Thursday, June 27, 2013

Run Director Invites Families to Race

Mona and her family complete the Houston Marathon

(Letter to the Editor printed this week in the New Bern Sun Journal.)

As the Run For The Warriors® Director for Hope For The Warriors®, I have the privilege of traveling all over the country to host road races as a part of the Run For The Warriors® race series.  In July, I am delighted to bring the run to my own backyard. New Bern is a special place for my family. My husband and I have often chosen to spend his pre- and post- deployment leave in this charming Coastal Carolina town. We enjoy visiting this progressive town with a rich history.

Run For The Warriors® unites military and civilian community members, connecting and educating each on the importance of embracing their neighbors. The goal of each event is to establish a long term understanding and respect for the needs of local military families, and New Bern is a city that does just this.
July 4th is a perfect day to host a run that unites a community. Hope For The Warriors® is delighted to have the support of members of the community, of the Parks and Recreation department, and of local businesses in hosting this year’s 5K and Kid's Fun Run.

This year, I am especially excited about the New Bern Run For The Warriors® because my parents, two brothers, my sister, and a friend are flying in from all over the country to celebrate the 4th of July right here in New Bern. Everyone in my family is thrilled to start their holiday with a run to support our country’s heroes. I cannot think of a more patriotic, family-friendly event to kick off the day than the New Bern Run For The Warriors®.  I hope that your family joins my family that morning. 

I encourage the people of New Bern to come support the event either as participants, volunteers, or spectators. The runners will truly enjoy the crowd support.

For more information visit or contact me at

Mona and her family at a race in Texas
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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Who is that Masked Man?

Meet Scott Sunday, member of Team Hope For The Warriors®.  Read about his experiences in the Run For The Warriors® held on May 18, 2013 in Jacksonville, NC. Read more about Scott's adventures.

As Armed Forces Day 2013 approached, Emme, my wife, and I were heading to Jacksonville, NC to visit our friend, and Gold Star Wife, Veronica. Having often celebrated Armed Forces Day hanging out with friends, cooking out, going to the beach, or just relaxing; this year’s celebration would take on an entirely different turn.  Rather than relaxing, this year’s celebration was the culmination of several month of fundraising on behalf of Hope For The Warriors®; a fundraiser that would have me running the Run For The Warriors® Half Marathon in an elevation training mask and weighted vest.

If you find yourself asking why, you would not be alone; that was a common theme during the fundraiser and training leading up to the Run For The Warriors® event.  Simply put, I was wearing the vest in hopes that bearing a heavy load would inspire donors to donate funds to allow warriors and their families to bear a lighter load. I added weight proportional to the donations that were received.  The mask has a symbolic meaning as it restricted my oxygen intake making it difficult to breathe.  This is similar to the Gold Star family members who struggle daily to take a breath without feeling the pain of their fallen Hero.

As we were driving to Jacksonville I found myself abnormally nervous. I’ve already run a marathon in 29 states in my quest to run a marathon in each state in honor of fallen friends and heroes.  A half marathon certainly shouldn’t make me overly nervous.  As we arrived in Jacksonville it dawned on me that I was nervous because not only was I running the race on Saturday but I was also one of the guest speakers at the Hope For The Warriors® Pre-Race Dinner.  Arriving at the dinner I was quickly welcomed into the Hope For The Warriors® family.  There were several speakers during the dinner and I was humbled to be among them; sure enough, as soon as I finished my speech and returned to my seat the nervous were gone.  That is until we made it to our hotel and I started packing the gear for the morning’s run.

Friday night I thought about both the daunting task ahead of me the next day.  I awoke early Saturday morning, grabbed the gear and Emme and I headed to the high school for the race.  Upon arrival we searched for Veronica, and another friend Rocio, who had agreed to run the race with me to keep me company and ensure I was safe.  Quickly enough, the gun sounded to start and we were off.

We started off at a steady pace, even passing a few people during the first couple of miles.  But  I quickly realized that the mask and vest were going to be more difficult than I’d anticipated in the heat and humidity of the morning and I slowed the pace.  As we arrived at the aid stations the volunteers were incredibly pleasant, supportive and cheerful; truly a welcome reprieve from the lonely asphalt that lie ahead.  At one of the aid stations a volunteer, not realizing what I was wearing, asked; “Do you need all that to run?”  I got a good laugh out of that later when I actually had the energy to laugh.

As we continued to plod along, and the course grew emptier, I was truly grateful that Veronica and Rocio decided to hang back with me despite my slowing them down.  Finally, after a couple of hours the high school came back into view and we knew the end was in sight.  About half a mile from the finish we were met by Robin Kelleher, President/CEO/Cofounder at Hope For The Warriors®, who joined us for the final stretch.  As we entered the stadium and approached the finish line, a group of volunteers started cheering and fell in behind us; encouraging us across the finish line.  It was truly an emotional experience crossing the line as it closed the first chapter in my fundraising efforts; I certainly hope I represented the donors well during the run.  

