Are we truly thankful for those who safeguard our freedom everyday?

There won’t be many words in this post.   Just images.   Images of those who sacrifice their time and service to protect our freedom.   Our own United States Military.   This weekend, as you sit around large tables filled with families and your feast.   Stop.  Take a moment.  Say a prayer for our troops, both near and far who guard the sanctity of our nation each and every day.  

For those whom we are truly thankful.

For those whom we are truly thankful.

Operation Red Wings Angel Flight - coming home to rest in peace.

Operation Red Wings Angel Flight – coming home to rest in peace.

Can you help carry the load?

Can you help carry the load?

Giving Hope!

Giving Hope!

Standing up for the next mission.

Standing up for the next mission.

Air evacing victims from the tsunami in the Philipines.

Air evacing victims from the tsunami in the Philipines.

UN humanitarians

Providing for those who have not.

Saving a brother in Afghanistan.

Saving a brother in Afghanistan.

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Belle of Steel #10 Captain Valerie Ormond, USN (Ret.)

What would it be like to be aboard a floating city of men? Essentially , a men’s only club, where the sign reads “No Girls Allowed.”  Retired Navy Captain Valerie Ormond knows. She was among the first female naval intelligence officers aboard a combat ship for the United States Navy. One of very few women aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

All aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln

All aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln

An aircraft carrier’s crew consists of the ship’s company, those permanently assigned to the ship, and  the air wing personnel, who come on when the air wing is deployed. Normally, the air wing comes aboard for training, work ups, and deployments. The total ship’s company is normally around 3200.  The air wing totals about 2400. Therefore, the total personnel on board a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier is usually over 5500 people. In addition, there are others that are not part of the ship’s company.  These peeps consist of NCIS agents, contractors, teachers, the Admiral’s staff, and the like. Some interesting factoids on the USS Abraham Lincoln and photos can be found here.

The number of women assigned to the USS Abraham Lincoln’s ship’s company, air wing, and Admiral’s staff was 363 out of 5500.  She was one woman amidst a sea of men.

Valerie was assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron FIVE (VQ-5) as part of Carrier Air Wing ELEVEN (CVW-11) from November 1994 – July 1996. Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron FIVE flew the ES-3A Shadow, an aircraft carrier-based electronic reconnaissance aircraft. Carrier Air Wing ELEVEN  was assigned to the USS Abraham Lincoln in 1994 and 1995. Missions included a Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf deployment participating in Operation Southern Watch, the enforcement of the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, and Operation Vigilant Sentinel, in response to Iraqi threats against Jordan and Kuwait. VQ-5 is now decommissioned, but for some great data on VQ-5 and naval aviation click here .

As an intelligence officer, Valerie found that being on the squadron’s first six-month deployment on board a carrier with real world missions to be very fulfilling. There were some who said that as a woman, she had no place there.

But Valerie would hear nothing of it. To her, it mattered not whether she was male or female. She was there to use her mind over matters of war. With a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Mass Communication from Towson University in Maryland, as well as a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College in Washington, D.C., she was a match for any man’s mind. She loved school and learning, and it showed. Valerie later attended the U.S. Army War College and was awarded her second Master’s degree in Strategic Studies. She believes that all of that schooling reinforced what her parents taught her early on: education teaches one how to think.

Valerie’s training has ranged from basic military survival skills to executive military leadership. But she doesn’t believe that any education or training is as important as experience. She feels she’s learned from every experience and as such, has tried to apply that learning to future steps in life.

Captain Valerie Ormond, USN (Ret.) at work as an author.

Captain Valerie Ormond, USN (Ret.) at work as an author.

As a retired, decorated, naval officer, Valerie never dreamed she would be where she is now; especially as an author. She didn’t plan either path from childhood, but fortunately followed where life led her. One of Valerie’s favorite quotes is from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “I am a part of all those I have met.”  She describes being lucky to have met extraordinary people and sharing the lessons learned from them with others.

