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Posts Tagged ‘military’

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall to the left reflects the trees that surround the memorial. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Not even 15 minutes after the sun crested the horizon this past Saturday morning, 20 members of the Montgomery County Chapter 641 of the Vietnam Veterans of America grabbed buckets and brushes and walked down the stone pathway toward one of the most iconic memorials in the United States: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It started out I guess between 14 and 16 years ago,” Art Wong, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, told me.  I later discovered that it’s actually been 17 years since he and Mike Najarian, both of  Silver Spring, MD, started making the early morning pilgrimage on the first Saturday of every month between April and October to wash away the grime and dirt that builds up on the 58,261 names engraved on the black granite memorial.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

“The Wall,” as it is often referred to, consists of nearly 500 feet of black granite from Bangalore, India.  Carved out of the shadowy stone are the names of all military men, and eight military women, who lost their lives (or went missing) as a direct result of military wounds suffered during the Vietnam war.  The sheer volume of names is breathtaking.  An emotional place for many Americans, it is a place that I encourage everyone who comes to DC to visit and pay their respects.

Art was the first person I spoke to when I arrived.  He was kind enough to take a few minutes and let me interview him.  Click below to hear Art’s story as well as see the washing of the wall in the background.

“Wait a minute, don’t wash that section just yet,” Bill Gray, a silver star recipient, said as we washed the grime out of the crevices of the fallen soldiers’ names.  He pulled out a small camera and took a photograph of the name of a guy he served with.  “You can see a perfect handprint touching his name,” he said as he steadied his camera and captured what a loved one had left behind.  He paused and turned to me, “I’ve got six buddies up here.”

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Soap suds slide down some of the 58,261 names that live on the wall. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The sound of brushes scrubbing back and forth, water hammering against the dark granite and conversations soft enough to be held in church were the only sounds.  The reflection of the mirror-like wall overflows into my mind and I find myself reflecting on those who lost their lives half a century ago.  How old were they?  Where were they from?  How sad their parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends must have been when they heard the news?  How many dreams were washed away as quickly as the soapy water that ran down over the names in front of me?

What impressed me the most about these men, and yes they were all men with the exception of my friend Patricia who also pulled herself out of bed at 0’dark thirty to come volunteer, was how friendly they were.  As we wrapped up our work a few early rising tourists made their way to the memorial.  There was no shortage of hellos, good mornings and respectful nods showering the visitors.

A pair of combat boots pinned with the Purple Heart sits in front of The Wall. (photo: SC Fiasco)

Although it was never spoken, it was clear that this monthly ritual was somehow comforting for the men.  Old friends, both present and in spirit, come together each month to pay their respects and share memories, laughter and tears.  Part of a poem written by Guy L. Jones, 43d Signal Battalion, Pleik Oct. 1968 – Nov. 1969, helps explain this:

A visit to the “THE WALL” will be many things to many people
But to me it has healed my soul
And made me feel proud to have been there.

I will be back on October 16th to lead a group of volunteers in cleaning the Korean Memorial.  If you would like to help out, drop me an email.

UPDATE: I found this MSNBC story about the men mentioned in this blog post…enjoy!

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Melinda met Nick while he panhandled at an exit ramp. (photo: Melinda T.)

Today I met a man named Nick.  Nick was standing near the exit ramp.  I felt drawn to give the $10 to him so I parked nearby and walked across the way.

Nick has been on and off the streets for a year now.  Nick was extremely skeptical to speak with me at first because he thought I was with the police and quickly pulled out his panhandlers permit to show it to me.  Perhaps I was just as skeptical as this was the first time I had ever approached a person standing on the streets panhandling.  I assured him I wasn’t with the police and he accepted that and then shared his life with me.

At the beginning of the video you see a quick shot of an ID.  This is Nicks ID showing that he is homeless, I never knew there was such an ID available.  He shared with me the views of inside the homeless shelter where he has spent a few nights and said the conditions there are awful and not a place for anyone to be but it keeps him out of the elements.  He invited me to take a visit with him to the homeless shelter however I declined that offer.

