Veterans Hike as Therapy

Apr 23 2015

Proposed in 1921, the Appalachian Trail (AT) was built by private citizens, and by 1937 it covered 2,185 miles from Maine’s Mount Katahdin to Springer Mountain in Georgia. As one of 11 National Scenic Trails, it’s now maintained by federal and state agencies and thousands of volunteers.

Many people hike portions of the AT, and intrepid “thru-hikers” hike it all in a season. Thru-hiking is no new undertaking. In 1948, World War II veteran Earl Shaffer — seeking to “walk off” his war — became the AT’s first thru-hiker.

Over the years, more veterans have taken up hiking to walk off their war, and several programs assist those journeys. Warrior Hike (, founded by former Marine Corps Capt. Sean Gobin of Charlottesville, Va., provides equipment, supplies, and community support on six National Scenic Trails. After a hike, the group helps veterans with job placement.

Gobin finds hiking has three main therapeutic benefits: “First, hiking eight hours a day with no cell[phone] or computer, your brain has no choice but to process the trauma of experiences. Next, you’re with other combat vets who’ve had similar experiences. Finally, there’s great support from little towns we pass with people you don’t know giving you a hot shower, meals, and a bed. It helps reconnect with normalcy.”

Many of the hosts Warrior Hike depends on are veterans’ groups who provide mentorship and crucial insight, Gobin says.

The 2015 Warrior Hike group started on the AT March 15 and will spend May hiking through Virginia. Not every thru-hiker — veteran or civilian — makes it all the way. The typical attrition rate is 80 percent, says Gobin. “We’re closer to 50.” But, he says, those who only hike for a month still experience transformation.

— Col. Glenn Pribus, USAF (Ret), and Marilyn Pribus

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TBI Implant Coming

Apr 23 2015

In the past seven years alone, more than 270,000 servicemembers have been affected by traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and many suffer long-term effects of this unpredictable medical issue. Researchers at several U.S. universities might soon have a novel answer for these servicemembers. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently awarded $40 million to the University of Pennsylvania; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for a Restoring Active Memory project to design and test a “neuroprosthesis” — a fully implantable wireless brain chip to bridge broken neural pathways. The chip will allow patients to access old memories while encoding new ones.

The goal, says Dr. Justin Sanchez, a biomedical engineer and program manager at DARPA, is to “demonstrate in patients that this integrated device can effectively restore memory function in a human after having been implanted for at least 14 days.”

A project of this difficulty is no easy feat. First, scientists must understand exactly how the brain encodes memories such as events, times, and places. Then they must determine how to help the brain reestablish memories. Finally, they’ll develop an implant that accurately delivers targeted neural stimulation.

Does this sound like science fiction? Researchers don’t think so. DARPA aims to have a prototype within four years. “In the end,” says Sanchez, “we hope to have accelerated research that can minimize the long-term impacts of traumatic brain injuries, helping servicemembers and others overcome memory deficits.”

— Deborah Huso

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MOAA Military Family Initiative Sees Early Success

Apr 23 2015

The MOAA Military Family Initiative is off to a flying start from its late-2014 Giving Tuesday and $25-in-’15 campaigns. The foundation has raised $554,505 during the past six months. Foundation Director Col. Mike Turner, USAF (Ret), and MOAA thank all who have contributed to help the association support more than a dozen programs that aid servicemembers and veterans of all ranks and services and their families and survivors. Programs like the MOAA VA claims assistance program, Lawyers for Heroes, MOAA military spouse symposia, and MOAA career fairs provide more than 15,000 military family members with valuable, hands-on training and information in areas of critical need each year.

Learn about the foundation in the February 2015 feature “A Growing Need” at

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MOAA Endorses National Service Program

Apr 23 2015

In February, MOAA leadership took a pledge with the Franklin Project reinforcing the association’s commitment to never stop serving by ensuring every young American — military or civilian — has a chance to become civically engaged in national service through projects like the Peace Corps (above), Teach for America, military service, and many others. The Franklin Project, a private initiative sponsored by the Aspen Institute, intends to reenergize the notion of citizenship and create 1 million civilian national-service opportunities every year for Americans between the ages of 18 and 28.

MOAA President Vice Adm. Norbert R. Ryan Jr., USN (Ret), met with representatives from the Franklin Project and says he is proud to get MOAA involved in an initiative with potential to bridge the military-civilian disconnect.

“When less than 1 percent of our nation has served in the military, many Americans remain unaware of what military service means and how to talk about service,” Ryan says. “This is a worthy initiative that can help bring the country together through a shared experience.”

In addition to supporting MOAA’s pledge, individual servicemembers and veterans are encouraged to pledge support at

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Mil Tech — U.S. Army Acquires More Gray Eagle UAVs

Apr 06 2015

Published by under Technology

The U.S. Army will be fielding more Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for use at the division and corps level once the units roll off the line at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The Army recently awarded the company a $133 million contract for 19 Gray Eagles that’s a second purchase on a full-rate production contract.

Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

Gray Eagle is a long-endurance UAV designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA); communication relay; and attack capabilities. The 27-1/2-foot long aircraft has a 56-foot wingspan, a maximum altitude of 29,000 feet, and a 3,600-pound gross takeoff weight.

“Doing surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance are Gray Eagle’s main focuses,” says Mike Cardenas, deputy director for the Army Programs Office at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. “It also has two radios on-board for the purpose of acting as a communications relay to talk with soldiers in the field in real time. In addition, Gray Eagle has four hard points, two on the outside of the wings for 250-pound intel-based payloads and two on the inside part of the wings that can carry 500-pound Hellfire missiles.”

When used in a RTSA configuration, Gray Eagle’s time on station for a location 300 kilometers from its launch point is about 20 hours, Cardenas says.

“If it’s loaded up with Hellfires and other payloads, at 300 klicks it is closer to 13 to 15 hours on station at 10,000 feet,” he observes.

Gray Eagle comes with two line-of-sight antennas, but the aircraft is being supplied to the Army with a satellite antenna that can be mounted to give the aircraft over-the-horizon capability. Gray Eagle also has a fully automated takeoff and landing system.

Cardenas points out that Gray Eagle is meant to be more of a tactical asset for division commanders, but also can be used as a strategic asset.

The Army’s Gray Eagle can be launched, controlled, and recovered at the location where’s it’s operational, Cardenas notes, compared with a U.S. Air Force UAV that might be launched and then have control of the unit given over to someone flying the aircraft via SATCOM (satellite communications).

“A unique element to the Gray Eagle is that it has manned-unmanned teaming, which is used between UAVs and Apache helicopters,” Cardenas says. “Once the Gray Eagle is up, an Apache can take control of the aircraft [and] its payload and Hellfire missiles in order to work together to target a certain location.”

Cardenas says manned-unmanned teaming was part of the operational testing criteria General Atomics Aeronautical Systems carried out in the summer of 2012.

“Shots were fired in teaming with an Apache during the testing,” he notes, “and we had very good success with it.”

Cardenas points out that for all the unmanned aircraft systems that General Atomics Aeronautical Systems makes, manned-unmanned teaming is unique to the Gray Eagle.

“Thus far we have not incorporated it into other assets,” he says, “although it could be done, depending on the system and the customer’s needs.”

Deliveries on the second Gray Eagle purchase contract will be made through September 2017.

About the author: Alan M. Petrillo is a Tucson, Ariz., journalist who writes for national and regional magazines and newspapers. He’s the author of the historical mystery, Full Moon; the nonfiction work, Ice Hockey in the Desert; and his newest historical mystery, Asylum Lane, all available at

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