By: Sarah Oliver
The following article tells about Mary Ellis, a delightful flying ace from WWII who is still able to man the controls of a Spitfire and fly with the best of them. This was written by Sarah Oliver for the British publication “The Mail On Sunday,” from February 5, 2017. Enjoy!

100-year-old woman who flew spitfires during the Second World War celebrates her centenary by getting behind the controls again

Tearing through the skies above the South Coast, two Spitfires evoke powerful memories of Britain’s wartime resilience. But this stirring image holds a further poignancy – for in the cockpit of the lead aircraft sits Mary Ellis, celebrating her 100th birthday by recreating her time as one of the ‘Ata-girls,’ the select gang of female pilots who flew Britain’s fighters during the war. And over her shoulder is one of the actual Spitfires she flew during her 1,000 flights as a First Officer with the Air Transport Auxiliary.

“Wizard, this is wizard!” yelled the delighted centenarian through her intercom. Mary was handed the controls of the 275 mph twin-seater as it swooped over West Sussex. After about 15 minutes, she turned for home, and told her co-pilot Matt Jones: “Goodwood on the nose, you have control …” Then she settled back to enjoy the ride back to base.

Earlier, Mary watched in delight as Spitfire MV154 took its place beside her in an
extraordinary airborne tribute. It was a plane she had delivered to RAF Brize Norton from Southampton on September 15, 1944, and it hides a sentimental secret. For at the end of the 25-minute wartime flight, she signed the cockpit, scrawling her maiden name Wilkins and the initials ATA. She hoped her tag might be spotted by a handsome pilot and lead to a wartime romance – although the impulsive act, a career one-off, didn’t bag her a boyfriend.

Mary, originally from Oxfordshire, had her first flying lesson in 1938, and flew for pleasure until 1941 when she heard a BBC radio appeal for women pilots to join the auxiliary service and so release male pilots for combat duty.

Speaking at a surprise birthday party on Thursday, Mary said: “The war was a challenge and one had to do something about it. I went on and on until I flew everything. I love the Spitfire – it’s my favourite aircraft, it’s everyone’s favourite, it’s the symbol of freedom.”

For four years she ferried warplanes from factories to frontline squadrons. The 166 women of the ATA – about one in eight of the total – have been dubbed ‘The Female Few,’ echoing Winston Churchill’s description of the RAF airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain.

Mary was usually found at the joystick of a Spitfire or a Hurricane but ultimately flew more than 50 types of aircraft, logging 1,100 hours of flight, much to the astonishment of some colleagues. As she sat on the airfield ready to deliver her first Spitfire, the mechanic standing on the wing asked how many of them she’d flown. When she said it was her first, he was so startled he fell right off. The largest aircraft she flew solo was the Wellington bomber. After landing at an East Anglian airfield, Mary was greeted by the ground crew who asked where the pilot was. “I’m the pilot,” she said. They insisted on searching the aircraft before they believed her.

It was dangerous work. Mary was sometimes ordered to move combat-damaged planes that were not officially fit to fly, but had to be taken for repairs. She crash-landed twice and was shot at once. Fourteen of her fellow ATA female flyers lost their lives, including aviation pioneer Amy Johnson

Mary – who to this day needs no spectacles, nor a walking stick – was one of the last six women serving in the ATA when it disbanded after the war. She remained a private pilot and then became managing director of Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight. She married Don Ellis, a fellow pilot, in 1961, but was widowed in 2009.
Matt Jones, who flies Spitfires for Goodwood-based Boultbee Flight Academy, reunited Mary with MV154 after first meeting her in 2015. He conspired with the plane’s current owner, pilot Maxi Gainza, to bring it to the UK from its base in Bremgarten, Germany.
He said: “I gave Mary control of our Spitfire. I wasn’t sure where we were but Mary was very clear. She pointed us towards Thorney Island, up through the Witterings, flew on to Selsey Bill and then Bognor Regis, never losing a foot of altitude.
“She showed me precisely how she was able to deliver all those aircraft with just a map, a compass and a stopwatch. I was utterly humbled by a superior aviator who also happens to be 60 years my senior!”
By: Sarah Oliver

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Guor Maker has without a doubt one of the most triumphant stories of what it means to become an American that I have ever heard. In April, he will be 34 years old, and in his brief life he has been a slave, an Olympic marathon runner, and for one month now, he has been an Airman in the United States Air Force.