Nick said today was his first day out on the streets and he was there trying to collect money so he could purchase Christmas gifts for his children.  He was addicted to pain pills at one point and his life had went downhill since then.  He’s currently not addicted to anything and is trying to get his life back on track by getting a job so he can pay for a place to live and not have to sleep at the homeless shelter or jump from home to home sleeping on people’s couches.

I would have liked to speak with Nick a bit longer but the temperatures today were extremely cold and the wind we were encountering didn’t help.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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Railroad tracks run through picturesque downtown Manassas (photo: Reed)

I’ve enjoyed taking care of my friends’ dog Sweetie.  She really likes going for walks.

While in Manassas I thought I would go and relax a little at a local coffee shop so I looked online for a good place and found some good reviews for a place called Jess Presso.  It was over off of Liberia Ave. and I looked all over for it but couldn’t find it.  I double checked the address and found that there was another business operating where it used to be.  There was a Starbucks in the same plaza so I thought that I would head over there and maybe do a little writing or see who I would find there to give my $10 to.

Starbucks on Liberia Ave. where I met Joshua (photo: Reed)

As I waited for my dopio espresso, the perky cashier explained to me that the place I was looking for had closed.  “It wasn’t that good actually in my opinion – my friend worked there,” she said.  Well, at least I didn’t miss anything.  I got my espresso, added a packet of Splenda and stirred the murky water while I scanned the shop.  There was a guy sitting in a comfy chair working on his computer who caught my eye. 

Originally from Oklahoma, Joshua moved here two weeks ago after spending the last three years living with his wife at the home of his in-laws in Hawaii. 

Joshua spent nine years in the navy as a submarine sonar technician before leaving the military back in May.  Then he spent two months combing the internet for a job.  Being out of work for an extended time will “make your eyes bleed,” Joshua states shaking his head.  He is thankful for the job opportunity he received despite having to leave his wife in Hawaii for a while.  Pregnant with their first child, they decided that she would stay back in Hawaii with her family until after the arrival of the baby in January. 

Joshua doesn't have internet access at his apartment yet, so he often visits Starbucks to connect. (photo: Reed)

From politics to foreign cultures to immigration laws to the economy; we talked for nearly two hours.  He told me that before joining the navy he worked for a small lending company in Oklahoma.  He used to go in person to do the collections and had so many sad stories of people getting into situations that they were unable to easily get themselves out of.  He says that he felt bad for many of the people that he had to go and pressure to make payments.  He says that they weren’t like the aggressive maniacs you see on TV, but their goal was to recover the borrowed money.  “I definitely learned one thing; never co-sign anything unless you’re prepared to be solely responsible for it.” 

Despite being submerged for up to 45 days at a time sometimes, he said that he really enjoyed his time in the navy.  “A difficult part that a lot of guys don’t know before they enlist is that even when they are at port they have to “stand duty” one out of every four nights.”  That means staying aboard the ship away from family and standing guard.  As he and his wife start their own family they felt that a civilian life would allow them to spend more time together.

Joshua is living in an apartment for the time being but hopes to purchase a house.  On this clip he talks to me a little bit about the importance of home ownership in the US and how cultural backgrounds play a big role in shaping our views of what type of living arrangements we choose.

When I asked him what he was going to do with the $10 he replied that he was going to “get some stuff for the apartment.”  He smiled and said, “Today I bought a microwave, but that is about all I got, well that and an inflatable bed and two camping chairs, but that’s it.”

After almost two hours of talking I realized I completely hijacked his time there and we both packed up and left – I think Starbucks was closing anyway.  As we got to our cars, I thanked him for his service to our country and for the enjoyable conversation that evening and said “Goodbye.”

UPDATE Aug. 23, 2010: I got an email from Joshua today letting me know that the $10 went toward a futon which is already being used by a friend from his Navy training days who is visiting!

