It Took Every Single One of Us to Make It All Happen

267 CBCS, ORE 2004, Dover AFB, DE

267 CBCS, ORE 2004, Dover AFB, DE

Not only did the squadron deploy multiple times but we remained in a constant state of readiness stateside. ~Jennifer Norris, USAF Ret.

As soldiers come home from the wars and things wind down overseas, we need to be especially cognizant of how difficult it will be for them to transition from a warrior to a civilian again.  Most of our troops have been in the defensive fighting position ever since they joined the military but especially after the tragic events of 9/11.  If you were in the military before and after that day, you know what I am talking about. We went into high operational tempo after those terrorist attacks and have been on high alert ever since.  What most people don’t know is the transition that our Armed Forces went through as well.

While I was serving, we noticed that after the first deployment in 2001-2002 a lot of soldiers got out of the military for one reason or another. In the unit I was stationed at in Massachusetts, they realized as citizen soldiers or members of the National Guard that they lost a lot of money when they were activated.  They made a lot more money in the technological career field as citizens then they did as soldiers. They had mortgages to pay, businesses to run, lifestyles to maintain, and families to take care of. After realizing how much they made in Massachusetts compared to active duty pay, I could easily see why the math did not add up. The days of the “Weekend Warrior” were over.

In addition to that group, we also noticed that those who joined specifically to get an education decided to jump ship as well.  The deciding factor for them was that they didn’t sign up for this crap. We later learned that the first deployment overseas hurt the morale of many soldiers who were now dismayed with the glory of serving. Although I didn’t deploy with them, they swore that the Commander was sleeping with the personnel specialist while they were overseas. I could not believe the devastating effects this revelation had on the troops and me. It was amazing what losing the respect of a leader can do to the entire squadron. Shortly after they returned from the first deployment, the personnel specialist was promoted to MSgt despite being in her career field less then a year.  It was devastating to their morale and mine. She was quickly transferred after being promoted but it was too late. She later become commissioned and worked for the Sexual Assault and Prevention Office. Perception is reality.

After losing respect for the Commander, it was hard to keep our game on in a high operational tempo environment. Thanks to the warfighter spirit in the new troops, it gave me what I needed to perform and make things happen. They were eager to learn and I was glad to have a new generation of troops that I could invest in for the betterment of the military. Although the circumstances behind so many leaving were legitimate, there were few NCOs left to train the new recruits. It made it harder to train so many new troops at the same time but we didn’t have a choice because our manning levels were so low. This same Commander wouldn’t let me go and used ‘Stop Loss’ to hold me. Satellite communications was considered a critical career field and the military was low on electronic maintenance technicians. He wanted me to stay stateside to train the new troops and get them prepared for deployment because we had no one left to go in our shop. We would not have been able to get it done without these new dedicated troops and the people who stayed stateside.

It was a very stressful time but it was easy to adapt and overcome because not only did I want to be there but so did those who signed up after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  As a non-commission officer in the military, I was especially proud of and pleased with the new troops that entered the military, and those that transferred from Active Duty. The Chain of Command in my National Guard unit did not respect the experience that our active duty soldier’s brought with them. All of us wanted to be there and it reminded me why we needed to continue with the All Volunteer Force. As a leader, I was completely against the draft because I did not have time for anyone that did not want to be there.  I really appreciated the soldiers who volunteered to be there. Our job was not easy and it took true dedication to learn the job and have the skills to train others as well.

What I noticed as an NCO was the clash of the old school military with the new generation. The new soldiers coming in were highly motivated, patriotic, and wanted to do things by the book.  But instead were met with an old school Guard that were more interested in protecting their positions and securing their retirements.  Instead of appreciating the new troops for who they were and for their willingness to be there, they saw us as a threat. There were two types of losers in leadership. One was the fat dude with a lot of rank waiting on his retirement, taking advantage of every posh TDY opportunity available to them because they are in tight with the Commander.  The other is the uptight, ate up piece of crap that has no personnel skills and every action is based on whether or not they will be noticed and how much ass they can kiss.  Both of these kinds of leaders made my job in ‘middle management’ much more difficult. As time went on I saw the oppressive, abusive environment take its toll on our new troops too.

One of the morale killers in our squadron was that upper leadership had no problem sending the message that your opinion did not matter. As a result, all personnel were not utilized to their full potential. If the new troop had a crappy supervisor, they floundered. Meanwhile, the professional military education classes we took to make rank taught us to build teams, take care of our people, and appreciate the diversity of opinion and solutions. I learned from my supervisor’s mistakes what not to do but was not supported in my efforts to take care of my people. Unlike the old school ways of the past where we were to do what we were told with no questions asked, the new generation of troops had the same questions I did.  So this time I answered them and told them where they fit in to the big picture. Unfortunately, we witnessed leadership guard and hoard information to protect their positions and ensure their ‘in’ with the Commander, who had the power to end anyone’s career. It was cut throat.