Born in 1984, into the Dinka tribe of the Sudan, he experienced losing 8 of his siblings and being a slave twice. Once he was captured by Sudanese soldiers, and once he was held captive by a herdsman. He escaped slavery, and then escaped a refugee camp, got to Egypt, and was able to come to the United States at the age of 16. He taught himself English by watching cartoons, went to high school in New Hampshire, and ran track at Iowa State University, achieving All-American status. He graduated from Iowa State with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

Guor continued to make news as an Olympic athlete. In the 2012 Summer Games, he was allowed to compete as an independent athlete because South Sudan had not yet been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. He had permanent resident status and had started the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen, and wanted to run in honor of his war-torn former country. Because of the two million people who had been killed by the North, he felt it would have been a betrayal of the memory of those who had been slaughtered to run for the North. In the 2016 Olympics, he ran with two fellow team mates representing South Sudan for the first time. Regarding his experience in the 2016 games, he said, “I couldn’t have accomplished any of it without all the support I received from my family and the opportunity the United States gave me. It’s the highlight of my athletic career so far and a moment I’ll treasure forever.”

So far this is enough of a story to make me cheer, but it gets better. On February 1, Guor started his basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, and here is what he said: “All of the things I’ve accomplished have derived from the opportunities the U.S. has afforded me. When I first came to America, I didn’t have hardly anything, but with the support and opportunity this country has given me, I’ve been able to completely change my life.”

Now that’s what I’m talking about! People whose heart and life exemplify what the whole purpose of America is: going after life, liberty and happiness, and then giving back, or paying it forward, however you see it.

Guor Maker is a humble man, so much so that when he began his training last month, no one in his unit knew who he was. As his story came out, numbers of people on the base were inspired to the point that they began to tell his story for him, and the media got involved. He is on the medical track for his training, and one of the things he loves to do is help trainees who are struggling. He also is still heading toward his dreams. The next one is to be a military world-class athlete and compete once again in the Olympics, and I have no doubt he’ll do it. “Joining the greatest Air Force in the world has been an absolute miracle,” said Maker. “I can’t wait to see what this next chapter holds for me.”

All I can say is, even if it’s belated, “Welcome to America, Guor. You do us all proud.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Mornings and holidays are statistically known to be a time when an enemy will attack, due to the element of surprise. When Syria attacked Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, it was during Shabbat of one of the most important holidays of the year, and Israel will be the first to tell you that they were not prepared, and that the intel they had received was bad. Last week, Israel was attacked on the morning of Shabbat by Iran, but the attack was launched in Syria, and it came in the form of a drone. What happened next demonstrated how quickly things can unravel, and at least from my perch, how completely idiotic it is to have armed Iran with billions of dollars so they can attack our strongest ally and the only true democracy in the Middle East.

An Iranian drone was launched from Syria and penetrated Israeli airspace for about a minute before it was taken out by the Israeli Air Force in the form of an Apache helicopter. Several IAF F-16s were scrambled in response, and there was a successful raid on the base from which the drone was launched as well. In the process, Syria fired off anti-aircraft missiles, and shot down one of the F-16s, but, thankfully, all that was lost was the plane, and it crashed landed on the Israeli side. Both pilots were hospitalized, and the worst wounded has been upgraded to stable condition. And, this is the first time an IAF plane has been shot down since the war with Lebanon in 1982.

But here is where it gets pesky, or perhaps I should say peskier. Do you remember when we allowed the Iranians to hang on to one of our spy drones when it was brought down and captured via Iranian joysticks in 2011? Well, according to Yuval Steinitz, an Israeli security cabinet minister, the drone that was shot down on Saturday was a copy of the RQ-170 Sentinel, which in 2016 Iran boasted it had reverse-engineered.

