By SHERMAN SMITH - Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - If the Military Veteran Project succeeds at improving brain injury treatment and other goals, Melissa Jarboe won’t be running the organization she founded.As MVP membership swelled the past three years, Jarboe has struggled with personal constraints, narrowed the organization’s focus and rejected donations.
“I’ve learned to understand I’m personally attached to MVP,” Jarboe said. “I don’t want us to grow. I don’t know how much I can handle as a volunteer, and I don’t know how much my volunteers can handle. So in the next year our goal is to hire somebody that can.”
The decision is a calculated move for an organization founded to fulfill her husband’s dying wish to help fellow service members.
In an interview at her Topeka home, Jarboe talked about the exhaustion of running MVP, pressure to relocate to the nation’s capital, and the ways Topeka has saved and hurt her efforts, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1X98RPV).
“We won’t grow too fast here,” Jarboe said. “Not everybody will let us.”
An MVP board respectful of Jarboe will have to find a new leader while pressing for a refined identity and setting its sights on a partnership it hopes will reduce veteran suicides.
Jarboe will remain the public face of the organization.
“I think you learn that you are not the person suffering, so you’re irrelevant at that point,” Jarboe said. “I know I can wake up each day and enjoy the freedoms. I can breathe. I can walk. I can talk. I can organize. But I know there are men and women out there suffering who fought for the freedoms I use daily who don’t have those freedoms when they come home to American soil.
“That keeps me grounded. So while something so tragic happened to me, it really doesn’t matter. I still have my freedoms and my life. I think you put that in perspective, right? Don’t need to be selfish about it.
“I might get some backlash on that comment.”
Jamie Jarboe died a year after suffering wounds from a sniper’s bullet in Afghanistan.
In a 2012 interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal, his widow blamed “the negligence of the military hospitals” for his death.
“When I first created the Jamie Jarboe Foundation, I did it because I needed something to help me carry Jamie’s legacy on,” Melissa Jarboe said last week. “He left me with the last wish to take care of his service members, and I had no idea what that meant. That was the hardest part. I had to figure that out.”
She spent a year traveling the nation, “gone every other week,” visiting military bases and answering calls of distress. She found herself caring for active duty soldiers, military spouses, widows, wounded warriors and veterans.
“They were struggling in one way or another,” Jarboe said, “and for some reason, I always knew how to fix it and get them the help they were struggling with for a good duration of time.”
Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Deborah Rose, a prominent voice for military issues in the Topeka area, became a strong supporter.
“I can’t remember when exactly I met her,” Rose said, “but I was very impressed with her ability to grasp the issues at hand, and of course that came from helping her husband when he was so severely wounded and being a patient advocate for him. I’m also a nurse by education, so I understand how important it is for people to have an advocate when they’re either in a hospital or in the health care system.”
Jarboe tells a story of a trip to Georgia following a phone call from a military mother whose son suffered severe traumatic brain injury from lack of oxygen while getting his wisdom teeth pulled.
Jarboe’s husband had suffered the same type of injury while being treated, and she helped the family push through military red tape and health care restrictions. Ultimately, the soldier’s wife and mother were able to visit their son, which the military hospital had forbidden, and move him to civilian care.
“That’s all very confusing if you didn’t know it,” Jarboe said. “And so what I was able to do was get down and listen. I listened to the mother, and then I asked the wife what she wanted, because I wanted to make sure I was within those guidelines. What do you need from me?”
While those efforts were rewarding, Jarboe realized she was “no longer serving Jamie” and sought to refocus the organization’s broad mission. A year into existence, the foundation board renamed the organization.
MVP’s mission was to honor and empower veterans. But as the organization considered “tightening down what we’re good at doing,” Jarboe said, it looked to traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
Both afflicted her husband, who served two deployments. He suffered “invisible wounds” before he was shot, Jarboe said, but nobody noticed.
“At first I thought it would be really simple,” she said. “Something small. A grassroots movement. But due to our social media outreach and people across the country and then around the world who are familiar with Jamie and me, it ended up growing fast. As an organization, it was hard because we grew way too fast.