The way the military works now, leadership was easily able to abuse their power to belittle a good soldier’s efforts. And they were able to abuse their power within the Chain of Command or influence those in the Chain of Command to oppress others. So on top of being a superior performer and giving them everything we had, they would expect more and the standards were never attainable.  We weren’t trying to be them or take their jobs, we wanted to be a part of something bigger: a team. We were fighting wars overseas and when our unit was not overseas, we spent every single day preparing for that moment when we did get called back up. I took that seriously. I had to stay on top of my game to make sure my troops were protected but no one had my back, except my troops. It would have been reassuring to have leadership support and respect, since ‘middle management’ were considered the subject matter experts. Instead, their ineffectiveness put us in harm’s way.

We were a combat communications squadron so not only were we self-sufficient but we came as a package. So as a team of 100 or so people, we were prepared as a fully functioning unit to be deployed at a moment’s notice.  They gave us roughly 72 hours to pull our entire communications package together so we basically spent every day making sure that we could pull our team and equipment together in a short amount of time.  That means we had to always think ahead and make sure we were taking care of business stateside, like training the new troops, and had our communications packages as a squadron prepared for deployment. Dealing with cultural issues like generational clashes, honorable versus dishonorable, and being let down by those who you were supposed to trust was a crushing experience. I always thought about who could do my job if I died and how to save lives. They just didn’t seem to care.

PTSD is basically being stuck in a place of hypervigilance.  People can get PTSD for a number of reasons, none of which should be minimized by any one group of sufferers. My PTSD got locked in when I realized that I was on my own. I took care of my troops so they would never feel like that. The common denominator with PTSD is that we don’t want to talk about it because we don’t want to admit our mental health issues to leadership. We know that it will be used against us to railroad our careers. Part of the reason I never acknowledged my experience with military sexual assault or the resulting impact was because I was no different then anyone else in the squadron after 9/11.  We were all living on the edge, we were all ready to have our lives turned upside down if the country needed us, and we were all pinging because initially we were doing more with less and dealing with unsupportive leadership. So we drank. As time went on we got our groove on without them but there were a lot of growing pains. It took every single one of us to make it all happen.

Like most with PTSD, I lost my career because I sought help, as have a lot of other highly qualified soldiers in leadership positions. Instead, we should have been supported in our efforts to heal from whatever the work related trauma was. If you catch the PTSD in the acute stages, you can minimize the life long impact. But all it takes is one bad Command to ruin a good soldier’s career. They push out the old and bring in the new like a true war machine. Regardless of what your role was in the Armed Forces, your service to country is duly noted. You volunteered to serve your country which means you sacrificed a lot. You didn’t have a choice but to put service before self, especially after 9/11. Thank you for your sacrifice and thank you for being the generation that will change things for the better and bring honor back to the ranks.


USMCFormer Marine Sentenced to Federal Prison

A former Marine staff sergeant who accepted $150,000 from military contractors while deployed in Iraq was sentenced Friday to more than five years in federal prison.

Gilbert Mendez, 37, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., pleaded guilty last December to conspiracy to defraud the United States.

In handing down the 63-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino told Mendez that he “breached his honor and his integrity” and that his conduct impacted not only the Marine Corps but every U.S. taxpayer.

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Department of DefenseDoD personnel chief: New job-specific physical standards being drafted

Opening up the combat arms career fields for women will result in a new array of job-specific physical standards that will apply to both men and women, the Pentagon’s top personnel and readiness official said Tuesday.

“You, as the man or woman, need to carry your load. So when we develop the standard, the standard is not just going to be for the females. The standard is going to be the standard,” said Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Wright is overseeing the process of opening up all military jobs to women by 2016, including more than 200,000 billets that make up the core of the ground-level combat forces in the Army and Marine Corps. The four services are developing a new set of job-specific physical standards.

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The Coming Food Stamp Cut Will Hit 900,000 Veterans

Benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, will automatically drop come Friday thanks to the loss of additional funds from the 2009 stimulus bill. That cut will hit about 900,000 of the country’s veterans, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011,” CBPP writes. The number varies state to state, with over 100,000 veterans in households that rely on the benefits in Florida and Texas each.

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James AmosCommandant Accused of Asserting Unlawful Influence

A group of 27 retired and former Marine Corps and Navy judge advocates and officers are asking Congress to investigate allegations that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos used his power to improperly influence legal proceedings following a scandal that arose after a group of Marines were filmed urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in 2011.

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USAF SealAir Force lawyers draw fire over sexual assault policy

Top Air Force lawyers are under fire after urging subordinates to rally  against a Senate proposal that would overhaul the military’s sexual assault  policies.