The top two mentors who have inspired Valerie are retired Vice Admiral Jake Jacoby, U.S. Navy, and her dad.  But her mother comes in a very close third!  Admiral Jacoby believed in her, supported her, and never told her she couldn’t do something because she was a woman.  He advised her to take jobs which at the time she didn’t understand would be the best for her and her future in the navy.   Valerie now understands that being a mentor doesn’t mean always telling the person who seeks your guidance what THEY want to hear.   Sometimes a mentor must bear bad news and say, “No, I understand that’s what you’d like to do, but this is what you need to do.” She appreciates that Admiral Jacoby took her under his wing and never steered her wrong.

Although Valerie hadn’t planned on a naval career from childhood, her father indoctrinated her in the Navy from day one. Her father served as an active duty officer, a reservist, a naval civilian, and a navy contractor. Quite simply – he loved the navy.   A ship’s clock rang in their house 24/7. Her dad explained the meaning of the bells and their relation to watch shifts aboard ships. Her brother and she grew up with and learned expressions like “Rank Has Its Privileges,” “Change Step Move Out,” and   “Reveille, Reveille” in grade school. Her father taught her about navy traditions, leadership, and the pride and value of service. Interestingly, he was also a very gifted writer, which he never pursued beyond a hobby.

With such a strong, naval minded father, what about her mother? Valerie describes her as “brilliant, sassy, creative, supportive, and still working at the age of 78. Need I say more?”  Valerie thinks SHE is the real “Belle of Steel” here.

Concerning obstacles in her path to success in a male dominated world, Valerie remembers early in her navy career being teased by salty fleet sailors. They felt since she hadn’t served at sea, that somehow she was a less worthy member of the team. It made no difference to them that there were so few positions at sea for women officers at the time. And they were not being filled by English major Ensigns.  A memory struck her regarding the sign outside of a boy’s fort. “No Girls Allowed.”  As a young girl, she would have walked in and challenged the threat, but Valerie knew the United States Navy was far from a kid’s fort. Protocol and decorum were at play. She had to navigate the game.

Although she felt it was unfair to have something held against her, it was something over which she had no control. She volunteered for and served in assignments designated “sea duty equivalent” per the bureaucracy, but that didn’t seem to matter to naysayers. The impetus which compelled her to do her part occurred when the exclusion on women serving on combat ships and in aviation squadrons was lifted in 1993. She decided she could and would overcome the obstacle. Finally, she had the Navy’s permission to enter the fort.

When the first jobs opened up for female intelligence officers on combat ships, there were few positions for the many seeking them. Valerie was lined up for four separate jobs before she finally received orders as one of the first women aboard a combatant aircraft carrier as an intelligence officer in its air wing. Persistence, flexibility, and a willingness to do things never done before paid off in the end.

Valerie believes her most rewarding experiences in the military occurred when she could do something for someone else. In her current career as an author and national speaker, sharing her leadership experiences with others through media is the most rewarding experience. It struck her that she still had much to offer. Valerie believes that sometimes, “We don’t know what we know about ourselves until we share with others.”

As a naval officer, Valerie attributes one of her personal strengths to be the revelation that she can’t do everything herself. It was earth-shattering to realize that it’s okay to admit that. Valerie knows that tenant probably comes from having support from so many for so long. To this day, she is thankful to have the most amazing support a person could ask for from her husband, also a retired naval officer. She never takes that for granted. Valerie describes herself as someone not afraid of change. In fact, she’s become pretty good at not only accepting, but embracing, change. And finally, Valerie still believes that everything happens for a reason. Her mantra? Rather than dwell on the negative, try to move on to the positive.

Believing in Horses

Believing in Horses

Five years from now Valerie would like to still be helping other people – such as young women aspiring to leadership positions .  She trusts that helping someone else by sharing something she’s learned will achieve goals far beyond her own.   Her award winning book, Believing in Horses just won the Gold in young adult fiction for the Military Writer’s Society of America.    It is a story  of a young girl whose father is serving in Afghanistan.    It’s a coming of age story regarding overcoming the fear of losing her father in battle through horsemanship.   The powerful fiction is a beacon for children of deployed parents.    Again, Valerie giving hope.   For this reason, AgeView Press is proud to select retired Captain Valerie Ormond, U.S. Navy (Ret.) as Belle of Steel #10.