“Before we knew it, we had a hundred thousand active duty service members, military spouses and veterans register with the Military Veteran Project. Not all of them were requesting assistance, but they wanted to be a part of it. They wanted to make sure they were keeping track of it.”
Now, that number is approaching 700,000.
MVP board member Steve Ennis said Jarboe’s departure from running operations is a “responsible decision” and “a milestone of sorts for our foundation.”
“We need to find the ability to remove some of the administrative responsibilities from her, so she can be more surgical in regard to her investment of time,” Ennis said. “As important as it is to have her be the face, we can’t make the mistake of having her be the only face of MVP.”
Jarboe is now caring for four children while investing 40 to 50 hours of volunteer work weekly to MVP. At times, she has used her own funds to bolster events.
Although she relishes the organization’s social media breadth - Facebook posts can reach up to 1.6 million people in a few hours - she receives unwanted personal attention and seeks advice from celebrity acquaintances she has met through other military-related foundations.
“Stalkers are everywhere,” Jarboe said. “They’re gross. Sometimes, if there’s a picture post of me looking interesting or pretty, they’re all over that. It takes three to five administrators.”
She has considered leaving Topeka and went so far as to put her house on the market earlier this year. For the moment, she plans to stay but described her personal life as “one hell of a nightmare.”
Securing grant money to hire a full-time operating officer for MVP would help. But she remains cautious of who the organization partners with while upholding her husband’s legacy.
“We are still a volunteer-led charity,” Jarboe said. “Our goal is to find the research, complete the research, to help treat traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress to end military suicide. And I think those two things keep me very busy, but then I see the volunteers underneath me working just as hard.
“People all over in the nation, right now as we speak, are in one way, shape or form managing a program or campaign that’s reaching veterans, active duty service members and spouses in distress.”
Jarboe said she has faced pressure to move MVP to Washington, D.C., or other states where fundraising and networking would be easier.
But she is fond of Topeka’s role in launching MVP and praised leaders like Rose and Topeka Police Chief James Brown for their support.
Brown said Jarboe “has done much for the veteran community in Kansas” and built “great relationships” with Topeka organizations, including the VA hospital and Topeka Rescue Mission.
And her generosity, Brown said, extends to helping honor a Missouri police officer who had been shot during a traffic stop.
“Melissa is truly a jewel,” Brown said, “and we are fortunate to have her in our community.”
Still, there are times, Jarboe said, when she hopes MVP leaves.
“Some people still wonder what we do and how we do it,” Jarboe said. “They just know that we have a large support system. And so I think Topeka has saved us, but it’s also hurt us because it’s such a small community. Most of our donations do not come from the Topeka area.”
Ennis said MVP raises about $100,000 per year, and Jarboe said little of it comes from Topeka. But she has used a $50,000 donation from 5-hour Energy and other gifts to help fund Topeka events, including the annual Veterans Day Parade.
“Our commitment to Topeka has been very strong over the past three years,” Jarboe said. “We’ve done amazing things here for the local community, the veterans. We work very closely with the veterans administration. They work very close with us, and that’s a great partnership.”
For three years, she has organized the Salute Our Heroes Gala in Topeka, initially footing the cost herself. Next year, the event will move to Washington, D.C.
The location should make it easier to reach donors, Jarboe said, and Topeka presents logistical challenges for the 30 to 50 wounded warriors who attend. It has been difficult to transport them from airports or find accessible rooms.
“Out of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) places our wounded warriors could go here in Topeka, not everywhere was handicap accessible,” Jarboe said. “That was a hard thing. If they did have the buttons for the wheelchair-accessible ramps, they wouldn’t work or the doors wouldn’t open completely.”
In D.C., with support from former Sen. Bob Dole, soldiers will have a presidential honor guard escort them from the airport and an opportunity to tour the White House.
