AMERICAN LEGION MAYFIELD KENTUCKY

The National weather service issued a Tornado warning at 9:26 pm for Graves County, Kentucky.  Within the county was the little town of Mayfield that would soon suffer a direct hit from the mammoth EF-4 wedge tornado. It destroyed their historic Main Street, killing 22 people and severely injuring hundreds more. All this taking place on an unseasonably warm late Friday evening, December 10th, 2021.

The American Legion Post 26, located in the heart of Downtown Mayfield, suffered extensive and non-repairable damage.  Built in 1923, the building housed the Legion meeting rooms on the ground floor, a basketball court and theater on the second floor and the theaters balcony on the 3rd floor. For over 90 years, this American Legion was home to generations of Veterans from WWI to Post 9/11 Veterans and their families.

In speaking with Commander Wendell Guge, 3 days after the tornado, he was still trying to get his bearings in a town where he had grown up. “I don’t recognize anything, everything is gone.” And while he had yet to process the loss of their Post’s historic building, Wendall was much more concerned for the people of Mayfield, finding the missing, and using Post resources to help feed and clothe those who had lost everything.

When standing in the Post’s 100-seat theater looking out through the open space where it once was occupied by the indoor movie screen, “The destruction was just overwhelming,” commented Commander Guge.  But then his attention turned from the material to the human destruction both in injury and loss. So many were displaced and needed immediate help. His employer, a local Ford dealership, offered their warehouse to stage supplies needed for the recovery effort and it quickly became a distribution site for the Post. Supplies poured in from near and far with at least 25 states participating and the warehouse was quickly overwhelmed with aid. Many of the sister American Legion Posts around the neighboring states also sent trailer loads of supplies.

Since the Post’s historic building is no longer safe or suitable as a meeting place, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), DAV (Disabled American Veterans), and the American Legion’s 149 members all temporarily share space at the DAV’s building. Commander Guge said, “The current Post’s building is scheduled to be leveled and the Post will not rebuild on that site.” Instead, they are planning on a new building that will be designed to better suit their needs. One of the Post’s goals is to also build efficiency apartments to temporarily house veterans and their families. “It has always been a goal of the Post’s to help provide housing, and now that just may have to become a reality soon,” Guge said.

“In the current environment, there is a lack of building raw materials, supplies, and manpower,” Commander Guge commented. The priorities for Mayfield are to repair and rebuild the homes and business lost. Therefore, rebuilding the American Legion Post is at the bottom of the priority list and he doesn’t know when they will rebuild. In all the destruction and loss, the one thing for him that did stand out was how the town came together without anyone being asked to help, they just did! Hope and the human spirit are alive and well…and Mayfield Kentucky is thankful for that!

*This story was first published in the SUMMER 2022 issue of ©AT EASE! Veterans Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

“Military Travel: Your Window on the World “

The Genera
l’s Corner—“General”-y Speaking
Brigadier General Matt Barker, Texas Air National Guard

Many Veterans will agree that the allure of exotic travel is one of the “draws” of military service (many will also agree that the expectation doesn’t always match reality).  But even if it’s only seeing a new state or being able to take leave at a unique location during a routine assignment, I’ve found military travel to be one of the most fascinating and rewarding parts of my 31 years in uniform.

My travel adventures with the Air Force began when I was a cadet sent to the now-defunct Castle Air Force Base near Modesto, California.  Base operations were interesting enough, at the time Castle trained B-52 bomber and KC-135 air refueling crews.  What was equally compelling for me was the opportunity to travel to the breathtaking Yosemite National Park during a break in training.  I’d return to California a year later (the coastal town of Lompoc) for technical training as a newly minted Lieutenant.  My father accompanied me on the epic road trip from southeast Pennsylvania south through the Carolinas before picking up I-10 for the transit through Louisiana and Texas coastal plains which gave way to central Texas prairie, then the southwest desert before dropping Dad off at Los Angeles Airport.  All along the way I was struck by the natural beauty and diverse communities of this nation I’d recently sworn to defend.

Most people have heard the phrase “join the [insert your military branch here] and see the world!”  Foreign travel has unique opportunities and challenges, but for me has been almost entirely positive.  As an aircrew member with our surveillance aircraft, I had the opportunity to spend time in Korea, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I learned a lot each place I visited (including a lot about myself…it’s very humbling to have to make your way in a place where you don’t speak the language).  The chance to experience different cultures, food, history and scenery with my crew mates made for some lasting memories.

