Walking Point, a screenplay written by RJ Nevens, Jr., is about humanity, the evils of war, and the bonds between soldier and man's best friend. Considered a mash up of Marley and Me and The Thin Red Line, Walking Point was inspired by true events when, for the first time in American history, canines were trained and used in battle. Set in the 1940’s, this screenplay focuses on the bond between a group of donated dogs and their handlers, specifically a Doberman named Duke and his handler, youthful Private Markle. It portrays their travels by train from North Carolina to San Diego and eventually across the Pacific into battle. Their journey to Guam leads to love, loss, and victory. RJ at the War Dog Memorial in Mobile, AL
RJ Nevens, Jr., who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1974, has always been a writer at heart, having written several short stories throughout his life. RJ's interest in military working dogs stemmed from his love of the Doberman breed. Having Dobermans his entire adult life, RJ admires their stoic and loyal qualities.
But, it wasn't until a photograph surfaced on the internet that sparked the idea for RJ's story.
"There was this picture posted online some time ago of a Navy Seal, Jon Tumilson, and his dog Hawkeye. John died protecting our country and, from his funeral, a picture began to circulate. Hawkeye was laying at the side of John’s coffin, always faithful. That picture did something to me."
Internet photo of Hawkeye resting beside Navy SEAL Jon Tomilson's casket
"The photo captures the essence of how a dog is always faithful, whether it be a household pet or on the battlefield. I later learned that a canine was present during the Osama Bin Laden raid. At that point, I began to research military working dogs and their assigned duties."
Nevens chose the World War II era for his screenplay because, "There was so much history made during that time: families still suffering from the Great Depression, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US involvement in WWII, and the repatriating of Guam. So many of the dog handlers from that era are passing away now. They started the war dog program and it’s only fitting to honor them as well as their amazing dogs."
Follow RJ and Walking Point on Facebook where you can get updates on the screenplay’s march to the silver screen! Those agents, producers, and directors interested in pursuing Walking Point further, please contact Mr. Nevens at email@example.com
Sergeant Bowe Robert Bergdahl
Note: Like all of my previous features, this blog post is written for the purpose to inform (and enlighten) those who are otherwise unaware of the many heroes who defend our great country. These people are human beings who have showcased exemplar courage, talents, and, at times, supreme sacrifices. It is my hope that the information provided to you will move you to help Sergeant Bergdahl and his family. I thank you for reading. - Dawn
Bowe Robert Bergdahl was born on March 28, 1986 in Hailey, Idaho. After joining the United States Army, he was assigned to the 501st Parachute Regiment, 1st Battalion, Blackfoot Company. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009 by a Taliban allied Afghan insurgent group called the Haqqani Network. Bergdahl just a few days before his capture
Since capturing Bergdahl, the Taliban has released five videos depicting him in their custody. The Taliban originally demanded one million dollars and the release of twenty-one Afghan prisoners and Aafia Siddiqui in exchange for Bergdahl's release; most of these Afghan prisoners are being held at Guantanamo Bay. The Taliban later reduced its demand to five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl's release.
As of today, July 23, 2013, it has been 212 weeks - exactly 1484 days - that he has been held in captivity.
There is a Facebook page for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Please click on the image above and like the page!
HELP GET SERGEANT BERGDAHL HOME!
Members of Congress give priority to letters, emails and calls from the people in their area that they represent. PLEASE take a moment to call, write, or email a congress person in your area.
Here's a LINK where you can find some tips for writing a letter/email to Congress:
The link below will take you to where you can find out who your members of Congress are by using your zip code: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/
Remember, if you are unable to write or email your Congress members, you can always leave a message for them in Washington DC by calling (202) 224-3121.
All images and information was obtained through supportbowe.org, Support Bowe's Facebook page, and other online resources.
John with his sister Chan
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara
Growing up, John was an all-American kid. The boy-next-door type, he loved working with computers during his spare time in high school. "He built his first computer at a friend’s house whose dad operated a computer business from there. John also loved being on the debate team," his sister Chan begins. She recalls John being active in sports, particularly track and wrestling. "Unfortunately, he was not a lady’s man, but he had tons of friends and would have given the shirt off his back if someone needed it."
