Tags Posts tagged with "Veterans"

Veterans

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Eddie Amodeo holding the image of Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio. Photo from Eddie Amodeo

For Eddie Amodeo, a disabled Vietnam veteran, an ordinary trip to a local garage sale in 2007 led to an unexpected journey that would last more than a decade. 

The Calverton resident and active participant in the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 said he remembers while looking through the variety of items on sale, something struck his eye. 

When he took a closer look, he noticed a poster. On it was a drawing that depicted a scene of the USS Yankee Clipper and the USS Cleveland submarine. Amodeo also noticed that there was an image of Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio immortalized in the sky. 

Intrigued by the poster, Amodeo bought it for $2 and while talking to the lady who ran the yard sale, she disclosed more information about the poster 

“She told me it was originally her grandfather’s and she had found it after he had passed away,” Amodeo said. 

Still curious about the origins of the piece, he began doing research to see if he could find out more information but hit a dead end. 

Amodeo, a lifelong Yankees fan, was able to connect with a team merchandising official, who then connected him with DiMaggio’s grandchildren. 

He learned that the poster was drawn by Burris Jenkins as an homage to the day DiMaggio’s famed 56-game hitting streak ended. The drawing depicts a sea battle with DiMaggio batting in the clouds with text reading ‘the 57th Game! 

The two grandchildren then referred Amodeo to Morris Engelberg, Joe DiMaggio’s estate lawyer. 

The Calverton resident also contacted the Baseball Hall of Fame to see if they were interested in the piece. He first provided the museum with a picture of the poster, but they requested to see the original. Amodeo took the poster to Cooperstown for a museum curator to personally examine it and then it was brought in front of the museum’s board. 

Amodeo said he talked to Engelberg a few times about a licensing agreement tied to the poster. After negotiating with the estate lawyer, they eventually came to a mutual agreement on a licensing agreement. 

“There was a lot of back and forth between us,” the Calverton resident said. “But I was able to get the blessing from the estate.”

Amodeo hoped to auction the prints to charities helping disabled veterans and children suffering from cancer as well as seeing if the Yankees and Indians wanted to sell his prints at their store, though he hit a roadblock. 

Despite getting a licensing agreement from the DiMaggio estate, Amodeo would need a separate agreement from Major League Baseball for him to be able to sell and auction the poster. 

“You can get an agreement from MLB, but you have to pay,” he said. 

Amodeo has been persistent but says it is tough to get those doors open as he works
by himself. 

“I haven’t really made progress unfortunately.” he said. “I’m trying to get a hold of someone in the Yankees organization and see where I can go with this.”

The Vietnam veteran added he didn’t have the money to go to a lawyer when he was initially  going through the process. 

Despite his struggles, after more than a decade, the poster is now on display in Cooperstown.  

Amodeo said he made the trip up when the American Legion had its 100th anniversary this year, but was disappointed to see the piece wasn’t on display. 

“They told me that the poster is so fragile that is displayed in cycles,” he said. “I hope to see it in person one day.”

Amodeo said he is fortunate he found the poster all those years ago. 

“It is something I’m proud of,” he said. “It is something that is in the history books.”

the orphaned fawn in Bendickson living room, before finding an adoptive doe. Photos from Janine Bendickson

Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown got an emergency call May 28 from Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). He was driving on the Sunken Meadow Parkway when he encountered a man on the side of the road aiding a dying doe that went into labor after being struck by a car.  

Janine Bendickson bottle-feeds the newborn colostrum. Photo from Janine Bendickson

The man, Gordon Edelstein, was pulling a fawn from the birth canal as Trotta got out of his car. Another newborn fawn, which was lying nearby, seemed healthy, he said. The second-born fawn was breathing faintly, so Edelstein, a retired Marine administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Unfortunately, only one fawn survived. 

“It was a horrible scene and sad to see,” said Trotta, a former cop who often stops at roadside incidents. “Life is so fragile.”

Janine Bendickson, the director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at Sweetbriar, who quickly arrived at the scene estimates that the fawns were born about one week prematurely. She wrapped the surviving baby deer in a blanket and took the animal home and bottle fed it colostrum, the nutritious milk that mammals produce and mewborns typically get when they first nurse.  

