I was numb...

Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach -   Mikal Vega, a 22 year Navy SEAL Chief retired, visits Coast Guard Base LA/LB as part of American300’s Never Quit Series this week. 

After getting blown up and torn up countless times over the years, Chief Mikal Vega, finally got around to coming clean with the Navy reference his injuries. 

The result, he found himself swimming in prescription opioids amongst other medications to combat his debilitating back pain, headaches and sleepless nights. 

It wasn’t long before Mikal was a walking zombie. 

“I was killing myself slowly and the crazy thing was that because the drugs were making me numb I didn’t even realize it.” says Mikal, adding, “throw in booze and the numbness got even crazier.” 

With the help of a teammate, Mikal reached out to a rolfing message therapist along with an acupuncturist to combat the pain that his pharma-booze cocktails couldn’t  even touch. 

Over time, these non-pharmaceutical modalities starting winning out and Mikal broke his his cycle of drug dependency and isolation.   It was during this transition that he was introduced to Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.  Together with his deep alignment massage and acupuncture routines Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini teachings saved his life. 

It also formed the basis for a therapy methodology which Mikal now shares through his non-profit foundation ‘Vital Warrior’, which combines several modalities of non-pharmaceutical treatments with active mentoring to assist veterans in need of relief.  

“When Mikal, retired at 22 years of duty as a E.O.D. technician and Navy S.E.A.L. he couldn't have imagined that 22 would become the number of veterans who throw in the towel on life daily as a result of pain and suffering,” says Rob Powers, founder of American300’s Never Quit Series, adding, “Mikal was on the slippery slope, but found a way out - his story is one that everyone should hear.”  

Today, Mikal is an accomplished Hollywood actor, consultant and husband and father who has dedicated himself to helping fellow veterans through his foundation Vital Warrior. 

For more on Mikal’s program please visit:  www.vitalwarrior.org 

American300 is an all volunteer 501c3 nonprofit with a mission of supporting our Department of Defense, Department of State and Homeland Security - more at: www.american300.org   

Turning Life's Strikes into Home Runs

Barksdale Air Force Base -   Seventy-two hours after U.S. Army Ranger Max Mullen, was on his way to falling into a forced road march unit formation at Fort Lewis, Washington he found himself combat rigging his parachute not once, but twice in route to being deployed at just under 500 feet above the ground of the small caribbean island of Granada.  

The combat airborne assault would end up adding to Max’s career of two combat deployments, along with having served in every US Army Ranger Battalion as well as Regiment and Ranger School as a lead instructor.   In the end, Master Sergeant Howard “Mad Max” Mullen, US Army Ranger Hall of Famer, retired can easily attest to ‘your next at-bat can be a home run’  theory of living.. he now has a robust career in acting and brand ambassadorship for several major companies. 

This week, American300 returns to United States Air Force Global Strike Command’s 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, with a traditional 9/11 remembrance message: ‘Never Quit’ delivered by special guests: Mad Max, A.J. Hunter and Austin Wahlert. 

For Wahlert, life’s strikes came in the form of the professional bull rider ending up in the hospital twice, the result on both occasions - a broken back.  “Ya know us cowboys aren’t the sharpest crayons in the box at times when it comes to personal injury management,” says Austin, adding, “we get so wrapped up in the here and now, love of sport that we become blind to the clear and present dangers of our sport.” 

In the end it was a physician that was able to break through to Austin and make it clear that if he kept riding bulls, he’d end up dead or eating through a straw from a wheel chair for the rest of his life. 

“Austin’s body was wrecked, if he was your average type there’s a good chance he’d have filed for disability and coasted through the rest of his life, but Austin is anything, but average,” says, Jeff Chadwick, Director Wrangler Jeanswear, adding, “ so he picked up a guitar like the one his grandpappy use to play while fighting over in Korea and started a musical career.” 

Today, Austin is a professional musician and produces of his own television series on the Cowboy Network. 

It seems like all of us have experienced that moment in life when we just know that something is going to happen.  A.J. had his ‘moment’ when the mounted patrol he was rolling with rounded a corner onto a street in Iraq. It was a street that A.J. knew well, and for whatever reason on this particular day, he just knew something was going to happen.  Moments later things went dark, the result of a I.E.D. 

“It was the second time I got rocked in Iraq, but the first time around was just shrapnel from a M203 grenade round that ricochetted and sent mental into my stomach.” says A.J. with a chuckle, but, adds that the reality of dealing with Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI] has been anything, but a laughing matter.   