Follow Valerie Ormond and her career inspiring others.

Make it Memorial May – CarryTheLoad

Military memoribiliaAn explosive device goes off.   Instantly, your right leg is destroyed and crushed below the knee.    Your left leg has gashes and is burned.  Part of your left arm is blow away.   You are unconscious and laying on the ground.   Massive amounts of blood surround your motionless body.  Your world goes black.

That was the exact experience of Iraq War Veteran, Jacob Schick, in 2004.  A 3rd generation marine of the USMC, he was rescued by a brave medic and air-evac’d out by a Blackhawk helo to a MASH hospital.  He heard a mish-mash of voices “Hang in there buddy.   We’ve got ya.  Don’t die on us.”    Nine years, 46 surgeries including a traumatic amputation of your leg and 22 units of blood products later, would you be bitter?    Angry?    Depressed?    Or self-medicating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?   Many would.   However, Jacob is not.

Recently, I interviewed Jacob serving as the Ambassador for Carry The Load.   He also works full time at the Center for Brain Health with the University of Texas at Dallas, as part of their Warrior Training Team.  I found him to be the antithesis of any victim.   He was upbeat, committed, pumped and positive.    As a trauma nurse myself, I can appreciate the harrowing horror of a prolonged recovery.    Yet, I found none of this in the indomitable spirit of Jacob Schick.

Carry the Load Jacob Schick

Will you CarryTheLoad?

As a veteran of war, Jacob humbly attributes his survival to his military brothers.   “My Sergeant used to say to all of us out there, ‘if you wake up in discomfort or pain, thank your lucky stars – you’re alive.’  It’s the military mindset.  It’s what makes you survive.”

Jacob was recruited to the Carry the Load cause because of his resilient attitude by co-founders Clint Bruce and Stephen Holly, two Navy Seals.   They recognized the positive vigor within Jacob that would be instrumental in their cause to instill enthusiasm and excitement within donors and volunteers.    His goals of survival and giving matched those of Carry the Load.

Carry the Load was established in 2011.  It was developed as a vehicle for people to come together in patriotism and show their pride and appreciation under the same banner to support those in uniform who serve – police, fire-rescue, and our military.   It started with one man carrying a flag on a mission across America.   It has grown into a national movement of thousands marching across our nation in patriotism and service.  Funds are raised to provide support to five separate established non-profit organizations.  Most non-profits spend the majority of their time fund-raising.   Carry the Load takes that burden off those organizations.

Amazing stories arise from individuals participating in Carry the Load.  Awe-inspiring messages of survival, hope, and patriotism.   Participants share appreciation for the strength and courage of those individuals who work every day to make our world a safer place.

Jacob’s message is universal –  we must celebrate heroes that sacrifice every day to bring us freedom and a life of comfort.

Help make Memorial Day, Memorial May!  Join Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach – the epitome of an American Patriot, survivor and ambassador Jacob Schick, the founders of CarryTheLoad, and thousands of other veterans, police and fire-rescue first responders.   Come out and carry more than you have to.  Go just a little bit further.   Get away from BBQs and car stalls.  Bring your family to Riverchon Park on the Katy Trail.  May 26th and May 27th.

Won’t you please help CarryTheLoad?

Solo Vietnam coming April 2012

Alright readers . . . you have asked for it, salivated over it. . . here is an excerpt of the upcoming release of SOLO VIETNAM, sequel to FLYING SOLO.   Coming in just days!   Release should be around the first week of April 2013.   Please enjoy!   Would love your comments, RTs, reblogs and invitations to your friends.   Already getting great advanced reviews!    Thanks so much for your readership and support.

Chapter 28

∞ Tonkin Gulf ∞

 Steve packed his B-4 bag in silence.  He expected that like the rest of the crew on board the Coral Sea, that he had only a few weeks before they set sail toward home.   He wasn’t the only A-4 pilot being reassigned to the USS Bon Homme Richard.  Because of a fire on the Bonnie Dick back in the fall, they were short of pilots. There were several others scheduled to serve in the Tonkin Gulf until October.  Once on deck to await his COD helo, Steve ran into Pete Watterman, the helo pilot he had met before.