But as MVP entertains thoughts of moving the entire organization, Jarboe fears such a change could derail MVP’s commitment to researching traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder, and lowering suicide prevention. She is leery of tales about small organizations “created with a passion behind them” that wind up losing momentum after forging dubious bonds.
“We’re very cautious,” Jarboe said. “Very cautious about who we want to partner with and who we want to be associated with for our well-being. After all, this is Jamie and my name, so we want to protect that and everything it stands for.”
Tens of thousands of service members are diagnosed with TBI each year, the U.S. Department of Defense disclosed in a special report earlier this year.
Since 2000, the total surpasses 330,000.
Jarboe said 22 veterans, mostly between the ages of 45 and 60, commit suicide every day.
MVP is considering a partnership with a major medical institution to research links between suicide, TBI and PTSD. But to do so, MVP would need to raise a lot more money.
To get meaningful data, researchers would need to study at least 1,000 patients. Ennis said the cost would be about $9,000 per patient, and they would need $1 million to get started.
“That’s a serious undertaking when you consider that would increase our gifts received by almost 1,000 percent,” Ennis said.
As with Jarboe, the issue is deeply personal for Ennis.
He met Jarboe in high school when she lived in Minnesota for a few years before returning to Kansas. They reconnected on Facebook as she began working to help veterans.
“My father was a combat-wounded veteran,” Ennis said. “At the time, when Melissa asked me just to learn more about the Jamie Jarboe Foundation, she didn’t have any idea that my dad was quadriplegic and required a lot of care, similar to her husband.”
He has been a board member for the past two years. Like other members, he doesn’t live in Kansas, recently moving from Minnesota to South Dakota.
Others live in Minnesota, Indiana, Colorado and North Carolina. Jarboe and Ennis revealed plans to double the size of the board with Topeka or Midwest members who could help choose a leader and simplify goals.
Operational growth and expanded fundraising, Ennis said, are necessary and could lead MVP to move to D.C.
“It’s scuttlebutt at this point,” Ennis said. “There’s been an idea floated out that maybe we could be gifted some space in D.C. Obviously, if that happened, (it would help) our ability to find other collaborative partnerships.”
For Rose, the retired brigadier general and trained nurse, collaboration is Jarboe’s “strong suit.” But Kansas remains a good fit for MVP, she said, because of the “strong military representation” in relation to its size.
In addition to Topeka’s Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center, MVP is close to Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth and Wichita’s McConnell Air Force Base.
“She’s working with PTSD and traumatic brain injury,” Rose said, “and there are some studies that can be done now that are very specific to help with treatment. The treatment for those two issues is different, but they’ve kind of been lumped together because providers didn’t quite understand what the difference was and how to treat them. And so what her organization is doing is finding resources.
“This is something that’s not being done within the VA system.”
In 2014, Rose was grand marshal for the Veterans Day Parade in downtown Topeka.
“What a wonderful feeling it is,” Rose said. “It’s just exhilarating to me to see all of the spirit for our United States of America and our flag and our military people.”
Jarboe initiated efforts to form the parade three years ago. This year, it featured a tank and a skydiver, leaving Jarboe disappointed by lagging attendance.
In previous years, the parade was held on the holiday, but she said it was moved to Saturday at the city’s request over safety concerns.
Lt. Colleen Stuart said TPD had representation on the parade committee but that the change wasn’t a TPD recommendation.
“Discussion revolved around traffic congestion, hindrances to open businesses and overall participation/attendance,” Stuart said. “In fact, it was mentioned that area businesses were upset if the parade were to be held during the open business hours as it would keep customers away.”
Organizers estimate attendance dropped to 5,000 people after seeing 8,000 to 12,000 the first two years.
“All I know is this was our lowest attendance in the last three years,” Jarboe said, “and that’s very sad.”
As a result, the parade’s future is in jeopardy. She called on the community to support the event regardless of when it is held.
“They can choose to show up, and they can choose not to,” Jarboe said. “I mean, the parade is for the veterans, but they do rely on the community to help it be successful and move forward. If a certain church can show up every year consistently, then I would think that the regular day civilian can take an hour out of their day to do so, as well.”