“A.J. continues to work through issues that are a direct result of his time in combat. From the lose of too many battle buddies to his own mental gyro being out of whack at times, he’s in the fight on a daily basis.” says Rob Powers, founder of american300.org mentoring, adding, “ but, A.J.’s love of the outdoors, fresh air and going vertical, whether that be on a slab of vertical granite or ice or a huge snow-covered mountain that he can split board skin up and then snowboard back down has helped clear his mind and provide him with a sense of purpose and release.” 

Today, A.J. is a professional mountain climber and guide and is a member of American300’s ‘Purple Heart Summits’ project, where he is helping others like himself experience the outdoors through experiential outdoor learning and living. 

American300 has been bringing guests like these to Barksdale Air Force Base and other bases around the world for the past 13 years in the hopes that sharing real world stories can provide perspective and a way forward for fellow service members. 

For more on American300 visit: www.American300.org 

American300 is a non-government organization 501c3 nonprofit with a mission of supporting our Department of Defense and Department of State missions worldwide.  

August Brings Two Purple Heart Summits Expeditions

American300 Public Affairs -  As our team of Purple Heart Summits ( PHS ) climbers descended Mount Rainer last weekend after a successful team summit one member of the team was headed home to simply repack for another major climb half a world away. 

There are favorable seasons to climb certain mountains around the world and August has provided the perfect backdrop for Mount Rainer and Carsensz Pyramid PHS climbs.

The Rainier team included veterans AJ Hunter and Rob Powers, US Army along with new comer Amber Fifer, USMC.  They were joined by team leader Chris Klinke, Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, Meg Tulley and Gretchen Powers - public affairs.   

This coming week PHS team members Benjamin Breckheimer - US Army, Chris Klinke, Dr. Bryan Scheer and two very special supportive friends from New Zealand will be attempting Indonesia’s Carsensz Pyramid, with a goal of supporting Breckheimer’s pursuit of the 7 summits.   

If the Indonesia PHS team is successful Benjamin, will have 2 remaining summits in his quest to become the first Purple Heart Recipient to achieve the continental 7 summits of the world. 

Purple Heart Summits is a program of american300.org the all volunteer nonprofit with a mission of supporting our Department of Defense and Department of State efforts worldwide. Special thanks go to: Rural Partners in Medicine, Trango, Big Agnes, Honey Stinger, Rab, The North Face and special NZ friends for making 2018 PHS programming possible. 

For more on Purple Heart Summits visit:  www.american300.org/purpleheartsummits  

Lewis Feild Legacy Continues with Marine Corps

Lewis Feild and Tony Parkhurst, USMC ret. 

USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center, Pickel Meadows CA -  Wrangler cowboys and cowgirls will once again stray from traditional ‘Cowboy Christmas Rodeos’ to instead spend time with America’s only Department of Defense Special Operation Forces equestrian program over our nation’s birthday weekend. 

Six years ago World Champion Cowboys Lewis Feild and John Jones Jr. joined American300 in dedicating a week to the United States Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Horsemen.  In the years that followed Lewis Feild, would return to the Sierra Nevada’s Toiyabe National Forest and the training center four more times.   

“Lewie not only shared his stories of never quitting on his way to capturing 5 world titles, but he unpacked loads of equestrian knowledge with my Marines over the years,” says Master Sergeant Tony Parkhurst, USMC ret. who manages the DoD equestrian program with a staff of Marines today, adding, “When cancer took Lewie from us a few years back, it hit us all really hard, but to see his legacy continue on with professional cowboys and cowgirls willing to give up their ‘cowboy christmas’ to spend time over the July4th weekend with my team really says something about the impact that Lewie had on the western community and the Wrangler National Patriot program as a whole.” 

This year the husband and wife duo of Dustin and Trisha Shields will be traveling to the mountains. 

“It’s my second visit to the Marine Corps Base and the community of Bridgeport, California,” says Trisha, a full-time US Air Force Technical Sergeant, adding,  “I’m so pumped to introduce my husband Dustin, to these amazing Marines and the community that supports them.” 

Dustin and Trisha Shields 
While the professional bull rider from Kansas and rodeo queen from Oklahoma will be special guests of Centennial Livestock Companies annual ranch rodeo, they’ll also be spending time on base with our Marine Special Operation Forces Horsemanship instructors, learning the mission, sharing knowledge and heading out on training rides with the instructors. 

“Dustin and Trisha both bring over 50 years of professional equestrian knowledge to the fight, and that was what this exchange was all about 6 years ago… we wanted to have our professional horseman share everything they knew with our Marine Corps instructors.” says Jeff Chadwick, founder of Wrangler’s National Patriot program and director with Wrangler Jeanswear.  

