Last edition I introduced you to an extraordinary man by the name of Charlie Plumb, who was in the Hanoi Hilton for six years during the same time as Senator John McCain. He came back with no discernible Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Rather, his survival journey laid the foundation for the fact that it is possible to “suffer” instead from something called Post Traumatic Growth, or PTG. As I said in the first article, my purpose is not to minimize the struggles of anyone who experiences flashbacks or the rest of the nasty travelers typically associated with PTSD; it is simply to give proof and hope that you can indeed go from coping to conquering by, as neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf says, “growing a new brain.”

I don’t believe in very many coincidences, and as I was recently shopping for some age-appropriate shorts in a thrift store in Florida, of all places, I happened to spy a book called, “I’m No Hero.” It was Charlie’s first work, published in 1973 not long after he came home from Vietnam, and I snapped it right up. It didn’t hurt that it was autographed in Charlie’s beautiful handwriting, something I am guessing he improved while in prison, and this book has become one of my treasures. I was “in love” with Charlie before, but now I am “over the moon.” Why? Because of the complex community, educational society, and support structure he and his fellow inmates were able to put in place, literally under the most tortuous of long term circumstances.

By way of background, beginning after the Korean War and during Vietnam, there was a training program developed known as SERE that was taught to those who stood to have the greatest chance of being captured. It stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, and we had to take the entry level training (without the torture, of course), when the kidnapping of contractors spiked in Iraq during 2005-2006. We also had to do re-certification until things calmed down, and the training we received was invaluable.

In the last article, the focus was on the power of faith and community as to its impact on Charlie’s high level of functionality when he returned. In this one, we’ll talk more about how they ran their micro-society.

Not surprisingly, much of their strength came from structure. The gong to awaken them would go off at 6:30am. Charlie would spend the next 30 minutes in prayer and meditation, focusing on some sketches of his bride, and asking God to make him into the husband and father that He needed Charlie to be. At 7am, Charlie would “practice the piano” for an hour. He had scratched out a total of three octaves on one of the boards of his bunk, and would work on scales and chord formations. Eventually, (and as a musician I find this most interesting,) after a few years he got to the place where he could “hear” the notes while he was playing.

At 8am, they did functional fitness exercises and running in place, with someone keeping watch so as to avoid the wrath of the guards. He says, “Our imaginary school bell rang at 9:30am.” They had no books, paper, pencils or chalkboards, yet studied history, geography, math, biology, and foreign languages. By the time Charlie was released, he could speak some French, Russian, German and Spanish.

They sang hymns when the guards were out of earshot, “took” each other to the movies at night time by describing their favorite films scene by scene, Charlie “taught” photography, and through the tap code they traded their favorite family recipes.

What was the net result? Because they had to focus so intently on everything they were doing, their brains were too occupied with the acquisition of knowledge, communicating covertly, and the building of their unique community to have as much room or capacity to store trauma effectively as victims who endure trauma in isolation. I think the lessons speak for themselves, and I am planning on continuing to “plumb the depths of Charlie Plumb.”
I hope you join me. Charlie’s book can be purchased on Amazon for a penny. I’d love to hear the thoughts that come out of that one-penny expenditure.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Retired Captain Charlie Plumb, who was shot down in Vietnam and survived the Hanoi Hilton, is a true hero, although he and almost all of his fellow “sur-thrivers,” if I may coin a term, are not at all comfortable referring to themselves that way. For six years, he was tortured, lived in an 8’x8’ cell with a bucket for a toilet, at times was nearly naked and covered in boils to the point that his eyes were swollen shut, and endured tropical heat under a tin roof. John McCain was “two doors down” from him at “the Hilton.”

