The Alabama Veteran mission as you may know thrives in its non-traditional platform. Where other services encounter red tape and stop, we drive on. Alabama Veteran is a results oriented organization who exists to improve the Service to Civilian Transition Process. We have become the community beacon for Veterans to rally- a formation, helping to make the grass greener on the other side. Whether it’s navigating resources, the employment sector, or the community our Board of Directors utilizes its combined military experience and ability to reach out across a state-wide via our professional networks and to the community to deliver impact.
Every so often we receive feedback from newly transitioned Veterans who were introduced to us by community members, Shawn Weigle is one.
"Good day to everyone reading this. My name is Shawn Weigle. Although I’ve come to love Alabama and all it has to offer I will admit that I am a transplant. I completed my 4 year term of service as an Airborne Infantryman in the U.S. Army and found myself staring down the pipeline of possibilities. My last assignment with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was a great experience to say the least. Not only did I serve, but I traveled as well- setting foot on foreign soil in Afghanistan and Africa.
In a nutshell, the military does a great job of training us to be Soldiers and although no one can ever really be 100% prepared for life out of uniform the military continues to fall short in their delivery of transition workshops, leaving us unprepared to rejoin our communities- this became an all too familiar worry for me as it was for my friends who left the service before me.
I left active duty in 2015 and attended school at Campbell University, NC. It was there where I would begin studying for my B.A. in Business Administration and where I would set roots and begin my uphill journey. What I didn’t know was that I would find my wife, Molly Glover there at Campbell University too. We married in July of 2017 and moved to Hoover, Alabama in August so she could continue her education in Optometry at University of Alabama – Birmingham.
With everything happening so fast it was quite a confusing transition. My priority as a husband became imminently clear. I was to provide for not just myself now, but for my wife as well- a full time job was in order. So just like that my education came to a temporary halt as we began to get situated in our new state. One would think that a Veteran wouldn’t struggle with finding work. I quickly found that very few live up to their “Vet Friendly” gimmicks. Luckily I found employment with Spectrum Tele- communications, better known as Charter Communications. This was great news, but it came at the costs of avoidable trial and error. The military helped me put together a resume, talked me through what to expect, and then marked me as complete after a few weeks and set me packing- none provided of any use during my live job search.
Still being new to the area and starting a job that was just barely meeting our financial situation I felt quite alone. I also felt inadequate. I was the head of a household and husband to a wife that deserved the world. Luckily, a friend at church was nice enough to reach out to me, explaining to me that he knew a group of veterans and wanted to get me networked into the group. That is when things started to fall into place.
I met Al Castillo on a Tuesday. He gave me a detailed brief on Alabama Veteran. Its needless to say that he didn’t shy away from inviting me to their next event- The BHAM Veteran’s Day Committee Ruck Race. Being a paratrooper I accepted the offer and rucked up that Saturday. Upon arriving to the event was immediately welcomed by a handful of Veterans who head-up Alabama Veteran’s Athletics program and instantly felt the camaraderie that I longed for since leaving the service. After the ruck march we all went out for lunch and drinks, which was generously paid for by Penn Mutual- Alabama Agency. It was during that lunch and at the invitation of the Alabama Veteran that I would meet my future boss- Al introduced me to a good friend of his, Danny Noles. I got to meet with Danny for a bit and was asked to give him a call that Monday. I would not have thought this was the case at first, but this was Al’s community network at play. That Tuesday I interviewed, accepted an offer, and began my on-boarding as a Financial Advisor for Penn Mutual. To this day the Team at Penn Mutual has without question lived up to their doing more for vets narrative.
Synopsis of this story: Within a week of connecting with Al and Alabama Veteran I was able to find a job that provides greatly for my Wife and I, a group of friends who understand camaraderie, and an organization that builds lasting relationships. Alabama Veteran changed my life for the better and I could not be more thankful towards the organization and its members. It isn’t just the normal organization that likes to get veterans together with no growth potential. It is directed specifically towards helping veterans transition into the civilian world, while still giving them the feeling of being “part of something bigger than themselves”. I owe a lot to Alabama Veteran, and I will forever be a supporter of all it does."
We greatly appreciate both Penn Mutual- Alabama Agency and Shawn’s willingness to openly share his experience. It is easy to overlook all the small wins rolled into one, but when we make an impact on self, family, and friends, that’s improving upon what community was meant to be. Thank you Shawn for trusting in us and thank you for paying it forward not just in your current role, but as an avid supporter and volunteer with Alabama Veteran.