“There isn’t a day that goes by that the Wrangler and Amerian300 family doesn’t miss Lewis Feild, but I know that Lewie is looking down with a smile ( and maybe a cell phone in his ear ) proud of the group of cowboys and cowgirls that have continued on his legacy of spending July 4th with our Marines in the mountains.” says Robi Powers, of american300.org 

9th Annual Wrangler National Patriot Memorial Day Tour

Department of Defense Europe -  For the 9th year, Wrangler Cowboys and Cowgirls are headed overseas to thank our U.S. Armed Forces Members and their coalition partners during Memorial Day Week. 

The annual Armed Forces Entertainment Wrangler National Patriot Tour is scheduled to kick off in southern Turkey this week and continue onward with stops in Germany and Romania before returning to the United Sates in early June. 

“We’ve traveled nearly a million miles collectively as special guests of the Department of Defense over the years, but we’ve never had the opportunity to visit our Troops deployed to Turkey, Germany or Romania,” says Jeff Chadwick, a director with the Wrangler Corporation, who has journeyed out on all 9 Memorial Day tours to date. 

With a theme of ‘Saluting and Honoring the Service and Sacrifice’, Wrangler Cowgirls: Annie Ellett, Trisha Shields, Jenna Smeenk and Brittney Truman will be joined by Wrangler Artists Lucas Hoge, Haydn Vitera and Austin Wahlert and Wrangler Director Jeff Chadwick. 

With Cactus Ropes in hand and RopeSmart products to catch, the Wrangler team will be teaching roping techniques for fun to all who want to learn during the daylight hours, while Lucas Hoge, Haydn Vitera and Austin Wahlert bring it home Americana style with live musical performances at night. 

“Everything this Wrangler team does each year is based on one simple heartfelt message - Thank You!” 

Wrangler Cowgirls and Army Specialist 2017
“It’s our way of showing appreciation on behalf of the entire western lifestyle community” says Chadwick, “there’s just never a question of America Loves You, when this team steps into an area of operation… and the team has even learned to hang onto their Cowboy Hat’s around the helicopters over the years.” he adds with a laugh. 

New this year, former professional bull rider turned musician Austin Wahlert, will be joining forces with barrel racer Jenna Smeenk in posting updates throughout the tour via the www.wranglernetwork.com  “Who knows where or what we’ll be sharing, but we promise to keep the focus on the true stars - our military members.” says Smeenk, who is a veteran of two combat deployments with our Air Force Special Operations Command. 

For those of in the military Memorial Day is everyday, says Colonel John Bates, USMC ret. who hosts the trip each year with american300.org’s Robi Powers. “To see the commitment that Jeff and the Wrangler endorsees have made to saluting our military during this hollowed week in May is just outstanding.” says Bates.

About Armed Forces Entertainment
             Armed Forces Entertainment is the official Department of Defense agency for providing entertainment to U.S. military personnel serving overseas, with priority given to those in contingency operations and at remote and isolated locations. The Department of the Air Force is the executive agent of Armed Forces Entertainment. Founded in 1951, Armed Forces Entertainment brings a touch of home to more than 500,000 troops annually, embracing the best of Americana that stretches across all genres of entertainment. For more information visit www.armedforcesentertainment.com ,  Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

About American300
          American300 is an all volunteer 501c3 organization which supports Department of Defense and Department of State missions world-wide.   From more information visit: www.American300.org 

Wrangler National Patriot Visits Coast Guard

South Padre Island, Texas -  Returning to United States Coast Guard Station South Padre Island and Marine Security Technician Detachment Brownsville, has been an effort for us. The last trip to USCG Sector Corpus Christi, a few months ago, included a scheduled visit south that had to be postponed due to the mission requirements of the station’s aircraft - this time we flew straight to Brownsville. 

Two months ago, instead of heading south our mentors adjusted schedules and went underway on a Sector Corpus Christi Construction Tender and filled up their final day in Corpus watching first hand the on going battle with post hurricane Harvey cleanup efforts. 

This week our Coasties were reunited with mentors on the southern border thanks to a dedicated trip bypassing the northern area of operations.  This past summer Harvey narrowly missed wrecking havoc on this border region, but what the southern border teams missed in the way of storm damage has always been more then made up for in their perseverance to stem the flow of drug smuggling and illegal commercial fish kidnapping. 

“We made a commitment to the Sector to visit as many times as possibly 3 years ago, but when you look at the land mass and number of stations it’s been hard to get out to every station… every visit,” says Rob Powers, the host of American300’s ‘Never Quit Series’, adding, “so getting back on deck with SPI and MSD Brownsville was a priority, these teams just never seem to catch a break in operational tempo.” 