Those who are fortunate enough to be permanently stationed overseas often recall the time fondly, as my wife and I do, having been stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for two years.  We were able to experience life in a rural village where Pam was the only American in the protestant church choir and brushed up on her German while sharing the common love of music.  The best part of being stationed so centrally was easy (and relatively inexpensive) travel opportunity to neighboring countries, as when we hopped the train to Paris for a long weekend or grabbed a cheap flight to Scotland to run the Edinburg half-marathon.  As we’ve scaled back and shut down overseas installations, I’m saddened that fewer service members will have the opportunity to expand their horizons and experience the enrichment that an overseas tour offers.

For me my most memorable overseas experiences came when I was assigned to Pope Field in North Carolina.  I was part of the Joint Staff unit that ran Mobile Training Teams for tactical data links and other equipment for our allies and partners.  Travel to Japan, Thailand, Poland, Germany, Chile and the Republic of Korea became routine as we took our important work straight to our customers.  One of the more interesting facets of these trips was they were often at a host nation’s base, off the beaten path that many Americans (even other service members) frequented.  I was informed they “toned down” the spice at the Thai mess hall for their guests from the USA.  Although many of our instructors seemed to live out of their suitcases, they established lasting friendships around the globe and wouldn’t have traded it for anything.  The confidence and resilience bred by the rigors of international travel made us all more patient, flexible, and honed a sense of humor crucial to maintaining sanity when the inevitable delays, cancellations, or lost bags blew up “Plan A” (and “B,” and “C”…).

I hope our readers’ military travel memories are more positive than negative, and that you’re able to share them as a part of your unique military story.  Our Veteran community is more diverse and worldly-wise because of these adventures and will continue to be with the generation just starting their journey in uniform.

Until next time, Stay Frosty and Hold the Line.

6 Software Solutions that Save Time and Money for Small Business Owners

As a small business owner, you already know how important it is that you make investments to help your company grow and thrive. While it can be tempting to skimp on expenses, investing in high-quality tech and software tools can save you time and money in the long run. The right tech solutions will pay for themselves!

From inventory management software that reduces costly overstocking issues to free online tools that eliminate the need to hire professionals, here are a few tech investments that will make your life easier, courtesy of Blu Dragonfly!

1. Data Security Software

Data security software is always a smart investment, regardless of the size of your business. The right data security tools will protect your business from cyber threats and data breaches, helping you avoid serious consequences like financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities. Get in touch with a data security company to help you identify cybersecurity solutions that will work best for your business!

2. Automation with AI Functions

Incorporating automation and AI into your small business operations can be a game changer. By delegating repetitive tasks and workflows to technology, you can free up time and resources for more important work. With automation + AI, you can streamline your business processes, reduce errors, and increase efficiency.

Additionally, these technologies can provide valuable insights and data analytics, helping you make informed decisions and optimize your operations. By embracing automation and AI, your small business can save valuable time and money in the long run.

3. Cloud Storage and Collaboration Tools

File storage and collaboration tools that leverage cloud infrastructure can help boost productivity and keep your team members on the same page. Cloud-based tools will allow your team members to access and share files from anywhere. These tools also typically include features like real-time collaboration and version control, which can help teams work efficiently.

By leveraging these cloud-based tools, you can reduce the need for in-person meetings and email communication. Many cloud tools also provide backup and recovery features to help businesses protect their data. If you’re working with a marketing or branding agency like Blu Dragonfly, using cloud storage can also reduce the stress of sending large files via email for review.

4. Inventory Management Software 

If you’re using manual methods to track your inventory, consider investing in inventory management software. These types of software can automate a lot of the inventory management process, from tracking inventory levels in real-time to triggering reorder alerts so you can avoid running out of stock. Inventory management software can also produce detailed reports to help you make data-driven business decisions.

5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Apps

How much time do you spend on customer service every day? According to APOLLO, business owners work an average of 50 hours per week, and a lot of this time is taken up by emails and administrative tasks such as client management and customer service. A solid CRM system will help streamline your sales and customer service process while maintaining strong relationships with your valuable customers.