One would have expected Charlie to have come home irreparably broken, but instead, he not only returned to America with absolutely no trace of PTSD, he actually has chronic symptoms of something far more powerful, known as PTG. PTG stands for Post Traumatic Growth, the medical term described first by philosopher Fredric Nietzsche, and later anecdotally by Martin Luther King when he stated, “What don’t kill ya just make ya stronger.” Far more than something that you would hear from a motivational speaker, which Charlie has gone on to become most successfully, University of North Carolina Charlotte researchers define PTG as “positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.” It is a huge departure from therapeutic thinking prior to 2001.

UNC went on to say that: “Although we coined the term posttraumatic growth, the idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new. The theme is present in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. What is reasonably new is the systematic study of this phenomenon by psychologists, social workers, counselors, and scholars in other traditions of clinical practice and scientific investigation.”

Charlie will be the first to say that as he lay in squalor, he used to pray nearly every waking moment and often in the night. He would also plan for the future, and in his mind build his career and his life. He leaned hard on the compilation of wisdom he had received over the years from his parents, teachers, preachers, Boy Scout troop leaders, mentors and coaches. He learned the “tap code,” (an alphabetic system of tapping sounds made on walls when guards weren’t near), and encouraged his fellow prisoners, which is an important part of not succumbing to victimization. As if he hadn’t gone through enough, when he got home, rather than wrap his arms around his waiting wife, he was told that she had filed for divorce three months earlier because she just “….couldn’t hang on.”

Interestingly, around 4% of our soldiers came back from Viet Nam with PTSD, as opposed to 30% of troops returning from combat today. Why is that? I think much of it comes from the belief that has invaded our culture that if something horrible has happened, you have no choice but to be permanently damaged by it. Mind you, I am not dismissing the existence of PTSD, its severity, or its complexity. I was diagnosed with it myself in the early ‘90s as a result of an assault in which I was handcuffed and one of my fingers was broken. I just know that my beliefs about it have changed, and Charlie Plumb is one of many upon whom I will cheerfully hang the blame.

If you are a vet or anyone who is struggling with PTSD, I would highly recommend that you devour everything you can on Charlie Plumb and PTG, and partner with those who won’t give up on you because they know you can literally change the landscape of your brain, and therefore, your life. Your future still awaits you, and it is not bound by your past.

Or, as Charlie would say, “”Life is a choice – a choice every day. You can become the victim or you can become the victor.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

These days there is a lot of spirited discussion with regard to immigration in general, and how to protect ourselves from ISIS. Striking a balance between liberty and security while not infringing upon the Constitutional rights of Muslims who are genuinely here in good faith because they want to be a part of the American experience is no small task. It is a “Gordian knot” that is not going to be untangled any time soon.

However, there is an Afghani woman who is seeking asylum in America that in my view is worthy of our most ardent protection. Her name is Captain Niloofar Rahmani, and she is the first female to have become a fighter pilot in the Afghani Air Force. She has fought ISIS from the air, has more than 1,000 hours of combat flight hours under her belt, and now her life as well as the lives of her family members are in danger.

Niloofar has wanted to be a pilot all her life, and ironically, it was her dad who kindled that flame. He had wanted to be a pilot, too, and for him it had never worked out. In 2013, Niloofar earned her wings, and she said that in part, her reason to do so was to honor her dad.

All was well for awhile. Captain Rahmani was hailed as a heroine in Afghanistan, and did much to inspire her countrymen, both male and female. However, the more she accomplished in the Air Force, the less safe she and her family became, and some of the pushback and threats originated within the Afghani government.

Meanwhile, as part of her training and ongoing certification, Niloofar trained in the US, mostly at bases in the South. It was during her time here in the States that she became aware that her family had had to move several times in order to dodge death threats. That was when she decided to seek asylum and retained a lawyer by the name of Kimberly Motley to help plead her case. Recently, the two of them were interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper, and Tapper has made President-elect Donald Trump aware of Niloofar’s situation. Captain Rahmani said the following: “I understand the problem with ISIS and the people who say they’re Muslim, and doing this by showing the world how bad Muslims are. Unfortunately, as a Muslim Afghan female, I always try to fight against ISIS.”