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Before I introduce you to Andrew, I have two updates.  The first one is a big one.  After 285 days of unemployment I have accepted a position with the World Wildlife Fund and will begin next week!  Don’t worry though, the Year of Giving will continue!  Perhaps this will give me a new perspective on giving.  Thanks to so many of you who have given me encouragement throughout the past 9 months.

The other update is that I delivered some items for Phillip from Day 75.  Click here to see him receiving some of the items that you have sent!

Day 191 was one of the days that I was struggling with my dying laptop.  I had been over at my brother and his wife’s house all day trying to rescue it.  It was nearing the midnight hour and I rushed out of the house in pursuit of a recipient.

Andrew (Photo: Reed)

I saw a man walking along North Lynn Street in Arlington and stopped to see if he would accept my $10.  I tried hard to convince him to participate, but he stuck to his guns and said he didn’t want to “get involved.”  Strike one.  Back in my car and across the Key Bridge into DC.  I headed over to the “Social Safeway” on Wisconsin Avenue where I found Andrew studying the contact lense solution at 11:40pm.  The 22-year-old is in DC for the summer doing an internship for his master’s degree program in international affairs at Georgia Tech.  I asked him if he always does his shopping around midnight.  “No, I just happened to have time now,” he responded.  

When Andrew is not studying and working he is training for his first marathon.  I have never had a desire to run a marathon.  I could see trying to do a 10-miler, but I have no interest whatsoever in running 26 miles!

The grandson of Eastern European immigrants, he has lived abroad in Bulgaria for four months.  He talks about his grandmother fondly.  “She is 86 and still going strong!”  Maybe his grandmother and his time in Bulgaria

Photo: Reed

have fueled his interest to get grant money to go to the Black Sea region and study the relationship between highly bureaucratic governments and the degree of development that has occurred within the country.  If you can offer any suggestions on how Andrew can secure grant funding for this specific project, please leave a comment here.    

“So what are you going to do with the $10,” I ask.  He says that he will put it toward an outing with his “Little.”  That’s right.  Somehow Andrew finds time to be a Big Brother to a six-year-old in Atlanta.  “I feel that the best way to help those who are disadvantaged is to volunteer my time and be a positive role model for them.”  I couldn’t agree more.  “Somehow you got to break the cycle,” he concludes.

Andrew (Photo: Reed)

At the end of our conversation, I learn that Andrew will be joining the Air Force upon his graduation from grad school.  “I just got my bars pinned on,” he tells me.  With his international interest I am not surprised when he tells me that he plans to serve in the Intelligence Division.  I am sure he will go far.  Thanks in advance for your service to our country.

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Ok, I am back.  I was out of commission for about 36 hours with a stomach flu.  I am not 100% yet, but feel much better.  I look forward to getting the blog up to date!

What would you sacrifice for others?  What would you put your body through physically to help someone else out…to help people that you don’t even know?  

On Saturday my friend Surjeet and I were walking through Dupont Circle and saw some guys doing what looked to be push-ups.  I remember saying something like, “They aren’t even doing the push-ups right…they are doing them like girls.”  What I saw were four people doing some type of modified push-up…then rising to their feet and doing something like a jumping-jack.  

Manni enjoys a light moment (photo: Reed)

Manni gives his arms and legs a break (photo: Reed)

We went over to investigate.  As it turns out they were doing a challenge to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit charged with honoring and empowering severely injured service men and women.  The four men had taken a challenge to do 3,000 “burpees.” 

They were at around 2,000 when I arrived.  Manni was in the lead.  He took time out of his painful commitment to speak with me.  The last part of the video I recorded about an hour after the first segment.  Manni’s condition in the latter segment has visibly deteriorated.  He was nonresponsive to questions from me and others at that point…just focused on finishing.  

Manni finished all 3,000 burpees in 8hrs 5min.  He later said to me in an email, “It was absolutely the hardest money I ever worked for, and I didn’t get to keep any of it!”

Thanks to all those who participated in the Wounded Warrior Project challenge and to those who generously donated.  Manni is the real deal…he is a guy that you want on your team.  Thanks Manni for your sacrifice on Saturday and for your service to our country.

