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Friday, January 01, 2010

Goodbye Haughty Aughties, Welcome 2010: Veterans Stories of Past Decade, 2009

Happy New Year, readers of PTSD Combat. I do hope that all of you, old friends and new, have had a great Christmastime, and that your holiday season has been filled with some light and wonder and many moments free from worry and stress.

For those of you who have followed my work since '05, or for new friends to be made in this new decade, I send you a generous New Years Day dose of gratitude. Thank you for your interest in my work. While the need to continue spotlighting issues near and dear to the American military family and their supporters is motivation enough to keep going...your positive support fuels me onward, too.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

So, what was your year like? Mine, in a nutshell:


As you can see, it was a good year for me.

I was able to attend quite a few veterans-issue conferences, most of which I wasn't able to report on here due to my studies taking up all of my time. I hope to have a post up in the next few weeks that will recap some of the significant highlights and things I learned that are worth passing on to you here, too.

dec2009_1333Receiving my B.A. in journalism, summa cum laude and with University Honors, from Northern Illinois University was the year's highlight for me, a goal made all the richer for having done it in my later years.

dec2009_1326My desire to continue improving my skills and knowledge so that I can be an even better advocate and writer remains. I've applied to a number of grad school programs, each a bit different but all offering the chance to further improve as a health, science and technology communicator.

For 2010, I'm happy to say I'll have more time for posting and interaction with you here as well as at facebook and twitter.

As for the immediate future: This week I'm off to Seattle to attend my fourth Journalism That Matters conference since 2006, gathering together old and new media publishers, editors, reporters, bloggers, educators and more.

I'm also hoping to meet casually with area veterans and vet advocates before flying back home. If you are in the area and interested in joining us (tentatively set for the afternoon of Sunday, Jan 10), please see my facebook event page. I'll be updating it throughout the week as I have more details.

jan2010_2162[UPDATE Jan 12, 2010]: Wanted to share a photo from my post-conference Seattle Vets Issue Lunch Clutch, which took place Sunday at Zao Noodle Bar, University Village Shopping Center near the UW campus.

Thank you to Theresa, Sue and Gordy for coming out to see me (extra kudos Mr G for logistical support)! Vibrant time spent discussing how the needs of local milfamilies are being met. I walked away impressed by the area's different VA programs and the energy of its vets advocates, counselors.

Also, I invite you to explore my Flickr Journalism That Matters photos, if you have time or inclination. Will be adding more in the next few days as they're ready to upload. This year's first JTM gathering lived up to the others in the series. Will have a stand-alone post on the entire weekend ASAP.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos...

In extended, I've collected a sampling of veterans-related stories from the past year and decade for you.

Here's to our working together to build a better future for ourselves and the ones we love, and being wise enough to learn from the past's mistakes, stumbles and missteps. We don't have to reinvent the wheel -- just turn it in a better direction.

--- Original start of extended ---

First, a look back on select local stories related to veterans that made top ten lists in 2009 (this is hardly a comprehensive list).

Lydia M. Harris, Willows [CA] Tri-County News:

Like many years, 2009 had its highs and lows in Orland and Glenn County as a whole. Orland took some of its saddest news of the past and turned it into a place of honor by creating a memorial for its veterans.

Lori Moreno, whose son, Marine Sgt. Harvey Parkerson III, was killed in action in Iraq on Aug. 18, 2004, spearheaded the memorial effort, and retiring Orland police Chief Bob Pasero told the crowd that by Flag Day 2014, a permanent memorial in the shape of an eternal flame will be erected outside Memorial Hall.

Shannon Moriarty,

Homelessness reached crisis proportions in 2009. But there's reason to feel hopeful that things will take a turn for the better in 2010. Here are the top five reasons why:

5. Ending veteran homelessness

While many have called the VA's commitment to ending veteran homelessness in five years "bold," we say it's about time. The year 2010 will see changes in services available to veterans in an effort to prevent homelessness, including leveraging existing education and jobs programs, boosting the ability of veteran-owned businesses to compete for federal contracts, and spending an additional $3 billion on medical services and homeless programs. And the best part? Eighty-five percent of the additional funds for homeless veteran programs is being directed towards medical costs; thus finally acknowledging that untreated mental health issues and substance abuse are often the drivers of veteran homelessness. Read more here.