I would think that this is exactly the kind of person that we would all like to go to bat for, but that is not the case with Captain Rahmani’s commanding officer. Sadly, General Mohammad Radmanish has requested that the United States reject her request for asylum. In part, the General said that he was “sure she lied by saying she was threatened, just to win the asylum case.”

When I think about the fact that just last week an Afghani woman was stoned to death because she went to the market alone, unescorted by her husband, my money is on Captain Rahmani’s claim that she is no longer safe. And I hope that for all the reasons that make our country great, she will find refuge here, and soon.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

For the past several years, Athens Now has made a concerted effort to inform our readers of the ongoing attack on the religious freedoms of our troops. While it’s true that all of the branches of military service have been targeted, it seems that the Air Force Academy has particularly drawn the ire of those who are not interested in freedom of religion, but rather freedom from religion.
In 2014, cadets at the Air Force Academy ran into trouble with those who don’t want them to have any public display of their faith in their personal quarters, and who attempted to censor any scriptures, or in some cases, just generic inspirational sayings that they had written on their whiteboards. This was deemed “offensive,” and the cadets had to erase them.

Another example is Air Force Sergeant Phillip Monk who wouldn’t affirm same-sex marriage, and was threatened with the ruination of his career by his commanding officer.

It’s been dumb, and then it got dumber. The most recent tempest in a teapot had to do with an Academy football coach’s personal Twitter account. When Coach Steed Lobotzke posted three scriptures on his personal Twitter account, Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said they were an example of “unchecked Christian extremism” at the Air Force Academy. “Lobotzke’s official Twitter feed is filled with illicit proselytizing in the name of Jesus Christ and even includes such biblical citations juxtaposed with pictures of official football team meetings,” says Mr. Mikey. Horrors! “Unchecked Christian extremism!” But wait, there’s more!

The MRFF apparently is representing five members of the USAFA’s football staff and three members of the team in a complaint filed which states in part, that the “Twitter issue is a disgrace to the Constitution of unlawful, fundamentalist Christian supremacy.” And now, for the pièce de résistance, they claim they are filing the complaint so they can “protect the precious freedoms guaranteed by the separation of church and state in the nation’s Constitution.” It’s a really sad day when “legal counselors” claim that the phrase “separation of church and state” shows up in the Constitution of the United States.

But, just in time for Christmas, it looks like the Air Force Academy has given Coach Lobotzke a reason to sing “Joy to the World!” They actually pushed back, citing the fact that Coach was using his personal Twitter account, and in their words, declared, “Upon looking into this matter, we learned that all athletic coaches’ social media accounts are personal and not maintained by the Air Force Academy.”

Mikey’s not having it, though. His response to the Academy’s ruling cannot be printed here, and let’s just say, “he’ll be baaaaack.” I guess he wouldn’t appreciate anyone saying, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men” on Twitter, but for now, I am going to exhibit “unchecked Christian extremism” and wish all of our vets Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas. We love you and thank you for your service.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

12-2-2016-8-53-56-amMy mom tells me of how, when she was a teenager in 1937, she observed firsthand (while visiting in Berlin) the creepy sight of Hitler Youth “sieg-ing Heil” by the thousands in homage to Hitler and the Third Reich. She also said that America was still fairly isolationist prior to Pearl Harbor, and that there were actual anti-war demonstrations even after we had been attacked. History bears this out, and the odd mix of socialists, labor movement organizers, communists, pacifists and other “ists” that coalesced into campus demonstrators were, for awhile, a loud voice in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s.

However, at the same time, another voice, that of Frank Capra (who produced It’s A Wonderful Life) joined with others at the behest of the US government, and produced a 7-hour documentary entitled Why We Fight. It was produced in conjunction with Walt Disney Studios, and took footage of battles; enemy propaganda films; speeches given by Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo; captured enemy films; and numbers of interviews to educate both the American soldier as well as the American public in regard to what we were facing.