The next day, as fate would have it, Bendickson noticed that a wild deer in the nearby woodlands had also just given birth.  

A wild deer accepts an orphaned fawn as her own. Photo from Janine Bendickson

“Deer typically don’t accept fawns from another doe,” Bendickson said. “But we thought we would give it a try.”

The new mother approached the orphaned fawn and started licking and nurturing it. The doe then accepted the fawn as her own and let it nurse. 

“We were all moved to tears,” Bendickson said. “It’s a tragic story with a happy ending.”

Bendickson, who has worked at Sweetbriar for 20 years, said that the rescue was one of the more remarkable experiences of her career. 

A video of the Bendickson bottle feeding the fawn can be found here.

Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the appointment of Dr. Antonio Sanchez as the new director of the Northport VA Medical Center. He is taking over for interim director Dr. Cathy Cruise. Sanchez will oversee delivery of health care to more than 31,000
veterans.  

“We are excited to bring Dr. Sanchez on board as the new director of the Northport VA Medical Center,” said Dr. Joan E. McInerney, director of Veterans Integrated Service Network. “His sound leadership qualities and proven experience will be valuable assets for the facility, the employees and volunteers, and most importantly, for the veterans we are honored to serve. We anticipate he will arrive at the medical center within the next 45 to 60 days to begin his appointment.”

Sanchez joined the VA more than 18 years ago and has held positions at the VA Caribbean Healthcare System in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most recently, he has been serving as the acting medical center director in Puerto Rico, operating 230 hospital beds, 30 psychiatric beds, a 122-bed Community Living Center, among others for a total of 382 operating beds. He has overall responsibility for 3,700 full-time equivalent employees and a $600 million budget.

Sanchez is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and has a board certification as a fellow with the American College of Healthcare Executives. He received both his doctor of medicine degree and master’s in healthcare services administration from the University of Puerto Rico Medical Science Campus.  

The VA hospital has been without a full director since Scott Guermonprez left the position in July of last year after only one year at the helm.

The Northport VA has been plagued with staff shortages in recent years, including a federal investigation last year showing a chronic nursing shortage.

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For close to a month, Tom Butera, a mason in Port Jefferson village, laid the bricks down for the new Armed Forces Tribute in front of the Port Jeff High School. Though he had been laying bricks for over 40 years, bending over, picking them up, planting them in the ground, to him, every brick represented a family and a sacrifice.

“These we’re the heaviest bricks I ever laid,” he said.

On May 30, veterans cut the ribbon on the new tribute surrounded by well more than 100 local residents. The center of the memorial is a large stone with a plaque on it surrounded by bricks donated by local residents with notes of names of family members who were involved in the armed services. By the end, the memorial looks remarkably like the sketch by high school student Jillian Lawler produced in January, when the brick drive was first announced.

While many donated $100 for each brick, others in the community came out to support the new memorial. Gabe Zoda, 17, a senior at the high school and a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 45, donated benches to the project, each emblazoned with the fleur-de-lis of the Boy Scouts. Zoda expects to move on to Hofstra University after graduation where he will study broadcast journalism.

The idea for the project spawned from local Vietnam veteran Jim Henke, who had originally approached the district several years ago about building the memorial. It would take years, but the district helped form an Armed Forces Tribute committee in 2017, with local veterans and residents as members, who helped get the project rolling at the beginning of this year.

“Most of these veterans I knew myself from the Vietnam era,” Henke said. “We played ball together, we had a good time in the 60s, and we lost so many of those lives that I thought this was just fitting.”

Though it took time for the project to take root, he said it was the efforts of the school administration and Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“I want to thank the entire Port Jefferson School District community that raised enough brick sales to support the project without any assistance from the school district,” Henke said.

Local residents stooped down to take pictures of bricks donated by friends and family, and the Port Jefferson art staff was on call if people looked to get a rubbing of their bricks.

