Back in December of 2016, we featured Army Veteran Blayne Smith on the podcast. At the time, he was Executive Director of Team RWB. That was episode 11. He has since moved on to the GORUCK team, and here on episode 115, we are featuring he successor, and good friend, JJ Pinter. JJ is also an Army Veteran who joined shortly before September 11.
JJ will share his story of military service and tell us about the wonderful soldiers he served with, but the real value in this interview comes from his insight as Team RWB's second official employee. He's been with Team RWB for quite some time and in the Veteran space even longer. He shares his perspective on serving Veterans' post-military needs, measuring the impact his organization is making on Veteran, how his staff focuses on their mission, and other valuable thoughts that only someone in his position can have.
JJ Pinter is the Executive Director of Team Red, White, and Blue. As Team RWB’s 2nd employee, he has played a key role the development, growth, and operation of the organization. JJ works closely with board members, staff, and volunteer leaders to ensure the delivery of excellent programs that deliver impact. He provides strategic guidance in addition to building and managing critical partnerships.
JJ is a West Point graduate and combat veteran, serving as a Field Artillery officer. After his military service, he held both leadership and analytical positions in the construction, defense and medical industries. He currently resides outside Louisville, KY with his wife and 3 kids, where he loves to coach youth sports and be outdoors with his family.
I've been podcasting for more than five years. I look forward to each interview, because I love hearing new perspectives and unique stories of life and service. There are some interviews that truly get me excited, like this week's with Medal of Honor recipient Bennie Adkins. Bennie was in Washington, D.C. for the MLB All Star Game and to do some media for his new book A Tiger Among Us. While he was in town, he swung by VA Central Office for an interview to be featured on Borne the Battle.
Bennie's Medal of Honor citation has more action in it than most war movies. He was in battle for 38 hours and was escaping for another 48. In that time frame, he sustained 18 wounds. He fought the North Vietnamese with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms, and hand grenades. There is no type of Veteran that deserves the designation "hero" more than patriots like Bennie Adkins.
Bennie talks to us about joining the military after leaving college, the days in Vietnam that led to his award, and the importance of taking care of Veterans after their tour of duty.
I met Dan Cnossen on the red carpet at the Team USA awards back in April. I spoke to him about the opportunity to represent the United States in a different uniform and his experience with adaptive sports. Hour later, he was named 2018 Male Paralympic Athlete of the Games.
Dan was nice enough to agree to a podcast interview, and connected with me a few weeks ago to record. We talked about everything from his time in the Navy to accepting that his injury meant leaving the service to becoming a gold medalist.
Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen was serving as the platoon commander for SEAL Team One in Afghanistan in September 2009 when he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) and was wounded in the explosion. The accident caused Cnossen to lose both his legs just above the knee. Cnossen went through rehabilitation, first at the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, and later at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he learned to walk with his new prosthetics. Cnossen was awarded both a Bronze Star with Valor from the Secretary of the Navy for his service in combat.
A five-member mountaineering team of U.S. military, Veterans, and a physician from non-profit U.S. Expeditions and Explorations (USX) summited North America’s highest peak, Denali, Alaska, during a scientific research expedition to benefit the study of high altitude cardiology, May 14 to June 5, 2018.
USX is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that enables the military and Veteran communities to impact STEM fields by conducting adventurous, scientific research across the globe. During USX’s Denali expedition, its team members wore Cardiac Insight, Inc.’s Cardea SOLO™ wireless electrocardiogram sensors to capture cardiology data and detect cardiac arrhythmias at high altitude.
One of the members of the mountaineering team that went up Denali was Army Veteran Adam Storck. He is Head of Devices for M-KOPA Solar, overseeing new product development, delivery, and testing. Storck is from Seattle and resides in London and Nairobi, Kenya. He is a graduate of Garfield High School, Seattle (2005), UNC-Chapel Hill (2009), and Oxford University (2016). Adam is also a Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan (2010-2011, 2013).
Adam joins Borne the Battle to talk about his experience climbing to the summit of Denali and the incredible work he is doing in Nairobi. He is another example of how Veterans go on to do amazing things following their military service.