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Capra had a burning mission statement and challenge: “Let the enemy prove to our soldiers the enormity of his cause-and the justness of ours.” His statement is so brilliant I can hardly take it in, and it proves that once upon a time, if only for a moment, there was a government, a military, a people and an entertainment industry that came together and that would stop at nothing to prevent fascism from becoming the global order of the day. Would to God that were the case in 2016.

Fast forward 70+ years, and we are slitting our own throats with our pens and iPads. We can’t say there is a global jihadist threat, and we are told to redefine the attack at Ft. Hood as well as the beheading of a grandmother in Oklahoma as examples of workplace violence. We both deserved as well as planned 9/11, as insane as all that sounds. ISIS has gone so far as to tell us that the filmed beheadings of Westerners and Iraqi Christians are an act of mercy because they prove ISIS is serious, will prevail, and is kindly offering us the chance to surrender in order to decrease the shedding of blood. When there is an act of jihad perpetrated on an American college campus such as the one last week at Ohio State, broadcasters go to great lengths to minimize the fact that the attacker was fervently serving Allah.

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While I was in Iraq, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was allowed to be viewed by our soldiers if they so desired, and most of them found it laughable. A push-back film called Fahren-hype 9/11 exposed its untruths and was far more popular. But nothing has ever been produced that begins to approximate the scope of Why We Fight, and thankfully, it can still be seen.

While in Israel two years ago, I spent a good chunk of time with World Net Daily co-founder Joseph Farah, and learned of several projects that are currently being produced by WND, and about which I am excited. They have made it possible for this classic to be seen again, and I am grateful. I have no doubt it will be seven hours well spent. While I know that the vast majority of those who live in Athens need no reminder of what was accomplished for us by the Greatest Generation, we still have a responsibility to mentally arm our soldiers, our kids and ourselves with the truth of who we were and who we can become again. For under $25 you can get an education that is priceless and without peer in its forthrightness and refreshing patriotism. For more information on how to purchase the 4-DVD re-mastered version of Why We Fight, go to WNDsuperstore.com. In this day when revisionist history is the order of the day, it might just be one of the most important Christmas gifts you will ever give.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

11-18-2016-2-19-39-pmIt brings my heart great joy to know that a former Marine Lt. General by the name of Jack Bergman is going to be representing the First District of the State of Michigan in the United States Congress. He defeated a Democratic opponent who had huge and powerful backing on the national level, and just as Michigan was a battleground state for the presidency, so it was for the US House. His campaign slogan was, “If you want change in Washington, send a Marine. I’ll get the job done!” OK, that’s a great sentiment, but is it just a slogan, or can the guy deliver?

I am inclined to think that he can. General Jack commanded the largest force-level organization in the USMC, and he also started two medical equipment companies. Early in his career he flew choppers in Vietnam, and also served in Japan as well as stateside. He has 17 medals, including a Bronze Star and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross. As a Marine, he was on the business end of incompetent career politicians, and he knows firsthand what kind of damage can occur when there is leadership that does not have the interests of our troops as a top priority.

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While the election and its aftermath was one of the most tumultuous in our history, there was one thing that brought Bergman’s battle into the national spotlight. The Detroit Press reported,
“A northern Michigan state House candidate was caught stealing campaign signs from his Republican opponent and GOP 1st Congressional District candidate Jack Bergman.

Harrisville Democrat Robert Kennedy, who is running for state House District 106 in Alcona County, apologized Monday for taking the signs. He said he took them because they were too close to the highway.

A local resident caught Kennedy taking the signs supporting Bergman and his Republican opponent Sue Allor, who is also a friend of Kennedy’s, according to a Presque Isle Sheriff’s Department report filed about the incident. The witness took photos and reported the incident to the police, according to the report.

