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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
Military News

Altman: PBS series examines military reentry

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Published:   |   Updated: April 27, 2014 at 07:19 PM

From the stage set up in the ballroom of the Tampa Convention Center, the nation’s top commando laid out a stark truth.

He was talking about his forces, who have been committing suicide at a record pace, but it is true for all the 2.5 million men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past dozen-plus years.

“Anybody who has spent any time in this war has been changed by it,” said Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. “It’s that simple.”

And that’s the message of “Coming Back with Wes Moore” — an upcoming three-part series PBS series executive produced by Moore, a former Army captain who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

“No one comes back from war unchanged,” are the first words in the trailer for the series, Moore’s voice is heard over hectic scenes of a Humvee exploding after pushing what turned out to be a bomb-laden car off a road.

“My name is Wes Moore,” he says in a trailer. “I served in Afghanistan. I am doing this project to preserve a moment in time. We’re capturing photos, portraits of veterans, as they are sharing their stories of reentry into civilian life.”

The series, which airs locally on WEDU beginning May 13, tells the story of Moore’s search for answers to some of the most difficult questions facing veterans returning from war.

His journey takes him into the lives of nine men and women as they try to reintegrate into the civilian world, where the vast majority know little or nothing about what it is like to serve and sacrifice.

The series begins with “Coming Back,” Moore’s visit to Bonnie Collins, the mother of Brian Collins.

Collins was one of Moore’s oldest friends and a fellow officer.

A year earlier, after getting married and beginning a new career, Collins took his own life.

That suicide, according to a Public Broadcasting System media release, “initiates Moore’s desire to learn more about why some veterans can get on with their lives, while some cannot.

In “Fitting In,” Moore explores the concept of identity, how it’s altered during deployment and how it’s altered again when a veteran returns home. “Moving Forward,” the final episode, examines the veterans’ drive to find a new mission, to contribute, to be part of something bigger than themselves.

“My hope is that the public can get a glimpse of what the end of the wars means to these brave men and women and to their families,” continued Moore. “There is more we can do than simply saying ‘thank you for your service.’ We can truly show our gratitude by asking them to share their experiences.”

The series airs 8 p.m. on consecutive Tuesday nights through May 27.

But you don’t have to wait that long to hear from Moore, and other veterans, about the series and their stories.

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night, WEDU, the Tampa PBS station, is hosting a screening of the series and a panel discussion at The Tampa Theatre.

The panel features some pretty talented folks.

In addition to being a paratrooper serving a tour in Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade of the stories 82nd Airborne Division, Moore was involved in managing the American strategic support plan for the Afghan Reconciliation Program, and analyzed the rise and ramifications of radical Islam in the Western Hemisphere. As a White House fellow during 2006-2007, Moore served as a special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His first book, “The Other Wes Moore,” is a brilliantly conceived story about two young men from Baltimore who shared a name and similar backgrounds, but lived two vastly different lives. The other Wes Moore is serving a life term in prison for killing a police officer. The book became an instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller.

Brian Taylor Urruela, was an infantryman in the Army from August 2004 until February 2011. At the end of a year-long tour to Baghdad, his vehicle was hit by two roadside bombs, which took his right leg below the knee and the life of his commander, according to his bio. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds, an Army Commendation Medal, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Taylor medically retired from the Army as a sergeant in 2011 and moved to Tampa, where he is a full-time student at the University of Tampa majoring in writing with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter. Taylor also works as the Vice President and Chief of Operations for VetSports, a veteran community sports nonprofit he co-founded two years ago.

Retired Navy Capt. Jeff Cathey is Bank of America senior military affairs executive and Military Banking Overseas Division executive, according to his bio. Cathey served in the Navy for 29 years, and led commands worldwide at all levels including two fleet squadrons and a carrier air wing on the USS Enterprise. Cathey flew 100 combat missions and is a decorated veteran of Operation Urgent Fury, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is an adjunct professor at USF and a member of the Navy League.

The moderator of this prestigious panel is some guy named Altman,

This promises to be a great night. For more details and to reserve your seat for this free event, go to http://www.wedu.org/comingbackwithwesmoore/.

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Military personnel don’t have to go off to war to suffer.

Just ask Elaine Gervasi of Sarasota.

Her husband of 57 years, Tom Gervasi, was a Marine who served from 1954 to 1956, never leaving the country. Most of his time was spent at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Gervasi was one of nearly 20,000 Floridians currently registered with the Marine Corps for their exposures at Camp Lejeune to three known human carcinogens found in the camp’s drinking water, according to the Marines. Those people may been exposed as far back as 1953, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Gervasi contracted breast cancer in 2003, said his wife. The Department of Veterans Affairs eventually gave Gervasi a 100 percent disability rating due to contracting cancer from the contamination at Lejeune.

Last week, I called to get his reaction to a rally that Erin Brockovich — yes that Erin Brockovich — was leading in Washington on the day the Supreme Court was hearing arguments in an environmental law case that, while having nothing to do specifically with Lejeune, could have long-term and deleterious impact for those who served there and their families.

Brockovich was headlining a protest against the U.S. Department of Justice’s position in a landmark Supreme Court case, CTS Corp. vs. Waldburger.

At issue, say organizers, is “whether a North Carolina statute could pre-empt federal environmental law to void injury claims of victims harmed by hazardous pollution.”

The Justice Department has sided with CTS Corp. If CTS prevails, it could create a 10-year limit on how long after a site has been polluted that people can file a lawsuit. Because Lejeune’s water supply was found to be contaminated from the 1950s to 1987, people like Gervasi and their families who discover health woes years later would have no civil recourse. Potentially about 1 million Marines, spouses and children who lived on base during that time could be affected.

Earlier this year, the agency released results of a study into chemical contamination at Lejeune that found “increased risk of death in the Camp Lejeune cohort for several causes including cancers of the cervix, esophagus, kidney, and liver, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. This study makes an important contribution to the body of evidence about harm caused by these chemicals. However, due to its limitations it does not provide definitive evidence for causality nor can it answer the question whether an individual has been affected by these exposures at Camp Lejeune.”

I wasn’t able to get Gervasi’s thoughts on the issue. He died Dec. 3 from the breast cancer. He was 77.

Elaine Gervasi is happy that Brockovich and others are still fighting the fight.

“I think it is fantastic, because of her notoriety,” says Elaine Gervasi. “Her name is like a household word with these types of contamination cases. It’s great when anyone draws attention to this.”

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The Pentagon announced no casualties last week in Afghanistan.

There have been 2,304 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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