Sunday, November 22, 2015

Carter Receives Red Cross Lifetime of Service Award

By Shannon Collins DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, November 21, 2015 — Defense Secretary Ash Carter received the Lifetime of Service award from the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region during the organization's annual Salute to Service Gala yesterday in McLean, Virginia.

“When I was sworn in as Secretary, among the principal commitments I made was, first and foremost to our people, the men and women of the Department of Defense, our active duty, our Guard and Reserves, our civilians, our veterans, and all of their families,” Secretary Carter said.

“It’s my honor to accept this recognition tonight wholly on behalf of them, on behalf of those who’ve stepped forward to serve, on behalf of the finest fighting force the world has ever known. It’s them you honor tonight,” he said.

“And I want to thank the Red Cross for always being there for service members, their families and their survivors,” he said “In the past year, your volunteers have given 1.25 million hours of their time at home and abroad from their living rooms on the home front to the front lines at Camp Lemonnier (in Africa) and Camp Arifjan (in Kuwait). You’re everywhere you need to be.”

Made Immeasurable Difference

Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the Red Cross said, “This award is given to a person who has served others throughout their lifetime and has made immeasurable difference in the lives of military, veterans and their families. The recipient must also be a supporter of the American Red Cross and be recognized throughout their own organization for all that they have accomplished. And I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this honor than Secretary Ashton Carter.

“Secretary Carter’s life reflects his continued commitment to service and his continued commitment to leadership,” she added. “He’s spent more than three decades leveraging his extensive knowledge of science, technology, global strategy and policy to help make our nation and the world a safer place. He’s deeply and fundamentally dedicated to the men and women of our armed forces. And Secretary Carter is a strong advocate for the role of the American Red Cross in how we serve the military and their families.”

The gala showcased the Red Cross’s commitment to helping the community in times of need and was a celebration of individuals who contributed to humanitarian services and service to the United States. Army veteran J.R. Martinez hosted the event, in which former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth were presented with the Exceptional Service Award.

“I want to thank J.R. Martinez. Your selflessness and determined spirit is nothing short of inspiring,” the secretary said. “And I want to congratulate Bob and Elizabeth Dole. Bob and Elizabeth have spent a lifetime making a difference for those who’ve served in every generation, and for their families. Their humanitarian efforts throughout the world, particularly with this organization, have given countless people the gift of a better life.”

Paying Tribute

Throughout the evening, the Red Cross paid tribute to the men, women and families of the military and communities who helped their neighbors and friends prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

Marine Maj. Katelyn van Dam received the Tiffany Circle Distinguished Woman Warrior Award. During her time on active duty for 10 years, she served as an attack helicopter pilot in combat operations in Afghanistan and also as a staff platoon commander at Quantico, Virginia, where she taught new Marine officers basic tactics and leadership. She is now continuing her service in the Marine Corps Reserve while a full-time graduate student and co-founder and Director of Strategy and Policy for No Exceptions, a nonpartisan initiative that supports the full integration of women into all combat arms specialties in the military.

“I want to take a moment to congratulate Maj. Katelyn van Dam. There are young women across America – future Marines – who are inspired by trailblazers like Katelyn,” Secretary Carter said.

The Red Cross mission statement is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

 “The power of the Red Cross is a tradition of engaged citizenry and the example that you set for the world. As we build the force of the future, recruiting and retaining the best America has to offer, we will continue to look to the grateful citizens of this nation to support our military families, care for our veterans, and to be there for those who valiantly step forward to serve,” Carter said.

Healing through music

By Sean Kimmons, Air Force News Service / Published November 20, 2015

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) -- Former Maj. Frank Vassar pulled out his cellphone and played a song that he wrote and recorded as other wounded Airmen listened closely.

“… Bombs going off inside my head. Sometimes wishing I was dead. Demons deep inside me. I pray so hard I can’t fall asleep. …”

Vassar, 46, explained to about a dozen Airmen at a music therapy session Nov. 19 on Joint Base Andrews that the song, “Evil,” described his post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that he battles using music.

“Music has always been a release for me,” Vassar, of Oklahoma City, said after the Air Force Wounded Warrior event. “It calms me and puts me into a different world for a while.”

The world he generally inhabits is haunted with memories from three combat tours with security forces during his 13-year Air Force career that ended with him being medically retired.

“Every time I’m dreaming, it always ends in a blast or a firefight. That’s what I wake up with,” he said.

Some flashbacks stem from a close call with an enemy rocket while in Iraq in 2004. As he walked toward a courtyard in Baghdad’s Green Zone, a 122 mm rocket landed about 50 feet from him, causing him to black out and become disoriented.

“I was trying to figure out what just happened,” he recalled after the blast. “I looked up and the whole building was moving 15 feet to side to side. But it wasn’t. It was in my head.”

Finding solace

Years after seeing two friends get killed in Iraq, explosive ordnance disposal specialist Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ferrell now hopes music can curb his suicidal thoughts.

“It helps me find peace,” he said about music after his first introduction to the noninvasive therapy. “I just felt that I could deal with my demons on my own time.”

Ferrell, who is based at Andrews, said he’s been on five combat tours in his 12 years with the Air Force. While deployed in late 2009, a teammate next to him was killed when he triggered a roadside bomb, throwing Ferrell 15 feet into a wall. Two months later, Ferrell said he saw a second teammate fatally step on another bomb.

Since then, he’s struggled with the memories and has contemplated taking his own life.

“After over a decade of war it’s kind of boiled over,” he said.

With a wife and three children, including a baby, Ferrell believes they deserve better from him. Music could be a useful approach, because it lets him focus on the good things in life.

“It taps into so many different parts of the brain,” he said. “If there is empty space in my head, it fills up with negative things from my past. So, if I can fill it up with something positive, it helps.”

Music therapy can reduce stress, anxiety and pain, as well as engage military members in a meaningful activity as opposed to destructive thoughts or substance abuse.

“It distracts them and gives them something to do that can become a new habit. It’s kind of like retraining the brain and desensitizing it in a way,” said Nicki Rubin, a music therapist who helped teach groups of Airmen attending the weeklong wounded warrior event.

Songs can also make it easier for military members to open up about past experiences that may be difficult to do in regular therapy sessions.

“A lot of times traditional talk therapy isn’t efficient or helpful to veterans who may not be able to verbalize how they’re feeling,” Rubin said. “So music is a way for them to communicate and express themselves that seems a little less threatening, and can convey more sometimes than words.”

And through his music, that’s exactly what Vassar tries to do.

“It allows me to talk about something that happened without talking about it,” he said.