Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Now What

The last few months have been intense for me to say the least.  I can honestly say that I have never studied this hard in my life.  It wasn't that the material was all that difficult.  But the difference was that I wasn't being paid for the course or title this time.  The Army made schools easy.  You went to the school and that's all you had to worry about.  Yeah the pressure was intense, but your focus was school.  I have a new found respect for the guys I had finishing degree's on their own time in addition to working full time.

Supporting my wife's new career, pulling more weight at home, working full time and studying like a mad man for almost 6 months was way more difficult than I thought.  I had to give up a lot of things I wanted to do but that's ok.  That's always going to be the case when you want something bad enough.

More than three years ago, I got lined up with a mentor through American Corporate Partners and the whole idea of getting my project management professional certification began.  I did some research but I didn't really have someone to truly explain what it meant.  So I let it slide.  For whatever reason, it stuck with me and I finally met a few good folks that guided me along the application process.  Once I was accepted, I scheduled my exam.

Trying to teach yourself from a textbook after not going to school for the better part of a decade is the exact opposite of what you should do.  The funny thing is I already know how I think and best study and decided to try something new.  End result?  3 months of studying and a failing grade.  I wasn't confident that I knew the material and it showed.  It was so bad that I couldn't even be mad at the score.  Enter Ranger Buddies and the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

I took a month off of studying and signed up for a boot camp course to learn the test and immerse myself into the material.  I thought IMLC and Jumpmaster were like drinking from a fire hose.  This was like drinking water at the base of Niagra Falls.  What I failed to realize is that the knowledge was already there.  I knew the material but had no idea how to organize it.  So in four days, I basically learned a new language and came up with a game plan.

Over the next week, the typical life stuff happened.  Sick kid, sick wife, and a few extra hours at work.  Late night studying and finding every second that I could to rehearse throughout the day.  I studied the same way I did in Jumpmaster and avoided all the traps that I fell into during IMLC and another school, Ranger.  When test day came, I was distracted to say the least.  I left work to study a bit more and finally just went into the center early.  I couldn't take it any more.  I stuck to my test plan and it worked.  Never the easy path for me but I get there.  Hitting the finish test button was the most nerve racking moment that I've had in a very long time.  But it was either doubt myself or just go.

So what now?  Who knows.  And right now who cares.  I'm done and I'm gonna enjoy my Christmas break and some good old fashioned PT.  The big thing for me is that I did something.  I know more than I did before and I accomplished what I set out to do.  Another thing that I relearned is how to listen to friends.  Had it not been for them pushing and encouraging me, I don't think I would have gotten there.  It doesn't matter who you are, you are not going to have all or even the best answers.

Folks might be out there wandering around wondering what to do next.  But in truth we all are and we always will be.  Where I am right now is alright, but I want more.  There's more to do and always will be.  I think it's good to be lost sometimes.  To me, once you start moving, you have a lot more options when you don't have an ultimate goal or grand scheme.  And it's times like these that relying on your friends and family that is most critical.  Listen to them.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Time Thoughts and Feeling Guilty

Jay wrote this just before Christmas - my fault that it didn't publish til after.  Pushups... Karl

Now that Christmas is around the corner I can't help but think about my service in the military. Christmas was just another day to me a few years back. On countless occasions I spent holidays low crawling through muddy water and humping weight on my back until my socks were blood red.  Now that I am no longer serving I can truly enjoy Christmas and celebrate the birth of Christ.

