Every Military Family is Special

“In January of 2012, when my husband returned from his last deployment, I decided to start the Brave HEART (Heroes Equine Adventure & Riding Therapy) Program, a non-profit that merged my love of horses with a desire to give back to the military community. Jeff and I have been married and living the military life for over 21 years, and it has been our horses that have helped us through many of the trials and hardships. I wanted to share this wonderful healing equine interaction with other military spouses.

“The Mission of the Brave HEART Program is to support those who serve our country by bringing service members and their families together in an environment what helps them reconnect and strengthen family bonds. We provide horse-related and other outdoor activities in a positive and serene setting that helps service members make the transition from the combat zone to home. The Program is designed to help service members reconnect with their families through sharing enjoyable and beneficial activities. The farm setting allows families to participate in a variety of outdoor activities including horseback riding (both therapeutic and instructional), horse grooming, nature hikes, bonfires, and arts and crafts.

“Brave HEART is just one of many programs that make up Horses Healing Maryland’s Military (HHMM). HHMM is a new coalition of approximately 16 licensed stables, from 11 different counties in Maryland that offer services to service members, veterans, and their families.

“With the wonderful help and support of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, HHMM is organizing a ‘Military Riding Showcase’ at the Maryland State Fair on Friday, September 2 from 5pm-8pm. We have invited other mounted Military and Police units, such as the Old Guard Caisson Platoon from Ft. Myer and the Maryland-National Capital Park Police to participate as well. We are planning to have a tribute to the Military, a few riding classes and a parade of all the mounted units. Veterans and horses from some of the HHMM programs will be coming to ride and compete as well.

“We know that family is vital and appreciate the immeasurable courage, sacrifice and dedication of our military personnel and their families. I wanted to honor this by giving something back to them. I believe every military family is special. I know deployments take a toll on the service member and on the family, both during the deployment and after they return home. Each deserves the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the American way of life, which they have worked so hard to support and defend.”

To learn more about this program or the Military Riding Showcase, visit http://www.BraveHeartRiding.org #humansonthehomefront

God bless the Corps

  “There was some expectation in my family that you’d do military service. My dad had surgery so that he could join the Navy in order to fight in World War II, and I had several uncles that served in the Pacific. My brother was four years older than I was and ended up In Naval ROTC at the University of Nebraska and went the Marine Corps track. I also decided on the Marine Corps.

“I flew the CH-46 Sea Knight. After flight school, I went to New River, North Carolina. Cindy and I were already married, so I asked to go overseas early so she could go back to college. It was 1970 and I got orders to Okinawa. I got there, and we were asked who wanted to go to “in country.” Three of us raised our hands. I wanted to go to Vietnam because the war was so controversial, and I thought that getting closer to it, I’d understand it better. Also, a buddy of mine once said the worst job out there is being in the military during peacetime – it’s like working for a telephone company with no wires or poles. Two days later I was at Marble Mountain, south of Da Nang. Turns out the closer you get to war, the muddier it gets.

“You have to have the mentality that you’re going to be able to handle anything. The first night I was there, the base took rockets. I hit the deck so hard and my salty roomie laughed at me; he said, ‘Nah, those are so far away.’ The next time one sounded, I jumped out of the top bunk bed and landed on top of my roomie. He said, ‘Those were damn close.’ The first few days were spent trying to absorb the difference between flying stateside and wartime flying. We did recon inserts and extracts, resupply, emergency medevacs and night medevacs. I didn’t like the night medevacs. It’s dark, you can’t see anything, you’ve got three or four people talking to you on the radios. It was the classic fog of war. Everything about it was blurry. 

