our Veterans and their families.

© Gina left the mall, 2012

Somebody Called Me A Patriot

The word stood out because no one had ever called me that before. Which was fine because I had always associated it with politics and I don’t like politics. I vote, but I don’t discuss it (except with those closest to me.) There’s so much animosity between sides, I just want to cry like that little girl in a battleground state who apparently had enough of the battle.

The only time I really heard the word used was when politicians were trying to out-patriot one another with photo ops. Or accuse someone else of not being patriotic enough if they disagreed with them. Which gave this word some negative baggage for me. And then this happened:

I said/ He Said

It was around Christmas and I bought some deployed troops coffee through Cup of Joe. Below is what I wrote and one of the responses I received.

Dear Soldier,  A cup of coffee is kinda small to be a present. So what I really want to give you is the certainty that you are not forgotten. And to know how grateful I am for your service. I’m from NYC and whether my day is crazy good or bad, I get to live it in peace. Your hard work and sacrifice gives me that gift. Thank you for all you do. I wish you a merry, happy and safe holiday.

Ms Gina, you are the reason we as service men and women, “Do what we Do.” It is close to the holiday season and home is soo far away. I work and live every day helping the Iraqi’s police and security become better. This effort is providing a safe and secure Iraq for the people. But living with the Iraqi’s as advisors comes with great risk. I am truly thankful for my fellow Patriots (you) who support the hard work we all are doing everyday. You are the reason I get up and Soldier on everyday! God Bless You and I hope you have a happy and safe holiday! Keep all of us in your thoughts and prayers. Army Strong! J___ , Captain, U.S. Army P.S. Your cup of coffee means more than you will ever know!

I told my buddy Andy that a soldier called me a patriot and my feelings about the word. He was surprised because he has very positive feelings about it. He got quiet for a moment and then explained that “patriot” doesn’t belong to any political party. He said, “It means you care about this country. You do. And you are.”

The talk

I don’t care if the troops I support vote the same as me or not. I care that they are away from their families and in harm’s way. I care that my daughter and I get to skip down the street without looking over our shoulders because of their service and sacrifice. That’s precious. I was in NYC on 9/11 and I will never forget what it felt like to walk down the streets that day.

That said, I was in a bar with a friend and found myself in a conversation I didn’t want to be in. I think liquor bottles should add that to their warning labels: consumption may cause birth defects and political debates.

He felt I was supporting war and that there should be no military. Well first of all, I am all for world peace. I would be thrilled if our troops only deployed for natural disasters. But under any scenario, I don’t see why you wouldn’t support the troops. Even if you disagree with a political action, there’s a difference between the war and the warrior. Our troops don’t decide where they go. We do. They have a civilian commander chosen by mostly civilians (active military = 1% of the population.) They go and do what this country says at tremendous personal risk and sacrifice to them and their families. If you don’t like what they’re doing, work to change it. But these are our sons and daughters. We have a duty to care. Also, I disagree with the thought that we don’t need a military.

Finally I said, “We both have a lot of passion for our respective beliefs. I’ve helped hundreds of people with my passion, what have you done with yours? Have you written one letter to your congressman? Shown that you care where our servicemen and women are? Done anything to promote world peace…ever?” There was silence. Some hurt feelings too. But we agreed that taking action was good and that we weren’t going to agree on most everything else.

Political Action

Tomorrow is Election Day. My political action will be to vote. Then I’m going to send a few cups of coffee to the troops. Because one reason I have the freedom to vote, a right so many people in the world are denied, is because our troops safeguard it. So I do this small kindness to honor that. And if that makes me a patriot, then that’s what I’m proud to be.

© Gina left the mall, 2012