Combat correspondent uses her experiences in school

By Anthony Cave, News21


Post-9/11 veteran Jennifer Brofer films a news story at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia in 2007. (Courtesy of Jennifer Brofer)

Jennifer Brofer served in the Marines, on the frontlines in Afghanistan, but she wielded a camera instead of a rifle.

Brofer, 30, a combat correspondent for more than 10 years, served in Afghanistan during 2010-11. She worked across media, using the printed word as well as video. When logistic Marines built bridges, she was there. Redeploy missions? She was there too.

“It was inherently dangerous,” Brofer, an Arlington, Texas, native, said.

Since her discharge in 2012, Brofer has used the Montgomery GI Bill to study radio-television-film at the University of Texas at Austin.

Other than a few canceled appointments for non-emergency care at the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Austin, her experiences have been positive, she said.

“I’m a happy gal, mentally unscathed,” Brofer said.

Still, her experience led her down the military path once again in a class she took last semester. Brofer completed a nine-minute video titled “Girls With Guns,” which chronicles the experiences of post-9/11 veteran Mary Hegar, whose helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan in 2009.

She survived and returned fire, but Hegar came home to fight again, this time the military’s ban on women in combat. She sued the U.S. Department of Defense and the Combat Exclusion Policy was eventually lifted in January 2013.

Brofer said her experiences overseas helped her share Hegar’s narrative.

“I learned how to tell a story in very adverse conditions,” she said. “I don’t take for granted what the reporters do here in America. If it wasn’t for the skill, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

The video also highlights teenage girls in a high school Junior ROTC program. Brofer said that it is important to advocate gender equality.

Brofer wants to be a producer or director; she already has a resume start. When Christina Aguilera sang the National Anthem before the 2011 Super Bowl, the NFL Network showed a montage. Her three-second shot of a group of Marines standing in a tent made the worldwide broadcast.

Brofer, who was posted in Afghanistan at the time, had spent the night before the Super Bowl, editing film for the spot. She said that “luckily” she was behind the camera.

Army Sergeant uses music to combat PTSD

By Bonnie Campo, News21

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The Warrior Resilience Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, continues to explore multiple treatment options for post-traumatic stress disorder, while official and traditional treatment offer two options.

Doctors and clinicians at Fort Bliss treat active duty troops who primarily served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Treatment at the center is offered from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in a program that lasts four weeks. Each day is tailored to the patient’s needs, said Vicki Thomas, who is chief of the Warrior Resilience Center.

Sgt. John Welsh finished the program June 21 and said that every day spent at the clinic encouraged him.

“I am about 65 percent recovered,” Welsh said. “But I have more hope now than I did when I began the program.”

Welsh benefited from his treatment, but because of his mental trauma will remain at Fort Bliss. Asked if he would be deployed, he said, “That’s not an option right now. I’m unfit for duty.”

That doesn’t mean Welsh will stop trying. He believes in the progress he has made, but he also advocates helping those who struggle with the same horrors and memories of war.

“A lot of soldiers ignore their problems until it becomes to much to bear; I was one of them,” Welsh said. “I am willing to do anything to help combat related trauma.”

And he has. Welsh produced a song for a friend in 2011, just two weeks before Welsh left for Iraq. That friend was Sgt. Brett Cornelius, who sustained a traumatic brain injury. One of the only things Cornelius can remember is his wife, so Welsh  took a poem Cornelius wrote for her and put it to music.

Welsh returned from Iraq nine months later with PTSD. Cornelius’s memory is approximately 15 minuets because of his TBI. But when they hear the song, Welsh said, they get to remember life before war, before the explosions, and before they were no longer fit to serve.

Through this act of kindness they both are heading toward success, just like the name of the song “On My Way.”

The song can be purchased on iTunes and proceeds from the song go directly to Sgt. Brett Cornelius and his family, minus legal and copyright expenses.

Army vehicles add seatbelts

By Bonnie Campo, News21

The Heavy Recovery Vehicles that soldiers steer into battle are getting retrofitted to increase safety against the high threat of improvised explosive devices. At Fort Bliss, Texas, for example, the U.S. M88A2, M1A2 Abrams and the M2A3 Bradley already have gotten seatbelts that resemble harnesses instead of traditional lap belts.