“One mission I remember clearly was a day medevac. They didn’t call them IEDs at the time, but it was like that. They called them land mines. We were supporting the ROKS, Korean Marines, and were flying to pick up their injured. From the time we’d taken off to the time we’d arrived, they’d set off another booby trap. When we landed at the clearing site, they just started carrying in pieces of people. It was horrible. I was flying with this major, and people were yelling at us on the radio that we had to get out of there. We had been in the zone way too long. Seemed like a lifetime. The major had his window in the helo down and was yelling at the Korean Marines to hurry up. I’ll never forget it. One of their men walked up to our helicopter locked and loaded and started to point his weapon at the major. The major looked at him, gestured and and yelled, ‘Take as long as you need.’ You never know how a rescue like that turns out, but we didn’t think there was any way any one of those guys made it that day.

“I’m telling my story because of the way Vietnam veterans have been characterized by the media. I’m a little angry about it, really. Until a few years ago, even my own kids assumed I smoked weed while I was over there. Not only did I not use it, I never even saw it. There has been such a sweeping generalization that all Vietnam veterans are drug abusers, burn outs, and drunks. The truth is, we’re the most successful group of veterans in the history of America. We have more amassed financial wealth, we own more businesses, and I bet if you did spiritual assessments, you’d find we lead in that area too. I wish everyone would read the book Stolen Valor by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. They talk about all this. ‘Vietnam veterans were as successful or more successful than men their age who did not go to Vietnam.’ This book shows just how wrong the media has gotten it: alleged Vietnam vets put in prison who never actually even served in the military; falsified records and made up stories that are broadcast as though they represent all of us. They don’t, and it denigrates our service. The book talks about a survey published by the Washington Post on the tenth anniversary of the fall of Saigon. It said that, ‘Ninety-one percent of those who served in Vietnam were glad they served their country.’ I certainly am too. God bless the Corps.” 

Why the Navy? Have you seen Top Gun?

“I’ve always wanted to fly. I majored in Aviation at the University of Oklahoma, and after college started my own flight school in Texas. Things were great until another flight instructor moved in on my turf, and we ended up splitting the small pool of students. To feed myself, I took a job working at Circuit City selling televisions. After some soul searching, I knew I wanted more, which is why I joined the military. Why the Navy specifically? Have you seen Top Gun?

“I think we all crave experience – it’s part of why we take pictures- to prove to ourselves and everyone else, look, I’ve really lived. I joined the Navy because I saw it as the best path to those kind of wild experiences you can’t get by living an easy life. 

“I was crushed when they told me I got helicopters instead of jets. But the first time I flew in a helo, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. 

“My ten years in the Navy have been incredible. From the stress of flight school, never knowing if you’re good enough until that one day when you’re flying in close form. Or the first time you hover in a helicopter, and you realize the true meaning of the word balance. Or getting to the squadron and meeting some of the best friends I’ve ever had, drinking and singing karaoke, then getting noodles and watching the sun come up on the beach in Guam. Or being in the desert, dead tired from having been called on a MEDEVAC in the middle of the night, watching the sun come up over the empty land all the while telling the stupidest jokes you could think of just to stay awake and get the bird home safely. Or the adrenaline rush from being on Search and Rescue (SAR) duty and having to rush into work on a weekend to rescue a hiker who broke his leg. Or pushing myself harder than I ever thought I would when there was a fire, and my helicopter and the water I was dumping from the fire bucket was the only thing stopping a horse ranch on one side and a neighborhood on the other from burning down. Or losing an engine as I was coming into a hover to drop a swimmer to rescue a guy stranded in the ocean, and praying so hard that I didn’t have to put the bird in the drink. Or participating in an extreme cold weather survival training with the Norwegians just above the Arctic circle. Or meeting my wife, while she was an Army nurse at Walter Reed and I was stationed in D.C. Or a million other moments that would fill ten books if I described them all.  

“Each moment a memory, full and perfect, and worth every bit of administrative or bureaucratic nonsense that comes with working for the government. I’ve loved every minute of it, and am filled with wonder that I can have lived so much already. Am I really only 33 years old?  I can’t wait to see what we get to do next.”

He was just a cadet when I met him

“We met in 1969 and I fell madly in love with him right away. He was already at West Point, and I still remember how handsome he looked in his cadet uniform. Neither one of us was from a military family, so I didn’t know what to expect. Reality set in that he really was a soldier when we had to cancel our wedding. We’ve been married 41 years now, and for 33 of those years, I was an Army wife. Now, I’m an Army mom. 