It was truly an honor to be a member of Team Hope For The Warriors® and spend Armed Forces day running a half-marathon wearing a 39-pound weighted vest and elevation training mask in support of Hope For The Warriors ®.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Hope For The Warriors® Women Veterans Initiative

Photo by Expert Infantry
There has been an increase in political and public attention of the issues facing today’s women service members and veterans. In addition to news and media stories, there have been several critically acclaimed documentaries during the last few years that powerfully portray the unique experiences of Servicewomen such as Lioness, The Invisible War, and Service: When Women Come Marching Home.

Leaders in Washington are also focusing on Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and proposing legislation and policies to address and prevent MST. Honoring servicewomen and addressing their needs has always been part of Hope For The Warriors® mission and we are now developing specific programming to enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 servicewomen.

Let’s start with the basics. There are currently 438,504 post-9/11 women veterans in the United States (27% of all female veterans). In addition to this, there are 194,000 active-duty servicewomen, making up 14.5% of all troops. This number is expected to double in the next 10 years.  More than 240,000 women have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.  In addition, there are 80,000 women in the Reserves and 65,000 in the National Guard.
Women who serve within the US Military have unique strengths and challenges. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs (DOVA) Women Veteran Profile report released in February 2013, women veterans (not Post 9/11 specific) have higher personal incomes that women non-veterans, are more likely to have medical insurance, and are more likely to work in local, state, and federal government. Compared with their male counterparts, women veterans are more likely to have completed college, and employed women veterans are more likely to be in management and professional occupations.

Women veterans also hold a variety of personal and professional roles, as mothers, wives, sisters, partners, etc. Women veterans are more likely than non-veteran women to be married and tend to get married at a younger age. According to the DOVA report, roughly 29% of women veterans age 17-24 are married compared with 9% of non-Veteran women. Women veterans are also more likely to have children, and to have them at a younger age.

Photo by U.S. Army
Servicewomen also face unique challenges. In a male-dominated setting, servicewomen embrace culturally unconventional roles and negotiate stereotypes, labels, and preconceptions of their capability to serve.  In February 2012, women could finally, officially be assigned to combat battalions.  They had, however, already served in Iraq and Afghanistan through policy loopholes that attached them temporarily to combat units. Since 2001, 946 women have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and 152 have been killed in action.  A recent book by Tanya Biank titled Undaunted:The Real Story of America's Servicewomen in Today's Military, provides an insider’s look into these women’s experiences.

Despite their successes and the progress made, compared to their male counterparts, women veterans still lag behind in the areas of healthcare, insurance and income.  According to the DOVA report, women veterans are more likely to have a service-connected disability rating, less likely to use VA health care, less likely to be insured medically, and more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts. They are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

Photo by U.S. Army

Researchers and psychologists have attributed this to the fact that women are more vulnerable to Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), both from combat and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). According to a study from the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, 53% of homeless women veterans have experienced MST. One in three service women today report being exposed to a form of sexual violence including sexual harassment, assault, or rape.

In early June, four staff members ran a workshop at Stand Up For Women Veterans, a daylong conference presented by L.I.V.E. at Westchester Community College in New York. These workshops addressed the theme of “Identity” from both a professional and personal perspective. Women veteran participants used therapeutic and creative arts techniques to explore issues of identity, pinpoint skills and strengths, and develop personal and professional goals.
As we discover and explore what makes us unique as individuals, we also discover what connects us and makes us strong as community. This workshop was just one step in addressing the unique needs of women veterans.  We know that women veterans are resilient and Hope For The Warriors® is committed to enhancing this resiliency.

Today’s blog was contributed by Andrea Ford, LMSW, a new regional clinical social worker based in the New York City office of Hope For The Warriors®. She is excited for her new position and to embark on her first project – Hope For The Warriors® Women Veteran’s Initiative. This entry is the first in a series of blog posts where Andrea will address stories, issues, and topics related to women service members and veterans.