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Last Wednesday was absolutely beautiful here in DC.  I found Nicole relaxing in her military uniform on a park bench.

Nicole is an active duty officer in the United States Army.  A product of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) program, Nicole is an Army nurse stationed at a nearby medical center.  The soon to be First Lieutenant said that she chose a career in the military to “travel and see the world.”  I chuckled a little bit when she said that because I swear I recall a commercial for the army that said exactly that.

Photo: Reed

Nicole was waiting to meet up with someone that she found on Craigslist who was selling some tickets to the Nationals vs. Brewers baseball game on Saturday.  The Wisconsin native not only used the free online marketplace to find baseball tickets, but also found her apartment on Craigslist.  

Nicole’s phone rang and the man selling her the tickets, Don, informed her that he had arrived with the tickets.  She walked over to meet him and I followed her over hoping to still ask her a few more questions (I’m persistent).  Don, who had also served in the military, was unable to go to Saturday’s baseball game because he had tickets to game 2 of the Capitals playoff series with the Montreal Canadiens. 

Nicole paid Don and he handed over the tickets and then gave her $20 and said, “The first beers are on me.  Enjoy the game!”  I thought that was a really nice gesture.  I told Don about my kindness project and gave him my card.

He left and Nicole and I spoke for a few more minutes.  I was interested in her own giving habits and how those ideas were formed.  Like me, she suspected that her values on giving were probably shaped by her parents.  Given her current financial situation, she is limited in how much she can donate to organizations, however, sometimes she gives money to people she encounters on the streets of DC.  “It’s more of a spontaneous decision,” she tells me as she explains why she gives.  Coincidentally while we were talking a woman walked by asking for money and we both refused to give to her.

Nicole plans to use the $10 to buy some food at the ball game.  I asked her if there was anything that she needed help with that I could post on the Lend a Hand page.  She thought for a minute and said that she needed someone to buy her fish tank.  “It’s a 10 gallon fish tank in good shape.  I just want to get a bigger one.  It comes with the stand, pump, heater, some rocks, and plants.”  If you are in the DC Metro Area and are interested in a fish tank, drop me a note and I’ll connect you with Nicole.

We walked toward the metro where we said goodbye to one another and she thanked me.  I nodded and thanked her for her military service.

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Last Wednesday I met a friend for lunch out near the Ballston Metro stop in Virginia.  After lunch I saw Ivory sitting on a bench in front of a large office complex.  His story is one that really touched me. 

The 26-year-old Dallas, TX native now lives in Virginia and is an Iraq veteran.  Ivory’s story is all too common unfortunately.  A man or woman goes into the military and comes out a different person.  Ivory joined the Army in April of 2004.  After returning from serving in Iraq from 2005-2006 his life took a dark turn.  He was discharged from the military in 2008, however he was no longer the role model sergeant with letters of recommendation that he once was.     

Ivory sat down with me and opened up and shared how he has coped with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It’s hard to watch this video and not feel compassionate for Ivory and the thousands of other soldiers in similar situations.

Ivory currently is working temp jobs and helping a friend launch Capital Custom, a custom apparel shop.

He seems like a really good guy who has got his act together again.  Ivory openly admits that he is still taking it one day at a time and trying to get his life back on track.  If there is anyone out there that has went through a similar situation and has some advice for him, I can put you in touch with Ivory or you can leave a comment here.  

Stay strong Ivory.  Please know that I, and millions of other Americans, have the greatest amount of respect for you and the other men and women serving in our armed forces.  Thank you for your service.

UPDATE (April 7, 2010)

I received the following email from Ivory today.

To give you an update on the $10. I decided to give $5 to a church I went to on Easter and am waiting to give the other $5 to someone I’m led to that might really need it.

Also, an update on the job situation. They decided to bring me back for this week. I also got a call from another job opportunity, in which I have an interview next Monday.

How are your ventures going? I’m pretty sure you’ve met some more interested people. Hope to hear from you soon.

Ivory

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