Of course, Iran calls the charges false, and says, “Claims about the flight of an Iranian drone…are too ridiculous to be addressed because the Islamic Republic of Iran has advisory presence in Syria at the request of the country’s legitimate and constitutional government.” Right.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded with the kind of strength for which he is well known. “Israel is seeking for peace, but we will continue to defend ourselves against any attack against us, and against any attempt by Iran to establish military bases in Syria or anywhere else,” he said.

I got to spend part of a day with the IDF when I was in Israel in 2014, on a base not far from all this. One of the things I found most fascinating is how true it is that Israel is for peace. It was apparent, and this is not something that can be faked. You see it in the eyes and body language of people everywhere, not just soldiers. In fact, if I had not lived amongst soldiers in an Iraqi combat zone, who truly were willing to give their lives for the peace of people they had never met, I would not have been as able to quickly recognize that same commitment on the part of the IDF.

Here’s a question: Next month is Purim, the holiday that sprang out of Queen Esther’s triumph in defeating Hamaan without firing a shot. Persia is where that happened, and Persia just happens to be Iran. Is it possible that the same wickedness that wanted to annihilate Israel is alive and kickin,’ and is showing up in the form of a glorified video game? You be the judge.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Sandra Thompson
Dale was born in Limestone County, Alabama, in March of 1932. The Casteel family has a long history of military service beginning with his father, Marvin A. Casteel, who was stationed at Evac Hospital No. 27 in Koblenz, Germany, during WWI. His sister, Marion A. Casteel, joined the Navy and worked at the Correspondence Department in Washington, DC during WWII. Dale and his brother Jimmy were in the Army during the Korean War, and his younger brother Billy was in the Army during the Vietnam War. In 1948, at the age of 16, Dale and some other friends decided to join the Alabama National Guard after realizing there wasn’t much money in picking cotton; they were all assigned to Company B of the 1343rd Combat Engineering Battalion. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, the 1343rd was called to active duty. Dale says, “Although they would leave Athens, Alabama, as boys, they would become men in Korea, their love for their family and country would grow stronger.”

Dale had some unforgettable experiences in Korea, one notable was being part of the band called “The Alabama Ramblers.” When the 1343rd Battalion left for Korea, some of the men took their musical instruments with them for entertainment, and thanks to the persistence of Jerry McGivney, they started playing together. Jerry would wear many hats in the band, including manager, booking agent, driver, and master of ceremonies! The band would record their songs and mail them back to Bob Dunnavant to play on the radio station WJMW in Athens; this also gave the men a chance to record messages for their families.

One of Dale’s most emotional memories of Korea is the story of a little Korean girl they called “Sunny.” Dale and the other soldiers of Company B, found Sunny and her younger brother behind a hedgerow; they were both very ill and malnourished. The men took them in and tried to nurse them back to health. Sadly, the little boy passed away, but Sunny eventually thrived and was a little bright spot in the dark time. They all loved her like a daughter. Eventually, Sunny was strong enough to go to an orphanage in Pusan. Dale says that was probably his saddest day in Korea.

Dale feels that the leaders of Limestone County and Athens have been very good to the veterans, especially at a time when the public was not supportive of the Korean veterans. For this reason, he supports the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and, of course, he supports the Alabama Veterans Museum and is looking forward to its expansion.

After returning from the war, Dale says he took the GED and went right back to work. Dale has one adopted son, Marty, and two foster children, Liz and David. Dale has been married twice but has unfortunately lost both of his wives to illness.

Dale is also a noted author and poet with several books to his credit, The End of the Trail of Tears, The Trail That I Traveled, The Native People of Turtle Island, and Great Words of Wisdom from the First Native People. These books can be found at the Museum gift shop along with other places. Dale has also written countless short stories and poems.
By: Sandra Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans’ Museum

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
The Super Bowl is in a couple of days, and in all of the more than 50 years that it has been in existence, I don’t believe I ever remember a lower level of enthusiasm for an event that used to be legendary when it came to the passion of the fans. Largely, this has been due to the fall-out over players refusing to stand for the national anthem, and taking a knee instead.