CRM apps provide a central place where you can store customer information, such as contact details, purchase history, and communication history. By storing all of this information in one place, you’ll be able to provide top-notch customer service without spending so much time on back-and-forth emails.

6. Business Intelligence Software

Business intelligence (BI) software can elevate your small business by helping you analyze your business data and make more informed decisions. Tableau explains that BI software typically includes tools for collecting, storing, and analyzing data from various sources, including sales data and customer data. Essentially, BI software will turn your business’s raw data into insights that you can read and understand. This can increase your organizational efficiency, improve the customer experience, and boost your competitive advantage.

Find Software that Works for You

Investing in the right software can be a smart move for small business owners, saving you time and money as you work to grow your business. Look for software that will solve your biggest business pain points, such as CRM software to streamline customer management or free graphic design tools to save money on the creation of marketing materials. Carefully assess the needs of your business and choose tools that will help you achieve your goals!

THE EXTRAORDINARY CAPTAIN PAUL SULLIVAN

Once in a while, you have the privilege to meet someone extraordinary, even it is vicariously through the internet. As we were gearing up to publish our inaugural edition of this magazine, I was contacted by Paul & Bev Sullivan who had heard about us and Paul, a writer, offered to write a few humorous pieces chronicling some of the stories from ‘back in the day’ during his time in service as a USMC Captain.

After reading Paul’s piece, I knew I had to give him his own feature in every issue.  Not only were his stories well written, but the humor and bits of wisdom sprinkled in for good measure were exactly what this magazine needed.

So let me tell you a little bit more about Captain Sullivan…

He entered the National Guard at the age of 15, but because this was during the Korean War, they released him when they discovered he was too young to serve. At 17, he entered the Massachusetts Air National Guard and served through boot camp, at the time he was going to college he couldn’t make all the meetings, so they released him. In 1956, He entered Worcester State Teacher’s College and at the same time, the USMC Platoon Leaders’ Course in Quantico, VA.  He graduated college in 1958 with a BS in Education and was sworn into the USMC as a Second Lieutenant on the very same day.

After completing Officers’ Basic School, Capt. Sullivan was stationed in Hawaii for most of his enlistment in H Company, Second Battalion, 4th Marines, rising to the rank of Captain.  In his MOS, he frequently made trips to Taiwan to train Marines in Jungle warfare before they were sent to Vietnam. After Captain Sullivan’s active-duty discharge, he served 8 years in B Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines of the USMC Reserves and became a teacher at a Youth Detention Center, a prison for hardcore kids, and worked there for 10 years, purposing to make a difference in those kids lives.

Paul eventually moved on teaching K-8th grades for several years before he went on to Administration for the remainder of his 40 years in education, all the while he continued his own education ending with a master’s degree in administration and Supervision of K-8.

After retirement, Paul became a substitute teacher, taught religious education, volunteered with Hospice Programs and at local hospitals in their Spiritual Care Departments. He has taken up writing and has written two books. Paul is also a budding artist, gardener, and an active member of a local men’s prayer group.

Paul & his wife Beverly were introduced to the “Stars Program”. They cut the stars off of retired flags and send the remnants on to be burned in a flag ceremony and then taking the stars giving them out in a small plastic bag about 1 /1/2 ” square (to fit into a wallet) with a little saying and give them out to veterans they meet. They also developed a program attaching one of the stars to a little parchment document to give out a ceremony for Veterans in Nursing Homes. Beverly recalls one such ceremony… “We had music for each of the branches as the person’s name would be called their music would play and Paul would salute them. Most would be wheeled up in wheelchairs, but they would salute right back. At the end, after the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard & National Guard were done, one man called out “I bet you don’t have one for me, I was in the Merchant Marines, and nobody gives a damn about us.” But what he didn’t know was that we had asked the nursing home to get us the names of anyone in the Merchant Marines also. If it wasn’t for them our troops would have been in really bad shape and those guys lives were in a lot of danger doing their jobs too. Paul said to him, well, we certainly do have an award for you. I played “Heave Ho! My Lads, Heave Ho!” and when he came up to the front of the room to get his certificate, he had tears running down his face….and so did Paul as he shook the man’s hand, two brothers from different branches showing each other respect for their service.”

