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Fallen Wyoming Marine Seth Rasmuson Gets Last Ride Home To Buffalo

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming U.S. Marine Cpl. Seth Rasmuson may have been young when he died, but his sacrifice for his country was valued, nonetheless, those who turned out for a procession in his honor said on Monday.

Shona Armstrong is a Canada native who married an American soldier, so she felt a strong drive to honor Rasmuson when the procession carrying his body, escorted by members of the Wyoming Highway Patrol, drove through Cheyenne on Monday afternoon on its way to Buffalo.

“There’s a sense of patriotism here that you don’t see in Canada,” Armstrong told Cowboy State Daily on Monday, holding a large American flag. “I’m really grateful that we’re proud of our country and our soldiers. They’re not forgotten here like they are in Canada. It’s very different.”

Rasmuson, a 2019 Buffalo High School graduate, was among five Marines killed earlier this month in a training exercise when an Osprey helicopter crashed in the desert near the border between California and Arizona.

The procession carrying Rasmuson’s body followed I25 from Denver to Buffalo and over the weekend, Sheridan Facebook user Kristen King called on Wyoming residents to welcome him back home to Wyoming one final time.


Video shot by Christopher Mulkey

Bill and Miriam Abernathy were sent the information about the procession by their daughter in Kansas, showing how far the call for people had reached.

“My dad was in the service and I just respected everything he did for this country,” Bill Abernathy said. “My uncle is actually still missing in North Korea. I respect what he ultimately sacrificed for this country. But somebody has to carry the torch, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

The trio waved flags above I25 at an overpass in Cheyenne, getting a “lot” of honks from passersby, they said.



More people gathered across the state at various overpasses to welcome Rasmuson back to Wyoming and to honor the young man’s sacrifice.

Rasmuson left behind his wife with whom he graduated and a 7-month-old son.

He received many commendations including the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Rasmuson’s funeral services will be held this week in Buffalo.

Donations in Seth’s memory may be made to the Seth Rasmuson Memorial, a fund set up for his son Reed’s education in care of Harness Funeral Home at 351 N. Adams in Buffalo.

Video courtesy, Laura Loughran Redmond

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Laura Ingraham To Feature Dubois’ National Museum Of Military Vehicles On Wednesday

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Staff reports

Fox Nation’s Laura Ingraham will visit with Dan Starks, Founder of the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming on Wednesday’s episode of “Hidden Gems.”

Starks and Ingraham will discuss the history and mission of the Museum. “It is one of the most incredible museums I have ever seen,” Ingraham said.

 Appearing on the Jesse Waters program Tuesday evening, Ingraham promoted her upcoming special by calling the segment “an amazing story of a man who spent $120 million to build a military museum in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming that is one of the most incredible museums I’ve ever seen.”

The National Museum of Military Vehicles is a world-class military history museum which opened southeast of Dubois, WY, in August 2020.

Inside the 140,000 sq. foot Museum, visitors will find nearly 500 fully restored military vehicles, artillery pieces, naval vessels and aircraft dating from 1897 to the present with a current emphasis on the American experience in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

The focus of the museum is to tell the stories of how these vehicles were used and to remember the valor of service members who fought, and sometimes died, in them.

The museum also houses a large, historically significant, firearms collection and had its grand opening this past May.

Fox Nation is a subscription-based video on demand streaming service that “celebrates America’s people, stories and history.”

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Gov. Gordon Orders Flags Lowered To Honor Fallen Buffalo Marine Seth Rasmuson

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday ordered flags to fly at half-staff through Monday evening in honor of a U.S. Marine from Wyoming who was killed on Wednesday.

U.S. Marine Seth Rasmuson of Buffalo was one of five Marines killed when an Osprey helicopter crashed in the desert near the border between California and Arizona.

“Jennie and I are heartbroken over the death of Seth Rasmuson, a Marine from my hometown of Buffalo,” Gordon said on Friday.

“Our hearts go out to the Rasmuson family and the entire Buffalo community,” he said.

Rasmuson graduated from Buffalo High School in 2019. He leaves behind his wife with whom he graduated and a 7-month-old son.

He received many commendations including the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

His father Curtis Rasmuson told the Orange County Register that Seth returned to Buffalo recently to attend his brother’s graduation.

Wyoming’s congressional delegation all put out statements expressing sympathy for the loss.

“My deepest condolences go out to the family of Buffalo’s Seth Rasmuson & the other Marines involved in this tragic accident,” U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said.

“Seth’s service to our country will never be forgotten. Please join me in praying for Seth’s loved ones as they grieve his loss,” she said.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso issued a statement Thursday night stating he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the accident.

“There is certainly more to learn about what happened yesterday, and much more we need to hear about his life and service to our country. Today, we mourn this tragic loss. Bobbi and I are holding Seth and his family in our prayers,” Barrasso said.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, in a statement sent to Cowboy State Daily, on Friday echoed Barrasso’s sympathies.

“I am saddened to learn of the tragic loss of U.S. Marine and Buffalo native Seth Rasmuson,” Lummis said. “I am praying for comfort over his friends and family as they mourn. I take solace in Psalm 34:18, ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’”

The Marines were participating in a routine live-fire training over their gunnery range in the Imperial Valley desert, said Marine Maj. Mason Englehart, spokesperson for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

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Marine From Buffalo Killed In Osprey Crash Near California-Arizona Border

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Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images
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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A U.S. Marine from Buffalo was one of five Marines killed Wednesday when an Osprey helicopter crashed in the desert near the border between California and Arizona, the U.S. Marine Corps announced on Thursday.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso confirmed the death of Seth Rasmuson on Thursday evening in a press release.

“We are deeply saddened to learn today about the death of one of Wyoming’s U.S. Marines, Seth Rasmuson,” Barrasso said.

“There is certainly more to learn about what happened yesterday, and much more we need to hear about his life and service to our country. Today, we mourn this tragic loss. Bobbi and I are holding Seth and his family in our prayers,” the senator said.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis echoed Barrasso’s sentiments.

“I am saddened to learn of the tragic loss of U.S. Marine and Buffalo native Seth Rasmuson,” Lummis said. “I am praying for comfort over his friends and family as they mourn. I take solace in Psalm 34:18, ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’”

Rasmuson graduated from Buffalo High School in 2019, according to the Buffalo Bulletin.

“We mourn the loss of our Marines in this tragic mishap,” said Maj. Gen. Bradford Gering, the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, in a statement. “Our hearts go out to their families and friends as they cope with this tragedy.”

According to media reports, the aircraft reportedly went down at 12:25pm during training exercises near Glamis, California, approximately 115 miles east of San Diego.

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More Than 18 Months After Opening, Natl Museum Of Military Vehicles Will Have Grand Opening Celebration

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than 18 months after opening its doors, the internationally acclaimed National Museum of Military Vehicles will finally have its grand opening celebration in late May.

Museum founder Dan Starks told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that it feels “great” to finally be at the point where the Dubois museum can have its grand opening celebration after opening its doors to the public in August 2020.

“We want this museum to have a positive impact on the country and on Americans,” he said. “I think this grand opening really represents our kickoff on our way to becoming a national destination hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.”



The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the grand opening several times as scheduled dates for the event were pushed back repeatedly due to spikes in the illness and restrictions on large gatherings put in place to slow the spread of the illness from mid-2020 until early 2021.

The grand opening will be held at the museum, which is eight miles southeast of Dubois, at 10 a.m. on May 28.

The 140,000 square-foot museum boasts more than 500 vehicles in its collection and more than 200 historically significant firearms. The Starks spent $100 million of their own money to fund the museum.

The event will feature multiple guest speakers including Gov. Mark Gordon, retired Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, who at one point served as director of the Army National Guard, and William “Doc” Schmitz, who served as commander-in-chief of the VFW from 2019 to 2020. Starks will be the final speaker.



After the speeches, visitors will be able to tour the museum at no charge. There will also be demonstrations of tanks and an armored vehicle-launched bridge, tank rides and presentations given by the VFW, the National Museum of the Army and the Army Historical Foundation.

The Wyoming National Guard will also be flying in a Blackhawk helicopter to use as a static display for the grand opening.

In addition, there will be a unique outdoor shooting range that will be open for use at no charge, although guests will have to pay for their own ammunition for the firearms provided by the museum, which will include machine guns.



When creating the museum, Starks said he and his wife wanted to ensure the museum was unique in its presentation of wars from throughout the United States’ history, rather than focusing on one war or certain branches of the military.

“We’re really inclusive,” he said. “We’re not honoring a group of veterans and their families. We’re honoring every veteran and their family through American history here. We can present lessons learned from our entire military history to pass along to young people and the next generations.”

Starks noted that despite a lack of marketing, the museum drew in more than 40,000 visitors in 2021, at least 10% to 20% of whom were veterans.



With this in mind, the Starks and their team at the museum have made sure that the grand opening will have something to offer for both repeat visitors and those who have not stopped at the museum in the past.

The Starks will be unveiling a 14,000 square-foot annex to its World War II gallery right before the grand opening, allowing for more equipment to be on display. Starks pointed to the museum’s Vietnam War experience as one of its most valuable parts.

“So many Vietnam veterans are still alive and even with the ones that have passed, many of their immediate families are still alive,” he said. “Our Vietnam veterans served in horrendous and difficult conditions and they didn’t receive the thank you, appreciation and recognition they deserve.

“This is a step to fill in what our veterans should have received when they came home,” he continued. “If they’re still alive, it’s not too late to embrace them and assure them their stories are still being recognized and will be preserved and passed along forever.”