It’s safe to say that most NFL players have not been in the military, because if they had, it’s doubtful that they would have felt the need to express their desire to see changes in America in such a way that can so easily be construed as disrespectful to our military, the ones who ensure the right to protest in the first place.

I for one was heartened that President Trump took such a strong “stand on standing” at his State of the Union speech when he said, “Preston’s (the 12 year old who has made it his passion to put flags and carnations on the graves of veterans) reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us of why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.” His statement drew strong applause. I realize that because it was a speech that was supposed to demonstrate a measure of statesmanship, he could not say it the way he has on other occasions, but everything from his wording to his body language made it clear that he meant business.

Over the years, I have been transparent with regard to the fact that when I was a “socialista,” I despised the flag because I despised America. If I had been in the NFL, I probably would have led the charge to take a knee during the national anthem, and would have counted on the fact that team owners would have buckled under the pressure of protesting players because they would have never wanted to appear to be “insensitive.”

I have also talked about how much it has meant to me to be forgiven by soldiers for my former idiocy. What it seems that some folks are forgetting is that when a public figure takes a stand on a particular topic, such as standing for the national anthem, it doesn’t mean that one’s right to not comply is somehow now threatened. At the end of the day, soldiers will tell you that they will die for your right to protest, to disagree, to take a knee, to not salute the flag.

My dad gave me the same gift nearly a half-century ago when he told me, “I may not agree with you, but I will fight like h_ _ _ for your right to believe what you want to believe.” I have since made it a very important part of my life to show respect for those who gave me the right to protest, and those who give me the right to be a patriot, and I am happy to politely say, “Please stand.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
A couple of weeks ago on the Tennessee Valley Spotlight, I was discussing with my my co-hosts Tony Llewellyn and Rex Davis the fact that even though we are not “runnin’ with the Big Dogs” when it comes to being powerful members of the media, nonetheless we have what I feel is a sacred duty to do our best to be accurate and fair with all that we do, even when we are giving our opinion on the air, in print, or in social media. This is especially important when the lives of our brave warriors are on the line, as was the case during the Vietnam War. As is true with every other part of life, it is important to “let the story be the story,” even when there is good, bad, ugly or at the very least, controversial content.

February will mark the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, which historians agree was the point at which the war in Vietnam bogged down badly and began to be lost in the court of public opinion, especially on college campuses. Central to that shift away from supporting our troops was an op-ed which was aired by the venerable CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite himself. He had just made a trip to Vietnam to get the “boots on the ground” aspect of the Tet Offensive, as well as its aftermath. Ostensibly, his purpose as a veteran newsman was to get it right, and tell the truth.

However, that is not what happened; and I don’t think it’s irresponsible to say that Walter’s now irrefutably documented speaking-out-of-both-sides-of-his-mouth resulted in slaughtering the morale of our soldiers, and perhaps insured the torture and possible death of those who were really boots on the ground, our troops.

What in the world am I talking about? Well, 50 years after the fact, a dusty piece of footage has been found of the first statement which was filmed of Cronkite’s broadcast right after the U.S. victory during Tet. What was actually broadcast later though, was the complete opposite, and even President Lyndon Johnson reportedly reacted by saying, “If I have lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” The truth is that perhaps LBJ would not have “lost middle America,” and Jane Fonda would not have been able to do her worst, if the original clip had been shown.

What Cronkite said on February 28, 1968, after he got back to the States was, “Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we’d like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet Offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Viet Cong did not win by a knockout but neither did we.” He then advanced the narrative that now the war was at a stalemate, could not be won, that our soldiers would leave their post “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” What would be waiting for those “honorable people” when they got home were people like I used to be, people who thought they were not only not in any way honorable, but that they were “baby killers.”

