Post-9/11 veteran writes names of more than 2,000 fallen soldiers from memory

By Anthony Cave, News21

Ron White writes out a name of a fallen soldier from the Afghanistan war on a 50-foot memorial wall at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on May 27, 2013. (Photo by Anthony Cave, News21)

Ron White writes out a name of a fallen soldier from the Afghanistan war on a 50-foot memorial wall at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on May 27, 2013. (Photo by Anthony Cave, News21)

Navy veteran Ron White can remember 7,000 consecutive words. But he still forgets everyday items, like the blender to make his morning protein shake.

“I have a very average memory, but when I use this system, it’s extraordinary,” he said.

White, a memory expert, took a seminar when he was 18 years old. For more than 22 years, he has used the loci technique, which associates names with everyday objects and locations — his stove or the inside of a bookstore — to remember large quantities of information. White teaches a memory class and even has a set of instructional CDs.

Beyond using it on school exams or to win memory competitions, he took on a far greater challenge in May 2012.

White, who served in Afghanistan in 2007, started memorizing every fallen soldier from the Afghanistan war, more than 2,200 names.

White traveled across the globe, from Africa to Boston, with a black folder that contained pages of the fallen soldiers to memorize.

“I kind of feel like I’m taking these guys with me,” he said.

At Chase Field in Phoenix on Memorial Day, White wrote the names, one-by-one, on a blank, 50-foot memorial wall. It took him 10 hours. White’s purpose is for people to remember the soldiers. His efforts help raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Still, emotions run high when writing the names. Sometimes, family members stand and watch him.

Post-9/11 veteran Ron White wrote out more than 2200 names of fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan war on Memorial Day at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on May 27, 2013. (Photo by Anthony Cave, News21)

Post-9/11 veteran Ron White wrote out more than 2200 names of fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan war on Memorial Day at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on May 27, 2013. (Photo by Anthony Cave, News21)

“When you’re getting ready to write their name and they’ve waited an hour to see you write their son or daughter’s name, the emotions well up,” White said. “I just got to remind myself ‘stay focused on this moment.’”

Grandfather, grandson bond in service to troops

By Asha Anchan, News21

Connor Love stands by the graveside of Army Cpl. Jeremiah W. Robinson in Mariposa Gardens Memorial Park in Mesa, Ariz. Love frequents the memorial garden to honor fallen soldiers and make sure Robinson's gravesite is kept clean.(Photo by Asha Anchan, News21)

Connor Love stands by the graveside of Army Cpl. Jeremiah W. Robinson in Mariposa Gardens Memorial Park in Mesa, Ariz. Love frequents the memorial garden to honor fallen soldiers and make sure Robinson’s gravesite is kept clean. (Photo by Asha Anchan, News21)

Howard Love calls his 9-year-old grandson the most patriotic youngster he knows. Connor Love, wearing his Army hat and camo Vans, just listens.

Five years ago, he and his grandpa were sipping their weekly coffee at Starbucks – Connor takes his with milk and a few drops of coffee – when the boy pointed across the street and asked his grandfather what the flags and flowers meant.

He took Connor to Mariposa Gardens Memorial Park in Mesa, Ariz., where the two happened upon the grave of Army Cpl. Jeremiah W. Robinson, a Mesa native who was killed by an improvised explosive device in late 2005.

Connor noticed that the gravesite wasn’t very well kept. He didn’t know Robinson, but he straightened the flag and cleaned the graveside bench.

Now Connor is a regular at Mariposa Gardens; nearly every Saturday he says, “Let’s go check his flag.”

Howard Love proudly talks about his 9-year-old grandson's patriotism. The two of them send care packages to the troops every two weeks.  (Photo by Asha Anchan, News21)

Howard Love proudly talks about his 9-year-old grandson’s patriotism. The two of them send care packages to the troops every two weeks. (Photo by Asha Anchan, News21)

He and his grandfather do good deeds to honor the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard Love supports 11 troops in Iraqi and Afghan combat zones by sending bi-weekly packages that include items such as socks and snacks.

Last year Love spent $13,000 collecting items and shipping them to the troops. It’s an investment, he said, and he’s proud of his grandson for being so invested as well.

Love calls Connor an “old soul” – quiet, collected and mature for his age.