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Fallen Wyoming Marine’s Father Explains Why He Wouldn’t Meet With Biden

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Appearing on Fox and Friends Tuesday morning, the father of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum explained to host Brian Kilmeade why he avoided a meeting with President Joe Biden over the weekend.

McCollum’s father, Jim, and his daughters were in Dover, Delaware, to receive the body of his slain son, one of the 13 servicemen killed in a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan last week.

When President Biden walked into the room where the ceremony was being held, Mr. McCollum walked out.

“I had no desire to meet with the president,” McCollum said.  “Everything he’s done [with the withdrawal from Afghanistan], every step along the way has been absolutely backwards.”

“A high school kid could make better decisions than they’ve made in this,” he said.

Originally it was reported that only the late Marine’s wife had stayed in the room to meet with Biden but McCollum’s sister, Cheyenne McCollum, also stuck around briefly.

“I chose to stay with my brother’s wife,” Cheyenne said. “She wanted the chance to look him in the eye and see if it was going to be a sincere conversation or apology. And I was able to stand about 15 seconds of his fake, scripted apology and I had to walk out.”

She said Biden wouldn’t at look her or at McCollum’s wife in the eye. Instead, she said, he looked down and showed no sympathy.

“It was more about his son,” Mr. McCollum said. “My son wasn’t mentioned. It was his son and about him.”

Mr. McCollum’s ex-wife, who lives in Montrose, Colorado, was much more caustic in her remarks about President Biden, telling interviewers that he was a “dementia-ridden piece of crap.”

Between sobs, she told talk show host Andrew Wilkow that her son “died in vain.”

“This was as unnecessary debacle which could have been handled properly,” she said.

The McCollum family was welcomed back to Jackson, Wyoming, on Monday afternoon by hundreds of well-wishers who lined Broadway Avenue in Jackson to watch the emotional motorcade.

“Welcome home to a hero’s family,” U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis said on Twitter. “My heart hurts for your family. My prayers join the chorus. I don’t have the right words so just thank you from me, Wyoming, and from an eternally grateful nation.”

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Crowds Welcome Slain Wyoming Marine’s Family Back to Jackson

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Video: Courtesy The Wort Hotel

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Hundreds of people lined Broadway Avenue in Jackson on Monday afternoon to welcome the family of a Wyoming Marine who died in a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Thursday.

Members of the Jackson Police Department, the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marine Corps escorted the father of Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, Jim, and Rylee’s two sisters, Cheyenne and Roice, through the community at 3:40 p.m. after their trip to Washington, DC over the weekend.

The family was attending a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where the bodies of the 13 servicemen killed in the attacks were returned to the U.S. in a military service called a “dignified transfer.”

Onlookers waved flags and applauded in an effort to show support for the family.

Earlier in the day, Jim McCollum told a Facebook friend that his son would be returned to the Jackson area “for his last trip home” sometime in the immediate future.

“The process has started but no definitive time-line yet,” Mr. McCollum said.

The elder McCollum also posted a tribute video made for his son by a friend on his Facebook page. The video showed many pictures of Rylee and his sisters growing up in the Jackson area.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso told FOX News on Monday evening that he spoke with Jim McCollum earlier in the day and was told Rylee was “red, white, and blue from the beginning.”

“He joined the Marines on his 18th birthday,” Barrasso said.  “He leaves behind a wife who is pregnant with their first child next month.”

“His Dad ended our conversation by saying, ‘Tonight, Rylee is guarding the gates of Heaven,'” he added.

Jim McCollum, however, did not speak with President Joe Biden, who attended the transfer ceremony in Dover, Massachusetts. McCollum and his family walked out when Biden entered the room.

McCollum’s daughter, Roice, told the Washington Post that this was because they blamed the president for her brother’s death.

“You can’t f— up as bad as he did and say you’re sorry,” Roice McCollum said. “This did not need to happen, and every life is on his hands.”

Jiennah McCollum, the wife of the late Marine, did meet with Biden briefly but reportedly left disappointed because she felt he was following a script.

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Slain Wyoming Marine’s Family Walked Out on Meeting With Biden

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

The family of the Wyoming Marine killed in a terrorist attack on Thursday refused to meet with President Joe Biden following a solemn ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday.

Roice McCollum, sister of Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, said the family did attend the ceremony — known as the “dignified transfer” — but ultimately decided not to meet with the president because they held him responsible for the Marine’s death.

“You can’t f— up as bad as he did and say you’re sorry,” Roice McCollum told the Washington Post. “This did not need to happen, and every life is on his hands.”

Jiennah McCollum, the wife of the late Marine, did meet with Biden briefly but reportedly left disappointed because she felt he was following a script.

FOX News reported that “the family felt the president’s conversation with Jiennah was hollow and lacking meaning, and said Biden appeared to show a ‘total disregard to the loss of our Marine.’”

The White House would not comment on the private conversations the president had with the families.

Meanwhile, McCollum’s father on Sunday posted an original poem on his Facebook page, which reads:

Where do I find the answers 
Where do I go from here 
When the heart is filled with sorrow 
When eyes are filled with tears
When will it be OK 
To smile once again 
Without feeling bad 
For feeling something 
About the memories held within 
Today I start that journey 
My son has made it home
Thankful for you and the love that you share
I know I’m not alone

Mr. McCollum signed the poem “wykid”.

One of Mr. McCollum’s Facebook friends encouraged him to keep writing.

“Please keep writing your poetry. It’s therapeutic for you! Keeping you in my thoughts & prayers!” Kari Mulinix wrote.

McCollumn concurred: “Thank you…it truly is.”

Mr. McCollum told another friend that he and his family will return to Wyoming late Monday and his late son will arrive soon after.

“It will be a few days before he makes his last trip home. There are some things that need to be taken care of before that can happen. The process has started but no definitive time-line yet,” he said.

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Heartbroken Mother of Killed Wyoming Marine Blames Biden Voters For Son’s Death

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

The grief-stricken mother of the Wyoming Marine who was killed in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan on Friday blamed President Joe Biden and his voters for her son’s death.

Kathy McCollum, a resident of Montrose, Colorado, called a Sirius XM political talk show on Friday afternoon to discuss her son Lance Cpl. Rylee MCCollum’s death.

Not mincing words on the segment, McCollum said she called the talk show to “process [the grief] through anger instead of tears”.

“I just want all you Democrats who cheated in the election, or who voted for him legitimately, to know that you just killed my son,” McCollum said. “With a dementia-ridden piece of crap who doesn’t even know he’s in the White House, who still thinks he’s a senator.

McCollum said she was awakened at her door at 4am by two Marines telling her that her son was one of 13 serviceman killed in the attacks.

She told talk show host Andrew Wilkow that her representative Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R-CO) will be visiting her house on Monday and “will be able to convey my message to the rest of the United States.”

“She said my son did not die in vain but guess what? My son did die in vain. This was unnecessary debacle which could have been handled properly,” she said.

McCollum’s son, a former resident of Bondurant, Wyoming and a 2019 graduate of Jackson High School, was married on February 14 and was expecting his first child with wife Gigi in three weeks.

“They had months and months to remove everyone from Afghanistan and they chose not to,” she said.  “My son was, through the laws of statistics, was one of the ones who just got blown up in a terrorist bomb yesterday.”

“I’m just going to stay pissed-off and that’s the only way I’m going to be able to do this,” she said. “Every Democrat that’s listening, you did this to my son.”

Meanwhile in Jackson, Wyoming, McCollum’s father and two sisters appeared at the Jackson High School football game on Friday night.

The family walked out to the middle of the football field for a moment of silence followed by the national anthem.

“Rylee McCollum gave his life defending freedom around the world, our country, and the lives of many yesterday. We will be forever grateful for Rylee’s service and sacrifice to our country,” the announcer said.

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Over $500,000 Raised For Family Of Wyoming Marine Killed In Afghanistan

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Outpourings of support continued over the weekend for the family of a Wyoming marine who was killed in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan on Friday.

Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, a former resident of Bondurant, Wyoming, and a 2019 graduate of Jackson Hole High School, was one of 13 servicemen killed in two separate blasts at the Kabul airport.

McCollum was married and his wife is expecting a child in three weeks.

Donations over $500,000 have been generated on two GoFundMe sites.

One page set up by McCollum’s mother-in-law, Jill Crayton, has raised more than $160,000 while the other, set-up by an unknown organizer, has topped $350,000.

“My heart is incredibly heavy today, in the wee hours of the morning my beautiful daughter got that knock on her door that no military spouse wants to get,” Crayton, the mother of McCollum’s wife Gigi, said.

Crayton said the couple had been married less than a year and said Gigi is 36 weeks pregnant.

“I never got to meet him, but I will meet his baby, and I will love and spoil that baby forever. please hold her in your heart and soul because she needs it, this mama knows exactly what that feels like,” she wrote on the page.

Holding back tears, Crayton told a Charlotte TV station that she learned the news from her daughter at 6 a.m. EDT Friday after Marines showed up at her daughter’s door.

“He brought out the best of her. He did,” she said.

Crayton lost her husband when Gigi was five years old and said she remembered hoping that her children would never have to go through something like that.

“It’s not just losing your spouse,” she said. “But something you were so excited to share with somebody and that person isn’t there anymore.”

The other page said the purpose of the fundraiser is toward the education and upbringing of McCollum’s child,

“His sacrifice at HKIA [Hamid Karzai International Airport] to protect the lives of those who cannot themselves will not be forgotten,” the page said. “Once we close off donations, withdrawals will be directed directly to an account chosen by her and her mother.”

McCollum’s sister, Roice, said her brother had wanted to be a Marine his entire life and as a toddler, he carried around a toy rifle while wearing diapers and his cowboy boots.