Now contrast “Uncle Walter’s” previous statements with the following, which was filmed on February 13 while Cronkite was still in Vietnam, and which was recently found by accident: “First and simplest, the Viet Cong suffered a military defeat,” he reported. “Its missions proved suicidal. If they had intended to stay in the cities as a negotiating point, they failed at that. The Vietnamese army reacted better than even its most ardent supporters had anticipated. There were no defections from its rank, as the Viet Cong apparently had expected. And the people did not rise to support the Viet Cong, as they were also believed to have expected.”
So, which was true, why was the second piece the one we all heard, and why does it matter?

Perhaps Brent Bozell, founder of Media Research Center can shed the most light on the subject: “Walter Cronkite’s partisanship in his ‘news’ coverage of the Vietnam war is not just a matter of speculation. It is not just a matter of fact. It is celebrated fact by those closest to the newsman. Leslie Midgley was Cronkite’s long-time producer and in his book, How Many Words Do You Want, he recounts how he turned ‘America’s Most Trusted Newsman’ against the war and concludes they were doing ‘the true work of the Lord.’ In journalism the only thing worse than bias is the false denial of bias. Cronkite and company were guilty of that until the bitter end.”

Clearly fake news is nothing new, and it is extraordinarily uncomfortable to face what can happen when it goes unchallenged, even if it’s 50 years later.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
I grew up in the shadow of the United States Public Health Hospital system. From 1953 until 1970, my grandmother was the Executive Housekeeper at the USPH hospital in Seattle, and she ran a tight ship. The hospital had 16 stories, and was originally built to care for Marines. I promise you, all 16 of those stories were “spit-n-shine” with Kentucky-born-and-bred Mary McAuliffe White at the helm. When I became aware that a VA Hospital urgent care center in New Hampshire had been shut down because of a bed bug infestation, I must admit I thought of my “Grammy.” This would have never happened on her watch, even if she had had to go after the bugs herself, bug by bug, and bed by bed.

Having lived in more than one third-world situation, I know firsthand that infestations can occur even in places where hygiene and maintenance are good. But, last I checked, New Hampshire is not a third-world or even a second-world location; it is a first-world scenario experiencing third-world problems, and our veterans are getting the really short end of the stick.

It was the New Hampshire Public Radio affiliate that announced that the clinic was closed after bed bugs were found out in the waiting room. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the little critters were also in an examining room. The facility was located in the city of Manchester, N.H.

In true “pass-the-buck” style, the hospital director, a man by the name of Al Montoya, said that the situation couldn’t be considered “an emergency,” and the patients were transferred to another facility to be treated. As of this writing, no comment had been made to the VA by the hospital’s pest control service. While Mr. Montoya might have been technically correct as to what constitutes an emergency, the idea of bed bugs being anywhere near our vets makes me see red.

When I was in Iraq, we were living in tents, and let me tell you, Vector Control was completely on top of keeping us pest free in a combat zone. We weren’t even supposed to pour out old coffee on the gravel for two reasons: one was that someone was worried about the rocks getting stained (I kid you not), but more importantly, the sugar and creamer in old coffee could cause fly infestations. Speaking of flies in New Hampshire, back in July of 2017, the Boston Globe wrote an article alleging that the operating room at the Manchester facility was infested with flies, and that surgical instruments were used that had not been sterilized. There was another generalized accusation that patients were not being treated properly.

The Manchester clinic is the only VA facility in the entire state, and my question is, how hard can it be to keep one clinic bed bug free? May the task force that has been assigned “to investigate and recommend changes” be with the vets. And, may my Grammy not be rolling over in her grave.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Rishi Sharma is barely 20 years old, and since graduating from high school, he has made it his “ten year plan” to interview every remaining WWII veteran possible and capture their story before they pass. Approximately 500 members of the Greatest Generation die every day, and while they have been famous for not talking much about their battlefield experiences, now that they are facing their own mortality they are ready to talk. And Rishi is ready to listen and record.

Rishi is a second generation American, the son of immigrants from India. The fire in his belly with regard to WWII vets was lit when he was a junior in high school, and although he was already quite interested in their stories, it was having the chance to interview Lyle Bouck, one of the heroes of the Battle of the Bulge that got him started on his quest to interview at least one vet per day.