My first few years out of the military were a different story. I felt guilty sitting at family Christmas gatherings, while everyone was exchanging gifts. Guilty because I knew that guys were out on missions away from their families, embracing the suck.. Something I could not quite grasp at the time. I think I felt like this for a few reasons. Either way the guilty feeling can paralyze the strongest of people.  Since I left the military, not on my own terms, I had angst towards not doing the dirty work anymore. Honestly, I hated it. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about my experiences in the military and how much it impacted my life. I miss it, I miss the camaraderie. Blogging about it helps fill some of the void that I lack from not being apart of a team. This guilty feeling makes me feel less of a man. I know I shouldn't feel this way but I did especially fresh out of the military and in some ways still do. I was so used to deploying around the world to fight the terrorists of my country that not participating really ate me up.. This guilt drove me to be reclusive and to not want to partake in Christmas festivities. Over time I began to realize the sacrifice's that are made so we can all have a lifestyle of what we choose. Sometimes its easy to get caught up in the material aspect of Christmas. I just ask that during this holiday, try to reconnect with an old ranger buddy. It could help make the pain and guilt a little more bearable. It could help save a life.  

After learning to cope with the guilt, I can honestly say that holidays are a lot easier for me. Making someone aware of my feelings helps me understand my own struggle as well as makes my family aware of my situation. And just like Ranger Mcneill said, "surround yourself with good people." Surround yourself with people that understand your struggle.  I am excited to spend the holidays with my family and enjoy Christmas again. This is the first Christmas, since being injured, I can actually say I am excited about. During the holidays, please keep a close eye on a combat veteran that you know.

Merry Christmas! RLTW!

Another Page Down

The semester is finally over and we have come a long way in the past sixteen weeks.  From everything I have heard from administrators with the university and previous graduates, the first semester is the most difficult for students.  Within this semester, I have learned about multiple disease processes, the drugs to help treat these diseases, and how to apply the nursing fundamentals in a clinical setting.  Being an accelerated program there have been courses that have lasted eight weeks and others that have lasted all sixteen.  In order to successfully navigate this program, studying can be overwhelming.  Most weeks, I am putting in 30-40 hours of studying.  The policy for this program is that you are allowed to fail (< 77.5%) one course.  A student is allowed to retake that course, but will fall back a semester, graduating at a later date than the rest of the cohort.  So, going into finals week was stressful.  The exams were cumulative, as well as new material added on top of it.  My week consisted of late nights, drinking a full pot of coffee each night, taking half hour power naps to rest my brain, and eating nothing but junk (not the best combination).  Four test in four days, much worse than 565 miles in 28 days.

After the week was complete, I had received two A’s, two B+’s, two B’s, and a B- for the semester.  Although, I am happy that I got through the semester, I still feel like I should have done better, but that’s just how I operate.  Now, I have a rejuvenation and am wanting to finish this next one with a 4.0 GPA.  This previous one was a learning experience, like most periods of our lives.  I had to learn how to effectively study and learn at an academic level again.  I have always been a hands on, visual type of guy, so reading hundreds of pages in a text book is not the ideal situation.  Most of the time as I read, I would be thinking about work, paying bills, or just getting through the week.  I guess that’s how life goes as we grow up.  We find ways to pile more and more on ourselves in hopes that the results are in our favor.
With the semester ending, I am on my holiday break.  Three weeks of working and spending time with my daughter.  On the day of my last final test, I picked her up from her mother's.  As we drove that morning, I turned to her and said, “Guess what Elleigh? Daddy doesn’t have to study anymore for the next three weeks.”  She looked at me with a blank stare.  A few seconds later, a smile appeared on her face and she began to laugh saying, “Yay, daddy doesn’t have study anymore.”  My heart filled with joy.  That night, we sat next to the Christmas tree and started a new family tradition.  Sitting on pillows and under blankets, I read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  She loved it, although it took about twice as long because all the questions she had (mostly about how old Cindy Lou Who).  We read it every night following that.

And another chapter of my life comes to a closing.  Each page a continuation of the previous, slowly unfolding into a story that I will be able to tell my daughter one day, and hopefully she tells hers.  As I pursue the composition of this tale, I cannot help but think about the extent of my own family tree.  I can only go back to stories of my grandparents.  I hope that I can leave the impression on future family generations that I was a man of the highest caliber.  Right now, being able to leave an impression on my daughter, guiding her to making the right decisions, is where I begin.  Eventually, the snowball effect will take hold and she will be telling her children the same things that my father and mother had told me.