Sometimes when they’re in the car and the words Iraq or Afghanistan make it into a newscast, Connor pipes in, “Did we lose anyone?”

“People don’t really think he understands what he’s doing, but I think he understands more than people give him credit for,” Love said. “He knows there’s a war, and he knows there’s guys that go and don’t come back.”

Native Americans honor Memorial Day

By Bonnie Campo, News21

The Memorial Day homage paid by Native Americans gave honor and appreciation a distinctly different sound.

Thunder Springs, the Hopi drum group comprising Lamar Barehand, Lamon Barehand, Budge Mahle and Nate Barehand offer their tribute to Native American veterans in a Memorial Day event at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

Native American veterans honor Memorial Day from News21 on Vimeo.

Remembering those who served

By Kelsey Hightower, News21

One hundred flags lined Mariposa Gardens Memorial Park in Mesa, Ariz., to honor those who have served and are serving in the military. Friends and family gathered inside the cemetery chapel to hear a minister’s comforting words about the fallen. The service concluded with those in attendance joining to sing songs. Boy Scouts led the crowd to place a memorial wreath at the military columbarium and release doves.

Mesa Hightower New from News21 on Vimeo.

Arizona fund aids more military families, veterans each year

By Chase Cook, News21

A growing number of veterans, active duty service members and their families are asking the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services for help in making ends meet.
These are families whose chief providers are soldiers or veterans who were affected or left debilitated by combat.

In one instance the department paid to build a ramp for a disabled soldier. In April a soldier committed suicide; the department gave his family money for six months of help to pay bills.

The relief fund committee approved four awards totaling $14,722 in 2008, the first year of the program. Last year the committee approved 165 awards for $510,318.63. Overall, families have received about $1.36 million, according to Arizona Veterans’ Services. In May, at the monthly meeting, the Arizona Military Family Relief Fund committee considered six applications and approved three.

Those eligible include Arizona active-duty soldiers and veterans who served in combat after 9/11 and their families. They must have claimed Arizona as home when they entered military service, deployed with the Arizona National Guard or deployed from an Arizona military installation, according to Arizona Veterans’ Services.

The increase in applicants is mostly from changes to the relief fund’s qualifying criteria, which originally considered awards for soldiers or veterans who were physically injured or families of soldiers killed in combat, committee chairman and retired Air Force Col. Randy Meyer said.

“We are the stewards of this program,” Meyer said. “We have to do it right the first time.”

Meeting minimum qualification, however, doesn’t mean approval. The committee discusses every application, which features personal finance information and third-party verification of combat involvement and injuries. The committee then debates whether to support the application.

The three applications tabled or denied at the May 21 meeting in Phoenix were fraught with questions about debit card use, ATM withdrawals at casinos and the applicant’s inability to prove that hardship was combat related.

The committee is judicious with the money it gives out, and even with the program’s growth, Meyer said there isn’t an issue of applicants going without. All the money comes from private donors who receive state tax credits up to $400 for couples and $200 for singles. The Arizona Legislature sets a $1 million annual cap on tax credits for the program.

From ‘reverent’ cemeteries to Crossfit gyms, 21-Gun Salutes

By Daniel Moore and Riley Johnson

Veterans and deceased service members are honored at a Memorial Day event at the Valley of the Sun Mortuary and Cemetary in Chandler, Ariz. (Photo by Mauro Whiteman, News21)

Veterans and deceased service members are honored at a Memorial Day event at the Valley of the Sun Mortuary and Cemetary in Chandler, Ariz. (Photo by Mauro Whiteman, News21)

Leather-clad veterans sat atop roaring Harley Davidsons in the Valley of the Sun Cemetery Monday. The American Legion Riders straddled their bikes from the opening colors presentation through the booming 21-gun salute, dove release and taps.

An hour later and a few miles up the road, nearly a dozen exercise enthusiasts gathered to hear Dairus Barnes instruct them about another kind of “21-Gun Salute”: pull-ups, box jumps, fireman carry squats, box jumps and pull-ups. Twenty-one repetitions of each.

These two very different scenes in Chandler, Ariz., marked two very different Memorial Day celebrations. Each had its own message, but they shared a common purpose: Honor America’s armed forces and veterans.