.If you would like to find out how you can help support our growing community effort, please contact me directly at: AL@ALVETERAN.org
A Veterans Perspective: Celebrating Veterans Day as a Community, Honoring Our Service and The Memory of Our Fallen
Strong Bonds in The Community
To date, Alabama Veteran has connected with thousands of Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom Veterans. Our mission revolves around engagement in community works and both social and recreational therapy. Bottom line, the service-to-civilian transition is not easy. Camaraderie being the first thing out the door leaves a newly arrived member to our community disconnected in a network driven world. Alabama Veteran connects veterans to the community and opportunities to reengage in meaningful community work.
This past weekend as captured by Retired Afghan and Iraq Veteran and Kiowa Helicopter Pilot David Fleckenstein provided the community with a new opportunity to engage with Veterans in a whole new way.
A Patriotic Bunch! 15 excited foursomes set to play 18 Holes with 18 Veterans.
Contemporary Alabama- never thought I would see it, but I did. This past Veterans Day weekend I had the absolute privilege of joining the Central Alabama community for its schedule of Veterans Day events. At the invitation of Alabama Veteran’s President Al Castillo I made my way to Hoover, Alabama to participate in a four day strong-bond retreat.
I am not a writer, I am not at blogger, but after flying nearly 1500 hours over the skies of Iraq and Afghanistan I am quite skilled in “gathering information” or as we like to call it Reconnaissance. I will be using those skills to recount the activities that took place, but more importantly what it meant to the Veterans that were able to take part in this event. I want to personally thank Alabama Veteran’s staff and volunteers and local community business for creating the experience. I am beyond grateful for getting the chance to take part in something like this. Without members of the community such as yourselves this wouldn’t have been possible. I hope this gives an inside look at everything you were able to provide to these deserving young men. Thank you again.
The weekend began with everyone meeting for lunch and light refreshments at Taco Tech the Friday before Veterans Day. I cannot move forward without crediting Alabama Veteran’s Chief Operations Officer, Jody Chapman, a former Army Combat Engineer Officer and Afghan Veteran for a job well done. At a glance you would think that these four days simply came together due to solid team work and volunteers, but looking back that wasn’t the case. Jody may have easily spent hours composing the playbook. Not only did we arrive according to flow, we were greeted everywhere and had teams on standby to see us through portions of the day- this was one large scale event and Jody did an amazing job putting it together.
TACO TECH check-in. Chris Zimmerman was the first to speak. Chris is the father of Sonny Zimmerman, a US Army Infantryman who was killed in Afghanistan in 2013 and was being honored in this weekend. The fellow Veterans followed, each giving a little of their military background, and where they were from. After lunch we traveled to the resort- massive! Ross Bridge was overwhelming by the sheer size and beauty of the resort. The walk into the resort was an experience in itself. Local families lined up to welcome our group with their thanks and the waving of American flags. It was clear that this Ross Bridge community and its establishments were super patriotic. This was a very humbling experience and I can assure you it touched each of the Veterans. The rooms were amazing by themselves, but the “gift crates” that were provided to all of the Veterans were something else. At no point did anyone have the need to hunt down drinks, snacks, water- anything. All the things you would want to make any golf weekend outing was there, and then some. The evening was spent at Cahaba Brewery sharing stories, eating BBQ, touring the brewery, and surviving continuous challenges of “Giant Jenga”.
BAMA Football, Golf Lessons, and Fellowship- this is a big take home from my experience. Day 2 began with a “tailgate” style breakfast. The events of the day were briefed to the group and the morning was spent with 2 of Ross Bridge’s finest giving a few golf lessons before the tournament. The lessons were outstanding. It gave all of the Veterans a chance to fine tune their game, as well as trying a few new “tips” from the Pros. After a great morning on the range, the group was off to Twin Peaks for lunch. As seen the night prior, lunch was filled with more great food, football, lots of golf chatter, and more bonding between everyone at the event. Saturday evening would bring even more fun, food, and what most of the group were excited about...the Alabama Game. What stood out most that evening was the added company. Our group had the opportunity to meet and spend the evening with Gold Star Moms (parents to U.S. Service Members killed overseas)and what seemed like 50 local Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. The time spent together provided the Veterans and these families a chance to connect in a way that most of the Nation will never understand. Alabama winning the game may have been the “highlight” of the evening, but the connections made that night won’t be forgotten.