Paul presently serves as the Chaplain of our Local Marine Corps League Detachment, chaplain of the Caddy Detachment – the local Devil Dog Pound. He is a LIFE Member of the Marine Corps League, a LIFE Member of the Vietnam Veterans of America and a Member of the American Legion Post.

I suppose it goes without saying, but Paul has a heart of gold and continues to touch the hearts of Veterans with everything that he does.  We are so incredibly grateful to have him as part of our AT EASE! Veterans Magazine family.  Semper Fi Captain Sullivan!

*This story was first published in the WINTER 2021 issue of ©AT EASE! Veterans Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

VETERANS PRODUCE

Tucked away in an industrial park in Lewisville, Texas, of all places, is a little greenhouse. From the outside looking in, it really doesn’t seem like much, but when you walk inside, it’s tantamount to a Willy-Wonka version of produce and technology.

I had the privilege to meet with T.C. Beckett, otherwise known as “The Chief,” from his Navy days. T.C. Beckett moved to Texas in 1995. Originally, from Indiana, T.C. grew up on a farm there, so growing wholesome, organic food is important to him.

We had a chance to meet at the Greenhouse, and T.C. filled me in on the reason Veterans Produce was started.

The Back Story

Back in 2015, week after week, T.C. saw a homeless guy camped out near a plant nursery. “One November night, it was cold and wet, and I saw this guy sitting there and I wanted to see if he needed anything. Come to find out, he was a Vietnam Army Vet. It just made me mad. Just because I’m retired, doesn’t mean I stop caring for my brothers in arms. It’s just a kinship that never will die.”

This man “Tony” had been staying in a shelter, and somebody stole his money and ID. So, without that he was on the street. T.C. knew he had to do something. Building small homes was an expense that he didn’t think he could take on, but even more than shelter, the immediate need for homeless Veterans was food. At the time, there were no programs that he could find that specifically took on the challenge of meeting the needs of Veteran hunger.

There are 37,352 homeless Veterans as of February 2021 and that is only half of the number believed to be homeless.

About Veterans Produce

T.C., along with fellow Veterans Kenny Smith (USN), Jeremy Chio (USMC), and Chris Schweitzer (USAF) make up the team at Veterans Produce.

The vision and long-term goal behind Veterans Produce is to eliminate Veteran hunger due to homelessness and food insecurity by feeding them healthy, organic food and teaching them how to grow their own food.

“Veterans face many challenges; hunger should not be one of them.”

After doing some research, T.C. settled on using Aquaponics as the growing system for the greenhouse and has since transitioned most of their growing using Hydroponics.

Aquaponics & Hydroponics – How It Works

So, a quick breakdown of how Aquaponics and Hydroponics works:

Hydroponics – Plants grown without soil. Plant seeds are bedded in spun wool that allows the seedling to take root. Once the plant roots are established, they will be continuously submerged into a rich solution of nutrients and water (Nutrient Film Technique).

Aquaponics – is a hybrid of hydroponics and aquaculture. Unlike hydroponics where nutrients must be added to the water, aquaponics utilizes the same structure using live fish in a tank. The nutrient rich water produced by fish and their byproducts create the perfect source of plant food.

The plant seeds are set in a base of spun wool because it is PH neutral. The temperature is regulated through the greenhouse effect and also has a large cooling system that helps maintain the perfect 70-80 degrees needed to keep the plants thriving and healthy 365 days a year. As we moved into the hydroponic area of the greenhouse, the lettuce and strawberry plants were housed in vinyl downspout extensions, lined up in a row. To say the plants were enormous and absolutely beautiful is an understatement.

“The benefit of using water based growing hydroponically is that we use 90% less water. We can grow 800 plants with just 50 gallons of water, and they will grow 30% faster because the nutrients are constantly replenishing the roots,” T.C. said.

Not only does this system of growing save water, but it also takes just thirty days from seedling to harvest. It also produces 8-10 times more food per square foot, year-round. Even more impressive, the produce is not only organic, but it contains 46% more nutrients than what we find in our grocery stores.

Currently, Veterans Produce harvests 40 lbs. of Lettuce per month. That is approximately 160 servings of salad per month.