She noted World War II veterans won’t be around much longer.
“They just want to see the community cares,” Jarboe said. “Some of these guys don’t even want the parade, but once they get there it helps them restore humanity and faith that what they fought for, the sacrifices they made, were not in vain.”
Ennis traveled to Topeka to attend this year’s gala and parade, getting his first impression of the Kansas capital.
“Just from an aesthetic, we came in from the north,” Ennis said. “We saw the old Cargill storage grain buildings down near the river. From the vantage point, it appeared to be a working class city.”
He wondered whether Topeka is big enough for an organization grappling with ambition, but he is also sensitive to Jarboe’s concerns.
“Well, I mean, it’s home for her, you know?” Ennis said. “As an outside board member, it’s hard for me to comment on it because we’re in this position right now where she’s the pulse of our foundation, and she’s the one that’s operating everything on a day-to-day basis. So could we reach more of the people we need to reach by being in a different location?”
Ennis praised Jarboe as “more than full-time invested” and “a driving force for veterans nationwide.”
But Jarboe is ready for reinforcements.
"I need to introduce to my son, to put a face and name to one of the 22. He is so much more than a number, he is a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a grandson and nephew--deeply loved.
Daniel Leonard was born on March 14, 1980 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. He is the youngest of three and such a beautiful baby who became an extraordinary man.
Daniel was an Army Combat Medic who served two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan. He was loved by the men and women he served beside and was affectionately called "Doc".
On November 21, 2014, Daniel lost his battle with PTSD by suicide. I know that my son's pain was horrific because his heart was so big and loving.
Rest in peace my sweet angel...you live in our hearts. With all my love, Mom"
Shared by Cpl Daniel Leonard's mother- S. Brown
For more information please visit http://www.militaryveteranproject.org/22aday-movement.html_
Part of the Labrador retriever's training was to sense when the demons of war had invaded Wade Baker's dreams. "I was having a nightmare, a flashback," Baker, a Gulf War veteran, once told an interviewer. "And I woke up with Honor standing on my chest, licking my face." He tried to push his service dog away, but Honor persisted. "He was stopping the nightmare for me," Baker said. And so, this summer when he saw his master lying in the flag-draped casket, Honor pushed through the clutch of weeping family members, reared up, placed his paws on the edge and tried to climb in. Unable to comfort Baker, the lanky black dog in the camouflage-patterned vest curled up underneath. For Baker, the long nightmare was finally over. But Honor was still on duty. Baker's quarter-century battle with post-traumatic stress disorder ended on Aug. 19 at a little church in the western North Carolina mountains. Police responding to an alleged hostage situation there did not know it at the time, but it was Baker who'd made the 911 call. He was both gunman and hostage, and, as he told a friend who was trying desperately to make him surrender, it was time for him to be "put down." When he fired at the officers, they returned fire, striking him nine times. Plagued by memories and delusions, Baker took years to even admit that he had a problem. Even after his wife convinced him to get treatment, he never stopped looking for a cure — that "magic pill" that would allow him to go back to work, back to normal. For a while, he thought Honor was it. In the end, even this bundle of unconditional love wasn't enough for him. Still, Honor was never just Wade Baker's dog — and now there would be others in need of healing. Baker, a State Center, Iowa, native, enlisted in the Army on Nov. 21, 1988 — nine days after his 18th birthday. Stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, with his new wife Diane, Baker learned that his unit would be deployed for Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait from Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Part of the 1st Infantry Division, they would be "the tip of the spear." Baker, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle driver, made it through "the 100-hour war" with barely a scratch. But the invisible injuries inside were massive. A few days after his return to Fort Riley, Diane called his sister, Laura Thomas, to say that he was having nightmares. He said a dead man was chasing after him, trying to talk to him. Baker told his sister that, while in the