Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Indiana National Guard soldiers headed to Kuwait

Edinburg, IN.(May 21, 2019) VRI – Nearly 600 soldiers with the National Guard’s 38th Infantry Division, nicknamed “Cyclone,” began training May 5 at Camp Atterbury in preparation for deployment to Kuwait.

The citizen soldiers are part of Task Force Spartan, and will be in command and control of more than 9,000 U.S. service members stationed across the Middle East to foster partnerships and to increase security and self-reliance throughout the region.

Training includes tasks such as physical fitness, weapons qualifications and resiliency training that will ensure the soldiers are proficient, agile, adaptable and lethal, according to a National Guard news release about the deployment.

Fifteen percent, or about 90 members of the unit, are women; 570 of the soldiers are from Indiana, with the rest coming from 10 surrounding states.

The 38th Infantry Division expects to be deployed to in Kuwait’s Camp Arifjan for nine months. They will be sent off during a 10 a.m. ceremony on Sunday, May 26, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, before the start of the Indy 500.

What attracts men and women to the National Guard? Six of the 600 headed to Kuwait in a few weeks are profiled in this story. Interviews took place at the Camp Atterbury training grounds Wednesday afternoon.

Sorority girl soldier

Briana Keilly’s Indiana University class load will be lighter this next year, and she has put her Kappa Delta sorority membership on hold for now.

She’s on her way to Kuwait.

Her blond hair tucked into a camouflage patrol cap, the 21-year-old informatics major from Plainfield acknowledged that she may not be the typical soldier — or college student for that matter, although she said a sorority sister enlisted just last week.

Keilly joined the National Guard when she graduated from high school; her older sister had done the same. She deferred college for a year and focused on the Guard. Keilly isn’t fazed by the transition from a sorority house in bucolic Bloomington to dusty barracks in the Kuwaiti desert.

Being in the National Guard, “it made me grow up faster,” she said. When things go wrong and her college friends get overwrought, she provides perspective. “Life goes on, everything works out. I’ve learned a lot about that, facing things head-on and dealing with it.”

Her sister spent a year in Kosovo, so Keilly knew that deployment to the Middle East was possible. Her parents are behind her, she said, encouraging her independence. “I know they’ll miss me, but they are excited about the possibilities.”

After finals and before her training got under way, some sorority sisters took Keilly out to Big Woods to say goodbye. She’ll take a few online classes in Kuwait, and rejoin them on campus for her junior year.

From fast food to world travel

Casey Hamilton joined the National Guard 12 years ago after admitting that managing a fast food restaurant was not the career for her. The realization hit the 33-year-old Loogootee woman one night when a naked man appeared at the drive-through window at the Wendy’s where she worked.

“I saw it as a sign from God that I needed to do something else.”

She admitted being a “terrible student” in high school, with no interest in higher education. Her father, who had been in the military and served in the infantry in Iraq in 2003, helped convince her to find another path. “I weighed not doing something important with my life with worries about the military,” she said, and then went to the recruiting office in the southern Indiana town of Washington.

She now works as a safety professional at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center and is a senior at IU, where she had taken classes as a part-time student the past few years.

“I need to finish a couple of chemistry classes when I return,” she said.

She has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and in 2017, to Kosovo.

“I like to travel, and the Guard gave me the ability to do that. And you get paid,” she said. “I have 37 stamps on my passport. And my parents, they’re proud of me.”

Carrying on a tradition

Craig Davis is a sergeant with the Ellettsville Police Department. And a sergeant major in the National Guard, where he has served for 22 years.

Davis, who is 47, spent about a year in Iraq in 2008, and more recently was in Slovakia for training.

He and his wife, Kelly, have no kids still living at home, and they have become accustomed to hiking, Jeep rides and visiting wineries and breweries around the state.

But for the next nine months or so, she’s on her own — and understands the call, the tradition of military service.

Her father-in-law, former Ellettsville Fire Chief Jim Davis, served his country during the Vietnam War.

“And both of my grandfathers were in World War II,” Davis added.

Missing a year of school

Martinsville High School government teacher Jonathan Marion is also a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard. He joined 27 years ago after completing the ROTC program at Purdue University.

This deployment will be his fourth — Marion was in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2012 and was sent to Iraq in 2008. This time, leaving is a bit easier since his two sons are in college now.

Being in the Guard for so long means he is acquainted with some of the other officers being deployed to Kuwait.

“It’s almost like getting the old band back together,” he said.

On the first day of high school classes in August, 49-year-old Marion will be thousands of miles from the classroom where he has been a teacher since 2001.