By years end, Veterans Produce hopes to build a second greenhouse that will be 800 square feet. This will double the amount of produce that can be grown and harvested in any given month. And that means more Veterans will be fed.

Replication

T.C. looked down on a bracelet he wears that reads “if not me, then who?” Already, they are replicating this system with other Veteran organizations. He said he is working with veteran organizations in the San Antonio and Houston areas to replicate, on a much bigger scale, what they are doing here in North Texas. In addition, he’s working with a local Veterans ranch who built a tiny home community for homeless female Vets. Not only will the greenhouse they’re building provide healthy food for the residents, but it will also give the ranch a source of income. “They will be able to sell up to 80% of their produce at local markets and restaurants. In fact, they already have a waiting list,” he said.

Nevertheless, T.C would like to see this go National. “We are looking for other Veteran organizations that want to feed other Veterans. We will teach them how to duplicate what we are doing, we’ll give them the build plans, and we’ll provide remote support and training.”

*This story was first published in the SUMMER 2021 issue of ©AT EASE! Veterans Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Brigadier General Matt Barker, Texas Air National Guard

I’d like to begin this new feature by thanking the Veterans’ Chamber for the opportunity to share some thoughts and reflections from my time in uniform, and also to thank our readers for your service or support to those who have served and their families.  Lifting up those who have sacrificed for our nation and way of life is noble work, and also very rewarding.  It brings to mind some of my earliest experiences as a young Air Force lieutenant and Base Honor Guard officer 31 years ago.

I arrived in Grand Forks North Dakota in the winter of 1992-93 and reported to the 447th Missile Squadron to begin 4 years’ duty as a Minuteman III missile launch officer.  I went out to the missile complex around six days a month for a 24 hour alert with my crew partner, and spent the rest of the month on training or administrative duties.  Additionally, I volunteered for our base Honor Guard, performing in ceremonies or funeral details all over eastern North Dakota, and as far away as Minneapolis, Minnesota (every Air Force base is responsible to support a larger geographic area to provide final honors when a veteran passes away).

Our Honor Guard was unique in that we had a saber drill team, performing fairly elaborate routines for the public and at base functions.  We trained new members with weighted wooden dowels before “graduating” them to actual swords which were flipped, thrown and spun within inches of our colleagues’ ears and noses.  I still have a small scar where I skewered myself in the side one afternoon at practice, hopefully serving as an example to the formation on the need for precision and attention to detail!

We took pride in our performances for visiting dignitaries, and put a lot of work into our routines, but we took far more pride in the solemn work of funeral duty.  As our readers know, there is a special connection between veterans that manifests itself most profoundly in the ceremony where we lay a warrior to rest.  A mistake during a base ceremony was unfortunate, but a mistake during a funeral detail was unforgivable.  The family of the departed deserved perfection on that day, and that’s exactly the standard we aimed for.  From the arrival graveside to the last notes of Taps and the presentation of our flag to the bereaved (containing in its folds three shell casings from the rifle salute), we understood that we were representing our entire service as the final impression that our brother or sister-in-arms’ loved ones might have of the military, in our case the United States Air Force.

We learned what we could about the patriot we were helping honor, but usually there wasn’t much information.  A young NCO gone too soon or a “Greatest Generation” veteran who passed after a long, prosperous life, it didn’t matter to us.  They were each heroes.  We were almost always overwhelmed by grateful family members afterwards, often inviting the team for a meal, which we politely declined.  We’d be surrounded in short order by the other veterans in these small towns, shaking our hands and relishing for those short moments the opportunity to reconnect with their own experiences and younger days in uniform.  Then it was back in the van for a couple hours’ drive back home.  Packed in tight with our rifles and other gear there was the usual good-natured ribbing and joking after the inevitable fast food stop, which would wane as the miles went by.  Those miles afforded ample time for reflection on the life we’d just honored and the connection to something larger that we’d just witnessed and reinforced.  It’s been said that the folded flag presented on behalf of a grateful nation is the heaviest weight a service member will carry in their military career.  Taking a knee and looking into a widow’s eyes in a remote graveyard on the Dakota prairie, I don’t think I’d dispute it.  I’m glad for the opportunity to share a bit, and hope you’re still finding connections to fellow vets and reflecting on the experiences that shaped you.

Until next time, Stay Frosty and Hold the Line.