Felix Mendoza, logistics management specialist, and his crew work on the combat vehicles. Seatbelt modifications prevent soldiers from being bumped around when under attack, he said.

“We inspect the vehicles here, send them off and they get taken apart piece by piece, apply the modifications and then we get them back for a final inspection,” he said.

Mendoza’s team at Ft. Bliss also will begin placing aircraft materials to the HRVs to make them more secure, he said. Those changes include intricate suspension systems to absorb shock from the floor and Kevlar blankets to prevent cabin fires.

Mendoza knows how valuable the alterations can be. He was deployed twice to Iraq, for about a year each and now is a civilian employee at Fort Bliss. Mendoza served from January 1981 to January 2007. He was a New Equipment Training Team Instructor and a drill sergeant at Fort Knox, Ky.; a battalion motor sergeant at Fort Carson, Colo.; a First Sergeant in South Korea, and a task force motor sergeant in Iraq.

He retired as a master sergeant, but his workload hasn’t changed since he returned home.

Mendoza worked on combat vehicles in Iraq too, but said there was one difference: guns and mortar fire. It was a powerful reminder to him that soldiers leave their homes with a strong connection to their country, but in life and death situations, there is only one-thing men and women in uniform fight for — each other.

As he sat inside one of the Bradleys, Mendoza’s voice changed.

“Soldiers fight for their buddy, the guy sitting right here next to them,” he said.

He has reached retirement, but Mendoza continues to serve those willing to die for America.

“I got a call from a guy I went to basic with. He said he needed someone who could work on vehicles and speak Spanish. Well that was me,” Mendoza said.

He said that the companionship shared between those who serve now and served before will always be life long.

His active duty service has ended, but Mendoza still considers his job of retrofitting fighting vehicles a duty that allows him to continue to protect the lives of American warriors.

Camp helps veterans cope with PTSD

By Chase Cook, News21

Matthew XXXXX smokes cigarettes with Jaydee Faulkner at their interim house on June 25th, which is part of the PTSD Foundation of America's Camp Hope in Houston, Texas. The camp offers housing for struggling veterans, like Faulkner who suffers from post-traumatic stress brought on by his service in the Army. (Photo by Chase Cook, News21)

Matthew Marshall smokes cigarettes with Jaydee Faulkner at their interim house on June 25th, which is part of the PTSD Foundation of America’s Camp Hope in Houston, Texas. The camp offers housing for struggling veterans, like Faulkner who suffers from post-traumatic stress brought on by his service in the Army. (Photo by Chase Cook, News21)

If it weren’t for Camp Hope, Jaydee Faulkner would be dead.

“I would have killed myself,” the Army veteran said.

After Faulkner came home from duty in Iraq, he battled with post-traumatic stress disorder. The only emotions he could feel were anger and depression, Faulkner said, and he knew that needed help after he lashed out and struck his wife.

He discovered the PTSD Foundation of America Camp Hope in Houston, Texas. The organization places struggling veterans in transitional housing so they can focus on recovery. Transition can last up to six months, depending on veterans’ needs. The PTSD Foundation also places veterans in support groups and offers faith-based services.

Faulkner has been at Camp Hope for six weeks and said he is improving. His wife and daughter joined him two weeks ago.

Faulkner’s progress and successes by others have motivated Camp Hope officials to double the number of veterans they can house, increasing to 16 by fall 2013. Two more homes are being built to support four people or a family, Retired Lt. Col. Ann Marie LaRoque said.

One of the homes will be available for female veterans as the need arises, LaRoque said.

Each veteran in an interim home gets a single room and shares a living room and kitchen with other residents. They may personalize their space, and some do, with drawings done by their children, for example.

Housing is granted according to when a veteran arrives and the level of need evident.

“There are people we turn away right now because there aren’t enough beds,” LaRoque said. “We can get people into the support groups, but with the current infrastructure we can’t house anyone else.”

Having veterans live at Camp Hope, where they have access to other veteran workers or residents is paramount to their recovery, Executive Director David Maulsby said.

“Civilians have no idea what they have gone through,” he said.

After the two new homes are built in the fall, LaRoque said, attention will shift to construction plans next year for a building that would house 23 veterans, expanding the potential number of residents to 39.