desert, he'd stumbled across an Iraqi soldier and shot him when he reached into his uniform. The man, he later realized, was reaching for photos of his children. Then there were the burial details. "The dogs would have dug them up overnight," he told her. "He talked about fighting over an arm with a dog one time." The men began shooting the animals, Baker said. When Thomas told her brother that he needed professional help, he said that wasn't an option. He planned to make the Army a career and feared they would "bounce me out of the military for being a nut job." Besides, seeking help was a sign of weakness, he thought. Suffering in silence was the "manly" thing to do — even if that meant "drinking it away" or "drugging it away." Somehow, he managed to keep it all hidden. He picked up three good conduct medals and was promoted to sergeant. During the mid-1990s, Baker served back-to-back tours in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Then things began to unravel. He attacked a higher-ranking non-commissioned officer and received a letter of reprimand for an incident involving his company commander. "The anger, the frustration," he said. "I didn't know how to control it." In November 1998, he "managed to get out with an honorable discharge." Moving back to Iowa, Baker got a job as a corrections officer with the Marshall County Sheriff's Department. But he was becoming more distant from Diane and their two girls. He fell in love with a jail co-worker, Michelle, who was also married and had two sons of her own. They divorced their spouses and married, eventually having two sets of twins of their own. By 2006, Baker had lost his jail job and was working for a pest-control company. Then in October of that year, fire struck, forcing them to grab the children and flee into the night. "He said he felt like he was back in war," Michelle Baker said. "He went downhill really fast after that." Baker was having false memories — a dog they never owned, a vacation they never took. And worse. He rushed in one day, ecstatic, after seeing their neighbor out doing yard work. He was convinced that he'd killed the man. Shortly after the fire, Baker lost the exterminator job. He went to work servicing septic tanks. Finally, Baker reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007, but was told it would be several months before he could be seen. He began to see suicide as the only way out. "You're playing a game of chess," he said. "And you realize you're two moves away from checkmate." After a high-speed chase with police, Baker landed in a psychiatric unit. A doctor got him into the Iowa City VA. "The Nightmares + Flashbacks are more severe in intensity + Frequency," he wrote in a note from that period. "I see more clearly and I understand what they want. They need me to kill myself to make it rite. This is just the beginning its gonna get worse they want to torture me forever. I am afraid to live or die." Baker was finally diagnosed with PTSD. But it would be 2009 before the VA would declare him 100 percent disabled. Meanwhile, he entered an inpatient program at the VA Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He left early, but while there wrote a poem in which he channeled the feelings of soldiers from past wars. "They convinced us to Fight For honor + glory But when they were done with us, the same old story 'Here are trinkets + medals — Oh wow a parade! Now Just Forget all the promises made" On Aug. 23, 2010, at a kennel in Indianola, Iowa, a chocolate Labrador retriever named Bittersweet Formaro whelped a litter of six — four males and two females. Nicole Shumate took the whole bunch, plus one more from another litter. As executive director of Paws & Effect, Shumate has spent nearly a decade training dogs for service with disabled children and combat veterans. She dubbed this latest group the "military litter" — Anthem, Hero, Justice, Liberty, Merit and Valor. And, of course, Honor. Honor had a bit more drive than his siblings. In addition to the standard obedience training, Shumate enrolled him in agility classes to burn off some of that excess energy. "Honor was always a clown," she says. Honor was about halfway through his training when the Bakers' dog was hit by a car and killed. About that same time, Shumate was giving a talk to a local kennel club, and Thomas convinced Wade and Michelle to go. By the time it was over, they were all in tears. Catching Shumate outside, Thomas said, "Please help my brother." When Baker met Honor at Paws & Effects' Des Moines office, the dog was aloof and Baker was stuttering. But Shumate was confident the two would complement each other. In March 2012, Baker and about a half dozen other veterans reported