“I would like to say thank you for the names of the men and women engraved on the walkway,” said high school Principal Christine Austen. “My hope is that this tribute stands as a reminder to all the youth that Port Jefferson veterans are heroes that will always be close to our hearts.”

Butera feels a deep connection to the new veterans tribute. It’s his father’s name, Technical Sergeant Tony Butera of the U.S. Army Air Corps, that is inscribed in one of the bricks. His father was shot down during WWII over Hamburg, Germany, flying in a B17 bomber. His plane landed on a field of sheep, what they called a “fleece-lined landing,” and he and his compatriots were held at gunpoint on their knees by several disgruntled farmers. He became a prisoner of war on Jan. 17, 1945, and he was held for 134 days in a POW camp before it was liberated by troops led by Gen. George Patton. It was with his father that Butera picked up and laid his first brick.

While he looks fondly back on the stories of his father, he sees the different side of war with the record of his son, Greg, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. There was a time where Butera had no communication with his son for three months, though now Greg is home, and has a wife and a daughter.

“When it got hard to work, I told myself ‘shut up — these people were in a much harder spot,’” Butera said. “It was such an honor to do it.”

Jim Henke’s name was changed May 31 to correct the spelling of his last name.

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The Port Jefferson School District Armed Forces tribute. Photo from PJSD

The Port Jefferson School District will unveil its new Armed Forces tribute at a dedication ceremony with students May 30, at 10 a.m., at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. 

The tribute, created to express gratitude to those former students and staff members who have served in the armed forces, will salute military personnel with welcoming remarks from student leaders and school and local government officials. The Port Jefferson Middle School band will perform and students from Edna Louise Spear Elementary School will share poetry written especially for the occasion. 

“More than two dozen school staff and community members came together to form this committee with enthusiasm and camaraderie to honor those who served,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. “The culmination of months of planning, fundraising and fellowship has resulted in a tribute of which our school community will be very proud.”

For those who cannot attend the event, a public recognition will be held Saturday, June 22, at
9:30 a.m.

Democrat challenger Jim Gaughran upset incumbent Carl Marcellino by winning the race for New York state's 5th Senate District. Photo by Alex Petroski

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and the Senate Democratic majority passed a package of legislation that will expand veterans’ benefits and ease transition back to civilian life. These bills propose to provide veterans with a toll-free hotline on services and benefits, broaden property tax exemptions, make voting more accessible for military voters and implement additional employment benefits and academic credits. Passage of these bills comes in honor of the annual Fort Drum Day, which welcomes service members to the state Senate chamber. 

 “These bills affirm our commitment to providing military service members full resources and opportunities that they have earned,” Gaughran said. “It is our duty to support our active duty personnel during their time of service, and continue to support our veterans when they return home and transition back to civilian life.” 

The legislation advanced by the Senate Majority includes: 

● Active Duty Property Tax Exemptions: This bill, S.2930A, sponsored by the chair of the Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa), will provide qualified active duty personnel a property tax exemption. 

● Expanding Licensed Veterans Employment: This bill, S.2113, sponsored by Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Jamaica), will permit veterans who are licensed to practice a profession in another jurisdiction to practice their profession in New York State while their application to practice their profession in New York State is being processed. 

● Veterans Help and Crisis Line: This bill, S.2283A, sponsored by Sen. Sanders, will provide a toll-free telephone number for use as a help and crisis line to assist veterans. 

● Increase of Real Property Tax Exemption for Dual Veteran Households: This bill, S.2570, introduced by Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), will increase the Alternative Veterans Real Property tax exemption when two qualifying veterans reside in the same household. 

● Veteran Academic Credit: This bill, S.2741A, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), will allow full-time undergraduate students enrolled at state-operated institutions to receive academic credit for their military service or training.       

● Expanding Veteran Credits on Civil Service Appointments: This bill, S.3647, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge), will amend Section 6 of Article 5 of the New York State constitution to eliminate the requirement that a veteran must have served in time of war, and allow for all individuals who have served in the armed forces to receive credits for civil service appointments and promotions.

● Military Voters in School District Elections: This bill, S.5184, sponsored by Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Port Chester), will provide military voters the opportunity to vote in school district elections by allowing them to return their absentee ballot by postal mail.