“It’s about community,” said Anne-Marie Chun, watching her husband, Army veteran Daniel Chun, struggle with hoisting his workout partner onto his shoulders. It makes all the difference in moving forward, she said, to have support when re-entering civilian life.

Barnes coordinated the event, which was introduced nationally by Team Red, White and Blue, a Michigan-based nonprofit designed to connect veterans to their community through physical and social activities.

Barnes, an Army chaplain and owner of CrossFit Crew, joined the Army in January 2005.

U.S. Army veteran Daniel Chun participates in a Memorial Day workout in Chandler, Ariz. (Photo by Mauro Whiteman, News21)

U.S. Army veteran Daniel Chun participates in a Memorial Day workout in Chandler, Ariz. (Photo by Mauro Whiteman, News21)

In a nearly hour-long workout, participants had to “pay for their memory,” he said.

The men and women — and even some children — who struggled through pull-ups and fireman carry squats made a personal sacrifice that approached the sacrifice of America’s armed forces and veterans, Barnes said. He plans to organize similar events for Sept. 11 and Veterans Day as well as Memorial Day next year.

Tom Will, commander of American Legion Post 35 in Chandler, asked the crowd to remember the is more than a holiday.

“Remembering our fallen once a year is not enough,” he said. “The widows, widowers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children remember them every day.”

Families of post-9/11 vets pay tribute on Memorial Day

By Colton Totland, News21

Memorial Day visitors at the National Cemetery of Arizona were treated to a flyover Monday morning by pilots in World War Two-era planes. (Photo by Colton Totland, News21)

Memorial Day visitors at the National Cemetery of Arizona were treated to a flyover Monday morning by pilots in World War Two-era training planes. (Photo by Colton Totland, News21)

In T-shirts that depict John Larson as a smiling Army recruit, his family each year follows the row of headstones that lead to his grave.

Unlike many of those buried around him, Larson’s death came not from combat, but in a room at Fort Hood, Texas. Haunted by war and burdens at home, he committed suicide, his brother said.

Larson’s death is an extreme circumstance among post-9/11 veterans returning every month to another battle: transition to civilian life. Memorial Day belongs to these veterans as well, something that was clear Monday at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, where the Larsons paid their respects.

“All families have a story,” Phil Larson said, pausing to glance at visitors across the cemetery of more than 43,000. “These families are visiting loved ones who passed away, whether they were shot in combat, or dealing with the strains of combat afterward.”

Hundreds of visitors gathered for an early morning ceremony — complete with music and a vintage biplane flyover.

James Ewald was one of two tuba players in the 108th Army band. Reservist Ewald said he only recently found work after returning from deployment more than a year ago.

“I just returned to a bad market,” Ewald said. The wire manufacturing company where he worked went out of business while he was on active duty. “I tried everything — even as a truck driver, nothing; pizza delivery, nothing.

“I hear it all the time from other veterans, and it’s a real problem,” he added.

Post-9/11 veteran unemployment still hovers around 2 percentage points higher than non-veterans, despite dozens of such efforts since 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Finding adequate support for PTSD or other combat-related injuries seems even harder, with the average VA wait-time for compensation lasting upward of 315 days, according to the Berkeley, Calif.-based Center for Investigative Reporting.

PTSD battle persists for Iraq War veteran

Originally posted on NewsNetNebraska

By Riley Johnson, News21 

Photo by Riley Johnson // Dominic Biondo, 35, experienced post-traumatic stress upon returning to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from Iraq and his work with a defense contractor.

Dominic Biondo, 35, experienced post-traumatic stress upon returning to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from Iraq and his work with a defense contractor. (Photo by Riley Johnson, News21)

Dominic Biondo can feel it coming back on.

He’s tossing and turning at night, exhausted during the day. He has started finding time to nap, and scotch and vodka have found their way back into his evening routine. The 35-year-old Air Force veteran hasn’t returned to splashing Baileys Irish Cream into his coffee, but he bought a bottle at the store recently.

And the anger that once clouded his days as an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has crept back into his life.

“How do I not hate everything?” Biondo said of his continued fight with the post-traumatic stress brought on by his time in the interrogation rooms at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at a defense contractor several years ago.

Dominic Biondo is one of many post-9/11 veterans who have battled post traumatic stress upon returning from their battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of annual cases of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has risen substantially since the early 2000s for soldiers serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

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