“I apologize for my actions over the weekend in removing two political yard signs that did not belong to me,” Kennedy said, reading a prepared statement on the telephone. “They were placed too close to the U.S. 23 Highway. “But it is not my role to remove them. And for taking on that role, I am sorry. Before the police contacted me I had returned the sign to my opponent.”
In his report, the Sheriff said that Kennedy “didn’t seem to have an explanation” about why he removed the Bergman sign. At the end of the day, Bergman garnered 55% of the vote, and I can only guess that it actually helped that he had experienced what has come to be referred to as “sign warfare.”

Why is being a Marine important when it comes to facing down Washington? Well, Alabama State Senator Bill Holtzclaw, who is also a retired Marine, explained it to me recently at a Coffee Call when he said, “I am not a good politician. I am a Marine, and I don’t compromise.” If General Jack is of the same ilk, I think Michigan might just be able to begin to dig out from the load of stuff under which they have been buried. And, I think it goes without saying that our troops will have someone who is truly in their corner.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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11-4-2016-9-00-45-amSince my time in Iraq, I have come to the conclusion that all things being equal, if you have two candidates running for the same office, and one has been in combat, I will choose the one that has literally been battle tested. Add to that category a candidate that served as a field bomb disposal tech who left two legs and an index finger in Afghanistan, and I think you just may have someone who is more than ready to go duke it out in Washington, even if he has no political experience.

Such seems to be the case with Brian Mast, a husband, father, 12-year Army veteran double-amputee, and a Harvard graduate who is openly Christian. He is running for the seat that was vacated when Allen West lost to Democrat Patrick Murphy. By any definition, Brian Mast is a hero, and these days, we could use one.

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Brian began to plan his Harvard educational career with the purpose of running for political office even before he was fitted with prosthetics, and he graduated with honors this past spring. He tells of something that to him was unashamedly providential that occurred while he was still bed-ridden, and had not yet seen his family. He had a childhood friend that he had not seen since graduation, and he woke up to see his friend, a member of the hospital staff, leaning over him. Needless to say, the reunion took on far more meaning than, “Hey, we should get together sometime.” His friend became integral in Brian’s recovery, was a link to the family, and had Brian’s wife send him a picture taken while Brian still had two legs. The friend had the photo enlarged, and taped it on the end of Brian’s bed where his legs would have blocked the view if they hadn’t been blown off. The boys had a vision, and they were not about to be deterred.

It was a long hard battle, both the physical therapy as well as attending Harvard, and with the characteristic humility of Special Forces soldiers, Brian says, “I got off easy. All I lost was my legs and my index finger.” He entered Harvard’s Extension program, which also had a residency requirement, and the hills of Boston were tough. He found that all the discipline he learned in the Special Forces, especially in dealing with explosives, helped him get through. His major was economics, something that might have a novel level of usefulness if makes it to the Beltway.

His opponent’s biggest objection is that Brian shows his artificial legs off too much, and has no experience. I’m sorry, but the guy is from Florida, and cargo shorts are simply what you wear, whether your legs are titanium or flesh. As far as the lack of political experience is concerned, can you say, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington?

However, what I find the most interesting is that Brian Mast was essentially portrayed by Harvard as their Golden Boy. Now, Harvard is not exactly well known for being soldier friendly, but they just don’t seem to be able to help themselves when it comes to Brian Mast. Here’s what they have to say:

“Much like a Boy Scout with his Midwest manners, he’ll often volunteer directions and point out sites on campus to visitors. Mitt Romney went to that business school. Henry David Thoreau spent his freshman year in that hall.”

I think what gets me the most about this guy is that he has a strong sense of the need to hand off an honorable legacy for his children. Forget the political career, he wants to be a good husband and dad.

“I’m setting an example for my kids by saying you know what, I finished my degree at Harvard University,” says Brian. “Not only did I finish my degree there, but to some degree I hope that I’m teaching you that it’s never too late to redefine yourself.”