With a guitar strung around his neck and solid red George Strait Wrangler Shirt pressed like his jeans , mentor Austin Wahlert, stepped before a packed galley to share his families story for the first time in front of Service Members this week.  As a member of the Wrangler National Patriot program, the former professional bull rider turned musician was right where he wanted to be.

“I gotta tell you guys, I’ve wanted to be a part of the Wrangler National Patriot Tours

program ever since the company partnered up with American300 years ago. Now to finally be on a trip, standing before you I’m as nervous as the first time I sat on top of a 2,000 pound bull.” said Wahlert, as he hugged his guitar like a favorite blanket across his chest. 

Seeing that no one was going to throw food at him, but instead having read tidbits of his story witnessing the Service Members shout out welcomes, Austin dove into telling the story of his 29 year existence on planet earth. From loosing friends and family members during High School to nearly loosing his wife and daughter as a young husband, Austin shared it all.  “Being told by doctors that I could never ride a bull again hit me hard, but nothing like being told that my daughter had Downs Syndrome or that my wife had suffered a stroke,” shared Austin, who went on to share how he reinvented himself as a songwriter ‘who plays the guitar’ and television personality and show producer. 

For nearly an hour Austin shared and kept sharing stories that made the room reflect on the absurdity and madness that life can be at times.  Throughout it all with a message of work and never quit… no matter how tough things appear.

Thanks to leaderships acceptance of our programming Austin’s story wasn’t limited to a microphone drop and stage walk off to photos, autographs and handshakes.  Instead like all American300 mentor visits, Austin spent the next 3 days doing everything from performing writing songs with Coasties to going underway on numerous missions at sea.

“I witnessed these guys process illegal fishermen in the middle of the night and got to pilot one of their 3 million dollar boats, a boat that I had performed boat checks on with the team 12 hours earlier in the day.” said Wahlert, adding, “I’ll be headed overseas to undisclosed bases on the Armed Forces Entertainment/American300 Wrangler National Patriot Memorial Day Tour next month, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but there’s nothing that will ever erase the memories and friendships that I’ve made with these Coasties .  I just pray that sharing my life story shines a light on what is truly possible in life… no matter how hard things hit you upside the head… provided you just don’t quit.” 

To learn more about mentor Austin Wahlert visit: https://www.facebook.com/austinwahlertband

For more on American300 go to: www.american300.org   

American300 Mentors Head to Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania -  American300 returns to Africa, this month on a mission of personal growth and exploration.  After 12 years of supplying mentors to military members stationed around the world, the nonprofit has started a program to enhance the personal growth from within it’s own ranks. 

Last year, the nonprofit started supporting one of it's purple heart recipients in his goal of standing on top of all 7 of the world’s tallest continental peaks. ( 7 Summits Challenge ) 

The effort resulted in American300 mentor Benjamin Breckheimer, US Army combat wounded warrior, standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest, the 2nd and 3rd of his 7 summits goal. ( He just completed his 4th summit last week with Argentina’s Mt. Aconcagua.)

As word spread of Benjamin’s achievements, fellow mentor and purple heart recipients Marlene Rodriguez and AJ Hunter, expressed interest in pushing their limits in the mountains as well. In the case of AJ it was a matter of providing opportunity,  Hunter has become a successful mountaineer and guide since being medically discharged.

 "Marlene, is a different story, she has zero high altitude climbing experience like so many wounded warriors from Texas," laughs fellow mentor Benjamin Breckheimer, adding, "But she's got the fire burning within and we have an amazing team of mentors who are renowned Everest climbers, so with time we'll get her trained up and on the big big mountain."  

This week, a team of mentors returns to Tanzania, to ascend the mountain via a new route that hopefully will prove to be the nonprofit's primary 'mentors in the mountains' route. "It's so important that a person's first experience in big mountain climbing is an excellent one," say Chris Klinke, one of American300's Purple Heart Summits team leaders, adding, "Last year we utilized a different route that was solid, but not exactly perfect for a rank beginner - our hope is that the team headed over this week will provided us with feedback that we can use to determine our best plan moving forward with Marlene's climb this summer." 

The new route will provide over a week of time on the mountain. The reason is two-fold says Klinke, “Acclimatization is a major issue, Kilimanjaro offers more vertical feet of climbing then Mt Everest - altitude sickness is real and can kill, but our program is also about bonding, having time to share and grow stronger together as a team."  