John graduated high school a term earlier than his classmates at the onset of 2003 and, from there, headed to boot camp. He decided to enlist in the Navy because of the growing relationship he had with his recruiter before his enlistment.
"John's first year in the service was very hard on him. He was homesick and kept telling me that he couldn’t wait for the next three years to go by so he could get out and come home. As a big sister, I told him to sit back and enjoy it. After all, he was stationed in Italy!"
After a period of time he started calling me from the military's dog kennels. He told me he was volunteering and helping with taking care of the dogs. Soon after, he called to let me know he was going to be in San Antonio, Texas training to be a dog handler.PO Douangdara and MWD Bart
"John never told us what he actually did when he started advancing in his military career. The only thing he would talk about was what his dogs were like. He loved his dogs," Chan says. "Up until John's passing the family always thought he was a [dog] handler and when deployed, he was patrolling the gates. It never crossed our minds that he was assigned to a SEAL team and how dangerous his deployments actually were. I think we took for granted how many times he had been deployed and how many times he came back. Since 2003, he had been deployed to Iraq three times and Afghanistan twice, passing away during his second tour in Afghanistan."
On the morning of August 6th 2011, Chan's family was informed personally by the United States Navy that John and his military working dog Bart had passed away in a Chinook [helicopter] downing in Afghanistan. "We were all devastated. I had just saw my brother two months earlier for my wedding."
After the news of John's death, we decided, as a family, that we needed to have something of John home with us since we knew his last wishes were to be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with his fellow brothers.Memorial Statue for Freedom Park
There was a park being built in our hometown called, Siouxland Freedom Park, which was to honor past, present and future veterans. Before my brother's passing, I wanted to show my appreciation for his service by purchasing something and having it be a part of that park.
What started off as something small (the family was going to donate a bench in his honor) soon grew bigger. After John died, a family friend went before the city council and asked them if they would name the dog park section of Siouxland Freedom Park after my brother. "Our family did not know our friend did this so when he told us, it really made us feel like the community would never forget John. To have the honor of having a park named after him, a place that will be there long after we're gone, we felt the need to put something up of John that would compliment the dog park. That's when the decision of a statue was made." The statue of John, lead dog handler for SEAL Team Six, and his Military War Dog Bart, was unveiled at Siouxland Freedom Park on Memorial Day of this year.
We knew [the statue] wasn’t going to fill the void of John being gone, but at the same time it comforted us knowing that we had something of him near our home. We don’t get to go to Arlington as often as we like, but this is a way of remembering and honoring him even though we are hundreds of miles away.
Alicia with her late husband Mac
James "Mac" McElroy, a thirty year-old family man who not only loved his wife and son, but also golf and football, was active duty as a combat engineer in the United States military for a total of 12 years. He initially served with the Marine Corps, deploying to Afghanistan during that time, and then went on to join the Army National Guard when his original enlistment was up. That's when Mac redeployed to the Middle East, first to Iraq and then again to Afghanistan. It was after his last tour overseas that left him feeling the effects of Post Traumatic Stress: anxiety, restlessness, depression, irritability, was hyper vigilant, and experienced memory loss.
"Mac was undergoing PTSD treatment at a Warrior Transition Battalion in Fort Benning, Georgia, where he died in his bed," Alicia says. "He was only home from Afghanistan a short while. His death was determined to be accidental, caused by multiple drug toxicity. Basically, the combination of drugs in his system slowed his heart rate to the point that it was unable to sustain life. All drugs found in his system were prescribed to him and were all in therapeutic range, meaning no excessive amounts of the drugs were found. The meds had been taken as prescribed." But, it's what this young widow discovered after her husband's death that was unnerving:
I started doing my own research and was shocked at what I found. Soldiers and veterans are being prescribed what they call the "PTSD cocktail" and are dying at an alarming rate; several hundred have died in the past two years alone. Drugs that weren't approved by the FDA for treating Post Traumatic Stress were being used anyway, with the most potent of them being Seroquel. Mac with his son Dane
Mac's death put Alicia on a mission. "There was nothing I could do to bring Mac back to us, but I knew he would want me to spread awareness and advocate for his fellow brothers in arms to prevent another tragedy. If one life is saved by sharing Mac's story then his death would not be in vain."