“Lt. Commander,”  Pete saluted.

“Lt.” Steve saluted back.  “At ease.”

“Hey man, how’s it going?”  Pete asked.

“Being relo’d.   To the Bonnie Dick,” Steve replied.

“Yep, I’m taking some of the pilots over now.  COD.”

“Aren’t I included on that manifest?”

“No, man.  You’re orders must have changed again.  Sorry.”

“What?” For a moment, Steve was confused.

Before Pete turned to make his way to his helo he offered, “Hey Lt. Commander Novak.   You’re an alright guy.  Nice to have met another man from Dixie land.  Good luck out there.”

“Same to you,” Steve responded.

About three other pilots and their bags were loaded.   Pete geared up his propellers, kicking up some salty mist. About that time, Steve was approached by Commander Woolcock, the skipper from his squadron.

“Sir,” Steve saluted.

“Sorry to jerk you around, buddy.  But there’s been a change in plans.  You’re to bingo off to Chu Lai, taking one of our scooters for hand-off to VMA-311.    She’s seen her days on the decks of the Coral Sea.   Commander Nelson from Air Ops is fazing her out.”

“Gotcha,” Steve acknowledged.  Chu Lai?  How lucky could he get?

“But that’s not all.  Your recent service bought you some R and R.  After you hand off the plane,  you’ve got three days before you report to the Bon Homme.  Here’s your pay advance.”

Steve was handed an envelope containing the customary $200 given to pilots for spending money during their brief time off.   He couldn’t believe his luck.   Chu Lai, Nora and R and R.  It couldn’t possibly get better.

Often, when the navy felt an A-4 had seen its days on the carrier, they would send the plane to one of the marine VMA stations for repair and refit.   The marines would patch it up, repaint their own VMA call signs and the plane would be used for another hundred missions or so.   Second hand.

After pre-flighting the Skyhawk, Steve was given signal from the LSO to cat.  One last look at the deck of the Coral Sea.  She had been good to him.  As he gained altitude, he saw the lights on the deck become a small line of white, amidst a black sea.

He would be flying under night cover to transport the plane.   Another chance to see the war in action at night, from 10,000 feet.   By now, he knew the coast well.  He could see stars out everywhere on this clear night.

Despite flying over a war zone, it was relaxing in a way, to be flying a plane for delivery instead of a mission.  On shore, he intermittently caught site of flares being dropped.  There were white hot lights of anti-aircraft fire launched skyward.   It was a short flight from the deck of the carrier to Chu Lai, a mere ninety miles.  Before long, he saw the lights at Danang.  The moonlight was shining on the pristine, yellow-white sands of China Beach.

Soon, he visualized the river at Chu Lai.  As he descended, he saw the sampans out in the water.  No attacks for tonight.  He radioed Chu Lai ground and got clearance to land.

“Chu Lai tower, this is Blue Tail NL-317 requesting to land, over.”

“Bingo in, NL-317.  Keep your eye on the meatball.  Clear to ground.”

The runway at Chu Lai was fairly short.  He positioned the plane such that his slope would contact the arresting gear.  Lowering his speed and putting down his landing gear, with a small bump and scrape, Steve touched down at Chu Lai at 1930 hours.

There was no one to meet him on the tarmac.  For a moment, he wasn’t sure where to go.  But then, a marine flight crew approached.  Haggard and cover in dust in grease, they were a site.  One of them radioed for a jeep.   Steve took a moment to take the flight line in.  It was sure a far cry from the organized symmetry of the Coral Sea.    There were bunkers and razor-edged barbed wire everywhere.  It looked like the tarmac as well as the flight line had taken some substantial mortar attacks. Airplane parts, partially burned out made it a metallic graveyard.

A six by six jeep transport pulled up with three other pilots in it.   “Where to, Lt. Commander?” beckoned the driver.

“The USO club.  I hear they’ve got a great singer there,” Steve said.

“Yeah.  Righto.  Tonight’s a Mardi Gras party.   But you’ve only got about twenty minutes to curfew.”

“Then step on it,” Steve chided as he threw his bag in the back.