“Both of our sons joined the military. They each seemed to know from an early age, especially our oldest, that they wanted to serve in the Army, like their dad. With their dad flying Apache helicopters and being well known for having fired the first shots of the Gulf War in 1991, that fostered a desire in them to be helicopter pilots. Our oldest son joined the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M and then our younger son decided to do the same thing. Both went on to flight school and eventually served in their dad’s former unit in the 101st Airborne Division. We are so proud of both of them. 

“9/11 changed everything for all of us who had someone in the military. My older son deployed for the first time to Afghanistan, and I had never been so afraid in my life. My husband was the Commander of the 101st Airborne Division at the time, the very division our son deployed with. Within two years, both our sons were in the same unit in Iraq. They would deploy together twice to Iraq and multiple times to Afghanistan. Certainly those were terrifying times for me. Approximately every other year we have at least one son deployed. When my husband was the Vice Chief of Staff for the Army, as Army parents ourselves, we were living what other families were living and that gave us such valuable perspective. Now, we feel the heartache of watching our sons leave their wives and their young children. 

“When the boys were first deploying, I needed a coping mechanism. I started writing. I wrote a booklet called ‘Your Soldier, Your Army… A Parent’s Guide.’ As I was helping others handle deployments, I was helping myself as well. Writing is what got me through. And I realized that we have such a unique story to tell, but it is one that every American can relate to. I combined all of those years that I was able to be an advocate for the military with our life together, and wrote a memoir. My book, Army Wife – A Story of Love and Family in the Heart of the Army, was released yesterday. It’s our love story, set against the backdrop of Army life. It’s love, life, loss, and the lessons that we’ve learned. It’s my journey as a woman, a wife, a mother, and grandmother. When we met, he was just a cadet, and he retired as a four star general. We did a lot of growing together, and I wanted to share those experiences. I want Americans to understand how our military families live – the upheavals, the challenges, the obstacles, and more than anything, the pure joy that comes with it.” 

To order Vicki’s book, visit www.vickicody.com

I launched a multi-million dollar aircraft in a panda costume

“I have been in the Navy a little over 10 years. My family and I have had tremendous experiences and have had the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life. They have enriched our lives and made each duty station special. Deployments in the military can pose unique challenges to individuals and families. It is not easy to be away from your spouse or children, especially when your children are small and rapidly developing. Leaving my wife at home as a de facto single parent with four kids at times left me feeling helpless. You miss out on events and milestones that you cannot go back and experience. Often, the only thing you can do when you get an email that the car won’t start or the dishwasher is broken is reply and say how you wish you could be there to take care of everything. However, deployments can also present special opportunities to mature as a person, develop professional skills, visit unique places in the world, and ultimately serve your fellow man.

“For the last seven months, I have been deployed on the USS John C. Stennis as a Catapult and Arresting Gear Officer. For aviators, going to the boat (especially as part of ship’s company) is an assignment no one is particularly excited to complete, but I can gratefully say that this has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding tours of my career.  As ‘Shooters,’ we are in charge of safely launching and recovering aircraft. Shooters fill an important role for the Air Wing as it projects power to secure American interests, but for all intents and purposes, Shooters are glorified amusement park ride operators. With any job, there can be a fair amount of monotony, but when you are kneeling on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier 20 feet away from a jet at full afterburner, it makes for a memorable and illuminating work experience.

“Over the last seven months, I have had the chance to work with the best and brightest people America has to offer. Hard work, service and dedication know no race, nationality, ethnic background, gender, or sexual orientation. We have had the chance to defend American interests, reassure our allies, and engage our friends in the South China Sea and Western Pacific. One day often blends into the next, especially on the flight deck. At the end of deployment, as the Air Wing prepared to fly-off, a number of Shooters broke out different costumes they had been squirreling away for the occasion. I had a wrestling mask from Nacho Libre which seemed like a great idea for a fly-off costume seven months ago, but quickly proved to be lacking. However, my friend and fellow Shooter Marc had the foresight to buy a remake of Jimmy Fallon’s Hashtag Panda costume. Needless to say, it was a hit with the catapult crews and flight deck personnel, because who doesn’t like a panda, especially a panda that launches jets? Hopefully we gave the pilots a laugh before they took a final cat shot for their return home to their families. Between launch cycles, Marc and I took turns wearing the suit and acting like a bunch of clowns for all to see.