Centralia [WA] Chronicle:

Editor’s note: The year 2009 opened with wicked weather and ended with a late Christmas present when the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board lifting a building moratorium across the county. Here are the top stories of the past 12 months, as voted on by the Chronicle’s newsroom: ...

4. Local National Guard Troop Leaves for War

On the eve of Veteran’s Day, busloads of National Guard soldiers drove from their home base at the Centralia Armory past flag-waving crowds as they shipped out for specialized training leading up to their mission of finding and defusing roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

The 400-day “route clearance” mission is crucial for American efforts in the region. Despite the danger, volunteers have joined the 204th Engineer Company from as far away as Arizona and Texas.

The 102 members of the Centralia unit leave for Afghanistan from their training grounds in Wisconsin within weeks.

James Steven, Marion [OH] Star:

It was a year that began with the historic inauguration of a new U.S. president. It was a year marked with a somber celebration of a Marion son lost in war. There was much to celebrate in 2009 and just as much to show us there's work to be done. ...

The Marion community helped honor fallen soldier Army Staff Sgt. Shannon Smith by lining West Center Street during a processional through the downtown to the Marion County Courthouse where a ceremony was held.

Smith, 31, the son of Jim and Deb Smith was killed on Sept. 8 while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom when an armor-piercing rocket struck his vehicle.

His wife Cassie said her husband loved training new soldiers, "not only developing them warrior-wise but in general, as a friend, being a brother." It was one of the things that made him love the military.

"He was definitely a protector," she said. "He loved helping people. It was his passion."

Just a month later, the finishing touches were being put on the new facade on the Marion wall memorial at the Marion County Courthouse where Smith's name would be displayed. About 40 donors raised more than $7,800 to renovate the wall, which had fallen into disrepair. The display bears the names of 201 Marion County military veterans who died serving their country.

Several other military men from Marion also served with distinction. Lance Cpl. Mike Bisch of Marion was awarded the Bronze Star, one of the highest honors given by the U.S. Marine Corps, for his actions taken in Afghanistan. "He did not hesitate to risk his own life," said Lt. Tom Lefebvre, his commander, describing how Bisch placed his tank between insurgent fighters and exposed Marines to act as a shield.

Collin Smith, Craig [CO] Daily Press:

What follows is the second part of a look at some of the biggest stories of the year, as chosen by the Daily Press staff. ...

Taking in ‘Taking Chance’

In February, HBO Films premiered the Kevin Bacon-vehicle, “Taking Chance,” a film based on a Marine Corps officer’s journal of transporting the body of former Craig resident Chance Phelps home to his family in Wyoming.

Lance Cpl. Phelps, who spent 12 years of his childhood living in Craig, was killed April 9, 2004, by enemy gunfire in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq.

He was 19.

Bacon portrayed Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, who escorted Phelps’ body home.

“Taking Chance,” which is still shown on the cable network, provided a moving portrait of the care, dignity and respect the military shows its fallen soldiers upon returning them home to their loved ones.

Filmmakers had the blessing of Phelps’ family, some of whom live in Craig today.

The film also was screened on Veterans Day in November before the student body at Moffat County High School, where Phelps once attended school. The film, it should be noted, resonated with many of the students who watched it, as well as viewers across the country.

Frank Konkel also has a nice piece on 2009 area veterans' contributions in the [Livingston, MI] Daily Press & Argus.

York [NE] News-Times:

The year of 2009 was one that held tragedy, controversy, strange events and economic questions. The News-Times staff has reviewed the "biggest stories" of the year, establishing what they believe to be "The Top 10" — considering the headlines that garnered the most editorial conversation, community response, page views at, frequency of coverage and impact. ...

5: Veterans issues raised again and again

Issues surrounding the veterans service office were raised again and again as controversy swirled around whether or not the officer’s position should be salaried or not, whether the county was giving the officer enough opportunity to fulfill his obligations, whether the office was open long enough, whether the officer was working too many hours in a week . . .

On and on, the conversations continued in a series of meetings before the county commissioners and the Veterans Service Committee itself.