“It’s always exciting to start the new school year,” he said, and he will miss that.

But when he returns for the 2020-21 school year, there will be stories to tell students.

“The kids now, they were just babies when 9-11 happened and don’t know of a world before that,” he said. “Some of them are interested, and they are familiar, because the War on Terror has gone on for so long.”

A family affair

Timothy Thombleson is a career National Guard soldier who has the distinguished title of brigadier general. He’s been in 35 years, ever since he enlisted as a 17-year-old high school senior. He is stationed at Stout Field in Indianapolis, and has lived in Martinsville since 1994.

The Guard paid his college expenses — it’s one of the perks — and he has a degree in marketing from Indiana State University.

When the now 52-year-old general was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2003 and to Afghanistan in 2009, his wife Deedra, also a National Guard member, was in sole charge of their two children. His son was just 3 and his daughter a newborn when he left for Iraq.

“It was as hard as you can imagine to leave,” he said.

And when Deedra Thombleson was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and to Kuwait in 2012, it was the general who was left in charge of the kids.

“I took Josh to kindergarten, and Katie was in her terrible 2s that first time,” he recalled.

A lot of crayon drawings got sent to the Middle East during the Thomblesons’ deployments.

During more recent tours, Skype and FaceTime have eased the miles while off duty.

“But the value of a handwritten letter is great,” Gen. Thombleson said. “We have a chest we keep them in.”

One last time

This will be the third and final Middle East deployment for Indiana University administrator and National Guard Col. Kirk White, who served in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005 and again from 2009 to 2010.

During his first Middle East tour, he emailed Craig Davis’s dad at the Ellettsville fire station about the lack of smoke detectors there; Davis boxed some up and mailed them right away.

White, 58 and from Bloomington, is leaving his wife and two daughters behind with a promise to be back in time for their graduations next spring, when one is graduating from high school and the other from college.

It seems like not that long ago that he was reading books into a recorder so his kids so could hear his voice while he was away.

Looking across the Camp Atterbury training grounds this week, White recalled the first time he was deployed.

“That building over there is where I said goodbye to Jan, Reagan and Jillian back in 2004. I go past there every day now out here, and I can see our Buick, Jan in the front seat with Reagan and Jill in the back in her car seat ... they’ve always been so strong. They get wet eyes, but don’t cry until I am gone.

“The goodbyes, that’s the difficult part.”


©2019 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.)
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Money not spent for needy Indiana veterans

Indianapolis, IN (April 24, 2019) VRI – State auditors have found that an Indiana veterans affairs agency may have misspent nearly $775,000 in federal welfare funds.

The spending at the Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs included more than $20,000 for couples retreats at a high-end resort and casino, $56,000 in child care benefits and $683,000 for contract employees at the agency.

In each of those cases, auditors could not find documentation that the spending met the program’s criteria or that recipients were qualified.

Money for needy Indiana veterans was spent on casino retreats and child care, audit finds

The findings, released Tuesday, could put a small but significant amount of the state’s federal welfare dollars at risk. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which provides Indiana with $206 million annually through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, can require states to repay misspent funds.

The audit began last year after an IndyStar investigation found that middle-income IDVA employees had received those federal benefits intended for needy veterans, including child care and couples retreats at the upscale French Lick resort and casino. IndyStar also found that the wages of contract employees at IDVA were being paid with TANF funds, even though those employees worked primarily on other programs.

The Indiana Inspector General and Marion County Prosecutor’s Office declined earlier this month to seek criminal or ethics charges against any IDVA employees.

SOURCE: IndyStar

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Iraq war veteran victim of road rage

Indianapolis, IN. (March 29, 2019) VRI – Friends and family hope camera footage will help find the person who punched James Yacconi and broke his jaw. The incident happened Wednesday, sometime between 3:45 and 4:30 p.m., at the intersection of South Madison Avenue and Pleasant Run Parkway. The two had stopped at a red light when the driver of a white sedan got out of his vehicle and confront Yacconi on his motorcycle.

After the two exchanged some words, the driver of the car punched Yacconi, knocking the Army veteran into another car. Video shows the entire incident. Moments after the punch, the driver got back in the car and drove away. Yacconi looked confused to what happened. A friend of his said Yacconi drove home, about three miles away, before deciding he needed to go to the hospital. "James is a big guy," the friend said. "You can see in the video. He’s a wrestler, he can take a punch. "So, when that guy sucker punched him and it knocked him into the other car, it broke his mandible and it broke the other side of his jaw when he hit the other car." Yacconi's wife said James spent 16 years in the Army.