“Rylee wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach when he finished serving his country,” she said. “Rylee will always be a hero, not just for the ultimate sacrifice he made for our country but for the way he impacted every life around him for the better. Making us stronger, kinder, teaching us to love deeper. We love you Rylee.”

His father, Jim, told the New York Times that he could track his son through a messaging app that displayed a green dot when he was online.

When Jim got word of the terrorist attacks, he checked the app but there was no green light.

“In my heart yesterday afternoon, I knew,” he said.

“He was a beautiful soul,” Mr. McCollum said.

Wyoming’s congressional delegation was quick to offer condolences to McCollum’s family.

“His bravery and patriotism will never be forgotten,” Rep. Liz Cheney said, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and perhaps the most-outspoken critic of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. “His willingness to put himself in harm’s way to keep our country safe and defend our freedom represents a level of selflessness and heroism that embodies the best of America.”

“There are no words sufficient to comfort a family after hearing news like this, but I want to express my deepest condolences to Rylee McCollum’s family and friends,” U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis said.

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Military Members Must Be Vaccinated By Sept. 15, If Not Sooner

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The U.S. military will require service members to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by mid-September, the U.S. Department of Defense announced on Monday.

Currently, 73% of active duty personnel have at least one dose of the vaccine, DOD officials said. 

The deadline has been endorsed by President Joe Biden, who recently asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to consider how and when the COVID vaccine could be added to the list of required vaccines for all service members. The question came in response to a spike in cases caused by the Delta variant.

“Our men and women in uniform who protect this country from grave threats should be protected as much as possible from getting COVID-19,” Biden said during a July 29 speech.

Austin consulted with Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the service secretaries and the rest of the Joint Chiefs in making his decision.

“Based on these consultations and on additional discussions with leaders of the White House COVID-19 Task Force, I want you to know that I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensure, whichever comes first,” Austin said in a memo to all service members.

All DOD leaders will be involved in expanding the program.

“I have every confidence that service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill and compassion,” Austin wrote in the memo. “We will have more to say about this as implementation plans are fully developed.”

Austin also said the department will comply with the president’s direction regarding additional restrictions and requirements for unvaccinated federal personnel. These requirements cover military and civilian personnel. 

The DOD will keep a close eye on infection rates “and the impact these rates might have on our readiness,” Austin said. “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if I feel the need to do so.”

More and more employers across the nation are now requiring employees to be vaccinated against the virus or face severe consequences, including termination.

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40th Anniversary of “Stripes” This Week; Could ‘Razzle-Dazzle Scene Actually Happen?

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

As movie-goers celebrate the 40th anniversary this week of the Bill Murray classic comedy “Stripes,” some civilians — naively — wonder if any parts of the movie could actually happen in real life.

Like the boot camp graduation scene where perhaps the worst-ever group of soldiers show off the skills they taught themselves after their sergeant was blown up in an unfortunate accident.

The result is a fabulously choreographed dance that the misfits somehow learned overnight. They’re even late to the graduation with their shirts hanging out and loosely buttoned — if buttoned at all — which makes the whole scene more outrageous and memorable.

Is there any chance this could happen in real-life?

The former commander of Cheyenne’s F.E. Warren Air Force Base (or the 90th Wing as it is called) laughed at the notion but was kind enough to address the question.

“Boot camp is hard enough, calling attention to you self is utterly self-destructive, and if you don’t figure that in the first 24 hours, you’re probably going home anyway,” said retired Col. Tucker Fagan.

“However, I’m sure everyone who has gone through boot camp probably had dreams that someone else, not them, would do something crazy,” Fagan said.

The former commander said the soldiers shown in “Stripes” would never get to perform their routine for officers because as soon as something looked askew in the proceedings, the participants would be thrown-out.

“Notice the General and officers are aghast; however every TI (training instructor) on the parade field would be all over them in a second, getting them off the parade field,” he said.

Fagan, however, was impressed with the choreography — although he did note it was unrealistic.

“Notice they all are in step and properly spaced – that takes a lot of training, so they must have practiced; an improbability,” he said.

Fagan said no one would applaud at such a scene for fear of retribution. Further, if the troops actually pulled this off, hell would break loose.

“People there would be like, ‘OMG those guys are in for the worst boot camp you can imagine, the worst will be out of the Army faster than you can turn around,” Fagan said laughing.

The lack of realism — the escapism — is what makes it fun and what makes the movie “Stripes” so endearing to this day.

40 years later, it still holds up.

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Wyoming National Guard Makes History With Artillery Test

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Members of the Wyoming Army National Guard made history last month by conducting its first test of a weapon deployment system.

Members of the Wyoming Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery unit conducted its first live-fire of HIMARS Rapid Infiltration artillery at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah in late January.

The exercise involved transporting a portable artillery launching system, the HIMARS, by airplane to a point near the target.

“For the 2-300th, it’s kind of historic for us,” said Lt. Col. Robert Lemay Lejeune, commander of the 2-300th.

Missions in which artillery launchers are flown to specific areas, called HIRAIN missions, have been around for a long time in the military and are a staple of combat in the Middle East, which the 2-300th consistently trains for.

“This is one of our mission essential tasks,” Training Officer Maj. Shawn Stensaas said. “It will help us improve and maintain our proficiencies and relevancy to support missions around the world, wherever they may be.”

The unit first began practice for the live fire exercise in 2015. For the January exercise, it used a C-130 Hercules aircraft provided by the National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing out of Cheyenne.

Using the aircraft allows the artillery greater mobility and a substantial increase in the overall range. This tactic makes HIRAIN missions very flexible.

“It can be used in any theatre where you can land a C-17 or a C-130,” Lejeune said.

The normal method the soldiers of the 2-300th unit use to fire their artillery is to drive their rockets to a set point on the battlefield and then fire from that location.

While this method can be highly effective, it is limited by the range of the artillery used, usually 18-42 miles. This range can be extended by conducting a HIRAIN mission.

“I can conduct a raid but it’s as far as I can drive and secure myself forward on the battlefield,” Lejeune said. “Which is relatively short when you compare the distance to an aircraft. So by working with the Air Force, we add this great new capability in terms of range.”

This exercise that took place Jan. 21-22 saw the 2-300th load two HIMARS and one Humvee onto the C-17 Globemaster III. The airplane then took off from Cheyenne and flew to Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah.

The following day, the C-17 crew flew the members of the 2-300th to Dugway Proving Grounds where the HIMARS were removed the aircraft, guard members obtained a good firing position and then fired the payload.

The soldiers then returned to Wyoming.

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Barrasso Backs Bipartisan Military Spouses Licensing Bill

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is joining 22 other senators in supporting a bill that would make it easier for the spouses of members of the military to practice their professions where their spouses are stationed.

On Thursday, the senators introduced the bipartisan Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act, which gives military spouses with valid professional licenses in one state reciprocity in the state where their spouse is currently serving on military orders, according to a news release.

For example, if a military spouse has a cosmetology license in Colorado, but his or her spouse is serving in Wyoming, their license would be valid in both states.

“In Wyoming, we recognize the sacrifice that our service members and their families make every day,” Barrasso said in the release. “Military families often move every two to three years. The last thing they need to worry about is spending time and money trying to maintain their careers in a new state.

“Our bipartisan bill will make it easier for military spouses to transition the professional licenses they’ve already worked hard to obtain when they move to a new duty station,” he continued.

The bill would amend the Service Members Civil Relief Act of 2003. The SCRA already provides a number of protections for active duty service members and their families, including rental agreements, civil judicial proceedings, installment contracts and credit card and mortgage interest rates.

This legislation wouldn’t preempt state law on how the licenses are used, as military spouses would still be required to comply with standards of practice, discipline and continuing education requirements.

Some of the senators co-sponsoring the bill alongside Barrasso include Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California.

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Wyoming Highway Patrol Recognizes Wyoming Military Serving Abroad

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The Wyoming Highway Patrol on Friday recognized and thanked Wyoming military members who are serving overseas.

In recognition of Remember Everyone Deployed (R.E.D.) Friday, the patrol posted a photograph of members of the Wyoming Air Guard who came together at an undisclosed location in southwest Asia.

The photo shows about 20 members of the Wyoming 153rd Air Wing gathered on a flight line, holding a “Welcome to Wyoming” sign made by Guard Master Sgt. Mike Simmons, a Wyoming Highway Patrol employee.

“This is the first time the Wyoming Air Guard has deployed with a ‘WELCOME TO WYOMING’ sign, borrowing the tradition from the Wyoming Army National Guard’s deployment from the Korean War,” the Highway Patrol’s post said.

The guardsmen have been in the country for a little more than one month supporting military operations in the 332nd Expeditionary Air Wing (also known as the “Red Tails”), the post said. They are expected to be deployed well into the new year and will miss the holiday season with their families.

R.E.D. was created to urge people to show some form of support for deployed service members every Friday until they can return home.

The goal of R.E.D. is to carry the message to national levels, serve the military community, and help their families by showing them that they are never forgotten.

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Nuclear Missiles To Be Replaced At Cheyenne Air Force Base, Gordon Applauds

in News/Mark Gordon/military
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne is one of three military bases where nuclear missiles will be replaced over the next decade, the United States Air Force announced Friday.

The Air Force plans to begin construction as early as 2023 at the base as it moves forward to replace the Minuteman III ICBMs with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, according to a news release from the Air Force’s Global Strike Command division. The Minuteman III missiles are more than 50 years old.

According to a release from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office, the Cheyenne project is estimated to create 1,000 jobs and lead to more housing development.