Chasing another page, another chapter, and another goal is where I will be, same place, same mentality.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

GallantFew Goes Hollywood

Last week Ranger Schlitz and I went to Los Angeles.  Mike had some doctor appointments at the UCLA Medical Center, provided by Operation Mend and when he travels he needs a fill-in caregiver so Momma Schlitz can have a break.  Mike knows I'm always looking for ways to get to LA to work on veteran issues, so he invited me to come along.  Here's a few of the things we did.

We held the first LA "First Saturday" event on 12/7.  Held at a cool spot in Hollywood and with a dozen attending, a new tradition has begun. We have a vision of First Saturday breakfasts all across the USA -  Informal breakfasts where veterans can come to meet other veterans for networking, new relationships, opportunity, sometimes just someone to talk to.  We don't want anyone to have to make reservations or even buy anything if they can't afford it - but someone has to take charge, identify a place and get it on the schedule.  Is there one in your neighborhood?

We were beyond privileged to be invited to stop by Nick Vujicic's birthday party.  This phenomenal man was born without arms or legs. Life Without Limbs tells about his work and ministry.  Nick wants to partner with GallantFew to help reduce veteran suicide and I have a follow up call already on the calendar.

Next up, Pro-bono Legal Services for veterans launch - hosted by the law firm Akin Gump and 1st Ranger Battalion Veterans Attorneys Richard Welsh and Jeff Zuidema, this new organization helps veterans in the LA area with legal services.  GallantFew has a motivated group of veterans who are now attorneys organizing all across the country.  If a veteran needs legal advice we want him or her to be able to have the initial discussion with a veteran attorney.

Navy Special Operations (and Ranger) veteran Casey Gray asked us to speak at the LA Veterans Committee.  This group brings together political figures, the American Legion and the Bar Association.  Look for a 1st Saturday event to pop up at American Legion Woodland Hills Post 826 soon.  Casey also organized the 1st Saturday event.

Mike Schlitz is now a Gary Sinise Foundation Ambassador.  Gary invited us to "lunch" at his office which turned out to be half office Christmas Party and half Mike Schlitz recognition.  Gary presented him with a framed certificate honoring Mike's sacrifice and service.  "Lieutenant Dan" is a very special person - a celebrity who doesn't act like a celebrity and who pours his heart and soul into caring for active duty and veterans.  If you're looking for a charity to support (other than or with GallantFew) I can't recommend the Gary Sinise Foundation any higher.  First class.

Monger, Gary Sinise, Casey Gray, Mike Schlitz

A visit to LA would not be complete without seeing Ranger veteran Rafe Delli-Bovi.  Rafe is a former Director of the US Army Ranger Association and is a Senior Veteran Service Officer with the DAV.  If you are in the LA area and need help with your claim, Rafe's the man.

Schlitz, Rafe Delli-Bovi, Monger, Gray

Finally, we had a wonderful meeting with Patricia Kennedy who founded Step Up 4 Vets (we met her at the LA Veterans Committee meeting).  Trivia - Patricia was one of the finalists to play Lois Lane in the 80's Superman flick, but she lost to Margot Kidder.  Our gain, though - as Patricia has turned her talent and passion for the arts into a program that helps veterans.  We are looking forward to partnering with Step Up 4 Vets in LA, NY, and (hopefully) Dallas!

Schlitz, Patricia Kennedy, Monger

We're moving now into a time of the year that can be incredibly painful for veterans and families.  The holidays that fill so many with happiness and joy for others are stark reminders of hurt and loss.  Keep your eyes open for warning signs - we all follow different social media groups, and it's impossible to list specifically what you should watch for - but if it looks off to you, dig in a bit more.  If it worries you reach out to me or to Clarence.  You'll find our contact information at the top of the GallantFew webpage.