I want people to know that PTSD is real and there are other ways besides medication to get better. I also want people to know that America's finest are receiving substandard care that the military considers acceptable.
Dane visiting his daddy
Post Traumatic Stress is characterized as a severe anxiety disorder. According to the National Center for PTSD, experts believe PTSD occurs in:
1 in 10 of Gulf War veterans
11-20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans
30 percent of Vietnam veterans
If you or someone you know needs help with PTSD or is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK. Press "1" for the Military Crisis Line.
For more information on PTSD and where you can get help and receive assistance, please visit:
Lani and Emir
Lani enlisted in the Army in 2006 as a combat medic and was stationed at Ft. Carson. But, just seventeen days shy of deployment to Afghanistan, a training accident broke a vertebra in her back, which required her to stay behind in rear detachment, supporting her company stateside. The injury left her 70% disabled that she needed to medically retire in 2010. "I adopted my first retiring military dog, Billy, in 2009. MWD Billy and I would live two of the best years of both our lives," she says, remembering him fondly. "My last year in the Army, MWD Billy would often come to formation with me at Ft. Carson and would visit and help the wounded soldiers. I knew after taking care of war dog Billy that I would adopt retiring military dogs for the rest of my life."
When these canines retire, they are usually old and broken, requiring a lot of medical care. The person that adopts a retired war dog must assume all costs of that dog as they are considered equipment [to the military] and are not given retirement benefits.
Lani and Emir in school
While in the Air Force, Emir had four deployments to Iraq. He was trained in explosive detection and patrol - dual purpose. During Emir's last deployment in 2008, he was assigned the task of protecting President George W. Bush during his visit to Baghdad.
Lani adopted MWD Emir H323 in January of 2012 as an "emergency re-home" because the person who originally adopted him became too ill. In February of 2012, Emir was retrained as a service dog so that Lani could attend Pikes Peak Community College. Once there, Emir became the campus Military/Veteran Affairs Office mascot of the school. "Emir was an excellent service dog who took his job very seriously and performed many tasks that I needed done, which made attending college possible for me," Lani says.
It is with regret to report that MWD Emir H323 passed away on May 20, 2013, however, his spirit is still very much alive as this is Emir's second year nominated as a contestant in the Hero Dog Awards in the Military category, an annual contest sponsored by the American Humane Society. His voting link is: http://www.herodogawards.org/vote/?nominee=92463898 Emir partnered with a charity and, should he win the prize, all monies will be donated to the United States War Dog Association. You can follow Emir on facebook, where his fan page helps educate others about the work and history of war dogs since the inception of the Canine Corps in March 13, 1942. His facebook page is: MWD Emir H323
Jackie and her husband Patrick on their wedding day
At age 34, you're still young and in love, thinking nothing of living life vicariously, but sometimes life has other plans...
As 2013 rolled around, it brought a lot of change to Jackie's life. "I was refocusing my energy on my family and making a lot of personal transformations when I discovered something strange [on my body]," Jackie begins. "I felt it and couldn't ignore it, so I confronted my husband and asked his opinion. Right away he urged me to go to the doctor. Even if it was nothing, he wanted me to put myself first, something that mothers rarely do. He put it in plain terms: if it was for one of our kids, I would rush to the doctor's office. He was right. After that initial visit, everything became a whirlwind: a mammo, an ultrasound, a biopsy and then the results; my world came crashing down."
There is no easy way to say you have cancer, and that’s all I heard. I wanted to throw something, scream and tell them to test again, but all I did was sit there and let the tears run down my face as my husband held me and cried too. Jackie with her two sons
"I didn’t say much to my children. My youngest is only one, and my four-and-a-half year old (who should be 30) is also still really small to understand. Until I had answers to his questions, it just wasn’t a conversation I was going to have with him. Phone calls were held in another room, visits were just that - aunts, uncles, and cousins stopping by to say hi and play. But the worst part has been putting my boys to sleep at night and wondering: Am I going to watch them grow? Will I be here next year to see my oldest graduate kindergarten? Will I see my little one ride a bike?