“I am extremely excited about this announcement,” Gordon said in the release. “This is a multi-billion dollar project that will benefit the entire state’s economy, while fortifying the nation’s defense. I want to pass on our gratitude to all of the men and women who serve at F.E. Warren, across the Air Force and the entire military.”

Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana will be the second base to see missiles replaced and construction is slated to begin in 2026. Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota will be the third and construction there is expected to begin in 2029.

Construction start dates are pending the completion of environmental impact statements for each base in accordance with federal laws and policies.

Military construction is phased ahead of the actual deployment of the GBSD to allow time for initial checks, ensure facilities are ready for any unique mission equipment and support training and operational certification prior to the first sites obtaining operational status at each wing.

Using infrastructure at the three locations will allow both the Minuteman III and GBSD weapons systems to continue meeting all nuclear surety and safety standards throughout their operational lives, particularly during the transition period.

“Ensuring missile bases remain missile bases makes the most sense for the taxpayer and the mission,” Gen. Tim Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said in the news release. “The Minuteman III is 50 years old. It’s past time to upgrade the missile systems. Our goal is ensure our systems remain fully safe, secure and effective in the defense of our nation and allies.”

The GBSD program’s objective is to deliver a low technical risk, affordable, total system replacement, starting in the late 2020s, to improve the ICBM’s capabilities and provide more efficient operations, maintenance and security at lower lifecycle costs.

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Civilians Injured During Black Hawk Incident In Big Horn County

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two people were injured over the weekend during an incident involving a Blackhawk helicopter near Greybull.

The UH-60 Blackhawk is assigned to the Wyoming Army National Guard and the incident occurred Saturday while the National Guard and members of the Big Horn County Search and Rescue conducted search and rescue training, according to a news release issued by the Army National Guard.

After the helicopter experienced a power failure, the hoist line on which two civilians were suspended was immediately cut as a part of a standard safety procedure to minimize loss of life, further injuries and destruction of equipment and property.

The two civilians injured are members of the High Angle Rope Rescue Team with Big Horn County Search and Rescue. The Wyoming National Guard and local agencies frequently partner to train and improve search and rescue skills and increase capabilities.

The injuries were non-life threatening and the individuals were taken to be medically treated.

“Our crews know the risks of the inherently dangerous work they are called to perform,” Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn said in a statement. “We will continue to train with the Wyoming National Guard and other partners to gain much needed proficiencies to serve our citizens in times of crisis.”

The crew and helicopter are assigned to G Company, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation, Wyoming Army National Guard and frequently conduct search and rescue missions and provide firefighting capabilities.

The incident is currently under investigation.

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Huge $100 Million Military Vehicles Museum in Dubois Postpones Grand Opening

in News/Coronavirus/military
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

DUBOIS – A facility expected to be among Wyoming’s largest museums once it opens has postponed its grand opening because of the coronavirus.

Dan Starks, who has built the National Museum of Military Vehicles, said he has been forced to postpone the grand opening scheduled for May because of delays in the delivery of some needed supplies caused by the pandemic.

“I had been preparing myself mentally to reschedule the opening,” Starks said. “Exhibit fabrication and installation shut down a few weeks ago. I don’t know when vendors will start back up or when social distancing will be behind us.”

Starks is also one of the largest stockholders in Abbott Labs, which recently announced it had developed a new method of testing for the COVID-19 virus. 

He said he reached out to the lab seeking access to the test, but was not successful.  

“Every member of Abbott’s leadership team is being inundated. It is a tribute to the ethics of the company that its wonderful capabilities are being made available to the public on a very principled and objective basis,” Starks said.  “It is probably a good thing for me to say that I do not have any special access to the testing resources.”

Starks’ National Museum of Military Vehicles is a massive facility located just south of Dubois in Fremont County.

The $100 million self-funded project has been a dream of Starks, who bought his first Wyoming property in 2011. Construction on the new museum started in May of 2017. It is a 140,000 square foot facility, which is designed to hold 150 military vehicles.

But it is much more than a display of vehicles.

Starks, 65, is not a veteran but has such a high degree of respect for those who served that he sees this project as his life’s work. And what a life it has been.

He worked 32 years at a medical equipment company in Minneapolis, serving as CEO before retiring in 2017. The company made $6 billion per year and had 28,000 employees working on life-saving devices, specializing on heart catheters and other devices. 

“At one time, we figured our devices were saving a life every three seconds around the world,” he says.

His company was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 2017. Their web site shows Starks owns over $600 million in stock in the big international company and serves on its board.

Dan and his wife Cynthia’s life’s dream was to settle in Dubois and launch some project to recognize the service of America’s veterans. And boy, is this ever some project.

Despite the gigantic size of the facility, (you can almost put three football fields inside its walls), Starks now worries that it might be too small.  The couple owns more than 400 of pristine historic vehicles from World War II and other conflicts, presumed to be the largest and best private collection in the world.Starks thinks he might only get 150 of them inside the walls.

The Starks’ daughter Alynne is the executive director of the facility.Their plan for the museum has gone far beyond just a place to display vehicles. “We want to create displays that show the landing at Normandy, the surrenders in Germany and Japan, the Battle of the Bulge, and other great moments in our country’s military history,” Starks says.

Starks sees the facility having three components:

  • First, to honor the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans;
  • Second, preserve the history of what happened during these wars, and
  • Third, provide an educational experience.

The vast array of vehicles goes beyond the killing machines of tanks, artillery, and flamethrowers. It also includes dozens of the machines that made the wars winnable.

Starks likes to discuss how the “Red Ball Express” helped secure the victories. This was the truck-based supply chain that seemed to provide endless amounts of food, ammo, and war machines as Allied troops marched toward victory.

He wants to show how America was able to convert its massive manufacturing expertise to enable the Allies to fight two different wars in different parts of the world and win both in just three and one-half years. The new museum will show how the American ability to mass-produce cars and trucks was converted to produce tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and other war machines in record amounts that just wore down the enemy. 

“Germany built beautiful machines, but they did not understand mass production like Americans did,” Starks said. “It was impossible for them to keep up when it came to replacing and resupplying their troops at key moments in World War II. We want to honor everyone who participated in this great victory. This museum will showcase that effort but showing the machines that were built and how they were utilized.”

Dan and Alynne Starks led a handful of people on a tour of the facility Aug. 1, including Lander radio station owner Joe Kenney, Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones and retired Lander business leader Tony McRae.

Kenney said he was impressed that Starks wants no grants or government money to help with the project.  

“He knows what he wants and he is going to get it,” he said. “Amazing.”

Jones said he was overwhelmed by Starks’ passion. 

“His enthusiasm is contagious,” he said. “This is going to be game-changer for tourism in Fremont County and Wyoming.”

McRae said he did not know what to expect. 

“I was just blown away by the scale of this project,” he said. “I can’t wait to see it after it opens.”

Alynne, as executive director, said the project will probably employ about 15 people.  They have not decided on what admission will cost but one thing is sure: “Veterans will get in free!  My dad insists on that,” she said.

Near the middle of the building’s interior is an amazing vault that will hold Starks’ $10 million collection of historic weapons, including a rifle fired at Custer’s Last Stand and a pistol used by General Pershing in World War I. The collection also includes 270 Winchester rifles.  The facility will have meeting rooms and members of the Wyoming Legislature are convening there in October.It also has the Chance Phelps Theatre, named for the brave Dubois Marine who died April 9, 2004, in Iraq.  The movie “Taking Chance”was about that soldier.

There will also be a large library with one of the world’s largest collections of manuals and other information about military vehicles.

There are over 100 tanks and other impressive war machines parked in row after row in a big field next to the new building. There is even a Russian-built MiG 21 parked in the field that was used in the Viet Nam War against American soldiers. It is flyable. Starks’ other machines are in downtown Dubois, on his ranches and stored in Salt Lake City. Besides the main museum facility, the Starks built a large building just off Main Street in Dubois to hold many of their vehicles and a shop to keep them running.

Eight years ago, their first home in Dubois was an old homestead. Then, they purchased a 250-head cattle ranch and recently they bought a third ranch, which now has 36 bison grazing on it.

“We love Dubois and we love Wyoming. This is our great adventure,” Starks said.

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F.E. Warren Air Force Base Implementing HPCON Charlie Due to Coronavirus

in News/Coronavirus/military
An upgrade to F.E. Warren's nuclear missile systems could mean billions for SE Wyoming
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

F.E. Warren Air Force Base announced Wednesday that it increased the number of restrictions in place to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Base officials, in a news release, announced the base is now under “Health Protection Condition (HPCON) Charlie.”

“We have to take the necessary actions to ensure we protect our mission,” 90th Missile Wing commander Col. Peter Bonetti said in the. “We are working closely with our regional, state and county officials to help the spread of the coronavirus in our community.”

The requirements of HPCON Charlie must be followed by all base service members, Department of Defense civilians, contractor employees and family members.

These measure include: restricted base access for non-essential visitors, no access for non-Department of Defense ID cardholders and limited access to the base for retirees and veterans. The latter group can access the base on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4:30 p.m. They will be permitted access to the commissary, the base exchange and the medical clinic.

Veterans and retirees picking up prescriptions on the base are asked to use the tent adjacent to the medical clinic. Directional signs will be posted.

Gate access has also been adjusted during this time. Gate One (located on Randall Avenue) is closed. Gate Two on Missile Drive is open for normal 24-hour operations. Gate Five on Central Avenue is currently open to commercial traffic only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Friday.

Historian publishes book about Nimitz visit to Cody

in Community/military/arts and culture
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A Cody historian has turned his attention to a visit to the area by a famous World War II naval officer.