“Right on, Sir,” the jeep took off and sped toward the beach and the club.  As it neared, Steve could hear the sounds of jazz emanating from inside.  He could hardly contain himself and nearly jumped out of the jeep before it pulled adjacent to the make-shift arched bridge over a trench to the entrance.

Homesick for New Orleans, Nora arranged through her black market connections with Woody, to get the adornments for a Mardi Gras celebration.  Doubloons, beads, and plenty of seafood.   She booked a Vietnamese band that could play some jazz.  One more way to bring a little bit of the U.S. to Vietnam.

They place was packed.   Bar and restaurant were almost standing room only.   GIs were bedecked in vibrant Mardi Gras beads.  Some had on colorful masks.  The distinctive spicy smell of Zartaran’s filled the air from boiled shrimp and “bugs,” a crustacean native to the South China Sea.  Steve traced the sounds of jazz to the porch along the backside.   Sure enough, Nora was crooning out one of her favorites, Moon River.   He stood in the breezeway out of her sight.

She looked amazing, as always.   Radiant smile.  Bright pink lipstick.   Long, sensuous legs and high heels.  Her skirt had to be at least eight inches above her knees.  Damn, she was hot.

The crowd cheered as Nora wrapped up her song.  “Thank you all for coming tonight.  Les bon temp roulles.”  The GIs hooted and hollered.   As she finished replacing the mike in its stand, Steve came up from behind her.

“Say gorgeous, I’d know that voice anywhere,” he whispered in her ear.  Nora felt her knees grow weak hearing his voice.

Whipping around, she exclaimed, “What the heck?  Steve, where the devil did you come from?”

“About a hundred miles north of here.  Just to see my gal,” he couldn’t resist and in front of everyone grabbed her and planted a big kiss on her lips.   Catcalls erupted from every corner of the bar.

Nora was a mass of emotion.  Joy, tears, and pent up libido just  hearing his voice.  Taken aback at first, she quickly recovered.   “I can’t.  Not here.  Let me wrap things up and make sure everyone clears curfew.  Then,” she pulled him close and whispered in her sultry voice, “I’m all yours.”

Directing her cook, dishwasher and one of her girls running the bar, she quickly wrapped things up for the evening.  The books and tabs could wait till the morning.  She thanked everyone for the great job they did.  Within a few minutes, due to curfew, it was just Steve and herself left in the bar.

“What on earth are you doing in Chu Lai?”

“Had to deliver a Skyhawk for refurb to VMA-311.  How’s that for luck?”

“Brilliant,” she said throwing her arms around him.  “I’m just tickled pink you are here.”

“Nice place you got going,” he said referring to the club.

“The girls and I have really worked it over.  It was a dump.  But I’ve learned to make, uh, well, let’s just say connections.”

“That’s the navy way.  Way to go girl,” he could hardly keep his hands off of her.  “I’m about as randy as ever.  But where can we go?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” she had a gleam in her eye.

“Certainly not to your hooch,”

“Nope.  The girls are there and curfew’s on.  But we might be able to sneak out back under the decks.  There’s a small, unused, elevated tent.  It was the original officer’s mess, near the beach.”

“Sounds great, doll.  Let’s go,” he said taking her hand.   Nora locked the place up and they quietly snuck out down the back steps of the club.  They walked close to the jungle line of trees, so as not to be seen by the sentry guards.  Clearing through some brush, they came to a clearing with the tent.  It was dank, dark, and sandy, but they didn’t care.  They were finally alone.

The flap of the tent barely went down before he had his hands all over her.  The fact that there was dust everywhere and cob webs didn’t bother them. They finally had a secluded, stolen moment alone.  He kissed her passionately, relinquishing the pent up sexual tension between them.  She darted her tongue in around his mouth, long, slow and ardent.

Pulling her close into him, she felt his desire for her.  He was rock hard.  He stopped kissing her for a moment and looked deeply into her eyes.   Without saying a word, he unzipped the back of dress, exposing her shoulders.    He lowered his head and began kissing along her collar bone, starting on her left.

And. . . . you will have to just purchase the upcoming copy to see the rest!!!!!