Drinking can be a concern for many people. Veterans can fall into behavior of using alcohol to cope with emotional distress following a deployment or transition out of the military. For some, the volume drinking turns from moderate to heavy, and the body starts to show signs of wear.
VA created VetChange to help Veterans monitor their drinking and take control. VetChange is a free, confidential online program to help Veterans cut back or stop drinking, and learn to manage PTSD symptoms without using alcohol. Based on scientific research, VetChange helps you build skills to better manage your drinking and other problems Veterans can experience after deployment, including symptoms of PTSD. Set your own goals. Learn at your own pace. Check your own progress over time and adjust your personal plan for change — with VetChange, you're in the driver's seat.
Monica Roy, who is the Program Manager for Substance Substance Abuse Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program and Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program at VA Boston Healthcare System's Jamaica Plain Campus. She served as a subject matter expert for the development of the VetChange App. She joins us on this episode to explain how VetChange came to be and how it benefits Veterans.
When I was visiting my then-girlfriend in Columbus a few years ago, we realized her apartment complex was not outfitted to accommodate a wheelchair. There was handicap parking, but unless you were on the ground floor, that person would not be able to access your apartment. That realization made me notice more instances of this in our communities, and I've become sympathetic to the challenges that brings to persons in wheelchairs.
I've also seen the technology that has improved the lives of those with permanent injuries. Rory Cooper was on the podcast a while back talking about his research and the breakthroughs he's making. Pictures from a recent golf event showed paralyzed Veterans using a chair that helped them stand upright so they could properly swing a golf club.
So, we have a society that's still behind on accommodations, and we have technology that is making breakthroughs for the people it serves. Where does that put us overall and what is the experience of injured Veterans when looking through those two lenses? I sat down with David Zurfluh, the National President of Paralyzed Veterans of America. David talks to us about his time in the Air Force, his accident and injury, the evolution of accommodations, and how his organization serves Veterans.
Education is one of the most valuable things a person can have. Following World War II, the original GI Bill helped provide Veterans returning from war the opportunity to pursue a college degree. Since its inception, the GI Bill has gone through a few iterations, including the most recent Post 9/11 GI Bill receiving the Forever GI Bill enhancement.
The GI Bill celebrates its 74th anniversary this month. To join the celebration of this wonderful benefit's 75th year, I invited a couple members of Student Veterans of America to join me in a discussion of the history of the GI Bill, its evolution, and its latest iteration. With me for this week's episode is Marine Veteran Barrett Bogue, SVA's Vice President for Public Relations and Public Engagement and Army Veteran Lauren Augustine, Vice President of Government Affairs. Both of them have experience working in higher education and had a close view of what it took to pass the Forever GI Bill.
One of my favorite parts of podcasting in the Veteran space is learning about what Veterans are doing in their communities and their industries. This week we hear from Army Veteran Sally Roberts, founder of Wrestle Like a Girl.
Sally was a resident at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center for eight years during which time she was a 3-time national champion, 2003 World Cup Champion, 2003 & 2005 World Bronze Medalist and a 2008 Olympic Alternate. She served six years in the Army as a Special Operations soldier where she volunteered for deployment to Afghanistan. She was also a member of the Army’s prestigious World Class Athlete Program and represented both the U.S. Army and Team USA in elite athletic competitions.
Sally joins the podcast to share her experience in the Army and her efforts with Wrestle Like a Girl, advocating for girls and women across the United States to be afforded opportunities to participate in wrestling.
A couple weeks ago, GORUCK hosted an event in Washington D.C. called the Star Course 50-Miler. More than 700 participants wondered around Washington visiting way-points in attempt to walk 50 miles in 20 hours. The idea originates from an executive order handed down by Teddy Roosevelt to his military. Hours before the event, Jason and Emily McCarthy, CEO and Chief of Staff of GORUCK, swung by VA's central office to record a podcast with me.