Bob Richard’s newest book documents a visit to the Cody area by Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz and several other military leaders in 1946.

The book consists largely of photos taken by Richard’s father Jack Richard, a secretary to U.S. Sen. E.V. Robertson, who represented Wyoming at the time.

Nimitz played a major role in WWII, commanding the Pacific fleet and accepting the surrender of Japanese forces in 1945. 

Robertson invited Nimitz and others to Wyoming after the war and Richard accompanied the group as it traveled from Cheyenne to Jackson, Yellowstone National Park and Cody.

The resulting photographs, Jack Richard’s first color photos, are contained in the book “Fleet Admiral Nimitz and Naval War Heroes’ Historic Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park Visit.”

“They fished, they swam in (Yellowstone Lake), then they boarded an old yellow bus and they came to Cody, stopping at our ranch on Rattlesnake Creek,” Bob Richard said. “At the age of 9, Adm. Nimitz patted me on the back and said ‘I hope someday that you’re an officer like your dad and his brother Bob.’”

Richard has published a number of books focusing on the Cody and Yellowstone areas. His first, “Yellowstone Country,” also features the photography of his father.

Other books by Richard serve as visual guides of the Yellowstone area.

“Everybody continues to buy them and they give them to their guests,” he said. “When they want to get (the guests) out of the house for the day, they give them the book on the North Fork and say ‘Go find all the rock formations.’”

Richard is himself an accomplished photographer. One of his shots, showing two bears near a sign that reads “Leaving Yellowstone National Park,” is a picture traditionally given as a gift to Yellowstone employees as they retire.

Richard said he has sold more than 600 copies of the photograph, which he took decades ago.

Holiday lights go high-tech

in News/Community/military
Christmas Lights
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

No one really can remember when the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, built in 1934, began displaying its impressive holiday lights and decorations. It’s just been something Cheyenne and Laramie County residents, as well as regular tourists, expect every winter. 

Whether you’re driving by on Pershing Boulevard and just happen to catch a glimpse of the lights or you take a stroll through the campus, you can see the VA’s extensive collection of decorations, from Santa guiding his reindeer to a nutcracker saluting incoming and outgoing guests. 

For many years, the decorative display was unique in Cheyenne because it was considered more “high-tech” than displays seen across the rest of the city. In recent years, the community has begun to step up the size and scale of its decorations and lights, but that doesn’t mean that the VA is going to fall behind. 

“The grounds guys actually came to me this year and were pretty insistent that we needed to get some more lights and decorations for the display,” said Sam House, VA public affairs officer. “We’ve built new additions along the campus, but we hadn’t expanded our holiday display and they wanted to change that.” 

Some of the new decorations included inflatable characters that are shown every evening — as long as it’s not too windy — more lights, a new wreath and pop-up sculptures. 

Since the VA is a federal building, the decorations also reflect the Jewish and Muslim faiths, featuring a menorah for Hanukkah and a painted sign with Islam’s crested moon symbol. 

While not decorated, there is also a sacred area on the property for Native Americans that features a traditional medicine wheel that people can visit.

Since the VA expanded its decorations for the entire campus, House noted that there has been an uptick in visitors this winter. 

“We put those there for the community, so we definitely want them to come onto the campus and take a look around,” he said. “They’re also great for the veterans who stay in our nursing homes, because they love to look out their windows and see these gorgeous lights.” 

The groundkeepers begin looking over the lights and decorations in early November, ensuring none of the lights are broken or burned out and checking to see if any decorations need repair. After Thanksgiving, they get to work setting everything up, stringing lights and posting the decorations all over the campus. 

It’s a lot of work for a display that’s seen for a little more than a month, but House said it’s worth it because the community loves it so much. 

“Cheyenne is a very traditional community and these decorations are a part of our tradition,” he said. “There are so many federal entities that kind of peel away and don’t take part in their community. The Cheyenne VA has been an integral part of the city since the 1930s. Some of our patients were mayors of the community. We want to make sure people know it’s OK to come onto the campus and that our VA hospital belongs to the community.”

But the VA isn’t the only place you can see beautiful lights or stunning decorations. Little America is another location with a sprawling campus with a breathtaking display that guests or community members can walk through.

Cheyenne’s City Hall on O’Neil Avenue is covered with around 3,000 LED lights, with more being added every year. The building is decorated on Thanksgiving and the lights will come down in January. 

There are also lights displayed along the streets downtown, which are put up by the city’s traffic division. These will also be up until January. 

The Cheyenne Community Recreation and Events Department also placed more than 70,000 lights on the Cheyenne Depot Plaza this fall. The white lights that hang on the trees downtown will stay up until April 1. 

But if you’re looking for some more home-spun decorations and lights, the Cheyenne Trolley Tours offers the chance to bundle up in one of the city’s classic trolleys, sip hot chocolate and cruise the streets in search of the best Christmas displays at private homes throughout town. 

The buses depart every evening from the west end of Frontier Mall, 1400 Frontier Mall Drive., at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children.

Wreaths honor fallen Wyoming veterans

in News/military
Wreaths
Volunteers lay wreaths on the graves of Wyoming veterans during the “Wreaths Across America” ceremony Saturday at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery in Casper. (Photo: Tim Mandese)
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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Volunteers placed wreaths on the graves of 4,200 Wyoming veterans on Saturday as part of a national drive that saw more than 2 million volunteers similarly decorate the graves of service members across the country.

Members of Wreaths Across America were joined by members of the Natrona County Republican Women and Patriot Guard Riders in placing the wreaths on graves during ceremonies at three Natrona County cemeteries.

As part of Wreaths Across American, an estimated 61,000 volunteers laid 400,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery alone. Nationally, more than 2,000,000 participants placed wreaths in 1,640 locations.

In Wyoming, ceremonies were held at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery, the only veterans cemetery in Wyoming. Later in the afternoon, ceremonies were held at Highland Park and Memorial Gardens cemeteries. Dignitaries and participants packed the chapel at OTVC to pay their respects, including U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.

“Per capita, Wyoming’s volunteering at this event is greater than even those at Arlington,” Enzi said. 

Letters from U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, in which both expressed their gratitude for Wyoming’s fallen veterans, were also read. 

Casper broadcaster Bob Price served as master of ceremonies for the event, instructing those laying a wreath that as the wreath is placed at the foot of the grave, the person laying the wreath should speak the veteran’s name aloud. 

“A person really dies twice,” he said. “Once when they pass away, and once when their name is spoken for the last time.”

Victoria Lockard, the co-chair for Wreaths Across America’s Natrona County chapter, estimated that 1,000 volunteers took part in the wreath laying in Casper.

She added 3,000 wreaths were placed on graves at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery, 1,000 were placed at the Highland Park Cemetery and 200 were laid at Memorial Gardens.

Each year the number of wreaths placed grows and the number of volunteers grows, Lockard said.

“Each year it continues to grow, and we are so happy with the turnout of our crowd and their generosity,” she said.  

State legislator takes national stance against ‘endless wars’

in News/military
Bring home the troops
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

If Congress is not willing to declare war in the Middle East, Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, wants America to bring home its troops.

“This is ridiculous,” Lindholm said. “We’ve been over there for more than a decade, and we don’t really know why.”

By relying on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the Middle East instead of an actual war declaration, Lindholm said Congress has denied service members the clarity they need to finish the job — whatever that may be.

“The reality is, when it comes to the Middle East, we don’t actually have authority to be over there from our Congress,” Lindholm said. “We’re operating off an AUMF from 2001 and 2002. The AUMF of 2001 was to go after terrorists in Afghanistan, and in 2002, it was to be ready to go after Iraq. But none of those speak to full-time occupation.”

As the country moves into its 19th year of combat operations in Afghanistan, Lindholm said enough is enough.

“We need to end the endless wars,” he said, echoing sentiments voiced by President Donald Trump. “I’ve got four kids, and none of them have ever known a nation not at war.”

In a column co-written by Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, and published across the country, Lindholm called out U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, and other “war hawks” for encouraging Trump to retaliate against Iran after a U.S. drone was shot down earlier this year.

Additionally, Lindholm is leading the Wyoming branch of Bring Our Troops Home, a non-profit organization intent on ending “the Forever Wars and encourage Congress … to support President Trump’s plan to withdraw our troops.”

Life abroad

Raised in Sundance, Lindholm joined the U.S. Navy to see the world and find his place in it.

“I wasn’t really ready to be a grown up, but I knew I needed to get something going in my life,” he explained. “I left two days after I graduated high school.”

It was May 2001. The U.S. was at peace. The world was a different place.

“I remember training in Pensacola, Florida, before 9/11 — taxi cabs would pull right up to base,” Lindholm recalled. “Then after the attacks, things really shut down. It changed the whole mission going from peacetime to wartime.”

A helicopter mechanic who exited the Navy at the rank of Petty Officer Third Class five years later, Lindholm never deployed to the Middle East, but he did see a side of the world he never imagined.

“We were headed to go shake our sword at North Korea in the 2004 timeframe, and we rolled into Hong Kong on Christmas,” he said of his time stationed aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. “While we were there, this tsunami struck Indonesia — it was a hell of wreck.”

His ship was to diverted to help with rescue and relief efforts.

“We were first on scene there,” Lindholm said. “I remember we were still 50 miles out from our destination, and I was on the flight deck with the rest of the crew.”

The sailors spotted a bloated, sun-bleached body floating near a palm tree, he remembered.

“We were shocked, but the ship just kept on a-steaming,” Lindholm said. “We were asking why we weren’t stopping for the body, but then as soon we got into position we could see why. There was 200,000 people that died in that tsunami and there were bodies everywhere. More than you could count.”