A letter obtained by POLITICO shows Lt. Gen. Richard Harding,  the Air Force judge advocate general, and Col. Jeffrey Rockwell, urging their  fellow military lawyers to take sides against a Senate amendment expected to  come up for a floor vote before Thanksgiving that removes the command chain from  major criminal prosecutions.

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Susan HelmsLawmaker sustains 6-month hold on 3-star’s nomination

For six months, a prominent Democratic lawmaker has blocked Lt. Gen. Susan Helms’ nomination to be vice commander of Space Command, making it unlikely that she will ever be confirmed.

Helms continues to serve as commander of 14th Air Force. Lt. Gen. John Hyten has already been confirmed to replace her, but the Air Force is waiting for Helms to be confirmed before moving forward, Air Force spokesman Capt. Adam Gregory said. Helms’ nomination will expire in January 2015.

Both Helms and Hyten declined to comment for this story, Gregory said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri first objected to Helms nomination in April and then reaffirmed her stance in June, citing Helms’ decision to overturn the sex assault conviction of a captain at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in February 2012.

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Honoring Veteran Justin Eldridge, US Marine Corps, Connecticut (2013)


Marine Corps veteran Justin Eldridge was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Waterford, Connecticut home on October 29, 2013. Justin served in the USMC for 8 1/2 years. After a deployment to Afghanistan he battled with both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. As a result he was medically retired from the USMC in 2008. Justin was married with four children at the time of his death. Justin’s wife Joanna has continued the fight for our soldiers and veterans. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) honored Justin Eldridge on the Senate Floor and co-sponsored a veteran suicide prevention bill in his name. Joanna attended the 2015 State of the Union in January and the bipartisan suicide prevention bill was signed into law in March 2015.

His final message, posted on his Facebook Page at about 9 p.m., “theres only so much bashing someone can take before they react………” -Waterford Patch

Related Links:
Justin Eldridge Obituary
Justin Eldridge’s Battle With PTSD Ended In Tragedy Last Night
For Waterford veteran, battling PTSD was too tough a fight
Man who killed himself in Waterford was ex-Marine
Former Marine’s suicide in Waterford standoff shocks friends
Marine’s Family Decides To Talk Openly About His Suicide
PTSD cases in veterans on the rise
Why One Man’s Death Is A National Tragedy
U.S. Marine’s Suicide Magnifies Veterans Needs, Says Acclaimed Cowboy Singer R.W. Hampton
In Senate Floor Speech, Blumenthal Honors Heroism Of U.S. Marine Justin Eldridge Of Waterford
Senator Blumenthal honors US Marine Justin Eldridge
Widow continues Marine veteran’s fight
Study: Younger vets have higher suicide risk
Blumenthal wins on veteran suicide prevention bill
Blumenthal-backed veterans suicide prevention bill wins approval
Senate approves Blumenthal’s veteran suicide prevention bill
New Generation Of Veterans Has Higher Suicide Risk, Study Finds
Widow of Connecticut Marine to Attend State of the Union Address
Preventing suicide to save veterans’ lives
Bipartisan veterans suicide prevention act signed into law

In a Senator Floor speech today, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal honors the heroism of United States Marine Justin Eldridge of Waterford, tragic victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who took his own life two days ago.


Department of DefenseBulky Troops Turn to Liposuction to Pass Fat Test

SAN DIEGO – The soldiers often call Dr. Adam Tattelbaum, a plastic surgeon, in a panic. They need liposuction, and fast.

A number of military personnel are turning to the surgical procedure to remove excess fat from around the waist so they can pass the Pentagon’s body fat test, which can determine their future prospects in the military.

“They come in panicked about being kicked out or getting a demerit that will hurt their chances at a promotion,” said the Rockville, Md., surgeon.

Some service members say they have no other choice because the Defense Department’s method of estimating body fat is weeding out not just flabby physiques but bulkier, muscular builds.

Fitness experts and doctors agree, and are calling for the military’s fitness standards to be revamped, including the weight tables the Pentagon uses. They say the tables are outdated and do not reflect that Americans are bigger, though not necessarily less healthy.

Defense officials say only a small fraction of those who exceed body fat limits perform well on physical fitness tests.

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Update on Exemption for PTSD (MST) Counseling on Security Clearance

Office of Director of NSAActive Duty: Please be warned that the counseling for Military Sexual Trauma was only exempt from the security clearance questionnaire as interim guidance. This means that the ruling was only temporary. We need you to contact Representative Chellie Pingree and Senator Jon Tester and let them know that the National Intelligence Agency needs to make this policy permanent. There is no reason that it should not be included as an exemption with the counseling for combat PTSD, spousal counseling, and grief counseling.

September 17, 2013: Letter to DNI Clapper (10/24/13 03:29 PM PST)

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