GORUCK is a company that makes rucksacks and hosts events for community rucking led by a cadre of special forces experts. Rucking is the activity of walking with weight on your back. In this week's podcast, the married couple share Jason's experience as Army special forces, Emily's experience as a military spouse, their separation, their re-connection, and how all of that led to the creation of GORUCK.
Continuing the theme of memorializing those that have served our country and passed, we're going to talk more about the Veterans Legacy Program. Last week, Bryce Carpenter laid the ground work last week by explaining the creation and development of the program, as well as the impact it has as an educational tool. This week we talk with Kenneth Holliday, who works with the Veterans Legacy Program at the National Cemetery Administration. He is also a proud Army Veteran, having served in the Infantry with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ken shares his experience of service, his transition out, how he first got involved with the Veterans Legacy Program, and how his experience has been with the program since joining VA. He also shares some unique stories that he's discovered through his research, as well as some of the challenges that come with creating content for Veterans who have passed.
I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day. However you recognize the holiday, I hope you take a moment to remember those that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
In theme with Memorial Day, we'll be looking at the Veterans Legacy Program on this week's podcasts.
The Veterans Legacy Program (VLP) is National Cemetery's Administration's educational outreach initiative. Their mission is to memorialize our nation's Veterans through sharing their stories of service and sacrifice. They partner with universities, schools, teachers, professors, and students of all levels to research Veterans interred in NCA cemeteries and how they contributed to their country as service members, and how they contributed to their community as Veterans.
First, on a Benefits Breakdown edition of the show, I bring on Bryce Carpenter, Educational Outreach Programs Manager for NCA and a proud Army veteran. Bryce will tell us about the inception of the program, the value it brings to our community, how schools are using it for education, and how it has impacted him as a Veteran.
Hopefully, you watched our panel discussion on mental health or listened to the audio on Monday's podcast. Today's episode is an extension of that conversation. Coming out of that YouTube Live event, there were a number of things I wanted to ask that just didn't fit into our program. So, the following day, I met with Dr. Wendy Tenhula to learn more about her role at VA, the progress we've seen in Veterans seeking treatment for mental health issues, and the value Make the Connection has for our Veterans who want to learn more.
May is Mental Health Month and one of VA's leading resources for mental health, Make the Connection, kicked off the month with a YouTube Live event. The event was a panel discussion about Veterans and mental health.
I was honored to host the event, and was joined by Marine Veteran Moses Maddox and Dr. Wendy Tenhula, VA’s Director of Innovation and Collaboration for the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
I decided to pull the audio from the event and include it on a Benefits Breakdown episode. Moses shares a lot about getting treatment at VA and Dr. Tenhula explains how Veterans can use services at VA for information and mental health care. As a group, we went in-depth on the importance of mental health care and how Veterans and their family members can be prepared to respond to a disconcerting situation.
Tele-health has been a priority at VA and we've made great strides in the care we can offer Veterans. From video conferencing between physician and patient to our mobile app "Annie." I've personally used mobile apps and digital platforms to connect with my therapist. The convenience helps preserve the valuable resource of time and the comfort allows patients to receive the care they need with less stress on their daily lives. VA's efforts in using technology to reach and care for Veterans has been grouped under our Office of Connected Care.
The Office of Connected Care focuses on improving health care through technology by engaging Veterans and care teams outside of traditional health care visits. By bringing together VA digital health technologies under one umbrella, the Office of Connected Care is enhancing health care coordination across VA and supporting Veterans’ participation in their own care.
This week I talk with Dr. Jennifer MacDonald, Director of Clinical Innovations and Education, VHA Connected Care. She shares her time in the military, becoming a doctor, and how VA is using technology to care for Veterans at a distance. We'll cover My HealtheVet, VA Telehealth Services, VA Mobile, and more.
We're wrapping up Public Service Recognition Week and I think a nice bookend to the week is to talk with someone that serves Veterans through his public service. Raymond Kaloplastos is known as "Ray from VA" around his community in San Antonio. I spoke with him at the Student Veterans of America National Convention back in January. He was there with a mobile Vet Center to provide any counseling services Veterans may need while attending the event.