Kilimanjaro is a baby step from where AJ and Marlene really want to go which 8 thousand meter peaks like Mount Everest.  If they continues to progress in training American300's goal is tomsupport them.

For more on American300's Purple Heart Summits:  www.american300.org/purpleheartsummits 

American300 is an all volunteer nonprofit 501(c)3 with a mission of supporting our Department of Defense and Department of State operations around the world. www.American300.org 

8th Annual Wrangler National Patriot Military Reunion

TSgt Chung and CW2 Martinez - WFNR18
Las Vegas, Nevada -   The last time world champion cowgirl Annie Bianco, saw US Army Chief Warrant Officer Gamaliel 'Gamy' Martinez, and US Air Force Technical Sergeant Nick Chung, was seven months ago and half a world away from the lights of Las Vegas. 

As member of the Wrangler National Patriot team, Wrangler’s ‘Outlaw Annie’ has traveled around the world with fellow cowgirls and cowboys on Memorial Day making sure that our deployed service members know just how much they mean to the entire western lifestyle community. 

“Our mission is to visit the most remote and isolated outposts in the world, to stand beside our military members in saluting the service and honoring the sacrifice over Memorial Day week,” says Annie, who has traveled multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan, northern Africa and remote Coast Guard Stations in Alaska to name a few areas of operation.

For U.S. Army Blackhawk pilot CW2 Martinez, a member of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division, having had the Wrangler cowboys and cowgirls land on Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo brought a huge morale boost.  “These guys come in with American300, which is a Veteran run nonprofit that specializes in real world resiliency programming year-round, their guests are always so positive and focused on our people.” says Chief Martinez, who along with Tech Sergeant Chung, of Moody Air Force Base,  have arrived in Vegas as special guests of the Wrangler Corporation and the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association. 

“We started selecting special guests we'd meet while on tour, as special guests of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo back in 2010,” says Jeff Chadwick, a director with Wrangler Corporation, who has been on all 8 tours to date,  adding, “ The goal is to give command approved selected service members an amazing time showcasing their branch of service and individual units… we also like to ensure that they see first hand just how much the rodeo and western community loves them.” 

American300’s Colonel John Bates, USMC retired, a three-time purple heart recipient and Robi Powers, an Army Veteran and founder of the nonprofit spend months year-round bringing mentors to bases, but are quick to point out that during the hollowed final days of May, the focus is on connecting the world class Wrangler Cowgirls and Cowboys with our Troops serving out on the edges of theater operations.  “For those of us in uniform, Memorial Day is every day, but during the federally recognized day each year there’s no better group of American’s to stand alongside our fellow service members then these Wrangler National Patriots.” says Colonel Bates. 

For more on the Wrangler National Patriot Program: www.wranglernationalpatriot.com 

To follow American300j programming visit:  www.american300.org  

Purple Heart Visits Corpus Christi Coasties

Corpus Christi, Texas -  After months of suffering from over a dozen seizures a day and multiple failed suicide attempts including one that left her with a broken leg, 3x combat deployed and twice blown up, US Army purple heart recipient Staff Sergeant Marlene Rodriguez, retired,  knew it was time to try something, anything different to get her off the booze and medication mixed roller coaster she was on. 

For weeks she had turned down her best friends request to join in on a whitewater rafting trip on Idaho’s Salmon River.  Finally, with thoughts of her constant seizures and drowning in the back of her head, she picked up the phone and said she’d go. 

After three days of downstream travel, Marlene Rodriguez realized that the 5 day rafting trip was going to be over without her having stepped foot off of the huge ‘cadillac’ supply raft she’d been floating on.   She’d spent hours each day watching her friend and others take on the rapids in the much smaller kayaks and knew it was time to sink or swim. 

“Something inside me just clicked, I hadn’t had a seizure in a while and I was like ‘what the hell’ I might as well try this kayaking stuff out.”  

It wasn’t long before she found herself navigating a major set of rapids. “ It was crazy, I didn’t know what I was doing and then suddenly I shot out of a wave and was in calm water. It took me a few moments to realize that I’d survived the rapids. I was so stoked, I raised my paddle over my head and pumped the air… I hadn’t felt that level of happiness in a long long time.” 

Without realizing it Marlene, had triggered something powerful enough inside her to do what medication and traditional therapy hadn’t been able to accomplish - she stopped having seizures.   It was right there in the river, sitting calmly in the kayak that she realized how cool it would have been for Private Kevin M. Jones, (KIA September 22, 2005) to have been able to do something like this.  