RLTW and V/R  Karl

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Surrounding Yourself with Good People

            Day in and day out you are always around people. People you may like, love, hate, despise, etc., but you still have to get along with each type of person within your job, school, or whatever places you around people each day.  What I want to talk about as far as transitioning from military to civilian life is the people you are around in your off time or free time.  Suffering from any kind of mental issue/disability from the military can be mentally exhausting especially working or whatever you do all week long within the civilian world.

            Good loyal friends are few and far between, you may only have a few true friends throughout your lifetime.  It takes time to find these types of friends unless it’s like a childhood friend you grew up with.  Suffering from PTSD there are so many things that trigger my PTSD symptoms, and I never know which one I may get really mad, sad, anxious, or depressed.  I don’t want to trigger these symptoms, so I try to surround myself with friends and family that I know I can trust and not place myself in uncomfortable places or situations.  I like to have someone with me at all times (unless I’m in the tree stand hunting) that I can trust to look out for me and can help me out if need be, in case something sets me off that wouldn't set off the normal person.  I have my small circle of family and friends that I truly trust, but expanding that circle can be a hard and hurtful, daunting task over time.

            True friends that care about you and want to succeed in life aren't always going to see eye to eye with you and you may fight or get really mad and say things you or them wouldn't usually say; but they will never hurt you physically or mentally and if they do, they will make the effort to make things better.  Sometimes they may be right and you have to make the effort to fix the problem and let them know how you were wrong and sorry and they will except that and be glad you admitted you were wrong; most times they will respect just that much more for admitting you were wrong and that you want to move forward and go on with life just like nothing happened.  That’s the people you want to surround yourself with, at least for me.  The ones that you don’t want to surround yourself with are the ones that go out of their way to hurt you and blame everything on you and never except the fact that may have been the one who was wrong.  One of the hurtful things about that is that you may have loved this person and been good with them for months or years and think that you know them, but you find out quick in all reality that you never truly knew them and that can tear you up inside, break your heart, or leave you feeling awkward and hopeless.  Those are the ones you have to branch away from.  It may be hard at the time and feel as if you should maybe forget about it and just go on like nothing ever happened.  But in the long run it may be best to branch away, because you don’t want to be around someone who has the ability to bring you down, (you will know in your heart if you should branch away or not from this person because like I said before good friends may not always see eye to eye, but you will know by what the person has done and how they act if you should branch off from them).

            The point I’m trying to get across is to surround yourself with good people who care for you, want to help and see the best for you.  These people need to be ones that you can trust to always be there for you when you need it and the ones that can help you throughout your hardships.  I’m also not trying to say never and go out and have a good time with new friends, but just to be careful and never put yourself in a possible situation to get yourself hurt.  There are many people out there who say they want to help you, (there are a lot of very good organizations) but you have to take the time and effort to be cautious in doing so to make sure they are someone or people who really do what they say they will do like the GallantFew organization has done for me.

-Bryant McNeill 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The mettle that we are made of

"It reveals the mettle that you're built of, that you spent your life building on...what you are.  I learned from my Dad, in his final day, how to die with courage and grace."
                                                                                      - Doc Cheney, 3/75 Ranger.

This past week, my best friend CPT Cory Brown, lost his grandfather.  This man was more than just a grandfather to Cory.  To Cory, his grandfather played the role of the father figure.  So, this has been a difficult past few days.  When I received the news, I canceled my plans the next day to be there for my friend.

Cory and I met in college.  Seven months after meeting each other, we both left for the Army.  He went to OCS, and I, the enlisted route.  I went on to the Ranger Regiment in Fort Benning, GA, and he went on to be an MP officer in Grafenwoehr, Germany.  I missed his wedding due to my first deployment, and only saw him a few times over the stretch of the next few years.  As I was getting out of the military, he was finally off on his first deployment.  Never during our military careers did we ever cross paths.  Our main line of communication was an occasional email or message via Facebook.  But, he was always there for me when I needed him to be.  As I went through my divorce, and Run Ranger Run, I received nothing but positive reinforcement from him.  Many times he would say the things that I didn't want to hear, but needed to be said.  An occasional, "Smitty, get your head out of your ass," or, "I'm gonna come over there and knock some damn sense in your head," was appropriate at times.