Ray is an Army Veteran and will talk to us about his lengthy time in service, his retirement, how he got started with VA and the value that Mobile Vet Centers bring our communities, including disaster response.
This is a big milestone for us. 100 episodes of Borne the Battle. We've spoken to Veterans from all branches (even one Coast Guard Veteran) and learned about so many industries. The stories have been interesting and learning about their current vocations has been inspiring.
Episode 100 is going to feature Bruce Silverglade, an Army Veteran that served during the Vietnam War. We'll learn about his service, his transition, how he became owner of Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, and about a cool program he started that allows Veterans to train at his gym for free. Then, we'll hear from other characters involved in this program including the VA employee that helped organize it, the trainer that works with these Veterans, and the Veterans that are benefiting from such a unique program.
To see and learn more about this program, check out our YouTube for a video we recently produced for the latest episode of The American Veteran, showing these Veterans in action at Gleason's Gym.
VA is very active in addressing and attempting to prevent Veteran homelessness. We hold a "no wrong door" policy, which allows Veterans to touch base with any point of contact at VA with confidence they will be guided to our resources and services to assist them. The longer I work here, and the more I speak with fellow employees, the more I realize this matter is important to everyone here, whether or not they're directly involved.
In December, I brought on my colleague to discuss VA's approach to communicating homeless resources to Veterans and their communities. This week, I speak with Anthony Love, Director of Community Engagement for VHA's Homeless Programs. He and I discuss how VA delivers these resources, benefits, and services to Veterans that are homeless or at-risk for homelessness. Anthony helps us understand what it means to be at-risk for homelessness and how communities are ending Veteran homelessness.
After a successful round table on women Veterans topics, I was excited to do another one. I decided to curate a round table of Veteran entrepreneurs, but had a couple guests back out and was forced to postpone. Fortunately, one of my invited guests was still available and interested in doing a one-on-one interview. Nick Karnaze is a Marine Veteran having served as an officer with the Marine Raiders. After getting out the military, he started a business in international development. The business did not succeed as hoped. Then, after growing a beard in honor of a fallen friend, Nick was inspired to start his current business, Stubble & 'Stache.
Nick and I discuss the journey of entrepreneurship, his process for troubleshooting, his routines, and how he handles productivity.
Tim Kolzcak asked his dad what the plan was for college. After learning there was no money available for his education, he had to choose between going into debt or joining the military. So, he enlisted in the Army. After his tour, which involved deployments in support of OIF/OEF, he continued his education. With the recommendation and encouragement of a professor, he began a photographic essay titled The Veterans Project. Now, Tim tells the stories of Veterans through these photos.
Tim is going to share his journey in the Army and exploring the idea of his project. Also, Tim joins us for a conversation about storytelling in the Veteran space, and what Veterans should keep in mind as they collaborate within the community and attempt to motivate others through their own story.
Alternative healing and mental health awareness is becoming more important and more popular. One thing Veterans are trying out is meditation. Meditation can be defined as a practice where an individual focuses their mind on a particular object, thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. Like many Veterans, I have tried mediation and enjoy it, but I struggle with regular practice.
When I first exited the military, I got involved with a brand called Veteran Empire which was led by my friend Alfred "Alphi" Quitevis. Alphi was hustling with school, a business, and a busy social life. He noticed it started catching up with him and he put it all aside to explore the world and himself. During this exploration, he studied and practiced meditation. Now, he's an expert on the subject with plenty of insight to offer.
I watched Alphi go through this transition and followed him along his journey. I knew he'd be the right guy to discuss meditation and how it can apply to Veterans. He's going to talk to us about his time in the Corps, becoming too busy, becoming less busy, and finding meditation.
I've never run a marathon. I'm definitely one of those people that say, "I'd like to run one someday," but the truth is I probably won't. Rob Jones, a Marine Veteran who has two fewer legs than I do, ran 31 marathons in just as many days. His journey started in England, and then he hopped across the pond for a 30 for 30 marathons to days adventure. His journey wrapped up on Veterans Day 2017 as he finished his last marathon at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C..