Kevin, was one of Sergeant Rodriguez’ soldiers who died from an IED explosion during her second deployment in Iraq, he was sitting directly beside Marlene when the device went off underneath their vehicle.  “From that moment on I decided that I was going to start living life and dedicating my adventures to Private Jones.” 

Today, Marlene has committed herself to attempting to be the first female purple heart recipient to summit Mount Everest and rest assured Private Kevin Jones will be with her every step of the way.  “I want to shatter the glass ceiling for my fellow combat wounded sisters, I know Kevin would be proud to be a part of making that happen.”   

To date, less then 500 women have reached the summit of Everest and only 3 purple heart recipients have accomplished the feat - all men.

Along with American300’s Rob Powers, the two will spend days with US Coast Guardsmen assigned to Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi.  “Our all volunteer effort is focused on connecting relevant and relatable mentors with our service members around the world, “says Powers, adding, “This will mark our fourth visit to Sector Corpus Christi and first since the damages inflicted by tropical hurricane Harvey, if there’s a group of service members who know a thing or two about never quitting it’s our Coasties in Corpus Christi - they like Marlene and I are going to really enjoy spending time together.” 

For more information on American300 or to reach out to any of the organizations mentors visit: www.American300.org 

Astronaut Inspires El Salvadoran Youth to Dream Big and Work Hard

ONETEAM Envoys -  As the game clock buzzer sounded, Steve Swanson knew that he wasn’t going to state championships.  Instead the Steamboat Springs, Colorado high school senior would be joining his teammates in turning in their basketball uniforms to coach Kelly Meeks and calling it a session - the last of his high school varsity sports career.   

It would be nearly 20 years before Swanson, would find himself on another team - as a member of NASA’s Astronaut program. 

Over the span of his high school years, athletics were a huge driving force in keeping Steve  focused on studies.   As a starter on the small town’s football and basketball teams he constantly balanced family, studies and sport.  

“It wasn’t just my parents that kept me on track, I had coach Meeks, who fully expected me to excel both on and off the court,” recalls Astronaut Swanson, who along with Mike Lane and Rob Powers, volunteer for the nonprofit American300 and it’s ONETEAM program. 

The group is headed to El Salvador, this week, a trip that Powers, makes nearly every other month with special guests in support of the nonprofits youth development project there. On this trip, the team will be spending time with young student athletes from two rural communities that represent the programs youth project. 

“If someone told me that our young players would be spending time with Olympic champions, US National team coaches and medical physicians, a NFL Super Bowl Champion and NASA Astronaut all in the span of our first 7 months of programming I would have just laughed, but that is exactly what ONETEAM Envoys done,” says Felipe Flores, manager of ESA’s Youth Rugby Program.  Flores added, “The ONETEAM guests all bring personal stories of how hard can  turn dreams into reality, they also show our players that a group of Americans care a lot about them, which for these rural kids means more then words can describe.” 

Whether in sports, school or the community, Swanson like all the ONETEAM guests show that being on a well run, disciplined team goes a long way in helping achieve individual goals in life. 

For the young rugby players that he’ll be spending time with this week the message is simple: work hard, dream big and you might just yourself living amongst the stars someday. 

For more about American300's ONETEAM Envoys programming visit: www.oneteamenvoys.org 

American300 Shares #BeThere Message with Airmen

Barksdale Air Force Base, Bossier LA -  After months of suffering from over a dozen seizures a day and multiple failed suicide attempts including one that left her with a broken leg, 3x combat deployed US Army purple heart recipient Marlene Rodriguez, knew it was time to try something, anything to get her off the booze and medication mixed roller coaster she was on. 

For weeks she had blown off her best friend, who had been begging her to join in on a whitewater rafting trip down Idaho’s Salmon River.  Finally, with thoughts of seizures and drowning in the back of her head, she picked up the phone, called her friend and said she’d go. 

With visions of tracer rounds streaking through the night skies of the middle east, Benjamin Breckheimer raised his right hand and joined the Army.  He wanted to serve and take the fight to the enemy.  “I came in as a operating room surgical technician and ended up spending a year in Baghdad trying to save lives, but guys just kept coming in all busted up and it seemed so unfair that I wasn’t up there on the front lines with them,” reflected US Army Staff Sergeant Breckheimer, to an audience of Airmen from Air Force Global Strike Command’s 2nd Bomb Wing this week, he added, “So I cross trained into combat arms when I came off that first deployment and became a Cavalry Scout.”  