Friday, June 21, 2013

PTSD Awareness: Sometimes Two Parts are Stronger than the Whole

Photo by mimagirl

Homecomings can be both the best day and the worst day of deployments.  As family members, we wait for months to see the person we love walk off a bus and come home.  Sometimes, the time away is true of the eloquent but simple statement, “absence makes the heart grow fonder."  However, it is not that simple anymore.
It is one thing when your love comes home from War tired, anxious, and disconnected from the family. All of this is expected and changes with time.  It is another thing when they come home empty.  You look into the eyes of the person who promised to love you forever, searching for that love.  You are filled with a deep, chilling fear when you see nothing.
After multiple deployments, that is what I saw and what followed was completely unexpected.  We left the military base where we were stationed and moved on to the next phase of our military life.  I hoped that the move would be the change we needed.  I hoped that with time, we would heal and he would come to terms with the agonizing pain of War.  Post-traumatic stress is a simple fact.  Our service members are facing trauma and they have to deal with it in some manner.  The stress is the mind's attempt at coping.  It is when the stress becomes unmanageable that we acknowledge the disorder and make an attempt to support it with therapy and medications.
But what happens to those that appear to "manage" it?  Their empty shell becomes their new essence and their rage becomes their weapon.  My family would not have been identified as one in need of help. But behind closed doors, we were falling apart.  I stayed awake countless nights, afraid to fall asleep.  I learned to keep my head down, hoping to avoid antagonizing his pain.  I realized the man that I married hated me and everything I did to soothe him only made him angrier.  I feared him.  I was no longer a partner in life but his enemy.  And how empty that must have made him feel.
We attempted marriage counseling countless times.  I was surprised at how many times the "experts" missed the cues about what was really happening in our world and each time we were told the same thing.  "I don't think there is anything I can do to help you."
I promised myself that I would leave if our young children were affected. Funny thing about kids, by the time you see the impact on them, it is already too late.  I hung on, hoping that someone would recognize our dire situation and save us.   One night, I sat in my car, on the edge of a cliff, begging God to take away our pain.  I knew I needed to make some very hard decisions.
Our family had been through so much--we should have been able to make it through it all.  In honoring a commitment to serve his country, my husband sacrificed much of his soul, the part that belonged to us. 
Our family has now become a part of the growing statistics.  A story with no name, children whose lives are forever changed because, they too, were expected to sacrifice for their country.  Although fractured, my family still cherishes the friendships made with our fellow military families.  We "soldier on" and slowly, we are separately becoming whole again. And while I am no longer a military wife, I will always honor the commitment that my husband, and my family, made to this country. 

Learn more about PTSD.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

PTSD: Hope through Sport and Connection

Photo courtesy of  Paul Oberle

June is PTSD Awareness Month and so far, we have shared some of the challenges faced by our military spouses and families. Today, we share a story of hope for those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Captain Adam Tanverdi, USAF (Ret.) is an inspiration to many who suffer with PTSD. Adam was medically retired from the Air Force due to his psychological struggles associated with combat. Unsure of his next step, he joined Hope For The Warriors® for a cycling event in 2008.
The event reintroduced Adam to more than just a sport that he had long enjoyed. As a pilot, he flew thousands of feet above the earth and far from the men he served alongside. During our event, Adam unknowingly reunited with fellow service members with whom he carried out missions – he in the air, they on the ground. The men were able to speak face to face for the first time, providing Adam healing and a much-needed connection.
Hope For The Warriors® continues to support those connections. Adam is an active member of Team Hope For The Warriors® and participates in Hope & Morale events with his family. As Adam says, “My wife and my son are affected by combat too.”  

Photo courtesy of Mike Moberly Photography 

Our continued support has allowed the Tanverdi family to thrive, despite Adam’s PTSD. 
Hope For The Warriors® focuses not on the injury, but the act of living with the injury. As a community, we can restore self, family, and hope to our service members, veterans, and military families.

Learn more about PTSD

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Shawdust: A Warrior's Wish®

Sgt David Shaw, USMC (Ret.) refused to be airlifted to safety after an IED reduced his convoy to rubble during his 2010 Afghanistan deployment.

He was only ten feet away and facing the blast when the explosion occurred, but he wanted to save space on the aircraft for more seriously injured Marines. Besides, he had a job to do. If he left his location, his unit would be unable to complete their mission. There was no doubt in his mind, he would stay. 

But the physical and mental repercussions from the explosion were severe.  David endured crippling back pain, ongoing headaches and tinnitus, as well as constant reoccurring fear and horrifying memories of the explosion.

When he returned home to join his wife Kimberly, in North Carolina, the pain didn’t go away- it got worse. After seeing a doctor, David learned that the blast had caused herniated disks and fractured vertebrae in his back, causing chronic and agonizing pain. He was also diagnosed with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) causing him to suffer from short term memory loss and damaged cognitive skills. David sought help and began weekly therapy sessions but the physical pain remained.

He tried countless medications and techniques, but only one thing helped- woodworking.

Woodworking gives David the fulfillment in life he feared he had lost, frees his mind, and distracts him from the pain. Once only a hobby, woodworking has quickly become a source of income for the young family.

