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.
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!
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.
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.”
According to research, around 7% of veterans and active personnel in the US armed forces have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When it comes to dealing with PTSD, loved ones play a crucial role in helping an individual deal with symptoms and overcome challenges. If your loved one is currently suffering from PTSD, this article from the Dallas Fort Worth Veterans Chamber of Commerce explores four ways to help manage and overcome the condition.
1. Seek Mental Health Treatment
As reported by the NHS, there are two types of treatments that have shown to be effective with PTSD – therapy and medication. Common therapies used include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT allows an individual to identify and face negative thoughts in a safe environment. Through this therapy, an individual can learn how to spot patterns of negative thought and develop the ability to replace them with objective and positive thinking.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: During EMDR, the individual is asked to recall traumatic memories while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movements, or tapping your palm on an object.
In some cases, hypnotherapy has also been effective in helping veterans overcome PTSD. Also, when it comes to medicine, individuals are commonly prescribed antidepressants. The type and dosage of the medicine will vary between individuals and should be taken only after consulting with a licensed professional.
Mental health and addiction often go hand-in-hand. If you are struggling with substance abuse, look into free substance abuse treatment centers in your area. Many will be able to help you with both your addiction and mental health conditions. Look for the right facility for your specific needs to ensure you receive the best support during your transition back into civilian life.
2. Overcome Stigma of Treatment
As mentioned above, there are various types of treatment available for PTSD, however, veterans are often reluctant to use them due to the certain perceptions attached to mental health. Common perceptions include viewing therapy as a sign of weakness, being skeptical of therapies, and the fear of living a life dependent on medication.
An important aspect to consider about PTSD is the fact that it is treatable. If a loved one is showing hesitation towards meeting with mental health professionals, take the time to educate them on the effectiveness of treatments. This can include showing them testimonials of fellow veterans and the positive impact therapy has had on their life.
3. Take Steps to Re-integrate
One of the biggest challenges veterans face is re-integrating into civilian life. While in the military, veterans live a highly disciplined life, controlled by strict schedules and frequent high-pressure situations. Understandably, moving into civilian life will serve as a major lifestyle change causing stress and uncertainty. Here’s where the support of family and friends becomes paramount in the following areas:
Help with Starting Over: Becoming a civilian can almost feel like a complete reset both in personal and professional terms. This can lead to difficulties finding a new purpose or motivation to do things. During times of need, help your loved ones gain clarity of thought and provide outlets they can explore to find new interests and hobbies.
Develop Strong Personal Relationships:Create new daily routines which include your loved one. This can be as simple as eating together, watching a nighttime movie, or going for a walk. Additionally, allow them to personalize the home to their needs which can include rearranging furniture, undertaking DIY projects, and more.
Assist in Finding Employment: The process of applying and working a civilian job can seem alien to veterans. Take the time to bring them up to speed with the state of the current job market and in-demand skills. Based on their interests, assist them in finding jobs they will excel in.
Become an Entrepreneur: Vets make excellent entrepreneurs because they know how to handle pressure and can think on their feet. Help your loved one develop the confidence to pursue their business dream. Once they do, encourage them to connect the Dallas Fort Worth Veterans Chamber of Commerce for vital resources, networking opportunities, and support.
4. Seek Additional Assistance
Along with therapy, joining a support group can make a major positive impact on a veteran’s mental health. A prominent reason is that it allows veterans to be around others who can feel empathy towards what they are going through. Moreover, support groups are a great way to make new friends, receive advice from fellow veterans and learn effective ways to integrate into civilian life. While you can find social support groups in each region, here are a few prominent ones:
SSAFA – the armed forces charity
Help for Heroes
Help Support Your Loved One
Transitioning from military to civilian life can be incredibly difficult, especially if the veteran was on active duty. Their family can feel helpless to support their loved one’s needs. However, now that you have a clearer idea of the ways to help your loved one, you’ll be able to better assist them in managing PTSD and readjusting to civilian life.
We invite you to join our weekly Friday Morning Reveille meetings. As a guest we welcome you to visit us three (3) Fridays before making a decision to join our chamber. Click on the “Register Now” link to register & attend our zoom meetings.
We offer our members and guests weekly member spotlight opportunities as well as guest speakers.
7:00 am – 7:30 am- Foxhole Buddies OPTIONAL get to know you 7:30 am – 8:30 am Morning Reveille Chamber meeting 8:30 am- 8:45 am- OPTIONAL-last minute chat