Not long after advanced scout training, Benjamin got what he asked for with a re-deployment. This time he’d be heading further east to Afghanistan.  Three months into his tour, the ground beneath Staff Sergeant Breckheimer’s Stryker vehicle erupted, leaving Benjamin nearly dead, the sole recipient of the majority of the enemies blast.  

With life going out of him, his team dragged him out of the drivers compartment through a passageway referred to by Scouts as the ‘hell hole’.  “The guys struggled at first to get me out… then someone realized that my right leg was still attached by a few tendons, once they snaked my severed leg up out of the engine compartment it was pretty easy to slide be back and out of what was left of the stryker.” 

With three days of water behind her, Marlene Rodriguez realized that the 5 day rafting trip she was on was going to be over without her having stepped foot off of the huge ‘cadillac’ supply raft she was on.   She’d spent hours each day watching her friend and others take on the rapids in the much smaller sport kayaks and knew it was time to sink or swim. “Something inside me just clicked, I hadn’t had a seizure in a while and I was like ‘what the hell’ I might as well try this kayaking stuff out.”  

It wasn’t long before she found herself navigating a major set of rapids. “ It was crazy, I didn’t really know what I was doing and then suddenly I shot out of a wave and was in calm water at the bottom. It took me a few moments to realize that I’d survived and I was so stoked I raised my paddle over my head and pumped the air.  I hadn’t felt this level of happiness in a long long time.” 

Years after Benjamin’s fateful day in Afghanistan he was discharged from San Antonio’s Wounded Transition Unit with pins, rods, screws, skin graphs… and the majority of his limb salvaged right leg.

As his moved his fused right ankle across the concrete sidewalk towards his car, Benjamin knew he never wanted to return
to this place.  The reality was that he didn’t know if all the surgeries and thousands of hours of therapy had even been worth it.  “Not long before being discharged my wife served me with divorce papers.  If you think getting blown up is bad, try dealing with that mental mind crusher is way worse.”   

Unchecked and waisting away both mentally and physically in his house, Benjamin found himself late one night holding a near empty bottle of booze in one hand and 9mm revolver in the other.  “Just before I pulled the trigger I took one last look at my service dogs and realized just how screwed up things had gotten. Even in my foggy mental state it hit me, I lived alone and didn’t get visitors. If I went through with it, my dogs would be forced to eat what was left of my head and body just to survive - the thought of that was enough to make me call it off for the night.” 

Benjamin woke up the next morning and realizing just how close he’d come to quitting the night before and it forced him to seriously reflect on life, his family and friends.   “I got pissed off at myself, I came so close to causing my family so much pain and suffering that I knew it was time to do something to squash the dark thoughts. I’d always been fascinated by Mount Everest, so lacking a better plan I decided that I was going to climb it.” 

Without realizing it Marlene Rodriguez had triggered something powerful enough to do what medication hadn’t been able to do - she stopped having seizures.   “I sat there floating in the calm water and realized how cool it would have been for Private Jones to have been able to do something like this.”  Jones was one of Sergeant Rodriguez’ soldiers who died from an IED during her second deployment in Iraq. “From that moment on I decided that I was going to start living life and dedicating my adventures to Private Jones.” 

Today, Benjamin represents the 3rd Purple Heart recipient to have stood on top of the world, having achieved the summit of Mount Everest in May of 2017. 

Today, Marlene has committed herself to attempting to be the first female purple heart recipient to summit the world’s tallest mountain and is training constantly between her undergraduate studies. 

As members of the all volunteer nonprofit American300 mentoring program, Benjamin and Marlene along with the program’s founder Rob Powers spent three days sharing these and other life stories with Airmen at Barksdale Air Force Base.  The goal being to hammer home a message of never quitting with everyone they encountered. 

* #BeThere is a hashtag created by our Department of Defense Suicide Prevention programs.  September represents Suicide Prevention Month for the DoD and Veteran’s Affairs Office. 

For more information on American300 or to reach out to any of the organizations mentors visit: www.American300.org 

Heroes Sports Teams Up with Am300 to Visit US Coast Guard

Corpus Christi, Texas -  For over a decade American300 has been delivering messaging to our Department of Defense and Homeland Security, in an effort to raise awareness surrounding the subject of resiliency.  Utilizing hundreds of individuals with resilient rich personal stories and a willingness to share, the nonprofit has exposed service members to some of life’s most dramatic case studies in resiliency with the goal of creating dialogue while breaking down barriers as to what the human dimension is capable of in life - if we just don't quit. 