for training at a military base outside Des Moines. After two days, Baker was agitated and ready to quit. Then the men and dogs paired up for real-world training. During a mall outing, Baker became anxious. Honor began rubbing against his legs, then climbed up into his lap and let out a big yawn — a calming trick he'd learned. "And that's when I realized: 'Oh. You're training ME,'" Baker said. Honor "graduated" along with his siblings. Baker said he'd already slept more in the two weeks of training than he had in years. The VA doesn't pay to provide service dogs for PTSD sufferers. However, the agency is in the midst of a three-year study of the animals' potential benefits to veterans — or harms, such as possibly distancing themselves from human contact. While many veterans report a great calming and comforting effect from having a service dog, says Dr. Chris Crowe Sr., a VA clinical psychologist, "there's a real difference between feeling better and treating these disorders that can derail a person's life." Michelle Baker didn't need a study to know that Honor was a godsend. The change was immediate — and profound. Before Honor, Baker would grow anxious if he went to one of the boys' football games. He'd be a wreck for a week afterward. "It made him an active member in our family again," she said. And it wasn't just Wade. Before Honor, Michelle Baker felt as if they were all "drowning in an ocean." Honor, she said, "was a life preserver who swam to us." In a 2012 interview on Iowa Public Radio's "River to River" program, Baker said Honor was pure love — unconditional and unquestioning. "He doesn't care why I'm agitated," he said. "He's like, 'Hey. Something's not right. Let's fix it.'" Yet even though Baker loved Honor — whom he affectionately called "Tiger" or "Knucklehead" — he couldn't shake the conviction that his dependence on this dog was proof of his own weakness. Honor's vest — embroidered with the words "DO NOT PET" — was like "a bullseye on my back," he said. He declared that Honor was just the "next step" in his recovery. "I've always been looking for that magic pill," he confessed. "I want to wake up tomorrow and I want to be normal." A year after graduation, Baker returned to the training camp to mentor the latest cadre of dog recipients. He sat down with a videographer from Paws & Effect to talk about how Honor had changed his life. "It's getting better," he said. "And it's not the meds. It's not the therapy. It's just everyday living, with him." Not long after Baker filmed that interview, however, things got bad again. A buddy who'd served with him in the Balkans was living near Asheville, North Carolina. Assuring Baker that the VA hospital there was great, he opened his home to his troubled friend and, in December 2013, Baker made the move. By the following May, things were going well enough that Michelle and the boys decided to follow. Once again, Baker left the inpatient treatment — saying his family needed him at home. Crowe, the VA psychologist, says the dropout rate for veterans in psychotherapy is 20 percent. Continuing treatment in one-on-one sessions, he was asked to write a "trauma statement." In the six-page handwritten document, Baker told a new story — about a friend who was killed when his vehicle rolled over a mine during the Gulf War's final push. "I was covered in blood, all over my face hands neck," he wrote of his futile efforts to resuscitate the man. He was haunted by a mean joke he'd made moments before. "I was only kidding + giving him a hard time," he wrote, "but its the last thing I ever said to him." The process left Baker agitated and angry. Michelle became so concerned for the boys' safety and her own that they moved out this past July — making sure to take all the guns. She and the kids found a small house, overlooking a pasture with lowing cows. Wade and Honor moved into a single-wide trailer about a mile away. They still saw or talked to each other every day. August 19 was the boys' first day of school. That afternoon, Michelle picked Jack and Kobi up, and went to Wade's to get some of their things. As soon as he came to the door, she could tell something was wrong. "It's a bad day," he told her. As Honor tailed the boys around the trailer, Baker told his wife that he hadn't slept in days. He began arguing with her, asking why they couldn't all be together. When she and the boys went to meet the older twins' bus, Baker continued his argument by text. Michelle decided not to engage him. At 3 p.m., he sent a final note. "I love you," he wrote. "Always will. Tell the boys I am sorry and that I was weak. I will always be watching them, every touchdown every test every night." Michelle called the VA's crisis hotline.