Now, Rob hosts a podcast called Use the Weight and uses his recovery from injury as inspiration to others.
Rob joins us this week to talk about his service in the Marine Corps, the logistics of doing 31 marathons in 31 days, and where he may be going from here with his next mission.
I smoked for nearly ten years. I picked up the habit when I was 18 or 19 years old, and didn't truly quit until my late 20s. Like many smokers, I tried a number of different philosophies to kick the habit. It was easier to quit when I left the military, but it was still a challenge. Even years after I quit, I still get cravings occasionally, especially if I'm around other smokers.
Like any personal challenge, a support system is always key to success. I wish I had known about VA's Smoking Quitline when I decided to quit. One call to the quitline can get you set up with a counselor to talk about the importance of quitting, help you set up a plan, and schedule follow up calls to check in on your progress.
To get you more familiar with this service provided by VA, I spoke with a cessation counselor about what you need to know about the experience of using our Smoking Quitline.
Washington D.C. is full of amazing museums. The National Mall is lined with preserved history and remembrance. However, one of the best locations in the area for military history, the Marine Corps Museum, is an hour south in Quantico, Virginia. The Marine Corps Museum is beautifully built, meant to resemble the flag staff of the famous Iwo Jima flag raising photo. Inside, guests can learn about about Marine Corps' inception at Tun Tavern and its involvement in America's conflicts since then.
The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation is responsible for the development and upkeep of the museum, preserving and promulgating the history, traditions and culture of the Marine Corps and educating all Americans in its virtues. Our guest on this week's podcast, retired Lieutenant General Robert Blackman is the President of the foundation.
Robert shares his experience in the Marine Corps, the importance of preserving military history, and his role at the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.
About Robert Blackman:
Lieutenant General Blackman was commissioned as Marine Corps officer upon graduation from Cornell University in June 1970. Toward the end of a long successful career, Lieutenant General Blackman served as the Commanding General, III Marine Expeditionary Force; Commander, Marine Corps Bases, Japan; and Commander, Marine Forces Japan from 2003 to 2005. He then assumed command of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command; U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Europe; U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South; U.S. Marine Corps Bases, Atlantic; U.S. Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic; and U.S. Fleet Marine Force, Europe, until his retirement in 2007. After leaving active service, Lieutenant General Blackman worked with Marine Corps’ Marine Air-Ground Task Force Staff Training Program. He was named President and CEO of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation in 2011.
We have some bonus content for you. I sat down with three amazing Veterans to help wrap up our focus on Women Veterans this month. Lauren Augustine from Student Veterans of America, Joy Ilem from Disabled American Veterans, and Sarah Maples from Veterans of Foreign Wars joined me to discuss women Veterans they admire, women Veterans issues from the perspective of their respective organizations, and the growth of women Veterans as icons and leaders in the Veteran community.
Lauren Augustine is SVA's Director of Policy, advocating for student Veterans as it comes to policy affecting their pursuit of education. Joy Ilem is DAV's National Legislative Director. She directs the advancement of DAV’s public policy objectives to promote and defend reasonable and responsible legislation to assist disabled Veterans and their families nationwide, while guarding current Veteran’s benefits and services from legislative erosion. Sarah Maples just wrapped up her time at VFW as Director for National Security and Foreign Affairs where she developed, implemented, and promoted the VFW's national security and foreign affairs policy priorities.
This week's podcast marks our fourth and last installment in the series featuring women from the Women Veterans Athlete Initiative put on by the Center for Women Veterans. Today, we feature Sarah Holzalb, a Coast Guard Veteran and Relationships Manager for Team RWB.
Sarah Holzhalb entered the US Coast Guard Commissioned Corps as a deck watch officer in 2002, serving for 5 years. While grieving the suicides of two shipmates, she decided to train for her first marathon. The long training hours proved therapeutic, and her running club provided a new tribe to replace the shipmates she’d left behind.
Sarah talks to us about serving in the Coast Guard, her approach to marathons, the value she sees in Team RWB, and more.