“As I look back on deployment, I am reminded of a speech President Kennedy gave to midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963. In his concluding remarks, he said, ‘Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction – ‍’‍I served in the United States Navy.‍’‍’ In addition to that, Marc and I can also say that we launched multi-million dollar jets off an aircraft carrier dressed as Hashtag Panda. Not a bad way to end seven months away from friends and family.”

To watch the Hastag Panda Jet Launch, click here: https://youtu.be/QnqyZmQzYJY

I wanted to make my dad proud

“My dad encouraged me to go to the Naval Academy. He had just been diagnosed with cancer and I wanted to make him proud. I wanted to join the Navy, serve my country, follow in my older brother’s footsteps, and play soccer in college, and the Academy allowed me to do all of that. 

“I met Jeff my freshman year. He was a year ahead of me, so before my brother graduated he told Jeff, ‘My baby sister is coming here next year. You’d better not date her.’ And Jeff and I ended up getting married. We started dating right about the time my dad was near the end. Jeff came into my life and then my dad was gone. He didn’t fill the hole my dad left – no one can – but he was the glue that kept me together. My world was crashing down around me, and he held me up.

“We got married after I graduated, in 2014, while he was in flight school in Pensacola. I had 30 days of leave and he had 15. For our honeymoon, we went to Margaritaville in Pensacola so he could check in every day, and then we flew back to Virginia where we’d bought our first house. Our household goods finally arrived on a Saturday, and on Monday I was back at work and he was back in Florida. We will finally live in the same house in March 2017. I’ll go back out on deployment six months after that, but half a year together sounds like such a long time when you’ve spent so long apart. In the end though, we will have been married three years before we actually live together. It’s crazy, and we’re looking forward to only having one house payment. But the way we see it is, what’s three years when compared to spending the rest of your life together?”

I’m not broken, I’m bent

“Our son always tells people, ‘My mom is bent, she’s not broken.’ I am fully disabled. I was told I’d never have children, and lo and behold, I got pregnant. You don’t see a lot of disabled military spouses. When my husband was active duty, I didn’t have the support I needed. I was 600 miles from home and I had no one. We both knew that if we could make it through that, we could do anything. 

“In 2006, I was searching for some way to give back. I stumbled upon Soldier’s Angels and started writing letters. Two years later, my husband developed PTSD from a non-combat related incident and left the service. It is truly teamwork at our house. I take care of him, and he takes care of me. Writing became like a therapy for me. There were so many things I couldn’t control, but I could always sit down with a pen and paper. Someone saw my Soldier’s Angels t-shirt I was wearing once and told me that all kids wanted these days was care packages, and that letters didn’t matter. I told him I was going to write even more letters that year because of him. I know they make a difference. I told him to name a number and I would write that many letters. He said 4,000, so I did. In fact, that year I wrote 6,345. Last year I wrote my 10,000th letter. Now I write between 4-6 letters on any given day.

“I write these letters because I don’t want anyone to ever feel alone, or like no one cares about them. I wanted these soldiers to know that they have support from the general population. You expect to get support from your friends and family, but there is something so powerful about hearing ‘I’ve got your back’ from someone you don’t even know. Some of the soldiers write back, and some don’t. I had a private carry one of my letters through three deployments. I like to ask the soldiers I write to about their family, find out about who they are, and let them know how proud we are of them. It’s so important to say more than just ‘Thank you for your service.’ That’s a good start, but also saying, ‘You matter. You are not alone.’ And like my son says, ‘You might be bent, but you’re not broken.’”