Using the carrier’s helicopters, the Lincoln’s crew spent months resupplying the Banda Aceh province with fresh water, rice and medical supplies. Shortly after Lindholm’s ship returned to the states, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. 

“We were, at that point, the Navy’s rescue and relief experts,” Lindholm said. “So, my squadron got deployed to respond to (Katrina).”

Whereas the Indonesians welcomed the Navy’s response, the U.S. was a different story.

“The people of Indonesia were just so damn thankful,” Lindholm said. “When we deployed to Katrina, there were people shooting at our aircraft, it was nuts. They definitely weren’t thankful we were there.”

Getting mad, getting political

Once his enlistment was complete, Lindholm moved to Texas to work on U.S. Army helicopters as a civilian contractor, but it wasn’t long before Wyoming called him home.

“It was around 2006-2007, and things were really cooking off in northeast Wyoming,” he said. “So, I figured I’d return home to the ranch and find a job.”

Using the electrical expertise he gained in the military, Lindholm went to work as an electrician. But the more he learned about the way of the world, the more it got under his skin.

“Honestly, I just got mad,” Lindholm explained, chuckling. “When I was in the military, I didn’t really think about what I was doing, I just did what I was told. Then I got out, and I really got to thinking about the things I didn’t like, especially in relation to the family ranch, so I became politically involved to change them.”

Now in his second term as a state legislator, Lindholm serves as the House Majority Whip.

“To be 100 percent honest, I thought I was going to be whipped off into the corner,” he said. “But, when I got in there, I realized these are just normal folks like me.”

He campaigned on the idea people should be allowed to drink raw milk if they choose and sponsored Wyoming’s “food freedom law,” which passed in 2015.  Since then, he’s also helped craft legislation facilitating blockchain businesses and banking.

Now, he’s shifting focus to either bring troops deployed in the Middle East home or pass a law in Wyoming hamstringing Congress’ access to the state’s National Guard units.

“This legislation would prevent our guard from being deployed to a foreign place where war has not been declared,” Lindholm explained. “It’ll appear in the 2020 session, and I’ve got bipartisan support on it.”

Working with the other side of the aisle to legitimize or end the nation’s war efforts has been trickier than he expected.

“Before 2008, I could always lean on the democrats to be anti-war,” Lindholm said. “Now, we’re kind of stuck in this weird spot where Democrats and Republicans don’t really know how to feel about these wars. It’s a weird shift.”

As a state representative, Lindholm doesn’t have the power to force Congress’ hand, but he said he hopes Bring the Troops Home will ignite a national conversation.

“We want Congress to think about it, we want them to talk about it, and we want them to vote on it,” Lindholm said. “We owe it to the next generation, because that’s who’s going to be serving over there next. That’s who is serving over there now.”

Attitudes Toward Vets Have Changed, Says Air Force Official

in News/military
Veterans Day
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CHEYENNE — The attitudes of Americans toward veterans have changed significantly in the last 50 years, according to the commander of the Security Forces Group at F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

Col. Damian Schlussel, speaking during a Veterans Day commemoration in Cheyenne, said veterans no longer face the disdain that was seen among members of the public during the Vietnam War.

“I think over time people have started to realize just how many sacrifices those in uniform have made to guarantee people’s freedoms,” he said. “And whether you disagree with the politics or whether you disagree with things that we’re doing, they still recognize one thing, that there’s still a man and a woman and a family who are serving to guarantee those freedoms.”

Jerry Bowen, a helicopter pilot who served two tours in Vietnam and one mission in the Gulf War, said the treatment of veterans in the 1960s and 1970s was so bad that he hesitated to tell anyone he was a veteran.

“I got off the airplane in San Francisco and hippies were there spitting on you and stuff like that,” he said. “It was just horrible. I was afraid to stand up and say I was a Vietnam vet because of all the controversy when we came back.”

Also present at the ceremony was Gus Fleischli, a former legislator and Cheyenne business owner who served as a gunner on a B-17 bomber for 32 bombing missions over Germany in World War II.

“Every time you got in an airplane, it was scary,” he said. “When you got in that airplane, you were on your way to Germany. And that was no fun.”

Fleischli, who organized “Honor Flight” trips for Wyoming veterans to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.,  said by the time he was flying missions, he felt the Allies in WWII had the upper hand in the war. However, he said the outlook wasn’t quite so positive in the early days of the war.

“I didn’t think the Allies were going to lose the war, but it was damn close,” he said. “We were on the downside at that point. When I was flying those 32 missions, we were on the positive. We were bigger than they were at that time.”

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Military experience translates well into civilian life, say vets

in News/military
2347

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

On day one of boot camp, every recruit is taught the values of punctuality, personal grooming and working together, but some lessons gleaned from military experience aren’t as immediately obvious.

Ret. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, formerly the Wyoming Military Department’s adjutant general, joined the army in 1982 to experience something new, but stayed in as the service reforged his sense of duty.

“I thought it would be fun,” Reiner said. “The local (Army National Guard) unit was a combat engineer unit, and they would do cool things with explosives.”

He didn’t intend to become a career soldier, but the military became an integral part of his life.

“Initially, you stay because it’s cool, and you have a purpose,” he said. “But, in my mind, the purpose is what grows on you over the years. In the end, you stay because that becomes your calling in life.”

In March, Reiner hung up his uniform and accepted a new leadership role as director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation. The helmets changed to hardhats and the uniforms switched from green suits to orange vests, but he said most of his experience translated easily. 

“My job as the adjutant general was very helpful in transitioning to WYDOT,” Reiner explained. “I oversee roughly the same number of people. But whereas in the guard, there were lots of part-time positions, at WYDOT, there are more full-time positions.”

Both entities break down into divisions or districts, each with their own needs and specialties. 

Whether soldier or civilian, he said employees have the same needs.

“Personnel issues don’t change,” Reiner said. “You still have to ensure your men and women get paid, have good health care and a place to live.”

Reiner still rises early to for physical training, but he has plans to grow out his beard eventually and settle into civilian life.

“The military was a phenomenal job,” he said. “It was an opportunity to serve the state and nation and be part of the backbone of this nation. I feel like I have the opportunity to continue doing that here at WYDOT, and for that, I am thankful.”

Managing relationships

In Iraq, David Sheppard, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant, learned to balance the needs of a village with the demands of a nation at war.

“Our job was to remove the temporary bridges that were installed (on a primary traffic route) and build permanent roundabouts and culverts,” Sheppard explained. “Part of that mission was not only construction, but there was a small village right off the road we needed to maintain a positive relationship with.”

Many Iraqi citizens viewed the coalition forces as foreign meddlers with no understanding of local politics and customs. Relationships between the local populace and soldiers were often tense. 

“In the military, you’re forced into a group, a unit, regardless of race, religion or economic factors — it’s a kind of melting pot — and expected to work together as a team,” Sheppard explained. “You become very effective at making it a productive situation despite your differences.”

After working with the Iraqi town’s leadership to ensure their needs were also represented in the project, Sheppard’s unit finished the roundabout and moved down the road without incident. 

About a month later, a coalition forces patrol rolling through the town discovered and seized about 160 tons of explosive materials intended for use as improvised explosive devices that could have been used against Sheppard and his unit.

“I always circle back to how effective it was to take care of people and manage those relationships — it saved my life,” Sheppard said. “I try to translate that experience to my own everyday life in just being a productive human.”

Sheppard joined the guard in 1999 at 18 and served for about 12 years. Nowadays, he manages 911 Roofing Solutions Inc. in Cheyenne and uses the leadership skills he learned as a soldier to guide his management style.

“In the civilian world, you may encounter a handful of leadership styles over the course of a career,” Sheppard said. “But in the military, you’re exposed to so many different leaders at so many levels, that it really gives you a good perspective. It gives individuals the opportunity to take the good and throw away the bad in forming their own leadership style.”

Arena of beliefs

Christy and Andrew Stigen met while stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. 

Not long after they started dating, they encountered their first major hurdle as a couple — dual deployments to separate areas of operation. 

“I think it was a lot easier for us to transition back than it was for others,” said Andrew Stigen, who exited the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant in 2011. “Both of us came back with the same experience. Other couples, where one stays behind and the other deploys, can have differing expectations when they are reunited, but we knew what we needed from each other.”

Serving together was not only the foundation of their marriage, but it allowed them to cultivate their world view as a couple.

While Andrew Stigen grew up in Casper, Christy Stigen was raised in a small Texas town. 

“Being in the military exposed me to a lot of cultures,” said Christy Stigen, who left the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant in 2012. “I’m more open to new experiences now.”

Andrew Stigen said serving alongside people from every walk of life helped him understand viewpoints he might have disregarded otherwise.

“Everybody has a different mindset growing up in the world,” he explained. “Until people are thrown into an arena of beliefs, they really don’t know where they stand.” 

After Andrew Stigen finished his enlistment, Christy Stigen was stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base and the couple moved to Cheyenne, where they decided to stay. After the military, both decided to use their experiences to help veterans. Andrew Stigen manages contracts for Veterans Affairs, and Christy Stigen processes claims for the Veterans Benefits Administration, a division of the VA.

They have a 3-year-old daughter and a son on the way.

“Joining the military was the best thing I ever did,” Andrew Stigen said. “I’m not going to encourage or discourage my kids from serving, but if they come to that decision on their own, I’m certainly going to paint in the best light.”

No matter the era or branch of service, Reiner said one thing binds all veterans together and drives them long after their time in the military is done.

“At some point, every veteran raised their right hand and swore to protect the Constitution,” he said. “That has no expiration date.”

Wyoming veterans weigh in on celebrating Veterans Day

in News/military
2342

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Gravesite flowers on Memorial Day, barbecues on Labor Day, social media outrage on Columbus Day — most holidays have their traditions.

But Veterans Day tends to elude veterans and civilians alike.

Despite numerous veterans in my family, including myself, I can’t think of a single instance we even acknowledged Veterans Day.

Perhaps our family is an outlier? So I dialed up some of my old army buddies and asked how they planned to spend Nov. 11. 

“What’s that on — a Monday?” asked Victor Varela, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served with me in Iraq. “Yeah, I’m working. I might go have a beer after, I guess.”

All the calls ended similarly and I was left asking what it is we are supposed to celebrate and for who.

Veterans Day is widely viewed as the day to honor the living, while Memorial Day is reserved for honoring the dead, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars website.

Originally dubbed Armistice Day, the holiday was created to honor the conclusion of World War I, which ended Nov. 11, 1918. 1n 1954, Congress renamed the event Veterans Day to honor veterans from World War II, the Korean War and future wars.

Vietnam-era veteran and Laramie resident John Hursh, a former U.S. Marine Corps captain, said celebrating Veterans Day can be as simple as a couple words and a quiet moment.

“Just walk up to a vet and say thanks,” Hursh said. “I think it’s best when someone comes up, looks you in the eye and thanks you for your service.”

Although he doesn’t have plans for anything fancy, Hursh said he has his own way of celebrating.

“I’m going to take a moment for myself,” he said. “It’s time to pause for a while and remember your buddies and think about how you got where you are and be thankful for our country.”

Tim Sheppard, executive director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, is a retired Army colonel who also served during the Vietnam War. Sheppard has seen many behavioral trends come and go since the late 1960s, but one receiving increased attention in recent years is “Stolen Valor,” the act of lying about military service to garner sympathy or respect.

The fraudulent acts could make some people hesitate before thanking a vet, not knowing if the person’s experiences were genuine. Sheppard said people should look past those rare cases and honor the spirit of the holiday.

“Take the risk and thank the vet,” he said. “Let us police ourselves and we’ll do our best to safeguard the integrity of military service.”   

If people don’t know a veteran to thank on Veterans Day, Sheppard suggested observing a moment of silence at the “eleventh minute of the eleventh hour.” 

As for me, I still struggle with how best to honor the holiday. I was lucky to serve at a time when soldiers were well-received and have been thanked on numerous occasions for my service. It’s a good feeling, but an awkward one.

My peers were volunteers. We served because we felt it was our duty or because we needed a way out of our situations or for the educational opportunities afforded by the G.I. Bill and sign-on bonuses. 

Our country didn’t call on us as much as we stepped forward and asked for the privilege. 

It feels self-aggrandizing to celebrate that experience with a national holiday, especially a holiday created to honor those who, in many cases, were not given a choice. 

So, I plan to spend this Veterans Day focusing on the experiences of my fellow veterans and what their service has afforded future generations. 

Whether you visit your local war memorial, thank a veteran in person or share a quiet moment of reflection, your efforts are what make this country worth serving. 

Thank you.

Hunting with Heroes brings disabled veterans together for healing, outdoor recreation

in News/Community/military
Hunting with Heroes
2336

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

War is hell, but returning to civilian life can be equally daunting for many military veterans, especially those whose wounds complicate the reintegration process.

Hunting with Heroes seeks to provide disabled veterans an opportunity to heal and re-calibrate in a familiar environment with like-minded people, co-founder Dan Currah said.

“We found very quickly that the hunts were therapeutic for those veterans coming back,” explained Currah, a former U.S. Army signal corps officer. “We didn’t do that as Vietnam veterans. We didn’t associate with other veterans. I think there was a social stigma attached to our service, and for the most part, we just came home and tried to forget it.”

Founded in 2013 by Currah and Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Colton Sasser, the Wyoming-based, non-profit organization uses donated game licenses to guide hunts throughout Wyoming. 

Sasser said the experience can be a means for veterans to seize some semblance of normalcy and routine after their world was seemingly upended.

“Some of the best therapy I’ve ever got was hunting or fishing,” he reminisced. “Being out there alone with your thoughts, focused on the task at hand. But, this seems different. It’s more about the camaraderie. The hunting truly is the bonus. It’s the cherry on top.”

From the ashes

While escorting an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team through Afghanistan in 2012, Sasser’s vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.

“We hit that sucker, and it instantly killed my squad leader,” recalled Sasser, who served as an U.S. Army infantryman. “The truck was upside down, and I woke up and knew it was bad.”

The events directly following the attack remain hazy for Sasser, who blacked out several times during the next weeks. But the damage was permanent — traumatic brain injury, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a fused spine and an amputated leg.

Months later while recovering at Fort Sam Houston, a Casper newspaper ran a story about Sasser, a Casper native. Currah, also a Casper native, was living in Texas at the time, but kept up on Wyoming news and read Sasser’s story.

After checking around, Currah and his wife discovered they knew Sasser’s parents from their high school days, so the Currahs asked to visit Sasser in the hospital.

“His dad told me he was off on the weekends with nothing to do,” Currah said. “He’s an avid hunter, and I knew some guys that were doing hog hunts, so we lined him up with some hunts.” 

Sasser said getting away from base was great, but it reminded him how much he missed hunting in Wyoming.

Once medically retired from the military, Sasser returned home and the duo started planning expeditions to help other veterans. 

“(Currah) and I just started talking about it over coffee,” he said. “I knew getting tags would be the hardest thing, because how do you plan a hunt when you don’t know when and where people will draw tags.”

Soon after cementing plans to move forward with the organization, Sasser learned about a Wyoming Game and Fish Department program which allowed people to purchase tags and donate them for re-issuance to disabled veterans and people with permanent disabilities who use wheelchairs.

“The first year we were only planning on doing 10 hunts,” he said. “We ended up doing 17, so it was a success from the outset.” 

In 2018, Hunting with Heroes hosted 230 different hunts and since 2013, Sasser guessed they’ve completed more than 1,000.

To be eligible, applicants must be 50 percent or more disabled with a service-connected disability, and they can apply through the group’s website, www.HuntingWithHeroes.org. The program is open to applicants from around the country, and Sasser said many participants come from out-of-state.

Welcome home

Diagnosed with cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam, Ed Klaput, a retired U.S. Army colonel, sought respite in the solace of the hunt.

“I’ve been undergoing chemo for the last three years, and I’ve been feeling better,” he said. “So, I wanted to get back to hunting elk.”

Klaput lives in Virginia, and without residency, he didn’t have much hope of scoring an elk tag anywhere along the continental divide. While serving, Klaput was stationed in Colorado, and in the late 1990s, he owned a cabin in Wapiti, so he was fond of hunting elk in Rockies. During his time in Wyoming, he became friends with author and former “Outdoor Life” editor Jim Zumbo. Klaput reached out to his friend for ideas about how to get back into the field.

“Zumbo told me about Hunting with Heroes,” he said. “I’d heard of groups like these, but I’d never gone with one.”

In October, Klaput flew out to join Zumbo, Currah and Sasser on an elk and antelope hunt near Rock Springs.

“We went out in the morning, and we weren’t there for too long before we spotted a bull elk,” Klaput remembered. “I lined up my sights, and took him down with a single lung shot. A little later, I got a buck antelope — again with a single lung shot.”

Even among of military-trained shooters and avid hunters, the marksmanship was impressive.

“They now call me Hawkeye, or Hawkeyes, I don’t know which,” Klaput said, chuckling.

Once home, his wife noticed an immediate change in his demeanor.

“She said, ‘You look so good. You’re cured!’” Klaput explained. “It took me out of a definite malaise from depression and the chemo treatments.” 

It wasn’t just the hunt and reconnecting with old friends that pulled the colonel out of his funk. He said Wyoming, its residents and the gratitude shown by tag donors, private land owners and volunteer guides all combined to create the reception Klaput never received on his trip home from Vietnam.

“I can’t put it in words — I could probably put it in tears — but not words,” he said quietly. “The treatment these vets have received from this group and the people of Wyoming is a therapy in and of itself. After 50 years, I felt like I finally received the ‘Welcome home’ we deserved.”

Aerospace, defense companies meet Wyoming businesses in conference

in Economic development/News/military
Cheney
2186

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming business leaders and U.S. aerospace and defense companies met in Casper this week to explore the chances of increasing Wyoming’s access to the aerospace and defense market. 

The Casper Area Economic Development Association, Forward Casper and its sister group Forward Sheridan organized the Wyoming Aerospace and Defense Industry Supply Chain Conference held Monday and Tuesday at the Casper Events Center.

The A&D supply chain consists of those companies that support and supply the aerospace industry and defense contractors. According to event organizers, the goal of the event was to raise the awareness of industry dynamics, opportunities and challenges. The conference introduced Wyoming and its businesses to A&D prime companies such as Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Perspecta, among others from around the country.

“It’s a huge growing industry. It’s not in a retraction mode, it’s in a growth mode, and they need to know what resources and opportunities we have in Wyoming,” said Jay Stender, chief executive officer for Forward Sheridan. 

Another important mission of the organizers was to educate those in attendance on what the Cowboy State has to offer. 

“There’s no place better for people to be than here (Wyoming) and we just want to get our story out,” said U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who opened the conference with a welcoming address.

During her speech, Cheney told those attending that the defense industry was more important than ever to the country’s safety and security. In an interview with the Cowboy State Daily, the congresswoman also said she is committed to helping to bring more aerospace and defense business to the state.