At 3:08, Baker posted a note on his Facebook page — the one he'd launched in June with a picture of Honor as his profile photo. "Well I had a good run but it's time," he wrote. "I love you all." Armed with a .20-gauge shotgun, Baker had driven a couple of miles into the mountains above Clyde to the Maple Grove Baptist Church. He kicked in the front door and called 911. "There's somebody here with a gun," he told the dispatcher in an oddly calm voice. "They're shooting up everything." "Do you know who it is or anything like that?" the dispatcher asked. "Ah, some crazy son of a bitch," Baker said, irritated. "I think he's shot four people already." The line went dead. Danny Lynn Cagle, the boys' football coach, had spotted Baker's Facebook post and immediately phoned his friend. Baker kept hanging up, and the coach kept calling back. He told Baker his sons needed him. Baker said he was holding them back. "It's time for me to be put down," he said. Officers from four agencies converged on the church. One radioed that he'd been in touch with the crisis hotline, and that Baker had vowed "he would die by law enforcement. Today." Baker complained to Cagle that the police were refusing to shoot him. "You're about to hear fireworks, buddy," he said. "Tell the boys I love 'em." His shotgun raised, the veteran walked toward the officers. Cagle heard a bang, then a burst of gunfire. Officers found Honor at Baker's trailer — unharmed. Michelle believes Baker left him behind because he didn't want him to get hurt — or to try to stop his master. The faithful dog attended the memorial service, where Susannah Smith, Michelle's cousin, photographed the bittersweet moment when he curled up beneath the casket. "It was almost as if Honor was saying 'this is my last watch,'" she wrote in an email, "and stayed there to protect Wade." And Honor was there at the funeral, held in the chapel overlooking the Western North Carolina Veterans Cemetery. The rifle salute sent him leaping into one of the boys' laps. Typically, if a recipient dies and the service dog is still young enough, the animal is placed with another veteran or child. But taking Honor from the Baker boys was never an option, Shumate said. "He's the last connection that the boys have with their father," she said. "And I'm sure if we gave the dog the choice, he'd prefer not to be uprooted." Michelle Baker said they already owed him more than they could ever repay. "Honor gave the boys their dad for more years," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. "And that's an amazing gift." The camouflage vest has been retired to a hook by the back door. These days, Honor is more pet than service dog, but he still has special powers. If one of the boys becomes emotional, Michelle said, Honor will rear up and gently press his front paws into his chest. "And they just melt and embrace him." She watched on a recent afternoon as the older twins, Mason and Nick, took turns calling the dog, each trying to prove he's Honor's new favorite. She kept some of her husband's ashes. He had asked that they be scattered at favorite waterfalls and other spots they'd visited. When the boys are ready, she plans to take them to fulfill his last wishes. And when they do, it will be with Honor.
To thank members of the military past and present for their service, food and drink are on the house all over the country on Veterans Day 2015, which takes place on Wednesday, November 11. Before getting to the bars and restaurants offering freebies, let us also point out that they’re not the only deals available to military service personnel.
Among the non-food freebies,Great Clips is giving anyone who gets a haircut on November 11 will receive a card that a veteran or active-duty military service member can later use for a free haircut; UFC Gyms are giving free gym access to those with military ID and their families from November 11 to 15; Meineke offers free oil changes with military ID on Veterans Day; and national park admission is free for everyone on November 11.
As for free food and drink, check out the list below. Unless otherwise stated, the offers are valid on November 11 only. In all cases, be sure to bring ID with proof of status as a current or former member of the military. Happy Veterans Day!
Applebee’s: Vets and active-duty military can have their pick from a special menu with options like three-cheese chicken penne, 7-oz. sirloin, and double crunch shrimp, free of charge (beverage and gratuity are not included).
Bob Evans: Hotcakes, brioche French toast, and the country biscuit breakfast are among the options available to veterans and active-duty military in a special free menu.
Bonefish Grill: Customers with military ID get a free order of Bang Bang Shrimp on Veterans Day.
California Pizza Kitchen: A special Veteran’s Day menu that includes pizza, salad, and pasta is free for vets and active-duty personnel.
Cheeseburger in Paradise: An All American Burger with fries is free of charge to those with military ID.
Cracker Barrel: Grab a free dessert—the Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake—if you’re a veteran.