Rishi’s parents are not exactly thrilled. He has put off going to college, building a career, as well as pursuing any dating relationship, and this was not what they had in mind for their son when they came to the States. Rishi’s peers don’t get it, either. Many of them don’t even know what WWII was about, where it was fought, or who the major players were. “Kids my age have absolutely no idea what it was like for these men,” he says. “They are more concerned about what the Kardashians are wearing.”

But the vets get it, and here they are, face to face with a pony-tailed kid who says of their legacy, “What good is what they had to go through if we don’t learn from it?” Sharma seriously doubts that there will ever be another Greatest Generation, due to the fact that they went from having to be tough during the Great Depression straight into having to be tougher on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima. It was also a time of clear-sighted morality and commitment. “It was good versus evil,” he said, and he believes that without apology.

Rishi enters the warriors’ presence with a Canon camera, a tri-pod, and respect. He donates the DVD of the interview to each vet as a gift, and some interviews have ended up in museums. He searches out vets’ locations all over the country and most often finds them in senior care facilities. While many times I am not a big fan of crowd-source funding, this is something I can get behind, and I hope Athens Now will consider backing him in his quest of preserving one of the greatest stories ever told.

The success of Rishi’s business plan, the amount raised to date, and the media attention he has received has made his parents slightly more supportive of his unusual passion. As of this month, Rishi has raised more than $130,000 for his project, the majority of which is used to fund his ability to quickly get to the vets, eat, shower, sleep, and move on. He started out by riding his bike to talk to local vets, borrowed his parents’ car for a road trip, and now is criss-crossing the country, knowing he can’t get to everyone but determined to try.

“I am doing this until the last one passes away,” Sharma says. “Each interview helps me get closer to understanding what combat was like in the worst war the world has ever seen. You talk to them and take that load off,” he says. “They no longer need to worry about the war. They can die in peace.” If you wish to give an unusual gift this holiday, consider going to to help Rishi honor our aged brave ones. The clock is ticking.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
For several years Athens Now has discussed the spiritual assault on our troops through examples of the restriction of their religious liberties in such places as the United States Air Force Academy, the removal of Bibles from MWR (Morale, Welfare Recreation) hotel nightstands, the forbidding of praying in Jesus’ name, and the oxymoronic ordination of “atheist chaplains.”

There is good news, though, of a pushback that unsurprisingly has the Marines running point on the op. General Robert B. Neller, who is the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, had the following to say to his “Leathernecks”:
“Fitness is a vital part of being a United States Marine. Although we all understand the importance of being physically fit, it is also important to remember the other three aspects of overall fitness: spiritual, mental, and social. All of these aspects are essential to the well-being of each individual Marine and Sailor, and our Corps as a whole…

Research indicates that spiritual fitness plays a key role in resiliency, in our ability to grow, develop, recover, heal, and adapt. Regardless of individual philosophy or beliefs, spiritual well-being makes us better warriors and people of character capable of making good choices on and off duty…

By attending to spiritual fitness with the same rigor given to physical, social and mental fitness, Marines and Sailors can become and remain the honorable warriors and model citizens our Nation expects…”

What? Where is Mikey Weinstein (not to be confused with the nefarious Harvey) when you need him to be a whistleblower or watchdog protecting our troops from religion, which Marx calls the “opiate of the masses”? Well, predictably, Mikey didn’t stay silent for long. His response to the General was:

“This is nothing more than a Trojan Horse for fundamentalist Christians to proselytize to a captive audience.”

The point that Mikey is missing is that General Neller has an endgame that is steadfastly secular: “Spiritual well-being makes us better warriors and people of character capable of making good choices on and off duty.” He didn’t say how, he just said that it does, and Mikey has no leverage because it is up to the individual to figure out what that means for him or her.