I've cried to my husband whom, to this day, tells me, "You are going to be here to see all that - and then some! Jackie, always remember this is curable if we go about it the right way. You will be a survivor - we caught this early!"
Within a week, Jackie and her husband were on their way to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City to meet with Jackie's breast surgeon to discuss her options. While there, she found out that the cancer was not hormone-related, something she thought may have been brought on by her last pregnancy, which would have led to treatment that would have been a bit easier on her body. Instead, she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma leaving her with only two options: four months of chemotherapy followed by surgery, or surgery and then the chemo. Jackie and her family in Disney World
"I decided to go with the first option - chemo then surgery, figuring I'd just bought myself four extra months to do what I wanted: to take my children to Disney World and have some normalcy before their lives were turned upside down; to enjoy a vacation where I had no worries and to enjoy my Mother’s Day this year with my husband, boys, mom, dad, mother in-law and aunt. So that's what I did.
As I sit down and tell you this, I am halfway through my chemo. I've lost my hair and I'm constantly tired, but to watch my baby look up and kiss Mickey Mouse for the first time, it was worth all that I endured to this point."
Jackie's oncologist says that she is doing great, the most aggressive of the drugs are over and she "kicked that out of the ball park." Her PET scans and MRIs only show the cancer as a tumor, which is great as it was caught early. She has seven more weeks of chemotherapy and then it’s a break for a few weeks before her surgery.
I have elected to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. I need to be there for my family, for my husband and for my kids. I need to live and by doing this, I have a greater chance. Two years from now I don’t want to hear that they found it in the other breast. I do not want to constantly be looking over my shoulder or be crossing fingers every time I have a mammo. On the brighter side of things, I get new boobs….hey, you still have to maintain a sense of humor to get through life.
According to Ellis Island's Port of New York Passenger Records, my Sicilian-born grandfather, Calogero "Charles" Catalanotto, arrived in America on January 11, 1920 from Palermo, Italy aboard a ship called the Italia; thus beginning his journey into American life. He was five-years old.
Growing up in New Rochelle, New York, Charles and his family did what all immigrants knew what to do when coming to America at that time: they learned the native language, English, and worked hard to achieve the American dream while maintaining their cultural traditions in their household.
Along with many young men, Charles was drafted to fight in World War II as a soldier in the United States Army. Proud to serve his country, my grandfather deployed to Germany. Charles with his wife Mary
After his return to the United States, Charles was fixed up with a beautiful lady named Mary. An independent woman with a strong will, Mary was not easily attainable. But, after several dates and a promise of companionship, Charles won her heart and together they established a family, having two daughters, Lydia and Bernadette.
Despite having two small children, both Charles and Mary worked hard in their respective businesses: Charles owned and operated a barbershop on Cortelyou Road in the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn, as Mary, a seamstress, logged long hours at a factory while simultaneously selling women's undergarments out of the front room of her house, known to the neighbors as, "Mary's Cotton Shop."
On a cold December day in 1978, Charles succumbed to a massive heart attack in the basement of the Canarsie home he shared with Mary. He was sixty-four years-old.
Veterans memorial in The Villages, Florida
Denali is not your average pooch. He’s an overachieving Italian, cover model, and all around do-gooder; he is a therapy dog. But, a hero never truly works alone. His proud owners, Robert "Bob" Ipcar and Jane Landis, deserve credit in part for their Spinone’s accomplishments as they, too, are exemplars of community service. Bob and Jane with Denali Bob, a retired cameraman with the United States Army who became a Director of Photography for thirty years in civilian life, and Jane, an English as Second Language teacher and environmentalist at the Audubon Center in Brooklyn, initially tried therapy work with their first dog, a Mastiff named Yuffie. Though the efforts were good-natured, Yuffie's size startled patients and staff upon entrance onto hospital floors from the elevator. Yuffie did, however, receive recognition from The Good Dog Foundation and was appointed their mascot! Jane, Bob, and Denali at work
After Yuffie's passing, Bob and Jane toyed with the idea of getting another dog. While backstage at the West Minster Dog Show, they were introduced to the Spinoni breed, a non-aggressive, pleasing type of hunting dog, and, as the old adage goes, the rest is history. Denali and me!