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The recently refurbished and cleaned up Vietnam War memorial at St. James LIRR train station. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to aid the Navy’s Agent Orange victims in a bill that also expands U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs home loan opportunities for veterans.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced the Flexible VA Loan Guarantee Act  as part of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (H.R. 299). He’s urging the Senate for support. 

“This is the second time that the House has taken action to pass this legislation,” said Zeldin in a statement. “It is incredibly important for the Senate to do their part to help make this actually become law. I’m looking forward to that bill signing, and it is decades overdue.”

Suffolk County, according to Zeldin, is home to New York State’s largest veteran population. 

He expects the Flexible VA Loan Guarantee Act, if adopted, to eliminate the loan limit or “maximum guarantee amount” of a loan that the VA can guarantee for a veteran, providing the VA with the flexibility to determine the appropriate limit for individual veteran loans and expand access to home ownership in areas like Long Island where real estate values are higher.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act expands treatment coverage for those affected by Agent Orange from not only those who served on the ground, as currently stands, but to those service members who were affected while serving at sea.

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Craig McNabb with former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Photo from Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

“Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend and neighbor.”

The above feelings were expressed by former President George H.W. Bush, who was a combat aviator during World War II in the Pacific and in Asia.  These national sentiments will be felt this week as people will begin to reflect on contributions that have been made by members of every armed service to protect American ideals. While this holiday was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, every year the United States pauses to honor all of the men and women who have militarily sacrificed for our country. This Monday, veterans from across this country will recall their own efforts of service at home and abroad.

The Cognitore family. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Joe Cognitore, now the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 in Rocky Point,  grew up playing football and running track at Farmingdale High School.  Once he graduated in 1964, he went to Dakota Wesleyan University in South Dakota and was drafted into the army in 1969 towards the end of the Vietnam War. Cognitore is an extremely likable figure who has always been drawn toward leadership positions. This was no different in South Vietnam, as he was a platoon sergeant involved in heavy fighting against the Vietcong and North Vietnamese army in Cambodia. For his efforts to care for his men and to distinguish himself in battle, the VFW commander was awarded the Bronze Star.

Once Cognitore returned home from South Vietnam, he wanted to get back to civilian life, to get a job and start a family. This longtime management figure for Coca-Cola was briefly a substitute social studies teacher in Longwood, where he enjoyed working with students and coaching them in sports. Cognitore is one of the many 2.5 million Vietnam veterans who were not warmly received by the American public once they arrived home. Unlike the World War II veterans who were thrown parades and given yellow ribbons, some of these veterans were cast aside by a government that wanted to forget this Cold War struggle.  For two decades, Cognitore coped with the war through the love of his wife Cathy and his two boys Joseph and Christopher. For 31 years, Cognitore was employed at Coca-Cola, where he was promoted to management positions.

It was not until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 that Cognitore became a major figure within the Rocky Point VFW post. Next to other veterans, Cognitore raised money for necessary materials that were sent to local residents who were deployed during the military campaigns of Desert Storm and Shield. The VFW commander  was also a key figure to raise funds for the athletic programs of Rocky Point High School when it faced austerity in the early 1990s. Since the moment that Hussein started the Gulf War, Cognitore has constantly been a vital fixture at this post to greatly help the communities of the North Shore.

It is the daily routine of Cognitore to attend meetings at government buildings in Hauppauge or Albany, or speak with political leaders in Washington D.C., addressing veterans affairs. While he is now in his 70s, Cognitore has shown no signs of slowing down and ensuring the men and women who have been deployed since the War on Terror began are adequately cared for by this country. For the last 12 years, Cognitore assisted the organization of a Wounded Warrior Golf Outing that has raised more than $200,000 for those local citizens who have returned home with traumatic injuries. His VFW also sponsored the creation of one of the largest 9/11 memorials in Suffolk County at the Diamond in the Pines Park in Coram. Most recently, Post 6249 was a sponsor to ensure that the Rocky Point High School Veterans Wall of Honor was properly funded to build this structure for past, present and future service members. 

In the summer, this veterans organization, spearheaded by Cognitore, has also been the driving force behind the Rocky Point concert series that has brought in talented musicians like Mike DelGiudice’s Billy Joel Big Shot band. And closer to home, his son Joseph has just been promoted to the rank of colonel and he graduated from the immensely difficult Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  He is a proud grandfather who has always wanted to help others.

John Fernandez. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Another local veteran who fondly looks at Memorial Day with extreme pride is Shoreham resident John Fernandez. This talented lacrosse player and wrestler graduated from Rocky Point High School in 1996 and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2001. When he was deciding which college to attend, Fernandez was influenced by the wartime involvement of his older family members to achieve a military education. On this date, Fernandez thinks about both of his grandfathers who fought during World War II in the Pacific and in Anzio, Italy.  

Fernandez left the academy in June 2001, and with Shoreham resident Gabriel “Buddy” Gengler, they drove to their first training station at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  While both men were from the rival schools of Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River, they share a tremendous bond with each other. For more than a decade, they have tirelessly pushed for increased awareness to properly assist soldiers gravely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. They represent the newest generation of veterans who are motivated to ensure the strength of this nation at home and abroad.

It was at Fort Sill that Fernandez was instructed in the operation and firing of artillery guns. As he left West Point during a time of peace, this quickly changed on Sept. 11, 2001.  This young officer continued his development by being sent to Fort Irwin in California, where Fernandez participated in major war games. He learned the significance of logistics, supply, armor, infantry and artillery at these exercises. A short time later, he was ordered to Fort Knox where he instructed West Point cadets. As a lacrosse captain in high school and college, Fernandez is a natural-born leader who enjoyed guiding these prospective officers. In 2003, Fernandez was handpicked to be a platoon leader of an artillery battery that opened the primary attack into Iraq during the Second Gulf War.

Once this assault began, this talented lacrosse player who was known as “Spanish Lightning” headed north with thousands of other soldiers towards Baghdad. On April 3, 2003 as his artillery guns were preparing to shell and eventually take Hussein’s national airport near the capital, Fernandez was severely wounded. As he was cared for in the field by the medics, the very next day this vital objective was taken by American soldiers. While Fernandez was treated in Iraq and Kuwait, the war was over for him. His injuries were so severe that he eventually lost the complete use of the lower portion of his legs.  

Ever the optimist, Fernandez stated that he received a tremendous amount of attention from the moment that he was hit to the time that he spent at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. He was later transferred to a larger military medical facility in Bethesda, Maryland, which was better equipped to treat the increased number of casualties from the increased fighting. Once he received his prosthetic legs, Fernandez returned back to his sweetheart Kristi, rented a home in Rocky Point and began physical therapy.  Although he was terribly hurt in Iraq, Fernandez positively identified how fast he was discharged from this hospital and it fostered a faster return home to rehabilitate on his own.  The VFW under Cognitore wanted to properly ensure that Fernandez was thanked by this community. Outside of Post 6249, Cognitore successfully petitioned the Town of Brookhaven to rename the local street in the honor of Fernandez.  

The following year after he was hurt in Iraq, Fernandez’s daughter Madison was born in 2004. The vet went back to school at Dowling where he earned his master’s degree in education to teach mathematics. Along the way, John continued the process of walking again and his high school lacrosse coach Michael P. Bowler never doubted the drive of his former player.  

“John was one of the most determined and courageous athletes that was ever my privilege to coach to exceptional athlete, student and most importantly — a genuine good man,” Bowler said. 

In 2006, he was offered a position to work for the Wounded Warrior Project. It was at this charitable organization that Fernandez raised money and awareness to assist returning veterans who endured overwhelming medical difficulties. Armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Fernandez sat in meetings with major corporate leaders, politicians and owners of the National Football League. Just recently, he met President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence.  Today, Fernandez has a family of five children, and enjoys coaching his kids, going on school trips and speaking about his experiences at his former high school and around the nation.  His eyes are always set to help all of those members of the armed forces who have endured combat-related hardships through their defense of the U.S.

The LaRusso boys, with Kevin second from left. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Another graduate of Rocky Point High School who also attended the West Point Military Academy was Kevin LoRusso. Like Fernandez, he was a talented athlete who excelled at soccer, wrestling and lacrosse. This student-athlete was known as K-Lo, and was well-liked for his calm presence during all athletic competitions. After a year at the prep school for this military academy, LoRusso entered West Point in 2005. Although he was also recruited by the Naval Academy to play lacrosse, this cadet chose Army, as he did not want to compete against his older brother Nicholas who was a goalie on this team. This dynamic athlete had won more than 100 wrestling matches in high school and was later determined to win a national championship at West Point.  He was one of many Rocky Point lacrosse players who attended this school and was later named captain for his leadership skills. While LoRusso was a competitive lacrosse player who loved this sport, his true responsibilities rested in being a devoted army officer.

LoRusso is one of four brothers, including Nicholas, Brian and Larry, who all attended West Point and played lacrosse. Three of them became artillery officers. The oldest brother Nicholas is a major who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat engineer. From 2010-2012, LoRusso was deployed to Afghanistan and to Germany, serving in the northeastern part of Afghanistan near Mazar-i-Sharif. This area is a unique combination of desert, mountains and flat plains. There, LoRusso encountered heavy fighting against the Taliban, which widely contested the strength of American forces in this region. As LoRusso is known for his calmness, he is sometimes reminded of the fighting when fireworks are unexpectedly detonated near him. This combat veteran took advantage of being sent to Germany where LoRusso and his buddies traveled to more than thirty nations.  He has the fond memories of being with his army friends as they visited France, Italy, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Turkey.  On Memorial Day, LoRusso goes about his daily routines, but always in the back of his mind he thinks of the contributions that have been made by his family and friends who wore a uniform and sacrificed for this country.

Craig R. McNabb was an active kid who participated in football and baseball at Rocky Point High School. As he grew up with his friends and nearby family members, he was always eager to join the army. His father, Craig Sr., worked as a Suffolk County sheriff and he was a member of the Army National Guard that was ordered to Kuwait.   Like Fernandez, McNabb was one of the earliest soldiers into Iraq during the start of the second Gulf War. Ten years later and during his senior year, McNabb enlisted into the same type of Army National Guard unit and occupation that his father held as a combat military officer.

Directly after he graduated high school, McNabb finished his basic training and advanced individual training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. For two years, he was one of the younger combat military officers in his National Guard unit based out of Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. In 2016, McNabb was handpicked to be deployed to Afghanistan to carry out the sensitive security details of protecting American generals from every branch and foreign dignitaries. With his team, McNabb was responsible for protecting former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and James Mattis. McNabb was sent to a NATO military base in Kabul to carry out this vital mission to ensure the security of leaders that were defying the Taliban.

Craig McNabb in Afghanistan. Photo from Rich Acritelli

For about a year, McNabb ran more than 700 missions to ensure that these key figures were able to carry out their business within that perilous county. Currently, McNabb is a specialist/E-4 and he will soon be eligible to be promoted as a sergeant. This North Shore family shares a rare military bond that is not always seen. After the 9/11 attacks, McNabb was quickly sent into New York City to help the people who were suffering from the terrorist attack. He spent 15 months fighting in Iraq, where he traveled to every major Iraqi city, cleared homes that were occupied by insurgents, conducted patrols and trained police.  There is a unique family connection towards this military police job to assist American army forces in their mission to not only fight, but to provide a better life for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

This capable young man is still serving in the National Guard and only a couple of months ago, McNabb became a Suffolk County correctional officer. While he is still a young man, McNabb has immensely grown through his experiences in the military, where he has matured into a seasoned veteran. He would like people to think about the importance of Memorial Day and thank those people who have fought in distant lands to ensure that our way of life is not threatened.  

Thank you to all of the veterans of the Armed Forces who continually make this nation proud of their unyielding spirit to always strengthen the resolve of the U.S.  As a North Shore community, we do not have to look far to see the many numerous examples of patriotism as we remember our military on Memorial Day 2019.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Lisa Cooper embraces her son Dante Lombardo at a recent reunion. Photo from Lisa Cooper

Mental health, particularly among service members, often seems to be a forgotten topic. One man and his Northport High School friends want to change that by riding bicycles this June from New York to California to raise awareness about mental health concerns among those who have served our nation’s military. 

Dante Lombardo in uniform. Photo from Lombardo

Dante Lombardo is a former U.S. Marine who was medically discharged due to his mental health. The East Northport resident,  who graduated from Northport High School in 2015, served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 2015 to 2019. He was trained as a digital wideband transmission equipment operator and as a field radio operator. 

Throughout Lombardo’s time in the Marine Reserves, he struggled with depression and anxiety, and like many others in a similar position, tried to “tough it out,” because that’s what he said the current military culture dictates. “Nearly anybody who has served can tell you that it is highly frowned upon to seek out mental health care,” he explained.

These issues came to a head in April of last year for Lombardo, when he attempted to take his own life. Thankfully, he was connected with a local behavioral health service, giving access to the counseling and the psychiatric care he needed. 

“Had it not been for these services, I do not believe I would have ever begun the path to wellness that I am on today,” said Lombardo.

Unfortunately, many service members suffer from similar mental health issues but do not seek out the help provided by the military, Lombardo said, in fear of being separated from duty due to their issues.

The statistics are staggering.

“We see 20 veterans each day take their own lives,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist who created in 2005 a national network of professionals who provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones and their community. “People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.” 

‘People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.’

— Barbara Van Dahlen

As for Lombardo, he may no longer wear his Marine uniform, but he and his bike team are committed to fighting for their fellow service members. 

Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin, all Northport High School graduates,  just earned their college degrees. Lombardo graduated from Clinton College, Fabian from SUNY Plattsburgh last weekend and Rubin from SUNY Buffalo. Now, they’re raising money in a GoFundMe campaign to pay for expenses that occur throughout the trip. Proceeds remaining will be donated to Give an Hour, which earns exceptional ratings as a charity on Guidestar. 

Give an Hour was chosen, the bike team stated, because it is an organization that is not affiliated with the Department of Defense and can provide mental health services to those in need, without running the risk of negative consequences from the service members chain of command. Lombardo said that the charity could provide service members the opportunity to get help and start healing before their issues become a crisis that demands the official attention of their command, or one that brings harm to themselves or others, while simultaneously defending them from the stigma of needing mental health care while serving.

“The need is huge,” Van Dahlen said in a phone interview. She is honored and grateful for Lombardo’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for the non-profit. 

Van Dahlen emphasizes the need for collaborative approach to address the issues. “We really can take care of the understandable mental health needs of those who serve and their families,” Van Dahlen said. “If we work together and coordinate services — we in the government, nonprofit and private sectors — our country can hopefully step up to serve those who have given so much.”

Northport residents Dante Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin are riding bicycles cross-country to raise awareness about military mental health issues. Photo from Coast to Coast for Mental Health, Dante Lombardo’s supporters.

It’s a concept that Lombardo and his bike team understand. “This fight is not one person’s burden to bear, but instead one we face together.”

During the team’s travels cross-country, they plan to volunteer in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, elderly care homes and other places that offer opportunities to give back. Their journey aims to seek out and hear the testimonies of veterans nationwide so their stories may be heard. 

The bike team has created a Facebook group page, Coast-to-Coast for Mental Health, which will be updated to post stories and experiences of the team, as well as testimonies of those who have suffered. This trip is a humanitarian interactive wellness journey as seen through three young Long Island men who are raising awareness for those who suffer with mental health issues all too often in silence. 

Lombardo encourages people to share the funding page, the Facebook page, as well as sharing their own stories. His message to the public, “We’ll be seeing you on the trail.”

The Times of Huntington will provide updates of the team’s journey in upcoming issues.

The GoFundMe page, Give an Hour website and an overview of the charity from Charity Navigator  can be found at: 

GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/tmt6z-coast-to-coast-for-mental-health

Give an Hour: www.giveanhour.org

Charity Navigator: www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=17415

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