The Marine’s most senior enlisted leader, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green is part of the pushback. On November 27, he made it clear that an aspect of spiritual fitness has to do with resolving differences and coming to the place where they will lay down their lives for each other on the battlefield. He also said that in his 34-year career he had never seen a Marine refuse to participate when a chaplain uttered some of the most comforting words on earth: “Let us pray.” He also had this to say:

“We set aside all of those differences to go forward and be willing to die for the very people that we love, for the nation, the Constitution and the flag that we honor,” said Green. “That’s the unique thing.”

Green had been called upon to address leaders from all of the branches to clarify the concept of spiritual fitness, with the great irony being that at the end of the day, spiritual things, be they fitness or anything else, just can’t be clarified through the use of one’s noggin. However, he did say this:

“Well, if you believe in God, yeah, we’re talking about that. But we’re really talking about that spirit regardless of where we come from.

We truly understand that’s an opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine, Coast Guardsmen, National Guardsmen to our left and to our right – to say, ‘If you’re down on the battlefield, I’m coming to get you,’” he said.
That, ladies and gentlemen is what it means to be Semper Fidelis, always faithful, and if the Corps has anything to do with it, no one is going to take that away from our Leathernecks or any other service member, ever.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Hardly a day goes by without me talking, thinking, or reading about neuroscience, the relatively new and ever-burgeoning study of everything squishy residing between our ears. It has become my passion, along with helping people build every aspect of their health, and the more I learn, the more I understand myself and others, particularly soldiers. It is because of the understanding of neuroplasticity, the fact that we can literally, physically change our brains for the better, that I have more hope than ever for PTSD sufferers, particularly those who have seen combat. And, the great gift is, that if it was the battlefields of Omaha Beach, Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans or the Middle East wars, it doesn’t matter, you can still grow a new brain and recover from whatever you have seen or done. You can also stop apologizing for missing the fellow soldiers with whom you experienced what have come to be called “high-ordeal moments.”

There has been a recent discovery that has added a positive new twist on what makes our “fearfully and wonderfully made” brains all the more so, and it is right on time for the holidays. This understanding has explained some things to me about my own brain, and by extension I am hoping it will help those who have served as well as their families during this holiday season.

By way of explanation, I devoted an entire chapter in my book, A Ballad For Baghdad, to a discussion on celebrating holidays in a combat zone. The chapter is called “Have Yourself A Merry Little…” and in it I clumsily try to explain why the holidays I celebrated in Iraq between 2004-2007 are my all-time favorites. In no way do I mean that I would trade them for holidays with my family, it’s just that now I have learned that there was something extra physically going on in my brain while in-theatre, and beginning to explore it has made me much more comfortable inside my own skin…and brain.

It turns out that there are several factors that go into making memories, and it is the combination of celebration as well as struggle, and the neuro-chemicals of both when combined with the electrical system in our brains that make the most powerful memories and bonds. It is explained in more detail in a book written by Chip and Dan Heath entitled, The Power Of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. You might want to put this on your wish or gift list.

We all remember things that are peak events, such as our wedding day or the births of our children. We also remember pushing through that last barrier, whether it was the end zone, the long bomb basket with no time on the clock, breaking the tape or hitting “send” as we uploaded our last assignment. What happens is that in a combat zone people are often times intensely experiencing both things at the same time, and the brain is treated to a double dose of chemicals that serve to create the “Band of Brothers.” If spouses and family members can get comfortable with the fact that their loved ones’ brains were bathed in creative juices that were designed by their Maker to help and not harm, to inspire and not isolate, then the jealousy that oftentimes hits those who “weren’t there” can be redirected in to understanding as well as building a whole new and unique set of memories. Eric Barker puts it this way:

“Anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas found that groups that went through “high-ordeals” bonded far more than those that went through “low-ordeals.” Struggling together made people closer. This is why fraternities haze. Why soldiers feel like they are kin.”

I used to feel a little crazy or guilty for wishing I could be teleported for a few hours each holiday back into the Great Sandbox, but not anymore. Now I know that my brain was doing exactly what it was designed to do by the One who loves me the most, and I am grateful to the Heath boys for telling me why. Happy Thanksgiving, and may your holidays and your brains be immersed in healing, gratitude, and true Light.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner