The Depot

Dan Kyle a Sailor Turned Actor

Transitioning from military to civilian life often takes people in unexpected directions; for one former U.S. Navy aviation electronics technician, post-service life has included spending time as a zombie, an orc, cop and even as a soldier.

“It’s fun,” said actor Dan Kyle. “I always had this thing about wanting to entertain people and I loved movies growing up – when I was in high school, I was always encouraged to go out for drama, but usually the kids that went out for drama were the weird kids, so I never took that initial step. Then later in life you find out you’re one of those weird kids.”

Born to a military family – his father served with the Navy in Korea and his grandfather with the Army in World War I  ̶  Kyle enlisted in the Navy apprenticeship program after Iraq invaded Kuwait the summer before he graduated from high school. He ended up in Norfolk, VA attached to the then newest aircraft carrier USS George Washington and he made third class petty officer before heading home to Oregon.

For eighteen years, Kyle worked as a union iron worker. One summer when work was slow, a good friend who was hired to do uniforms and firearms for films and video games invited him to work as an extra.

“He said, ‘Come to the set and I’ll dress you up and get you into your GI uniform and you just stand around and eat,’” Kyle said. “I also have a couple of firearms from WWII, registered with the ATF, and a Thompson machine gun that was my grandfather’s and safety and blank adapted. He said, ‘Bring out the gun and I’ll pay you.’”

As his experience on set increased, Kyle’s interest in acting grew.

“I was thinking I want to be the guy who is in front of the camera,” Kyle said. “I started taking some private lessons with a really good friend of mine and from there slowly progressed into finding work on my own because I wasn’t represented at the time with an agent. Want ads, open calls, stuff that you can get your foot in the door where casting directors can see you: you have to build a resume.”

Kyle said his military experience strengthened his transition to a career in front of the camera.

“A lot of times people ask me what life was like on a carrier with over 6,000 personnel and 90 aircraft and on a big ship how does it work,” Kyle said. “Everybody has a specific job that we have to do in order for that ship and that community to function. From the commanding officer to the executive officer and everybody on that ship has to work efficiently and at 100 percent, work as a group, as a team to get the tasks done.

“There’s similarity on set, everybody’s got a job to do, from lighting to actors to hair and makeup to people who make the food and the goal is to make this machine run smoothly and as efficiently and as quickly and safely as possible. And it’s basically the same thing in life, whatever you’re doing.”

Known for his work in the crime series South of Heaven: Episode 3 – The Long Walk Home and as a cyborg talker in Z Nation, Kyle’s work spans a range of genres including commercial, thrillers, horror, fantasy, comedy-musical and adventure.

“It was transition from military life and military bearing to my union iron work and eventually all that stuff transitioned to my acting,” Kyle said. “In the military, what do you do? You train and you train, and when you’re sick of that you train some more – so when that time comes and you get called up or there’s an emergency situation, you know what to do. You are there at the right place at the right time and you’re ready. That’s basically what acting is too. You work and you work until that training is done and when it’s time, I know how to work because I’ve done all this other work where I never got cast or where I never got a call back – but I did the work, so now I get the call and I’m ready to go.”

Though the COVID-19 shutdown slowed things for the industry, Kyle said projects that were postponed last year are shooting now and the past few weeks have been busy. Postproduction work has resumed on several projects, including Jason Rising: A Friday the 13th fan film expected to be released later this year.

“I'm playing Jason Vorhees, the main bad guy,” Kyle said. “Last year I also worked on my own role, a mini-biography/documentary that we’re finishing up on the relationship between body building and acting and how the body building and the acting cross. It’s only about 7 minutes long and it was a lot of work being the executive producer. That’ll be coming out later this year.”

The more challenging the real or imagined character, Kyle said, the more he wants to play it.

“Monsters are fun, you can get away with your own take on it,” Kyle said. “Well, what does an Orc do? What does an orc do swinging an axe? Getting together with the people making the prosthetics and the writer along with your (own) vision, it becomes a team of people working together to bring this character to life and that’s the challenge that I like.

“With real people from history, the challenge is how did that experience feel and how am I going to be that in a way that is realistic. I’ll never know, a lot of us will never know what certain combat is like or to be scarred or disabled because of war, but as an actor we try to get as close as we can because it’s an honor and a privilege to play some of those characters and you want to do it right.”

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.

VA Offers COVID Vaccines to all Vets

The Department of Veterans Affairs will soon provide COVID-19 vaccinations to all veterans, their spouses and caregivers regardless of whether or not they receive their healthcare through the VA.

Signed into law at the end of March, the SAVES LIVES Act removed some of the legal limits on the medical care VA can provide to veterans.

“The SAVE LIVES Act increases the number of individuals who are eligible to get lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines from VA from 9.5 million to more than 33 million,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough in a release. “Meeting the task of vaccinating this expanded population will be a tremendous undertaking for the VA and will require a significant increase in our allocation of vaccine supply, but I am confident that VA’s workforce is up to the task.” 

All veterans, those currently receiving care through the VA or not, can sign up online.  When a vaccine comes available, their local VA facility will notify veterans of appointments or vaccine events availability by phone, text messages from 53079 or e-mail from a va.gov e-mail address.

Public Affairs Specialist Joe Williams, Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs shared additional information regarding the program.

“Please check out your local VA medical center websites for the latest updates regarding vaccine availability. Several pilot facilities with adequate vaccine supply have already started rollout of the SAVES LIVES Act and it is anticipated the number of VA facilities able to provide vaccination will gradually increase as the allocation of vaccine increases in the coming weeks,” Williams said.

To find a nearby VA medical facility call MyVA411 main information line at 800-698-2411, TTY 711, or go online.

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.

When Should I Wear My Army Ribbons and Medals?

How to wear military medals and ribbons while in uniform is ordinarily covered by the regulations of each branch of service. For example, an Army soldier can get answers about how to wear military medals and ribbons by reviewing Army Regulation 670-1.

Uniform service regulations stipulate in great detail how to wear military medals and ribbons. A quick online search will turn up a uniform regulation, but when in doubt, turn to the experts and ask a non-commissioned officer in the chain of command if you can’t find it.

But if you still have questions about how to wear military medals and ribbons, here are a few general tips. We strongly encourage you to review service specific regulations on how to wear military medals and ribbons.

  • Formal evening attire such as tuxedos and formal evening jackets, require the use of miniature medals and badges. Ribbons are not worn on this uniform.
  • The use of large medals and badges is reserved for daytime attire, but ensure not to wear large medals and ribbons at the same time. The exception is the wear of unit ribbons on the right side on the Army uniform.
  • When wearing civilian attire, ensure you comply with the same rules as if you were in uniform. Mini medals go on a civilian tuxedo (formal wear) and do not wear medals or badges on casual clothing, like a polo shirt.
  • Follow the order of precedence when wearing your awards.
  • Many retirees choose to wear just their highest award’s lapel pin when in business attire. Some also wear small badges. There are no real regulations governing these acts, just exercise common sense and do not bring discredit to you or your hard-earned awards. Remember, lapel pins are worn on the left lapel (just like medals on a tuxedo). And it is generally accepted that you can wear one, but not several.

When in doubt, check your specific branch’s regulations for guidance on how to wear military medals and ribbons.

Why Are There Two Dog Tags?

If there is one issued piece of equipment given to military personnel that is swirling with urban legend and myths, it is dog tags.

The origins of the dog tag are unknown. Some military historians believe the practice started with the Roman Empire. Like most good military ideas, it is not surprising the Romans would be given credit for developing the dog tag.

Other researchers believe the practice of tagging military personnel started to take shape during the Civil War when soldiers wrote notes with their personal information on them so they could be identified if they became a casualty.

The U.S. Defense Department supports the argument that dog tags, officially known as identification tags, came about during the Civil War because soldiers were afraid of being unidentified and buried in unmarked graves. Soldiers marked their clothing, pinned tags of paper and cloth onto their uniforms, used old coins or bits of metals to identify themselves, and some men carved their names into wood pieces strung around their necks. 

Their concerns were legitimate. By the end of the Civil War, more than 40 percent of the Union Army’s dead were unidentified. For example, of the more than 17,000 troops buried in Vicksburg National Cemetery, nearly 13,000 graves are marked as unknown.

After the Civil War, the U.S. military embraced better practices of casualty identification. At the end of the Spanish American War, service members were issued identification tags in 1899 after U.S. Army Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, an officer in charge of morgue operations in the Philippines, recommended the Army outfit all soldiers with the disks to identify those who were injured or killed. 

The U.S. Army started to issue the tags in 1906. The tags included personal biographical information that could be used to identify a casualty. The half-dollar size tags were stamped with a soldier's name, rank, company and regiment or corps, and they were attached to a cord or chain that went around the neck. The tags were worn under the field uniform. 

According to the Defense Department, in July 1916, the U.S. Army amended its initial order and required a second disc. Why two dog tags? The first tag was to remain with the body, while the second was for burial service record keeping. Like all things military, it is likely the military figured out the need for two dog tags amidst operations. Remember, Donald Rumsfeld’s famous words: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

The U.S. Navy didn't require dog tags until May 1917. By then, all U.S. combat troops were required to wear them. Toward the end of World War I, American Expeditionary Forces in Europe added religious symbols to the tags. 

During the Korean War, the answer to the question why two dog tags got a new answer. One of the tags was put on a much shorter chain and attached to the main chain. However, it was never placed in the mouth of a deceased soldier as military folklore suggests. Instead, the tag on the shorter chain was used as a toe tag when a soldier was killed and his body was being processed. At the end of the 1950s, after the Korean War, procedures changed to keep both dog tags with the service member if they died.

In Vietnam, combat troops started to lace their second tag in their boots. So, the answer to the question, why two dog tags, was for the most part, the same reasoning for issuing two dog tags in Korea. One stayed with the body, the other was used as a toe tag.

Regulations have vacillated regarding how the two tags should be used. Many still ask, why two dog tags? And should the tags stay together or be separated?

Today, service personnel are issued two dog tags on a long and short chain, but given the advances made in DNA forensics and in utilizing medical profiles and information to identify the fallen, the role of the dog tag is still important, but only a piece of the process of identifying our nation’s war casualties.

Why two dog tags? Because as a nation we need to ensure that those who fight for our country get the recognition they deserve. They are entitled to be known to us and the world and if two tags help, then we owe them that.

The History and Mysteries Behind Dog Tags

 

One of the most gruesome rumors to ever circulate throughout the military ranks is still alive today. Ask some of the older men and women in uniform about dog tags, and specifically, notched dog tags and you will get horrid tales of about how war dead are treated. Fortunately, the tales are untrue and U.S. casualties are treated with respect and dignity.

In the 1940s and for about 30 years, U.S. military dog tags, the M-1940 dog tag to be exact, had this noticeable notch in it along the edge. Soldiers tell stories, as soldiers do, so when people started asking, why were dog tags notched, military personnel began to tell tales of how when a soldier died on the battlefield, medics would take the notched part of the dog tag and place it between the teeth of the deceased soldier. The medic or mortuary affairs member would then nudge or kick the jaw so the tag could become lodged between the soldier’s teeth. Why was it necessary for it to stay lodged between their teeth?

For starters, transporting a dead soldier across a battlefield in the 1940s was an arduous task and there were plenty of opportunities where a soldier’s identity could be lost. If a tag was secured between the teeth, this aided the identification process, despite how uncivil the act might be. Why were dog tags notched? Hint, it wasn’t because of the challenges the U.S. military faced in removing the dead off the battlefield in the 1940s.

Another reason for notched dog tags was popular for many years and has since subsided. The tale went that once a soldier was taken off the battlefield, their bodies would produce gases. In order to allow the gases to escape the dead body, a dog tag was placed in the mouth, between the teeth, to keep the body’s mouth open to allow the gases to escape. This was another reason offered when people asked why were dog tags notched?

The truth is, neither of those two stories are true. They make for dramatic anecdotes and war stories, but they are completely false. It is true that dead bodies bloat from gas buildup, but venting them with an open mouth would have no impact on the bodies since gases do not pass through the mouth and are present throughout the body.

Why were dog tags notched? The truth is far less compelling.

The notched dog tags used until 1970 were part of a casualty identification process that included a tag that was created using a machine that allowed the tag-making apparatus to hold the blank tag while it was stamped with the soldier’s personal information. In other words, the tag was there to help the machine hold the dog tag in place as it was stamped. Current dog tags are manufactured by machines that do not need the notch to hold the tags in place.

But there is more to answer the question, why were dog tags notched? If a soldier was a casualty, the dog tag was removed from his body and it was placed into a handheld, gun-like tool called the Addressograph Model 70. This device would transfer the soldier’s information from his dog tags to his medical records. The importance of the notch, again, was to hold the dog tag in place in the Addressograph which was a medical imprinter.

Known as the “locating notch” in military manuals, the notch helped medical personnel properly seat the dog tag into the imprinter. The Model 70 allowed medical or mortuary affairs personnel to transfer a soldier’s personal information on the dog tag and imprint it directly onto medical documents. They would squeeze the handle of the unit and it would imprint dog tag information onto a document like an old typewriter ribbon.

So if you hear someone telling tall tales about dog tags and why they were notched, remember, you know the real answer to the question, why were dog tags notched?

Given the advances in DNA technology, along with advances in record management by the U.S. military, today dog tags aren’t a necessity for the identification of casualties. The identification of remains is a forensic process, reliant on more than just dog tags.

WWII Dog Tags Explained

The dog tag; few military items are as widely recognized and known to people, both military and civilians, as the dog tag. There are lots of myths about them and their origins, but that’s the subject of a different dog tag article. But the primary purpose of the dog tag was to help identify soldiers who had been wounded or killed in battle.

In this article, we want to show you how to read a WWII dog tag. Why? Because many of you had relatives who fought in World War II and hopefully you are fortunate enough to still have them around. Research shows that only about 300,000 of the 16 million who served in WWII are still alive.

But if the WWII veteran in your life has passed, deciphering their dog tags can help you get a sharper image of their military service and how to read WWII dog tags is a great place to start in recreating a veteran’s military service.

Part of understanding how to read WWII dog tags is knowing that dog tags during this period evolved and had several iterations starting in 1940. The first edition of WWII dog tags included a service member’s name, blood type, serial number, the name of their next of kin and the address, city and state of their next of kin. If you’re trying to figure out how to read WWII dog tags, all of this information can be a bit much to process.

In late 1941, the next version of dog tags began to be issued. These dog tags included a service member’s religious denomination as well as whether or not the service member had been inoculated for tetanus. This dog tag was issued until 1943.

Then in mid-1943, the services removed the next of kin and inoculation information. If you look at a dog tag from 1943 to 1944, it will include the service member’s name, serial number, blood type and religious preference. That’s how to read a WWII dog tag from this period.

Finally, in 1944, the dog tag went through its final change for WWII. The services up until 1946 decided to list the last name first, followed by the first name and middle initial. Making it easier to identify the casualty.

Dog tags have changed since 1946 and today they include different information, but if you find a dog tag which includes information as it is listed above, odds are great you’ve come across a piece of American history that should be treasured because it once belonged to one of the members of the Greatest Generation.

Using the above information, you can learn how to read WWII dog tags and teach others how to read WWII dog tags so these pieces of American history can be protected.

The Silver Star for Bravery in the Military

What is a Silver Star? The Silver Star is the third-highest award for valor in combat presented by the United States to members of the U.S. military. The award is given for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States, action while serving in military operations involving conflict with a foreign foe or action while serving with allied forces in armed combat against an opposing force where the United States in not the aggressor. If you’re a civilian, it is easy to understand if you’re asking the question, what is a silver star?

Established on July 19, 1932, the Silver Star Medal replaced the earlier Citation Star which was presented for gallantry from the Spanish-American War until 1918. The Army and Air Force omit the word “Medal” from the name of the award; the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard do not.

To qualify, actions for the Silver Star must be executed during combat operations and be of a lesser degree than would warrant the Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross or Navy Cross. If you’re in the U.S. military, even if you are not involved in a combat arms profession, odds are great that you have never asked the question, what is a Silver Star?

Despite its name, the Silver Star is gold. A small silver star is positioned atop a much larger gold star which has a laurel wreath on it. The medal’s pendant hangs from a ribbon that is blue and is bisected by a thin vertical red stripe flanked on either side by a thin white stripe; a thin white line appears toward each edge. An inscription on the back reads “For Gallantry in Action.”

Better-known recipients of the Silver Star include Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager who earned the medal twice and Command Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley who also earned the medal two times and who is featured as a primary character in the movie, We Were Soldiers, played by actor Sam Elliott.  

More recently, in 2005, Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman since World War II to earn the medal for engaging and killing enemies who attacked her unit during an ambush in Iraq. She became the first woman to receive the award for direct combat actions against an enemy. In 2007, Pfc. Monica Lin Brown earned the Silver Star as a medic in Afghanistan when she provided medical care and evacuation for soldiers wounded in an IED attack. She repeatedly used her body to shield the wounded from explosions and gunfire and she repeatedly exposed herself to enemy fire to assist the wounded.

Col. David Hackworth, a retired U.S. Army officer who fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars was awarded 10 Silver Stars during his military career. He is likely the person awarded the most Silver Stars.

What is a Silver Star? Simply put, it is an award given for selfless gallantry in the face of danger against an enemy force. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Silver Stars have been presented since the medal was created in 1932. For those who have received it, answering the question what is a Silver Star is easy to answer because they have lived it.

Everything You Need to Know About R.E.D. Friday

The United States has been a nation at war since 2001. In the aftermath of 9/11, the country entered the Global War on Terror, a protracted, hard-to-measure conflict that has taken U.S. forces to multiple countries around the world.

One thing is certain, Americans understand that society mistreated returning war veterans in the Vietnam War. So, it would make sense that Americans have tried to heal that wound by overwhelmingly supporting troops during Desert Storm in the 1990s and later through patriotic support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom after the 9/11 attacks.

But the Global War on Terror has been America’s longest war and in our digital age, some Americans have lost sight of the fact that we are still a nation at war. Many have become distracted by what is happening in their own lives.

Sometime in 2005, a call-to-action e-mail was sent by an unknown party. Where the e-mail originated is unknown. Whom received it is unknown, but the e-mail encouraged people to wear red on Fridays as an act of support for deployed troops. The e-mail circulated around the nation quickly

The e-mail also recommended to the recipient that they not only wear red for RED Fridays (RED is an acronym that means Remember Everyone Deployed), but that they circulate the e-mail and mobilize various groups to support the call to action. More than 15 years later, many companies and organizations encourage people to wear red on Fridays to show support of deployed service personnel around the world.     

What is RED Friday? For service members who are deployed the act itself, civilians wearing red items of clothing on Fridays, probably doesn’t equate to a tangible gain. However, when service members see the public’s support via social media or in an e-mail, it can definitely boost morale within a unit. The support does give many service members a sense of purpose downrange and a feeling that the nation is behind them.

However, the simple act of wearing a red shirt can lead to support of troop-related programs that provide concrete support to the soldiers while they are deployed. How? In a corporate setting, an employee might not be aware of RED Fridays and when that person sees other team members wearing red, naturally they will ask what is RED Friday? When it is explained to them, that individual might consider donating to a veteran organization that supports troops while deployed or helps them transition after redeployment.

In addition, if someone in an organization asks what is RED Friday because of others wearing red, it has helped raise awareness of the fact that men and women are deployed and that as a nation people should be thankful and support them. That support might manifest itself into care packages or letters for the troops.

In companies and organizations that are intimately involved with the military population, it is rare to hear someone ask what is RED Friday? Most people know and most people participate in the show of support. But unless that company or organization works with the military community, or is owned or led by a veteran, many companies and organizations do not know about RED Friday. That’s why it is up to everyone to ensure people know about RED Fridays.

If you’re an employee at a company or if you are a member of an organization, don’t wait for people to ask what is RED Friday? If they do not know, explain to them that wearing red on Fridays shows support for military personnel deployed overseas. And go one further, organize a care package or letter writing drive. Far too often the men and women of our Armed Forces are forgotten until we need them.

What is RED Friday? It is a way that Americans across the country can show support to the men and women of the U.S. military, and all they have to do is wear something red.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Military Branch to Join

In the early 1980s I was a troubling-making teen growing up preoccupied with cars, girls and partying. My grades in high school were awful and my motivation for things that required effort was pretty low. I was just out for a good time.