This week, American300 teams up with Heroes Sports, a nonprofit created by Army veteran Mike Barker, of San Antonio to not only deliver personal stories of never quitting, but to bounce and shoot a basketball while doing it. “I got turned onto Heroes Sports by one of our mentors who just became the third purple heart recipient to summit Mt Everest this spring,” says Rob Powers, founder of the mentoring program, he adds, “then I’m in Jordan talking with a senior NCO who mentions Heroes Sports founder Mike Barker and how he knew the two of us would get along.” 

Upon return from the middle east trip, Powers reached out to Barker and the two instantly hit it off.  “Rob started mentoring 11 years ago after loosing a friend in Afghanistan and I started our organization for much the same reason,” says Mike Barker who along with others have created a comprehensive sports and outdoors program for active duty and veteran service members a like. “Rob asked if any of our team members had done much life story sharing on active duty bases and the answer was not that much.” 

That’s all changing quickly, as American300 and Heroes Sports have organized the first THREEonTHREE Basketball Tour with US Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi Service Members this week.   While the Heroes Sports players will be sharing their life stories with Coasties for the first time, they’ll also be playing a game that is anything but new to this group of Army veterans.  

“It’s a natural partnership, Mike and his team are showcasing one of the most critical elements to resilient living - teamwork.  Through group activity individuals who might otherwise not have a ‘shipmate’ or ‘battle buddy’ end up being surrounded by them.  True teamwork breeds trusted communication and a willingness to engage with the person on your left and right.” says Powers, adding that American300 is constantly looking for ways to showcase resilient living in new and meaningful ways. 

This will be American300’s third trip to USCG Sector Corpus Christi and first for the Heroes Sports members: Dante Langston, Ian 'Doc' Crews, Bryan Burr and Mike Barker, all US Army Veterans.  For more information on American300 and Heroes Sports programming go to:www.American300.org  www.heroessports.org Both also have platforms on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

Cowgirls Trade Cowboy Christmas For Time With Troops

Bridgeport, CA -   While rodeo committees from coast to coast celebrate our nation’s birthday with patriotic, cash rich performance purses, a group of professional cowgirls are giving their barrel racing equine partners the weekend off to spend time with our Marines. 

Instead of chasing the cash and points during Cowboy Christmas, Wrangler National Patriot Cowgirls: Jenna Smeenk, Trisha Shields and Renae Cowley are spending the 4th with a very special group of Marines from the United States Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center and the community that supports them. 

Saluting our military is nothing new for Wrangler National Patriots.  Over the past 8 years they’ve found themselves on the battle fields of Afghanistan and Iraq and countless other remote locations around the world.  With the ‘Wrangler National Patriot Memorial Day Tour’ heading into it’s 9th edition next year, the program’s sister tour, ‘Wrangler National Patriot Mountain Tour’ is celebrating it’s 6th visit to our Department of Defense’s only animal packers and special operations horsemanship instructional programs.

“This is my second 4th with the Marines and greater Bridgeport family that supports them and I can’t wait to be back around friends, breath the Sierra Nevada mountain air,” says Jenna Smeenk, a United States Air Force Veteran who deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq during her years with Air Force Special Operations Command, she adds, “There’s always going to be another barrel to race around, but there’s only one 4th each year and being invited by American300 to spend it with our Marines and their families is priceless.” 

Joining Jenna, are fellow barrel racers: Renae Cowley and Trisha Shields, who continues to serve with our United States Air Force Special Operations Command.  The three also hold Miss Rodeo titles with Trisha having served as Miss Rodeo USA, Jenna, Miss Rodeo Florida and Renae, Miss Rodeo Utah. 

While their own horses are home taking a much deserved break in the pro-rodeo circuit this weekend, the cowgirls won’t be out of the saddle much.  

Tony Parkhurst, USMC Master Sergeant retired, manages the equine programming for the training center and has the cowgirls lined out with almost nothing but riding.  As tradition has it, the three will be honorary members of the ‘Marine Corps Dream Team’, which participates in Centennial Livestock Companies produced annual Bridgeport Ranch Rodeo, they’ll also ride side by side with Marine Mountain Warfare Training Center Cadre during the annual Bridgeport Parade on the 4th. 

“American300 has been bringing world class Wrangler cowboys and cowgirls to the base and community for years now, their presence has become part of our July 4th fabric,” says Marcus Bunn, Centennial Livestock’s ranch manager and co-host of the ranch rodeo along with his wife Kim each year, adding, “it means a lot to see how much the western community comes together in recognizing this very special group of Marines, that live and operate in the mountains with us.”

About American300 -  The all volunteer nonprofit has been engaged in producing resiliency minded engagements for our Department of Defense and Department of State since 2006.  For more information visit: www.American300.org   or follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.