In the most brutally trashy election season ever, this soldier has given me hope, and if you want to help him “go to Washington,” his website is brianmastforcongress.com.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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10-21-2016-2-08-18-pmOne of my favorite memories from my time in Iraq was when the American people would “take the time and spend the dime” to send care packages to soldiers, especially around the holidays. It was my great pleasure to dispense them, and I will never forget the gratitude of our Joes and Janes when something special had been sent from home, even if it was from a stranger.

It seems as though we have been at war for so long that we have forgotten we are at war. Yes, it’s been 15 years, and while we no longer are being subjected to daily casualty reports or hand wringing on the part of those who never did seem to be “in it to win it,” we cannot allow ourselves to forget those who are fighting for us in the Great Sandbox, whether we agree with them still being there or not. While there are a number of wonderful organizations who have never let their commitment to our troops waver, one that I think does an outstanding job is Operation Gratitude. At the time we went to press, Operation Gratitude had sent 1, 616,557 packages to our troops, and have a whole new campaign to hit the 2,000,000 mark.

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Here are some of the letters of gratitude received by Operation Gratitude. As one who has only begun to understand the power of gratitude, I can say from experience that there is nothing like being thanked by ones to whom I myself owe an un-payable debt of gratitude. It is marvelous and, yes, even mystical.

I am currently deployed over seas and received an unexpected gift made by you.
The handmade scarf will definitely come in handy as we roll into the cooler
temperatures. I am very grateful for the time you took to create this
beautiful gift and to ensure we have a piece of home to help get us through
the days. Every time I wear the scarf, I will definitely think of you.
Humbly honored,
V/r,
D.N.B. , SMSgt, USAF

Operation Gratitude,
I really appreciate the care package you all sent as well as everyone else in my division. We are all wearing the scarves and hats. It’s pretty awesome that each one was hand knit and knowing it took people a lot of time and effort to finish. The beanie babies are also a big hit here. Some people have them on their shoulder while walking around, haha. I haven’t been in the service very long but I feel very proud to be here and serving for our country. Each letter gave me a smile. I wonder why we didn’t do things like this when I was younger as well.
Thank you to everyone once again.

ITSN J.

And here is one that nailed it:

Hello Operation Gratitude,
From all of us here in **** , we would like to sincerely thank you for the generous care packages! It was a great boost to our morale, and everyone is enjoying the snacks and comforts you’ve given us. It is always great to know there’s folks thinking of us. Thank you again, and we hope to pay it forward in the future as well.
Sincerely,
Dave, Christopher, Paul, David, Jerame, Walter, Ryan, Jonathan, Kevin, Michael, Rob and Matthew

Are you getting this? These guys who are already paying dearly for our freedom want to “pay it forward!” If you want to get in on the givin’, then go to www.operationgratitude.com, and help them hit the 2,000,000 mark. You need to get a move on, though, because in order for packages to arrive in time, they need to be assembled by the end of this month. You will be forever glad that you did, and so will they.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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10-7-2016-11-22-55-amJoint Base Lewis McChord near Seattle, Washington, recently did something that made me want to cheer: they awarded two former Vietnam vets the Silver Stars that should have been given them 47 years ago. I am convinced that the wait made the honor that much sweeter, especially seeing what a similar situation dated from WWII did for our own local hero, Theo Calvin, shortly before he died. Theo and four others were awarded the French Legion of Honor medal in 2013. Indeed, Theo went out on a high note.

The two Silver Star recipients are named Rick Adler and Gary Birka. They were infantrymen in a unit that was nicknamed the Jungle Warriors, part of the Seventh ID. In August of 1969, they were ambushed and wounded. They continued to help other wounded brothers despite the fact that they needed medical care, too. While credited with saving lives, Adler is quick to say that “Everyone saved lives that day.”