York County Veterans Service Officer Don Sandman has said he is committed to doing whatever is necessary to serve the growing number of veterans seeking assistance. The number is growing due to aging veterans, more awareness and legislation regarding entitlements and the fact that many young people are coming back from overseas as the nation fights wars on two different fronts.

But the county’s decision to make the position no longer a salaried job — that, he said early on, was creating problems in fulfilling his duties. The commissioners asked that he limit his overtime, take no files out of the courthouse or work at home. He said they were tying his hands and making it harder to serve his clients, the veterans.

The result was a number of meetings where veterans filed in, to the point there was often standing room only. They said they didn’t believe there was enough support for Sandman and some staunchly said they felt there wasn’t enough understanding of what Sandman does for them and hundreds of other veterans in this area.

And, as for the decade itself, according to Time magazine, it was the Decade from Hell:

Calling the 2000s "the worst" may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation's entire history.

Am I the only one who has a problem with Time's characterization of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as historically insignificant, even calling the past ten years a peacetime decade? Ugh...

Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun:

What do we call this decade? The Ohs? If you say that out loud it sounds like a certain baseball team. The Aughts? What's an aught? ...

Whether they were the Ohs or the Aughts, whether we want to remember or quickly forget, let's take a look back at the years 2000-2009: The things we lost. What we gained. The tragedies we couldn't bear to watch and the moments that brought us together. ...

Living with terror

In the days, months and years after terrorist-driven planes hit the twin towers, fallout rained down on America the way chalky debris dusted Manhattan that September morning.

Life would never be the same, we were told. And in some ways it wasn't.

We learned to decipher the candy-colored terror alert chart. Lime meant safe. Cherry, big trouble. Signs over the Beltway reminded us to look at one another with suspicion. We scrutinized our mail for anything powdery and white.

BWI Airport not only scrambled to tighten security like every airport in the country, national leaders tagged it to be a safety leader. So Maryland travelers weren't just taking their shoes off, standing in screening lines and relying on sample-size shampoo, they were helping to test-drive the latest measures in precaution.

The region took center stage in disturbing ways, too, as investigators searching for the person who loaded letters with deadly anthrax swarmed over Fort Detrick in Frederick. They implicated - then absolved - one scientist, Steven Hatfill, before turning to another who killed himself before being charged.

And when the world winced at photos of naked Iraqi prisoners forced into humiliating positions, it was officers from a Western Maryland military police company who would be charged in the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

Another view from Bill Kirk, New Hampshire's Eagle-Tribune:

The terrorist attacks of 2001 and the election of the first black president of the United States in 2008 are the historic bookends of an already historic decade. Within the 10-year span from Jan. 1, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2009, the United States saw more than its share of fortune and misfortune, war and peace, silliness and seriousness. ...

Local civilians were among the 2,973 innocent victims butchered in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And local veterans have been lost to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. ...

"9-11 set the tone for the decade," said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, in a recent interview with The Eagle-Tribune. "It highlighted a new vulnerability as a nation, and a new kind of warfare."

Among the nearly 3,000 victims of 9-11 were 17 local residents, including flight attendant Betty Ong of Andover. She was working on American Airlines Flight 11, which left Boston Logan headed for Los Angeles before hijackers overwhelmed the crew and slammed the aircraft into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

United Airlines Flight 175 also left Logan that morning, headed toward Los Angeles before it was commandeered and flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Among the victims on that flight were Derry residents Carl Max Hammond Jr. and Louis Neil Mariani.

Prof. Frank Talty of U-Mass Lowell's Political Science Department agreed with Tsongas about the significance of 9-11.

"It drove everything for the first part of the decade," he said, ultimately leading the United States into two wars, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.

President Obama has pledged a full troop withdrawal from Iraq by August 2010, while troops may be in Afghanistan for a while longer. Lowell Democrat Tsongas said the jury's still out on the Afghanistan build-up.

"The cost to us as a nation could be as much or more than the war in Iraq," she said. "We need to think about that quite seriously."

Talty agreed.

"We went into Afghanistan nine years ago," he said. "There may be a weariness I wouldn't be surprised to see among many Americans. I wouldn't be surprised to see Americans less tolerant of war going forward."

And so, good riddance to the naughty, haughty aughties (oh, I just had to use that line once :o). Happy 2010, everyone!

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