CraftWorks: Active-duty military and veterans are welcomed to a free craft beer—or, if that’s illegal locally, an appetizer on the house—at this brewery and restaurant group with nearly 200 locations around the country.
Denny’s: From 5 a.m. to noon, all veterans and active-duty personnel get a Build Your Own Grand Slam meal, with possibilities including pancakes, eggs, bacon, fruit, and hash browns.
Friendly’s: Participating locations are giving veterans and active military a free Big-Two-Do combo meal for breakfast, or free All American Burger with fries and a drink for lunch or dinner.
Golden Corral: From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., anyone who has ever served in the U.S. military is welcomed to a special sit-down dinner, free of charge.
Hooters: All veterans and active-duty military personnel get an entrée on the house.
IHOP: From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., all veterans and active-duty military members are welcomed to one order apiece of Red, White & Blue Pancakes, which come with glazed strawberries (red), blueberry compote (blue), and whipped cream (white.)
IKEA: From November 8 to 11, show military ID in an IKEA cafeteria for a free entrée (value up to $9.99).
Krystal: Free breakfast, in the form of a chicken or sausage biscuit, is on the table for vets and active military from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., and after 11 a.m. all customers get pups or corn pups for 50¢ apiece, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Armed Services YMCA organization.
Little Caesars: Vets and active military can help themselves to a free, $5 Hot-N-Ready lunch combo, including four pizza slices and a 20-ounce beverage, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at participating locations.
McCormick & Schmicks: This seafood and steak chain is honoring veterans and active military not on Veteran’s Day but on Sunday, November 8, with a choice of free entrees including tender beef medallions, salmon rigatoni, or blackened chicken fettuccine.
O’Charley’s: On Monday, November 9, veterans and active military can make a selection for free off the $9.99 menu, which includes chicken fried steak and bayou shrimp pasta. As for Veteran’s Day itself, customers with a military ID who purchase an entree get a free slice of pie for dessert.
On the Border: A free “Create Your Own Combo” featuring a selection of tacos, salads, enchiladas, and more (max value: $10.79) is available to all veterans and active military.
Olive Garden: Customers with military ID get a free entrée such as chicken parmigiana, lasagna, or cheese ravioli, with unlimited soup or salad and breadsticks, and family members joining a veteran or active military member at the table get 10% off on Veterans Day.
Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt: All vets and active-duty personnel get a free 11-ounce frozen yogurt.
Outback Steakhouse: Customers with military ID get a free Blooming Onion appetizer and free beverages on November 11, and all military and their families get 15% off the bill anytime from November 12 to December 31.
Ponderosa Steakhouse: Both Ponderosa and its sister chain Bonanza Steakhouse offer free meals for veterans and active military from 4 p.m. until closing.
Red Lobster: From November 9 to 12, veterans and active military receive a complimentary appetizer or dessert.
Red Robin: Help yourself to a Red’s Tavern Double burger and bottomless steak fries if you’re a veteran or active-duty personnel.
Sheetz: In addition to a free six-inch turkey sub and regular-size fountain drink at Sheetz convenience stores, all veterans and current service members are welcomed to a free car wash at participating locations.
Shoney’s: The All-American Burger is free all day long for veterans and active-duty military.
Sizzler: Veterans and active military get free lunch—entrée and a beverage—at participating locations until 4 p.m.
Twin Peaks: Take your pick of a free Philly cheesesteak or crispy chicken tender basket with military ID.
Wayback Burgers: Get a free Wayback Classic Cheeseburger (or a Crispy Chicken Sriracha Sandwich at a couple of locations) if you’re a veteran or active-duty personnel.
White Castle: Get a free breakfast slider and a small coffee or other drink if you’re a veteran or active-duty military.
Wienerschnitzel: Each vet or active military member is welcomed to a free chili dog and a small Pepsi beverage.
World of Beer: Show an ID card with proof of service and you’re welcomed to pick a free draught beer in this craft beer haven, with locations in 21 states.