Today, at the funeral, I witnessed my best friend be the man that his grandfather made him out to be.  He stood at the podium in his ASU's, fighting back tears, struggling with every other word to describe the love and admiration he has for his grandfather.  Cory wants nothing more in life to be half the man that his grandfather was.  But I can tell you this, his grandfather watched from heaven today, knowing that his grandson is twice the man that anyone could have imagined him to be.

The integrity of our character is defined by our actions in times of adversity.  Like the quote above, today I saw my best friend's mettle, the inner workings, the strength of which he is designed.  Ever since I have known him, he has done everything within his power to be more than where he came from.  He constantly feels he has to do more, whether it be another deployment to get more stripes on his uniform or one day work for a certain government agency.  Many times he can be his own worst enemy, causing more stress than needed.

Growing up, I was told by my father that you will only have one or two friends in your life, but you will have many acquaintances.  The way to distinguish the two is by differentiating which ones would give up their life in order to give you yours, and you do the same for them.  Today, I got the chance to experience the true friendship that I share with Cory.  I can only hope, that one day, I am half the man that he is.      

Friday, December 6, 2013

Learning to Transition to Civilian Life

Today TNAV welcomes a new member of our blogging team. ~km

My name is Bryant McNeill and I served in 1/75 Ranger Battalion for 6 and a half years. I was shot in Iraq on the night of and early morning of December 1st and 2nd, 2009 and had to have my left leg amputated as a result. When I was in the hospital in recovery I had many visitors showing support from both the military and civilians. These people made it out to seem like the military was going to take complete care of me financially and medically after I was out of the military. Now four years later I am finding out how completely wrong I grasped the picture they painted out for me.

I currently work full time and go to school full time (which the G.I bill pays for school and E-5 BAH every month) while trying to support a family of 2 kids and a wife and I can barely make ends meet financially even being paid 80% disability by the VA. Financial problems are very hard but the hardest thing for me I have found to be is the transition into working in the civilian world. I have almost lost my job twice over things that would be considered no big issue in the military. In the civilian world I’m learning how easy it is to mess up and have to suffer huge consequences. I just can’t act or speak the way I could in the military. Everyday I’m learning how I have to sit back, keep my mouth closed at times and not let the little things bother me. The small things I will admit I have a problem with letting them get to my head and caring too much what others think about me. If I want to make it in the civilian world I’m going to have to help myself and learn to control my feelings and not sweat the small stuff, which is way easier said than done.

What I’m trying to get at here is that the civilian world is not going to change it is what it is, you have to learn how to live in it and how to succeed in it. This is a lengthy process and won’t happen overnight, but day by day things will get better as you learn how to fight and conquer your inner battles. Don’t get me wrong you WILL run into those very hard days and this is where you can’t let them set you backwards, you have to pull through and always keep moving forward.

-Bryant McNeill

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What is Run Ranger Run?

Run Ranger Run then...

In the past month, there has been more people joining the Run Ranger Run Facebook page. A question that I get more than any other is, "What is this thing all about?"  So, instead of having to sending the same message out, I figured I'd go ahead and knock out an all encompassing entry to hopefully answer any of those questions.

Run Ranger Run, like most things, started out as an idea.  At the time, my daughter's mother and I were going through marital difficulty.  At the time, I was assigned to 3/75 Rgr Rgt at Ft Benning, GA.  My daughter and her mother had moved back to Indianapolis, and signs of salvaging the marriage were no where to be found.  I was still had an obligation to my country, and was held in place until my time in service had been concluded.

The day before initiating the journey
After my daughter left, coming home from work was the worst part of my day. It felt like I was a stranger in my own place.  I started running to escape reality.  On the first Tuesday of October, 2011, I was joking around with my pastor about having the idea of running home.  As I laid down on my inflatable mattress that evening, I couldn't get the idea of running home out of my head.  So, the next day when I got home from work, I started running.  That night, I ran twelve miles (the furthest I've ran at one time).  Over the next two months, my mission was to get home to my daughter, and help highlight the struggles that Veterans go through as they transition out of the military.