Denali, whose temperament is calm and sweet, is definitely in his comfort zone as a therapy dog. “Whether we’re in the physical therapy unit at New York Methodist Hospital, on the palliative care/hospice floor at the Brooklyn VA, or making rounds with nursing home evacuees from hurricane Sandy at our local armory, Denali is hailed on a first name basis, basking in “shout-outs” from patients and staff alike. It’s a precious connection that will always stay with us,” says Bob.
Upon meeting Denali, I instantly saw what made him special. His willingness to let me pet him, smush his cute face, and talk to him in a baby-like manner (an embarrassing habit I can’t seem to break) made me feel at home with him. Bob and Jane, equally inviting, offered up stories of their dog, including a few memorable awards he received for being an advocate for the community at large. Denali with hospital staff
Denali volunteers on a weekly basis at NY Methodist Hospital where he visits patients undergoing physical therapy. “The coordinator, Amanda Nable, embraces our presence and encourages Denali and the rest of the therapy dogs who volunteer. There are a great many things happening there because of her,” Bob says. Jane smiles, agreeing with her husband. Available on Amazon.com
Denali's therapy work at the Brooklyn VA Hospital is particularly special for Bob. “It’s a way to give back,” he says with an expression that tells me he is grateful for his days as a soldier.
Jane informs me that her work with the displaced elderly at Park Slope Armory after hurricane Sandy spawned the idea of bringing Denali to provide comfort for the victims. “After receiving permission from the lead psychiatrist of the operation, Denali visited with the evacuees from Belle Harbor Nursing Home and, boy, were they happy to see him.”
Who could resist that cute chocolate face? Certainly not the publishing industry! Denali posed for the cover of Barron’s Dog Training Bible, by Andrea Arden, and is also featured on several pages throughout the book. He was also featured in the Daily News article, “Furry Docs on Duty.” Though he isn’t in Hollywood, he is most definitely on YouTube. Check out adorable Denali bringing Jane flowers for Mother’s Day. (Dog lovers, consider yourselves warned!)
*If you'd like to read more about dogs (therapy or other), visit my friend Dorri's blog.
Heroes may be at the forefront of conflict, but mothers are at the forefront of everything.
© 2013 AMA - Sally with her two sons
It takes a lot of strength and selflessness to be hero. These qualities also hold true for mothers. You see, moms are everyday heroes; providers of constant support and fulfilling needs that are as basic and as complex as one could imagine. Now, if you look at mothers of heroes, the already long list of motherhood “to-do’s” (and “to-don’ts”) grows longer…
Sally's eldest son
Just ask Sally Campbell, mother of two firefighters. She knows firsthand how her call to duty is as instantaneous as her sons’: there is no task too small, no alarm ever false. Sally’s oldest son is not only a fireman, but is also a former Marine with the United States Marine Corps. A decision he made despite his mother’s pleas, Sally is proud nonetheless. “My attempts to steer my son away from a career in the military were because of the death of my cousin Kevin Dugan, a soldier in the Army, who was killed in Vietnam.” Kevin Howard Dugan, Specialist Four in the United States Army, sustained fatal injuries after his convoy ran over a landmine trying to deliver supplies to other soldiers. “Kevin’s death wasn’t immediate. He survived the trip from Vietnam to a hospital in Japan, even calling his mother, my aunt, to let her know that he was okay, but shortly after their conversation he succumbed to the wounds.” Though Sally’s perspective on the military hasn’t changed, she says she will forever be proud of her sons for having the courage to do what they do. “As a mother, I am extremely proud of my boys. What they do is remarkable. As scary as it may be for me, it's incredibly brave of them.”