Sometime during my senior year in high school, a good friend told me that he was enlisting in the U.S. Army. Joining the military seemed like a good idea to me, a kid with few options who was ranked almost last in his graduating high school class.

Near my home there was an Armed Forces recruiting center and every branch of service had an office there. I went to the recruiting center and I visited my friend’s Army recruiter first. I didn’t need to be convinced. I needed some type of life after high school and this seemed like a way out for me. I knew I wanted to join the military because my friend had given me the sales pitch about steady money, free meals and healthcare.

Let me be honest. I did not go to the military recruiters because I had always wanted to serve and certainly not because I was a patriot. I wanted to enlist because I had no options that interested me. The one thing I knew was that I needed to leave home and start my life.

The meeting with the Army recruiter went well, but for some reason, it didn’t hit the right note for me. That night, I asked myself, which branch of the military should I join as I laid in bed? I didn’t really know a lot about the services, so I figured I could check them all out.

Days later, I briefly talked to the Navy and the Marines. I had grown up around the ocean, so there wasn’t anything too alluring about the sea. The Navy recruiter gave me some brochures and I moved onto the Marines.

My meeting with the Marines lasted about four minutes. I didn’t have an appointment, so I just dropped in unannounced as the recruiter was working with another applicant. He shot me a pretty intimidating look and hand knifed me.

“Sit down. Be with you in a minute,” he said. I nodded, sat, and I started looking around the office. There were all sorts of posters covering the walls of men doing what I would categorize at the time as “really cool military things,” but that didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t want to challenge myself, I just wanted a paycheck, a place to sleep, some food and a free ticket to see the world. As I looked around the room, in the back of the office there was a restroom sign. I got up and as I passed the recruiter’s desk, I told him, “I’m going to the restroom.”

After I finished using the restroom, I mistakenly wandered into the Air Force recruiting office. When I opened the door, the only thing that came out of my mouth was “Uh, sorry.” Seated across the room at his desk was a smiling, friendly-looking guy who stood up, extended his hand as he walked toward me.

“Hey, I’m Gerry.”

He had me at hello.

Gerry was the nicest guy in the world. He didn’t knife hand me or give me a sales pitch. Instead, he asked me, what I wanted to do? I had no idea, so he gave me a book of possible career options, with lots of pictures, and he let me look through it.

Although I asked myself which branch of the military should I join, I ended up enlisting in the U.S. Air Force and I traveled the world. Serving in the Air Force taught me a lot of lessons about maturity, responsibility, accountability and selfless service. I knew nothing about these things prior to my enlistment.

I am thankful for my military service. My impulsive actions as an 18-year-old, led to a 25-year military career that took me to multiple countries, afforded me the opportunity to serve in the enlisted and officer ranks, to serve in two branches of the military (I later left the Air Force for the Army), and in three components.

If you are asking which branch of the military should I join, the answer to that question lies within you. If someone you know is asking which branch of the military should I join, the same applies.

Everyone is different and everyone has a different set of values and goals. I can tell you, my values at 18 were far different than the values I have today as an older man. I was extrinsically motivated and I didn’t understand what military service meant.

Likewise, people today who might ask themselves which branch of the military should I join should also reflect and be honest with themselves. Why do you want to serve? People come to the Armed Forces for various reasons. Some, like me, come out of necessity and because they lack options. Despite being an unmotivated, selfish kid, I eventually found purpose in the military.

Ask yourself, not which branch of the military should I join, but instead, why do I want to serve? The military can be a great place to achieve your goals, but it is a good idea to have some sort of a plan so you can get the most out of the experience.

If you’re a young person who is only interested in earning a paycheck and your plan is to move on after your first enlistment, consider picking a branch of service and an occupation that gives you a skill you can use when you transition back to civilian life. Transferable skills are crucial in a successful transition.

The key is not to get caught up in the lure of money and promises of glory for joining certain jobs. Those jobs are great and many are held in high regard in the military, but some might not translate directly when it comes to civilian jobs. Do your research.

Travel is another motivator for people to join the military. If you want to travel, every branch of the service has overseas locations and the Navy is probably the most traveled branch of service. Other branches have permanent bases overseas in places like Europe, Japan, and Korea. Most of these tours last one to three years depending on your marital status and they offer the opportunity for a service member to truly immerse themselves in a foreign culture. Just remember, much is dependent on the job you do. A service member who works office hours with weekends off will have a lot more flexibility than someone who works in a demanding profession.