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No one knows if the application for their awards was misplaced, or what exactly happened, and for decades, they were truly what is known as unsung heroes. However, their commanding officer, Tom Pearson, once he was made aware of what had happened, got right to work to rectify the situation.

Birka said something that made me cringe as well as celebrate the grace I don’t deserve and received decades ago. What makes his statement even more challenging is the understated way in which he talked about the fact that vets returning from Vietnam “were not treated well.” He was correctly talking about the person I used to be. I was one who, if I had been at what was known back then only as Fort Lewis in 1970, would not have “treated them well.”

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The war in Vietnam began 50 years ago, and for the rest of my life I will be thanking those who fought in it. They deserve special thanks for putting up with people like me. A few months ago I had the chance to repent to Lt. Jim Campbell, a ‘Nam vet who went on to be an executive in the Ralston Purina Company, and who now supports his highly successful wife Wendy in her Juice Plus business. We were at a national Juice Plus conference, and he was putting away audio visual equipment after one of his wife’s presentations. I squatted down near him as he coiled up cables, explained who I had been, and asked him to forgive me. I later gave him a copy of my book, A Ballad For Baghdad: An Ex-Hippie Chick Vietnam War Protestor’s Three Years in Iraq. He teared up, as did I, and told me that no one had ever done that before. I would to God that I am given the same opportunity with Adler and Birka.

When the men were awarded their Stars at a special ceremony, Birka said, “It kind of feels good.” Adler said, “It’s amazing.” He then added, “If it meant waiting 47 years, one month, and one day for that to happen, then I’m OK with that.”

So am I, gentlemen, so am I. May your Stars shine even more brightly with age.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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9-16-2016-9-07-11-amI will be glad when the day comes that I can joyfully report that the religious freedoms of our military men and women have been fully restored, and are no longer in danger. Sometimes I feel like it is somehow the reverse equivalent of “crying wolf,” when column after of the All Things Soldier column is dedicated to sounding the alarm. At the end of the day, though, I would rather be remembered as someone who would not relent, rather than someone who remained silent.

In yet another attack on our officers’ right to express themselves in prayer, and that in a time-honored tradition, we are kicking off the football season at West Point with Lucy tormenting Charlie Brown, as she does every year.

Here is what happened. West Point has not had a stellar football season for a very long time, in fact, since 2010. On September, the Black Knights of West Point won against the Temple University Owls with a score of 28- 13. They were ecstatic, and their coach, Jeff Moken, asked one of the other coaches to briefly lead the team in a prayer of thanksgiving. Lord knows there are a lot of those types of prayers that are launched heavenward here in Alabama the Beautiful every weekend in the fall, and for most of us, that is as it should be. All was well up North, or so it seemed, and someone filmed it and posted it on the ubiquitous Facebook.

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Well, wouldn’t you know, someone complained, the result being that the original Facebook posting was removed, and then re-posted, with the brief sequence catching the group prayer having been edited out. Please remember that Temple University, the alma mater of Bill Cosby and Mark Levin, was started in 1888 by a Baptist minister, and I would imagine that on that campus they are fairly used to praying voluntary prayer. I hope the complainant was not from Temple, but these days, you never know.

In an unfortunate demonstration of spinelessness, the West Point Commandant, Lt. General Robert L. Caslen said that while 90% supported the prayer, “…there were some concerns, and I think they’re valid concerns.” Concerns? I’ll tell you what concerns me. We all know that the chances that God actually moved in favor of one team or another on the football field are probably pretty slim, but it never hurts to thank Him anyway. The problem is that our soldiers go into way more dangerous situations than a football stadium, and if you make their heartfelt spiritual expression of gratitude into a problem, you are going to, at the least, dent their armor and shield, and at the worst, strip it right off of them. Football players pray and celebrate, they always have. Soldiers pray and celebrate, they always have. Football soldiers who are training to be our nation’s finest officers pray and celebrate, they always have. For God’s sake, and I do mean that literally and unashamedly, leave them alone!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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