The highlight of the evening was having the opportunity to spend time with the members of Alabama Veteran that made the weekend possible. As Veterans themselves they should have been enjoying a relaxing weekend. Instead they chose to set this up, work with the community, and then make sure everything ran smoothly….I assure you they went above and beyond. We often times overlook the finer things in life, this weekend was the exception for sure. It was clear that our sponsors, local community, and community veterans came together to not only celebrate the veteran experience, but to thank us for our service in a therapeutic manner. Alabama Veteran lives by a motto, “Keeping Veterans Engaged and Making Moves”. I’ve witnessed their work via social media for two years now. They’ve engaged Veterans in everything from community volunteer work to Texas mobilizations in support of communities affected by Hurricane Harvey to this, a 4 Day Strong-bond Retreat and Golf Tournament honoring a true American Hero, Sonny C. Zimmerman- these guys and their supporters are the real deal!
This weekend was one of a kind. Personally, I have never been on the receiving side of something like this and I can’t say thank you enough. What I can say is that what may appear as a “good time” on the surface is actually healing for many Veterans.
A Joyous Departure
In the military we never say goodbye, rather we say “I’ll see you later”. That tradition made what would have been a sad departure for each of us who connected over the four days everything but that. We each connected and found a way during our time away from the day to day grind to revisit moments in time gone unprocessed. The weekend had created an abundance of new friendships and that is something that is absolutely needed in the Veteran community. Even though no one wanted to leave, goodbyes were said and the weekend event came to an end.
I could find no better way to close this testimony than to share with you what I captured at our departure-
“I was honored to be invited to attend the Veterans Day event held by Alabama Veteran, including the War On The Greens Tournament honoring my son, Sonny Zimmerman and the many fallen heroes whose stories were found at each of the 18 Holes we played. It was truly inspiring to see what the combined support between area businesses, community groups, veterans, and the community as a whole can achieve. This event was well organized and professionally run. I met so many people that I know hold dear in my heart. Each of you Veterans as well as everyone involved from across the community demonstrated a gold plated character that was seen by all. You all have my respect, my love, and my heartfelt thanks for everything that you do.”
– Sonny’s Father, Chris Zimmerman
On behalf of Alabama Veteran's Board of Directors I offer a special thank you to out generous supporters and to our veterans for their sacrifice and service to our nation. Without your support we could not have hosted this red carpet event at the level that we did, We look forward to seeing you next year!
I would also like to congratulate our 1st Annual War on The Greens Tournament Winners led by Larry Sides. If you would like to know how you support our mission, reach me at: J.Chapman@alabamaveteran.org
Chief Operations Officer
September was what some would say a “busy month,” but for Alabama Veteran this is a typical look into what we contribute to our community on regular basis. Again, Alabama Veteran withstood the pressure test, living up to its motto Engaging Veterans & Making Moves! We kicked off the month by sending a volunteer veteran group to Texas to provide relief for Hurricane Harvey, where we were able to provide support to over 600 affected Texans. Our support in Texas included patrolling waterways to aid those stranded by floodwaters, home restoration, and providing essential supplies to those directly in need. You can read more about this mission here: http://www.alveteran.org/blog/where-the-road-ends-and-the-water-begins-alabama-veteran-making-a-difference-in-texas
Without missing a beat, Alabama Veteran partnered with community Veterans Impact Leader, Matt Bein to host the 4th Annual 22k422A Suicide Awareness Ruck March through Downtown Birmingham. This march was in honor of the veteran lives we have lost and bringing awareness to the approximately 22 veterans that will commit suicide each day. We had veterans from all 5 service branches of the U. S. Armed Forces turn out: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, along with Gold Star families, volunteers, and civilians alike in attendance. As the men and women placed their 22-pound rucks on their backs and began to march downtown with American Flags proudly displayed over their shoulders, the people of Birmingham, AL began to watch, they began to listen. Spectators grew more curious as to our purpose marching the downtown streets of Birmingham –we shared with them our purpose. We created a space to start the conversation on a topic that has plagued the veteran community for far too long.
So our walk continued kilometer after kilometer, each turn connecting with more and more local business leaders stepping out from within their four walls to see what the group was up to. Heck' we were even joined by University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) students leaving school for a block or two. All in all, this ended up being THE AWARENESS EVENT of Awareness Events. In good fashion our group was well received and applauded by the community for its uphill, pack-humping stride and its mission. To that we want to thank our water-point volunteer groups from Penn Mutual of Alabama, #HighFiveAHero, American Legion Post 911,- Ryan Winslow, and The Gold Star Moms and Families Association, all of which braved 98 degree temperature just to keep our group hydrated! We were even fortunate enough to have Veteran members of the Birmingham VA Staff join us. From start to finish camaraderie and remembrance maintained a key point, Everyone shared a story or two. It was simply amazing to see what loading up with a pack on your back and walking through your community could do to calm the soul.
Our ruck ended as we made our way back too the Tin Roof. Would you imagine, there was already a crowd awaiting our returning jamming out to the tunes off good friend and Alabama Veteran supporter Steve Hines and his band The Onlys- who offered up the starting show in full support of Alabama Veteran. The Onlys were followed by music from Combat Veteran Group Drew Ellis and the Rowdy Gentlemen who closed the evening in style Needless to say the crowd was fully engaged! This 22k Ruck March and after party made this a day to remember. Not only were embraced by a community who was made aware of the Veteran experience as it applies to the silent struggle lost by an average of 22 a day, we were able to connect with our community the old fashion way, face to face and with prospects of a better tomorrow! We are definitely looking forward to next year. Keep your eye out for the invite. We would be thrilled to have you!
We all know the saying, “work hard, play hard,” and with Alabama Veteran that is no exception. We brought a group of veterans together to participate in the Savage Race in Dallas, Georgia. The Savage Race is a fun way to push your limits, getting over obstacles, and facilitating a need for teamwork to complete the race. As veterans we are used to the tests of physical endurance and relying on your comrades to help you get through tough spots- everyday obstacles, so this was a perfect fit for a first time engagement among many veterans. Our veterans arrived with a soft introduction to one another, but left engaged, connected, and in tune with their road ahead. Seriously, who wouldn't walk away in tune, feeling accomplished after completing a 6 mile run with of 32 high altitude, water obstacles- all while making new connections and friendships with other veterans.
Again, another very busy, life changing month for Alabama Veteran. We've been on the road in support of natural disasters, bringing awareness on veteran suicide, and creating a space for veterans to connect. Veterans share an unspoken unity and bond -many veterans long for the camaraderie we once shared while in service but are not sure how to recreate it while transitioning back into the community after service. That’s why and how Alabama Veteran started, because as veteran, we know that without engagement there is no mission. If you would like to find out more about or programs or to see how you can make a difference in the life of our Veterans, please do no hesitate to contact us.
Blog Credit: Ericka Gardner, Veteran- United States Coast Guard
We often times overlook the small things. Just a month before Hurricane Harvey delivered it's devastating blow to the Texas Gulf Coast, we were glued to our televisions and social media outlets. There was nothing positive, just the media's promotion of failing relationships across small pockets of our nation, That's the way I saw it. Nothing positive- race this, race that, and the destruction of American history. However, as we Veterans know first-hand, once the dust settles at first contact there will exist a moment of clarity. A moment where every decision counts and where we can regain control and dominate any situation. That belief has been the driving element behind Alabama Veteran's delivery to the Veterans Community- creating space in the community where we can deploy Veterans, keeping them engaged, purposeful, and making moves towards reaching their full potential.
For about a week prior to Harvey's landfall, a large volunteer group from all four corners of the United States put down their phones, turned off the television and planned one of the largest first-responder efforts in national history, an all volunteer force of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans all bound for Texas. As this effort grew, Alabama Veteran and a second Veterans' Service Organization, Team for Troops led by 1LT Jordan Thompson of the Army National Guard, became the first in the state to be asked to fall under the Southeastern Veterans Disaster Response Assembly bound for Texas. Alabama Veteran's Motto- Everything Veteran withstood the pressure test and formed Task Force (TF) BAMA.
TF BAMA dispatched its first group under the command of President and Co-Founder Al Castillo, native of Houston, Texas and former member of elite U.S. Army light and Airborne Infantry units. TF BAMA's advanced party departed September 1st, 2017 with one key objective: assess the real-time situation in order to best position the Task Force main body. With that guidance the team departed Hoover's Ross Bridge community hauling much needed supplies, a bass boat, and a second vehicle in towing two industrial fuel pods- all donated by the Ross Bridge, Mountain Brook, and Homewood, Al Communities. Upon arrival, Castillo and his team quickly nailed down the plan and jumped into action. TF BAMA linked up with a second Veteran group out of Middle Kentucky and Louisiana's own "Cajun Navy" and assessed the situation in real-time, as it wasn't being reported. Under Castillo's guidance TF BAMA was no longer bound for Houston. Rather, TF BAMA was to serve the under-privileged communities of Orange, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Vitor Texas. Each of these areas were still beneath water and with zero federal relief agencies in place.
TF BAMA spent the better part of it's week, moving to the work- patrolling flooded communities by boat, navigating island apartments and subdivisions by foot, and delivering goods, food, and water to its residents. TF BAMA was doing what it could to lift the spirits of these communities left to figure it out on their own. As tough as it was to see these communities, destroyed, riddled with cars protruding from the waters edge, and displaced families left with nothing to return home to, Alabama Veteran maintained its warrior reserve. The team was there with one mission, one creed: Make A Difference. The situation seemed like one out of a post-apocalyptic survival story. TF BAMA eventually concluded it's boat operations and transitioned into goods delivery and home restoration. The communities proved to be in a bind as crime skyrocketed and community members lost their trust in unfamiliar faces. Alabama Veteran made it a point to restore hope and we did through genuine acts of kindness, rolling up our sleeves and offering to prepare homes for restoration by pulling carpet, furniture, and floor paneling- all very tiring, but equally rewarding work.
Alabama Veteran concluded it's mission in Vitor, Texas a small quite town designated as the levy flood outlet due to it's proximity to the Neches River. Unbeknownst of the effect that controlled flooding would have on this town, Vitor just about ended up completely under water. It was amazing to see what just two days of controlled flooding and 1 days' rest would do to a town. Our first shake with Vitor consisted of three major water crossings through under-water vehicle cadaver yards, rising flood waters, and witnessing community members trying to pull through as a community without help. Alabama Veteran could not have landed in a better area to assist. As unfortunate as this town's dilemma was it's controversial reputation as a Ku Klux Klan stronghold did not keep Alabama Veteran from making a difference where others wouldn't. As you may recall in the beginning of this blog, thousands of Veterans descended on Texas as a unified front- no care for race, color, creed. religion, or gender. We were out simply restoring the example of what good will and faith among a people should look like- a genuine act of service to those in need regardless of barriers, opinion, or popular vote. This trip was the greatest example of the level of selfless service that lays within the heart of every Veteran.
TF BAMA ended its days in Texas with a one-stop household goods and immediate needs donation point and home restoration mission. We could not be any prouder of the level of support that we received for our mission at the pace that we did. The Alabama community's reach across three states showed that we can very easily empower ourselves to keep moving forward as one community while others tear their own apart, but not only that....that our Veterans are here in the community and stand ready to put their skills and potential as once Freedom's guardians to good use through acts of service to their community. Alabama Veteran to this day is the largest landing point in the state for Veterans to connect, engage, and seek assistance in making their next move following the service to civilian transition.
By the trip's end Task Force BAMA had not just restored hope, helped people through restoring their homes and finding a way forward, we also provided support to over 600+ people across Texas' Gulf Coast. That is 600+ people who will now look back to their visiting neighbors and Veterans of our the Crimson Tide and War Eagle state with joy, knowing that when they were down that we stepped away from the comfort of our lives to help.
No good blog should ever end without acknowledgements. Alabama Veteran would like to personally thank all of it's private supporters and the communities of Hoover's Ross Bridge, Homewood, and Mountainbrook, Al and organizations such as Alabama Power who assisted with operational expenses and donations of goods that made our mission a success. We would also like to thank Eureka Methodist Church of Lincoln, Al who donated high tow-capacity vehicles and a trailer's worth of supplies and Rodgetta "Jett" Colvin of Queens Come Forth Ministries Inc. who donated a Bass Boat to Alabama Veteran.
Our mission, although well intended, was dependent on the support of goods, sponsorship, and the support of a community who believed in its Veterans and their will to be it's community's keeper. We were only able to operate and make the longstanding impact that we did with the community's support- Thank you.
If you are interested or would like to know how you can help Alabama Veteran in the achievement of it's mission, please do not hesitate to contact the team.
Chief Operations Officer: J.Chapman@AlabamaVeteran.org
Corporate Relations Officer: Alan.Cook@AlabamaVeteran.org
Chief Marketing Officer: C.Montz@AlabamaVeteran.org
We will be hosting an end of year, Veterans Day Golf Tournament benefiting Alabama Veteran on Sunday, November 12th 2017. If you or someone you know would like to sign up to play 18 Holes with a Vet with the chance of winning a 2018 Chevy Corvette from Hendricks Chevrolet of Hoover as a Hole in 1 Prize or would like to support the event, please click the link below to sign up.
Making the Connection Last
Alabama Veteran is beyond busy in the community. First, we started with the simple, most basic of Veteran needs, a social community free of the obstacles. Providing our Veterans with a heightened level of connectivity- not just to other Veterans and resources, but to the community. This in itself was no easy task, but with it came a reward more generous than we could have ever expected.
Through the work of establishing a community introduced us to many veteran perspectives, to new lifelong friends and to network partners who’ve been busy in the trenches for years, filling the gap between traditional and non-existent resources. Examples of these resources come in the form of Jeremy Hogan and Saving Forgotten Warriors, Patrick Johnson and The Homeless Veteran Initiative of Alabama, Eric Fort with the Lone Warriors, and many, many others. Saving Forgotten Warriors and The Homeless Veterans Initiative of Alabama are Veteran operated resources who are best known for their unique ability to effectively engage with and support Veterans in distress. Focusing on providing for the immediate needs of Veterans, crisis response and helping Veterans connect with behavior health services, transitional housing and more. These two organizations provide Veterans with often critical and lifesaving resources.
Other organizations like Fort’s Lone Warriors and Lacy Gunnoe’s Birmingham Chapter of Team Red White and Blue serve as community level beacons, responsible for guiding Veterans to connecting in the community after service. Gunnoe’s efforts with Team Red White and Blue uses fitness as a means for social connection, Fort focuses on therapy through photography in order to engage Veterans suffering from PTSD in a healthy lifesaving outlet.
There is a lot to be said about Veterans stepping up to take care of their own. Although each mission is unique to its design, it’s the concept of Veterans Serving Veterans that make them each a win. So, Alabama Veteran networks, informs, and shares.
From there we focus on what everyone is doing and how we could supplement each other to create something unique and equally important. After-all, Alabama Veteran isn’t in it to reinvent the wheel. We want to support the system, involve the community, make it stronger, and make it last. With prevalent issues, not surface issues, but the big ticket ones plaguing our communities- such as Homelessness and lack of connectivity, we set off to build upon our social community effort by going from the World Wide Web to Envivo- another difficult, but equally rewarding task. Our mission, Everything Veteran includes COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT. It’s a focus we believe in and one that can easily involve our community who simply doesn’t know how to reach and access its Veterans.
Last month, we held a few events. Although extremely taxing, when coupled with the demands of daily 9 to 5s, we were still able to make the connection rewarding. We held a total of two events and an out-of-state recreational event. Our networking events have been a hit for area Veterans. Our Hoover event saw representation from nearly every Veteran organization in the area under the same roof! We even had a father son Combat Veteran duo come through representing American Legion Post 911 of Hoover, Alabama.
Our goal is to eventually connect Veterans with community members and business professionals in the area. We are looking to host another networking event here in the near future, if you’re interested in attending please contact Admin@Alveteran.org for an official RSVP.
Recreational Therapy Events
When we talk about creating strong-bonds between Veterans through recreational therapy events, no one has it nailed down like our partners down off the Eastern Coast of Florida. Recently, they flew us and multiple Veterans from across the states to participate in a week long beach side retreat.
Their team rolled out the red carpet and welcomed us in style. From our arrival to our departure we were in the company of first responders, police escorts, volunteers, and prior service Veterans who made this event one for the books. Our event began with sitting down with its founder of the organization. He was more than happy to show us the ins and outs of their model of service. He shared with us countless successes of his annual Veterans appreciation event. He shared how both happy and troubled warriors arrived for participate, and how happy, recharged, and refreshed warriors always left. He also shared the reward of seeing failing couples reconnect out on the water and their continued praise for giving them the space to give their families one more shot at hope. Our mission is to replicate similar efforts here in the rolling outback’s of the Crimson Tide and grassy fields of Wildcat Country. This is a great example of life saving non-traditional service work that can be done in Alabama.
The event went without incident until Day 3 when we were summoned by the staff in the early morning for a surprise breakfast (?). What the crew did not know was that not only was this a retreat to the beach, but that we would be getting the opportunity to enjoy some good offshore fishing as well. This was truly an unexpected surprise, and with that we were off board our Cadillacs at the marina. The Alabama group was definitely one to put a dent on that ocean floor, but I’m sure we would agree to not have expected otherwise. The Alabama group ended up with only two of three Veterans able to make it, one a triple amputee who relocated to and was flown from North Carolina, and another was an OEF Veteran who suffered multiple gunshot wounds. All-in-all this was a great 5 day retreat and opportunity to learn best practices and a model to help us create this opportunity here in Alabama.
The camaraderie and fellowship was one of a kind and I personally could not have spent my time in better company- that my friends, is connection.
Veteran groups across Alabama have remained engaged being servant leaders in their communities. The works by Hogan, Fort, and Johnson serve as a standing example of service after the service. Alabama Veteran would like to personally ask that any patriotic Americans, community members, or organizations who are interested in helping us deliver what was shown to us in Florida here in the state contact us via: Admin@AlVeteran.org .
Whether it’s bringing a Veteran along with you to Talladega, donating a ticket, or serving as a mentor to one of over 60,000+ Veterans in the just the Birmingham area we would like to match you up with an opportunity to connect with or to support Veterans. Please follow our monthly blog series at: www.alveteran.org, share it with your friends, and as always let us know how we’re doing in the comments section.
The Traditional Approach vs. Actual Community
Alabama Veteran is a Veteran operated community based network for veterans to access a variety of resources or to request personalized 1-on-1 counseling or community navigation assistance.
The unique mission of Alabama Veteran is Everything Veteran. Whether a Veteran needs career assistance and is paired up with a community professional or requires guidance in educational or unique state benefits, Alabama Veteran has made itself available to a growing number of area veterans. Our ability to connect with our community and its Veterans is what separates Alabama Veteran from a large number of resource networks across the nation. In recent months Alabama Veteran, with the support of our patriotic community members launched a nationwide partnership with organizations focused solely of Warrior Retreats.
During spring break Alabama Veteran was able to partner with Outward Bound of North Carolina to send truly deserving Combat Veteran and Retiree of the Army National Guard, Todd Wheat on a week long get away to experience Florida Everglade’s 10,000 Island Canoe Tour.
Wheat was one of 10 Veterans from across the nation that were awarded access to the all expense paid opportunity to cut away from the demands of the regular 9 to 5. Wheat’s trip began with a pit stop in Hoover, Al and the issuing of our ever so popular Alabama Veteran Swag. At Alabama Veteran we make sure to stick with the basics, uniformity being one. From there Wheat began his day long journey via commercial air to the Ft. Myers Airport in Florida. There he eagerly awaited the assembly of his group and their 40 mile canoe trip in the days to come.
Wheat’s group was made up of Veterans, each from a different state and representing all branches of service- he teamed up with both Vietnam and Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom Veterans. Wheat and his team took to their canoe following their reception with the Outward Bound guides, stating that the most rewarding aspect of this trip was the immediate presence of camaraderie, one as he quoted, “only achieved in the military”.
For 5 days Wheat’s team were taught how to use tidal maps to navigate their through 40 miles of one of the world’s largest mangrove forests and learning several water navigation techniques. The team did not only connect, they were tested on their ability to perform as a team. They left the comforts of their homes to reestablish connection with their fellow Veterans in the outdoors, backyard to Manatee, Dolphins, and Bald Eagles; this was a one of a kind retreat.
There was one main theme throughout the entire traverse, team building. The team remained on their 40 mile water traverse start to finish, meaning they ate, slept, and rested aboard their canoes, ultimately making their way from the East Lake River to the Outward Bound Base Camp. The team celebrated their accomplishment for the remainder of the trip forging lifelong friendships Wheat plans on maintaining.
The basis of warrior retreats is recreational therapy and re-connection via strong-bond events aimed towards promoting social interest and camaraderie. Whether it’s hunting, fishing, or hosting community events,
Alabama Veteran has taken interest in and plans to recreate similar opportunities here in the state. In late February Alabama Veteran Co-Founder Al Castillo and Alabama Veteran community members embarked on a weekend long retreat into the wooded hunting grounds of Southern Alabama at the invitation of a patriotic group of community members. The event presented the group with a unique opportunity to engage with fellow veterans and community members in the same setting. The event was one of a kind and was a well deserved and rewarding escape and the start of our teams focus on warrior wellness.
Warrior retreats are a community effort that Alabama Veteran will continue to pursue for our Veterans in need to social connection, physical wellness, and engagement. The benefits are many, Wheat’s expression captures our vision best, “My advice is to do it, even though it presented a little bit of a physical challenge, my batteries are fully recharged and juiced”.
I couldn’t have said it any better. Todd we cannot be any more appreciative for being able to make this happen for you and your family. We look forward to hearing back from you. Keep in touch- Al.
If you are interested to see how you can support Alabama Veteran’s continued efforts in this area, please reach out to me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org . We have a schedule of events taking groups of veterans out of the area and will be hosting community events here at home as well. We can certainly use all the help we can.
Throughout the Central Alabama Area and its communities, a number of Veterans have stepped up to the contemporary challenges faced by the Veteran community. These non-traditional Veteran Service providers each operate within a unique scope and offer a plethora of resources otherwise not available to our community’s Veterans.
Our Veteran Service shout out for the month of April goes to an exceptional network partner, prior service Marine, and founder of Lone Warrior’s, Eric Fort.
A component of Lone Warrior is Operation TheraPic. The mission of Operation TheraPic is to utilize photography as a healthy, positive outlet and form of therapy for US Armed Forces Veterans who were injured during combat or combat training exercises. Through photography,
Operation TheraPic provides a unique form of healing to our US Armed Forces Veterans suffering from not only internal scars such as PTSD, moral injury, or transition anxiety, but also the physical scars left behind from their experiences while serving our country. Those who participate in Eric’s program are encouraged to take on daily photo challenges as well as share the experiences they encounter and capture throughout their day to day journey -so that we can appreciate the world through the eyes of a warrior.
The experiences they capture on film each tell a remarkable story in their own way. Above: A variety of submissions to Operation TheraPic’s photo of the day Monthly Challenge.
Since starting this program in April of 2016, Lone Warriors has been able to provide 20 qualifying Veterans across 5 states with camera kits that give them the opportunity to utilize photography as a healing mechanism. The team has an additional 13 members located across an additional 4 states, all of which are on a waiting list as Eric works to secure further funding to outfit them. In the interim they often share photographs with us that have been taken with their cell phones.
Eric is a very humble man who credits his work to the community and for the better good and well being of our nation’s Veterans. His has without question had an amazing impact on so many and has been praised by the families and friends of the Veterans who he has helped. Below addition photo submissions and quotes by a wife and a Veteran enrolled in his program.
“Thanks to Lone Warriors for providing an amazing opportunity for my husband to enjoy the outdoors again.” – Wife of a Retired U.S. Army Veteran
“I'm so lucky that others saw things in me that I did not see, or perhaps tried to cover up and act like I couldn't see. Big thanks to my wife for always standing by me and challenging me to be better every day. Huge thanks to Eric Fort and Operation TheraPic for blessing me last year with an amazing camera and fueling my passion for photography. Appreciate them for creating a community for those veterans who suffer, but don't use excuses and flourish when challenged.” – U.S. Army Veteran
Alabama Veteran is a strong supporter of Eric’s and looks forward to seeing his team to continue to grow as they work towards the Operation TheraPic Objective. To see more of Eric’s work or if you would like to know how you or your organization can get involved please visit: http://www.lonewarriors.org/ or reach out to Eric and his team via the Operation TheraPic social media page @: https://www.facebook.com/LoneWarriorsAL/
Keep up the Good Work Eric- Alabama Veteran Staff
Last week a Veteran reached out to us through our Get Assistance tool. The Veteran had a very specific request and even shared with us their address. They needed Notice of Veteran Disability documentation showing their percentage of disability and the amount of pension they were receiving for it, and they needed it fast. Well, Alabama Veteran doesn’t have access to sensitive documentation like that.
Need a copy of Notice of Disability showing percentage of disability and amount of pension. My address is.....
But, we were able to send the Veteran in the right direction to get what they need immediately. Do you know about eBenefits?
eBenefits (www.eBenefits.va.gov) is an online tool that give Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families instant access to DoD and VA benefits information and documentation.
If you are a Veteran, or if you are helping a Veteran, that needs access to important documentation or information eBenefits is the answer. There are 2 types of logins to the Site, a “Basic Account” and a “Premium Account”. The Veteran or family member can set up a “Basic Account” by simply visiting the site. However, the “Premium Account” takes a little more effort, see below for directions.
To get a “Premium Account,” call 1(800) 827-1000, option 1, then 7 to get an e-Benefits Representative. They will verify your:
Premium accounts are for those currently receiving Compensation, Pension, or Education benefits. (past benefits don’t qualify). Upgrades to Premium are done via phone, and rather efficiently once connected.
Our nation is so full of support for our Service members it is difficult to illustrate all the organizations and individuals trying to do their part to support our veterans. Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls this a “Sea of Goodwill” of American support. He notes, “The challenge…is how do you connect that sea of goodwill to the need?” - Major John W. Copeland and Colonel David W. Sutherland,
Sea of Goodwill: Matching the Donor to the Need
There are a ton of organizations doing a ton of stuff locally and nationally for Veterans. Over the last year of operation in central Alabama we’ve learned that many Veterans don’t know about them. Or, Veterans have no idea what they do or how to access them.
Originally, on the Alabama Veteran website we set up a regional “Leisure and Recreation” page that covers sites and activities to see/do across Alabama. However, based on page visited metrics very few Veterans were visiting or utilizing this page.
We searched other statewide resources and no one is really providing Veterans with an idea of what organizations are out there providing engagement opportunities for them nationally or locally.
Empower the individual Veteran with accessible and actionable information and guidance. Simply put, we created a Veteran Resource Organizations Page. The page focuses on a few different areas.
First, the page highlights our organizational Facebook group and National Organizations that provide opportunities to engage, training, education and needed resources to Veterans.
Second, the page then moves on to focus on the local level organizations working in Alabama to provide Veterans with engagement opportunities.
Also, in the Local Veteran Organizations area of the page we highlight the various legacy organizations that Veterans can join in their community.
Last, on the lower portion of the page we reworked the original “Leisure and Recreation” information in a more limited format.
We feel that it is important for veterans in our community to engage in these great resources in order to have a successful and fulfilled life following their time in service. We will continue to build this list, if we missed out on a good one please let us know.