People who know him are surprised one punch could take him down; they think the driver used something to deliver a more forceful attack. Yacconi's wife said her husband went to the VA hospital, but staff transported him to Methodist where he had surgery. As of Friday afternoon, Yacconi was still in the hospital and his family said James is dealing with some further medical complications. "He stopped breathing," Yacconi's wife said. "That’s a scary thing to watch someone go through." Friends and family were able to get the video from a Lyft driver. In fact, the driver who owns the footage can be heard saying he knows the man on the motorcycle, Yacconi.

The roughly five-minute clip begins a couple minutes before the punch is thrown. In it, Yacconi rides next to the Lyft driver and tells him he has a broken taillight. The Lyft driver tells Yacconi thank you. A few seconds later, the driver who threw the punch is seen passing Yacconi on his motorcycle. The next time the two cross paths is at the stop light.

James' friend said he thought the driver of the sedan was in a white Nissan Sentra that is missing its rear bumper. He said friends have already begun collecting money as a reward for any information that leads to an arrest. "I hope someone knows who it is and calls the cops," said the wife. "Please. They need to. He could do this to someone else."

A police report was filed with Indianapolis police. Anyone with information should give police a call. Tips can be reported anonymously to Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at 317-262-TIPS (8477).

SOURCE: Fox 59

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Indiana native selected for prestigious program

Bremerton, WA. (March 26, 2019) VRI – Lt. Cmdr. April Gilbrech, a Indianapolis, Indiana native and Beech Grove High School, Beech Grove, Indiana 1998 graduate, was selected on March 10, 2019, for the Navy’s Perioperative Nurse Training Program, a challenging, highly sought-after assignment, and nursing specialty, to prepare a registered nurse like Gilbrech to work in both inpatient and outpatient settings providing highly technical and critical patient-centered care to those in need. “Her selection is a testament to her pursuit of professional excellence and sustained superior performance, said Capt. Jeffrey W. Bitterman, NHB commanding officer.

Photo By Petty Officer 1st Class Gretchen Albrecht

Gilbrech, also a 2003 graduate from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, had considered joining the Navy while in college, but decided to stay close to home and family. “After working at my job for five years, I decided to look into it again. I wanted to go explore different places and potentially go overseas,” said Gilbrech, adding that a friend’s husband was in the Army, so she had been exposed to military medicine while in college. “I wanted to serve a greater purpose. I had considered the Army first, but the duty stations with the Navy were much more appealing.”

Navy Medicine has taken her from Inpatient Pediatrics to the Pediatric Intensive Care unit at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, to Labor and Delivery ward and Pediatric Clinic at Naval Hospital Jacksonville to her current assignment with the Pediatric Clinic at NHB. Gilbrech has held such positions as clinical resource nurse and charge nurse, clinic nurse and division officer, along with pediatric advanced life support instructor, basic life support instructor, Nurse of the Day coordinator, and electronic health record MHS GENESIS super user for NHB’s Pediatric Clinic to help the staff with system knowledge and use of the system.

Gilbrech attests that the best part of her Navy Medicine career revolves around the other staff members she has worked with and for from the Navy Medical Corps, Nurse Corps and Hospital Corps, as well as numerous support personnel. “It has been an interesting experience seeing the bigger picture and meeting some great people along the way. It’s a sense of, we are all here for the same reason. We can relate with each other, provide comfort when needed and help each other carry on when times get tough. You are never truly alone. I never interacted with my chain of leadership outside my work area when I was a civilian nurse,” related Gilbrech.

Being selected for the Navy’s Perioperative Nurse Training Program, done through a very competitive process contingent on already having shown and proven the necessary medical-surgical nursing knowledge and skills, the ability to function independently, able to handle stress, have good subordinate management skills, has proven that Gilbrech is readily capable for perioperative nursing, a highly-technical, critical patient-care arena. Being selected adheres to the Navy Medicine’s renewed emphasis on operational and mission readiness.

Her skill will be of paramount importance as the Navy and Marine Corps move towards more distributed operations that will call for casualty care and survival depending on individual medical personnel whether on ship or shore. “I was just selected for the Perioperative Nurse Training Program, so I believe I will be more operationally ready as Navy Medicine is heading towards that goal,” stated Gilbrech.

When asked to sum up her experience with Navy Medicine in one sentence, Gilbrech replied, “Being part of Navy Medicine has been a challenging, yet rewarding experience. The opportunities are endless as long as you are willing to put in the time and hard work to get to where you want to go.”

SOURCE: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service 

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