But to move forward with his dream of a woodworking business, David needed help. He turned to Hope For The Warriors® and the A Warrior’s Wish® Program.

He Wished for tools and some workshop space, which would allow his business to expand. He included a detailed business plan for his company, aptly named-Shawdust.  

Hope For The Warriors® is proud to grant this Wish and make it possible for this bright entrepreneur and brave veteran to achieve his dream of supporting his growing family with the fruits of this labor. 

Please help us grant this Wish by donating today.  Visit our donation page and in the comments, write “Shawdust.”  


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Happiest Place on Earth: A Warrior's Wish®

Hope For The Warriors® granted a special A Warrior's Wish® this spring for the family of a wounded service member.  Bound to a wheelchair and managing severe PTSD, the veteran turned to us with a Wish that would help not himself but his loving family.  The father of five shared the stress that his family endured due to his injuries.  His Wish was for a family vacation to Florida.  Through another organization, their lodging was already set.  Hope For The Warriors® paid for the gas, food and tickets to theme parks in the area.

Hope For The Warriors® was proud to grant this Wish and love the happy faces on the kids' faces. 

Help us grant more Wishes....donate today!

Monday, June 10, 2013

PTSD Awareness Month: A Soldier's Son Shares

Photo by Charles Hutchins

Before war my dad was calm, collective, and slow to anger. He was a patient peacemaker and a mediator in our family issues. He was hardly emotionally compromised and never had road rage. He also hardly cussed and was very trusting and forgiving.
After war my dad goes from 1 to 10 in one step. He has severe road rage even from the smallest things a driver does. When he explodes he loses it. He cusses and says things he doesn't even remember. One time I wrestled him and accidently made him bleed. He threatened me.  Ten minutes later, while I was packing my things to stay the night somewhere else he asked, “Hey son, where you going?” As if nothing happened.

My dad has lost his relationship with his brother because he was quick to anger. That is not like my father. After war, my dad got so angry he kicked me out of the house.  An hour later he apologizes. Before war, my dad taught me to stay calm and think rationally but since back from war, he does the opposite.
I know I have endured things that other children will not have to deal with. Other kids don’t have to calm their father down in the car when they have road rage or listen to their dad say they are going to kill them. The reason they don’t have to endure that is because my dad went to war. And I’m proud because he did it with honor and he defended the red white and blue so other kids could have a normal child hood.

Learn more about PTSD

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

PTSD Awareness Month: One Spouse Shares Her Experience

Photo by Vince LoPresti

If you told me a year ago that my husband was going to leave me, I would have never believed it. Not with everything we'd been through...multiple deployments, a long distance relationship until we were married, his transition out of the USMC, loss of jobs, tragic loss of family, not us. We were in the 50% that makes it.
Unfortunately it all became a reality one hot June night in 2012 when life as I knew it, ended.
He had come back from Iraq years ago, after losing many lives in his company. He took about 2 weeks to get back into regular life and things seemed "normal."  It wasn't until years later when his temper worsened, the drinking started, and his priories clearly shifted.
I'd like to say it was a slow gradual change, and maybe in some aspects it was. But that's not what it felt like to me. He came home one night and told me he didn't know if he wanted to be married anymore. We started therapy and I was determined to work through it. That’s what you do right? We vowed to stay together forever, not just when things were going great.
The drinking continued to get worse. He occasionally didn't come home. The fighting got worse. Then all of a sudden, over dinner one night, everything changed. He said I was his soul mate. He wanted to work on things. And things got great.  Really great…for about 6 months. Then it all hit me.
I had changed so much, just to please him. All the emotional abuse, the lies, the drinking. I needed it to stop. I turned to our families for support. His family comforted him. He admitted things were not going well and agreed things needed to change. Two days later, he came home from work and told me that he wanted a divorce because I was making him miserable.
People that know me, could not be more shocked by the news.  I'm a care free, easy going person.  I give my all in every situation. How could HE leave me? I've been there for him through everything and this is how he thanks me?
It wasn't until nine months later when it all became clear. I had the privilege to attend a Hope For The Warriors® event and had the opportunity to meet men and women who were suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS). To say it was eye opening and life changing would be a vast understatement. I learned there was nothing I could do to "get him through it." I realized that I was actually suffering from PTS as well. I also learned how complicated the stress disorder is. 
The ironic part is that he always said he was "fine."  He criticized others for blaming their behavior on PTS. I learned that it was so much easier for him to put all the blame on me and continue to not deal with everything.
I want people to know that it's one thing to support their spouse; but it should not mean that you give up your entire life and change who you are as a person. I'm sure I am not the only spouse to go through something like this and I am sorry that I will not be the last.

Learn more about PTSD.

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