Run Ranger Run now...

Run Ranger Run is camaraderie.  Run Ranger Run is teamwork.  Run Ranger Run is never giving up on each other, and completing the mission together.

Run Ranger Run is a month long event where teams of two to ten people complete a total of 565 miles in the 28 days of February, replicating the distance and time it took me to make it home.  Individuals on the team don't have to be geographically located near each other, which makes this such a great way to reconnect with friends, other service members, and family across the world.  The mileage that teams track can come from running, walking, biking, etc.  So, if there is ten people on a team, each person has to average 56.5 miles for the entire month (which averages a little bit over 2 miles per day).

This past year, Run Ranger Run had teams participating in three different continents and completed enough mileage to circumnavigate the world 1.5 times.  Many teams ran in remembrance of fallen heroes, naming their team after those individuals.  But, no matter the reason for certain teams running, the miles that were accumulated changed lives.  Not only did it bring the community together, but it showed war-fighters that there is a vast network of folks out there ready to support them as they transition into the unknown (see below for note from Karl on how we use the funds).

The run changed my life.  It gave me a new perspective on life, and the vision to overcome the obstacles in front of me...one step at a time.

To sign up as a team, or to join a team go to the Run Ranger Run home page.  

It felt great to have her back in my arms
Karl writes:

With Cory's OK we decided to expand on and honor his initial achievement.  Since most of us are not athletes of Cory's caliber, we thought that teams of ten could accomplish what the team of one - Cory did - 565 miles in 28 days.  

The number one goal of Run Ranger Run is awareness.  Awareness of veteran issues and what GallantFew does to help veterans.  The second priority is fund-raising.

Many nonprofits hold banquets, large 10k races or other events that cost a lot of money and raise relatively little after expenses are paid.  Last year the first ever RRR raised over $125,000 at a cost of about $17,000 (to pay for tees, credit card transaction fees, etc).  The majority of that money is still in the bank.

We have plans to hire some social worker case managers that can help us facilitate mentoring relationships.  We are funding 1kVets with six month subscriptions for veterans.  This great partnership with a for-profit company that has built a fantastic tool to help leverage social media like LinkedIn really amps up a veteran's job search.  That service typically costs about $100/month, we are getting six month access for one veteran for $150.  We want to provide this to initially 1000 veterans (that will cost us $150,000).  Already about 20 veterans are enrolled.  If you need employment help, go here and sign up.

Another program is ground-breaking PTSD therapy led by Dr Carrie Elk out of Tampa, Florida.  We want to bring her to locations across the country to help veterans learn unique and powerful methods to defeat PTSD. Her methods have helped a number of Special Operations veterans in a secure, confidential manner.

There are many more initiatives, too much to write here.  On a personal note, I am the only paid full-time GallantFew employee.  The first two and a half years I was unpaid.  I am not retired from the military, although I do receive a partial VA disability.  Starting in 2012 the board voted to pay me $36,000 a year (it was that or I had to cut back time here and get a job).  Mid 2013 they raised me to a level that next year is $50,000.  I will not take a dollar more in salary from GallantFew, and I pray for the day I can do it again for free.

Much of the intimate, personal work we did (and I say WE because of the volunteers) is too private to openly discuss.  We will never parade a veteran's problems around on TV to ask for money, and RRR allows us to fund-raise during one time period a year and not ping you every day for money.  We have prevented suicides, prevented homelessness, helped veterans get great jobs and created great relationships.  We have also begun pushing our message that it's the military's job to make civilians into soldiers, not soldiers into civilians.  They need to keep their focus there.  It is the responsibility of each and every community to welcome veterans and assist them in their transition home.  Your help and involvement in Run Ranger Run helps ensure we will expand that message, expand our capacity and do more and better work for more and more veterans.  ~Karl