Bernadette with her son
In a post-9/11 world, no one community appears to be “safe.” This is a hard concept for many Americans to accept, but it’s a reality we must live with. Bernadette Buatti, a mother to a former sailor in the United States Navy, can tell you how uneasy life became after September 11th, 2001. “My son, who was only enlisted for nine months in September of 2001, was suddenly deployed for war,” she says, “and to my amazement - and horror - he spent the majority of his enlistment in the Middle East between battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
One of several homecomings
Though the military is different from that of the fire department, Sally says that the worrying never stops. “Firefighting is a job on the home front. Yes, my boys get to see their families more frequently than that of a soldier, but the sacrifice spans over a lifetime, just like that of a combatant.”
Sally and Bernadette agree that making care packages is the best way of providing comforts of home for their heroes. “It shows your support. That you care about them and what they’re doing,” Bernadette says.
If you or someone you know is a mother of a hero in any branch of service, Bernadette and Sally recommend joining a support group. “Navy Moms, an online support group, helped me tremendously during my son’s deployments,” Bernadette says. “I can’t say thank you enough to those women.” Photograph of Sally with her sons is courtesy of Amanda Marie Artistry. For more information on Amanda's services, please click on the photo or her name above.
"My father, Joseph N. Esposito, was born on July 18, 1938 in Manhattan, New York," Elizabeth begins, eyes watery. She apologizes before continuing, but I understand her sadness as this coming Sunday, the 5th of May, marks the anniversary of his departure from her in the physical sense. Elizabeth quickly regains composure, however, and talks on like a proud daughter would; her words story-like yet matter-of-fact like that of a genealogy enthusiast. "He was the third of seven children born to my grandparents and, from an early age, had a knack for building and creating marvelous things.
Elizabeth and I sharing a good laugh.
"By the time he was 17, he'd built a hovercraft, a helicopter that really flew, and rigged up several different types of wires and radios that caught the "S.O.S.” signal of the Andrea Doria. Believe it or not, the FBI showed up at my grandparents’ front door!" she says, chuckling.
In August 1959, Joseph enlisted in the United States Army and was eventually sent to Korea.
"The peace treaty was already signed by the time my father arrived in Asia, but apparently no one told the soldiers because my father did see his share of gunfire and combat."
In 1960, Joseph participated in the Eighth Army’s rifle, pistol and automatic rifle matches in Hawaii. He was classified as a pistol Master by the NRA and won many medals for sharpshooting. He was honorably discharged after three years of service and married Elizabeth's mother in 1962.
"My father and I became closer in the summer of 1991 following his first of four heart attacks. He was unable to work and developed a passion for lighthouses. I would travel throughout New York and New Jersey with him to take pictures and explore these structures. He was so enamored with them that he built scale replicas and eventually asked the United States Coast Guard if he could be the volunteer Lighthouse Keeper of the Staten Island Lighthouse, Lighthouse Hill. He was instated Lighthouse Keeper from 1992-2001. Many of his scale models are displayed throughout Staten Island in such places as Fort Wadsworth, Miller Field, and the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences. On May 5, 2005, my parents’ 43rd wedding anniversary, my father succumbed to an abdominal aortic aneurysm." Joseph is survived by his wife, Anna, his daughters Joann, Ellena, and Elizabeth, his son Joseph, and four grandchildren.
Roots & Branches
Elizabeth's passion for family history developed as a child while sifting through old family photos at her grandmother's house. Her company, Roots & Branches, is a product of those childhood moments with her grandma. Like her kin, Elizabeth takes fragments of others' family history and pieces them together. "I am not a licensed genealogist, nor do I present myself as one, but I feel that I have a natural talent for research and want to help others solve the mysteries of their past." Roots & Branches provides a preliminary search to make sure that efforts will be fruitful for the client in the end result. Elizabeth's fees are reasonable compared to that of a licensed genealogist. "I am charging for my time, and it does take time to provide accurate results. I make a point of being professional because customer service is the key to being successful. I spend a great deal of time conversing one-on-one with my clients to ensure that we are focusing on the same short and long-term goals." Browse the Facebook page for Roots & Branches. There, you will find some projects that Elizabeth created for family members as well as a pricing guide. For the sake of confidentiality, she is unable to publish anything discovered for clients.
"It is important to know whom we came from so we know where we’re going."