The point is, there are a lot of options for you to consider beyond which branch of the military should I join? The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and even Coast Guard all have reserve forces that offer part-time wages, retirement benefits, and educational and training benefits that can kickstart your life without the commitment of going to the military fulltime. The National Guard in your state is also a viable option with exceptional educational and employment benefits.

As you pursue your military service don’t lose sight of the fact that your goals can complement your military service. Remember, being in the military is not about you. You are serving the country, but you can also get something in return if you serve with purpose and have a plan. What you get in return, depends on you.

The question is not which branch of the military should I join? The question is, why do I want to join? If you can answer that, then the map becomes much clearer.

Steve Alvarez is a retired military officer and the editor of The Depot Blog. An Iraq war veteran, he is also the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press.

Providing Veterans Someone to Talk to

Nearly a year after making the switch from in-home visits to a robust virtual engagement program for veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs Compassionate Contact Corps has gone national.

Compassionate Contact Corps is a volunteer-driven program providing constructive engagement while keeping the veteran and the volunteers safely socially distanced, said Cathi Starr, voluntary service specialist with the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.

“It’s not all about telling war stories, it’s meeting the veteran where they need to be met,” Starr said.  “A lot of people figured out the isolation that is occurring (due to the pandemic) is real and we needed to find a fix or something to help."

The program allows physicians, chaplains, nurses and social workers to pair volunteers with veterans of any age who are experiencing loneliness, are at risk for social isolation or could benefit from a companion. Veterans interested in participating require a referral by a VA clinician.

Starr’s program in Tucson currently serves 62 veterans from ages 30 to 98, along with 55 volunteers.

“The program provides a consistent weekly check the veteran can count on,” Starr said. “Right now we have a 98-year-old veteran with visual impairments and hearing impairment that couldn’t do phone calls, so I have her receiving services in the program by email – they’re communicating back and forth on a regular basis by email because she can make the text large on the phone and be able to read it.

“One of our veterans in his 40s has a traumatic brain injury. Before the pandemic, the volunteer would go to his home and play video games and sometimes they’d go outside and shoot hoops. Now they’re meeting virtually in a game room or playing against each other from their own homes and still communicate while they’re playing.”

Veterans and volunteers are matched based on common interests.

“It’s the personal touch of matching people up that I find is a challenge I enjoy very much,” Starr said. “I love the ones where it’s meant to happen. For example, this week I started telling (the volunteer) about the veteran and there were just coincidental things that matched up perfectly. It was just so awesome that it happens that way that I do feel like there’s a higher power kind of assisting me in my process.”

Based on their weekly engagement, trained volunteers can identify if their veteran is behaving in a way that isn’t normal for them, triggering a check by the VA health care team.

“Our volunteers offer early intervention,” Starr said. “We say they’re a set of eyes and ears for the VA and they detect minor changes before it becomes a big issue.”

The program has expanded to more than 50 VA facilities across the country and last week the VA partnered with the American Red Cross to boost volunteer recruitment for the program.

"We regard VA’s Compassionate Contact Corps as a best practice and signature program," said American Red Cross Senior Vice President Koby Langley in a release. "It directly aligns with our organization’s mission and the expertise of its cadres across a vast nationwide network of volunteers to prevent and alleviate human suffering whenever possible."

Interested volunteers can find available opportunities at their local VA or at the American Red Cross. 

“It doesn’t matter where the volunteer is,” Starr said. “They can connect with a veteran anywhere there is a phone line or some other means of communication. We even have a couple of volunteers that are doing greeting cards and short notes for veterans – so we go from pencil and paper all the way up to video chats and anywhere in-between.”

An Air Force law enforcement veteran, Starr’s work in developing and implementing a Compassionate Contact Corps was recently recognized by the secretary of the Veterans Administration with an I CARE award.

“I don’t know which is better working with all the awesome people who have huge hearts and don’t care about getting paid or if it’s working – because I’ve always enjoyed connecting with other veterans – with the veterans themselves,” Starr said. “Getting them engaged and seeing that engagement is probably the most rewarding part of it.”

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.