“One of the really important roles we have at the federal level is helping to make sure that in our local communities that organizations like CAEDA here, like Sheridan Forward, and Casper Forward, that everyone is aware of the federal programs that exist, and we can help bring people together…,” she said.

Honoring the unclaimed: US Veterans’ remains laid to rest In Evansville

in News/military
2071

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Evansville — The unclaimed cremated remains of 23 United States soldiers were interred with full military honors at the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery in Evansville this week. 

Bagpipes played as members of the Wyoming chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders escorted the soldiers’ remains to the Tom Walsh Chapel, where services were held. Greeting the fallen were members of local military, police and firefighters. Along the entrance to the cemetery, more than a dozen people stood at attention, holding flagpoles. 

The services were organized by Tammy Mansfield, state president of the Wyoming State Society Daughters of 1812, a volunteer women’s serviced group dedicated to promoting patriotism. Also helping to organize the event was the Missing in America Project, a group formed to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American Veterans.

Officials attending the services included Gov. Mark Gordon, state Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, and a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney.

The names of the 23 soldiers being honored were read aloud as the attendees who filled the chapel sat silently. Upon the completion of the reading, and with military precision, a solemn soldier presented a folded American flag to Mansfield. The ceremony ended with the bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace,” followed by a 21-gun salute. 

Following the services, organizers and dignitaries gathered outside to speak with the public.

“For me, this is personal, and it’s especially personal when you see people who we honor this way, who have their remains been unclaimed.” said Gordon.

Gordon praised organizer Mansfield and the Missing in America Project.

“It shows that this country has a love that somebody would have the initiative to say, ‘We need to find out who these people are, and properly honor them,’” he said.

To organize the day’s honors it took “…less than a year, and MIAP kicked in about June.” said Mansfield.

The Patriot Guard Riders is a national group formed to show respect for fallen members of the military by escorting their remains to funeral services. According to Wyoming Patriot Guard Riders’ Sr. Capt. Richard Parks, the riders have escorted remains to 88 services throughout Wyoming this year.

Airmen urge service members to lean on fellow ‘wingmen’ for suicide prevention

in News/military
2017

As the U.S. Air Force reports that suicides among airmen have increased in 2019, two women serving at Cheyenne’s F.E. Warren Air Force Base are urging service members to rely on their “wingmen” for help when they are hurting.

Senior Airman Abbigayle Williams and First Class Airman Aiesha Bass are on a mission to stop service members from taking their own lives. Both encouraged their fellow members of the military to turn to one of their fellow service members for help.

“That wingman concept, it’s a good thing,” Bass said. “Somebody needs somebody to lean on. Whether you’ve got one wingman or you’ve got a whole 15 females in here you’ve never seen a day in your life. But they’re there.”

Bass, a former juvenile supervision officer, said providing help can be as simple as listening.

“If you don’t want me to say anything back, you just want to talk, I’m going to listen to you,” she said.

Williams encouraged troubled service members to approach their fellow airmen.

“Stop me on the road,” she said. “I may not know you, but if you need someone to vent to, if you just want someone to cook you food … then I will definitely cook a meal for any airman or anyone else who needs it. Sometimes, you just need to sit down and talk.”

Encouraging someone to do something to lift their spirits also helps, Bass said.

“If they’re not thinking positive, try to help them think positive,” she said. “Try to come up with something to do, especially if someone just sits in a room and doesn’t get out much, (ask them) ‘You want to get out to eat, you want to go walk in the park, you want to go just do something simple just to get you out of this gloomy mood.’”

Quebec 1 open as state historic site

in News/Tourism/military
1848

A nuclear missile silo in operation through the Cold War is now officially owned by Wyoming.

Quebec 1, a missile silo that over the years housed three different kinds of nuclear missiles, opened Aug. 17 as a part of the state Department of Parks and Cultural Resources.

The silo was built in 1962 and served through the height of the Cold War, housing the Minuteman I, Minuteman III and Peacekeeper missiles, along with their launch controls and crews of U.S. Air Force personnel who were in control of the weapons.

The site was decommissioned in 2005 and since 2015, Wyoming officials have worked to get the silo in state hands for use as a historic site.

One of the state officials involved in the effort was Milward Simpson, former director of the Department of Parks and Cultural Resources.

“I couldn’t be more respectful of and pleased the the military had the vision to see the this was a way to tell a story that really needs to be told,” he said.

Simpson was on hand for the facility’s grand opening, as was Vilma Ortiz Vergne, a “missileer” who was part of the missile crews that controlled various silos.

Vergne said she spent most of her time at the Tango missile silo near Torrington, but did spend some time at Quebec 1. She was on duty at the Tango site when the United States was attacked by Islamic terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 and she said she and her fellow crew members relied on their training to stay calm during the incident.

“The way the missileers are trained is that as you react, you follow your training to the letter, without exception,” she said. “There cannot be any error, there cannot be any deviations. Your lives and the lives of so many people are in your hands.”

Quebec 1, found about 30 miles north of Cheyenne just off of Interstate 25, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Thunderbirds appear in the sky over Cheyenne for 66th time

in Community/military/arts and culture
1697

The U.S. Air Force precision flying team the Thunderbirds took to the skies over Cheyenne for the 66th time on Wednesday for its annual demonstration of high-speed formation flying.

The Thunderbirds have appeared at every Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo since 1953, with pilots flying their F-16 Fighting Falcons only feet from each other as they put the aircraft through various aerobatic maneuvers such as loops.

Viewers pack F.E. Warren Air Force Base to watch the show and line up on either side of Interstate 25 near the base to get a good look at the performance.

The Air Force describes the Thunderbird team as combining years of training and experience with an “attitude of excellence.”

USDA helps veterans turn from swords to plowshares

in News/military/Agriculture
USDA helps veterans turn from swords to plowshares
1690

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Young people are losing interest in the agriculture industry, but the United States Department of Agriculture is hoping low-interest loans could attract a different demographic — veterans. The USDA’s loan program has been around in one form or another since the 1930s, said Rob Weppner, a USDA Farm Service Agency farm loan manager based in northeastern Wyoming.

“There’s always been a bit of preference toward veterans,” Weppner explained.

The department, however, is ramping up efforts to attract veterans, spending about $64.5 million in direct and guaranteed farm operating loans for veterans in 2018, a USDA news release stated.

Grant Stumbaugh, a USDA spokesperson for the Wyoming branch of the Farm Service Agency, said incentivizing veterans was about more than simply slowing labor force leakage.   

“Veterans have served our country and risked their lives,” Stumbaugh said. “The least we can do is give them every possibility to do what they want to do.”

The USDA offers veterans more than 40 loan, grant and technical assistance programs to support the purchase and development of land and facilities, purchase equipment and supplies, refinance job expansion and finance energy efficiency improvements.

“Nearly one-quarter of veterans, approximately 5 million, live in rural areas,” Bill Ashton, USDA Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison, said in a news release. “(The) USDA is committed to making our programs accessible to help veterans start or grow a career and maximize the potential talent of this population.” 

Low-interest loans

Starting out in the agriculture industry can be challenging and risky, Stumbaugh said.

“A lot of younger folks don’t really want to go out there and work that hard,” he explained. “And to be honest, sometimes the return isn’t that good — you’re not making a whole lot of money, plus there’s the risk of running into natural catastrophes.”

Add that to the rising cost of real estate and the future of ag workers in America starts to look gloomy, he added.

“(USDA loans and grants) give vets a leg up in the industry,” Stumbaugh said. “Plus they can use that money for operating expenses to give them some help to get started.”

Weppner said the loan programs provide people with a low-interest option for funding family-sized farm operations.

“The interest is based on the loan type,” he explained. “But, the (Farm Service Agency) rates tend to be lower than the commercial rates.”

While Weppner said he’s worked with veterans in the past, neither he nor Stumbaugh were aware of any Wyoming veterans currently enrolled in USDA loan programs.

Despite reports of downward labor force trends, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services reported the industry has experienced a recent uptick in its agricultural workers category.

In 2008, Workforce Services recorded 2,558 people in the sector. In 2013, 2,798 people were employed in ag industries. And by 2018, the workforce grew to 3,016, said Aubrey Kofoed, a Workforce Services administrative assistant.

The growth, however, does not necessarily reflect the number of people taking jobs on ranches and farms in the state, because the department’s agriculture category also includes forestry, fishing and hunting jobs, Kofoed added.

Neither the USDA Farm Service Agency or Rural Development office had data immediately available on the number of ranchers and farmers in Wyoming.

Working the land

Programs like USDA loans are a key component to helping veterans reintegrate into the civilian workforce, a Department of Veterans Affairs spokesperson said.

“The VA focuses on attempting to get veterans jobs and the federal government is one of the largest employers in America,” said Sam House, the Cheyenne VA public affairs officer. “It’s great we have agencies that are willing to partner with us to achieve those goals.”

Every veteran’s experience differs, but for some, returning to the bright lights and constant noise of city life isn’t as attractive as an opportunity to become part of a rural community.

“There’s no greater feeling than being out on the farm and seeing land that needs to be worked and knowing you can do it yourself,” House said. “But it’s a dying industry, and I think veterans could help turn that around.”

For more information about USDA loans, contact your local USDA Field Service Agency and ask to speak to a loan officer. Visit www.fsa.usda.gov for a list of offices in Wyoming.

‘Veterans Portrait Project’ photographer visits Cody

in Community/military
1649

A U.S. Air Force veteran who is traveling the country to photograph veterans stopped in Cody recently to add several portraits to her collection.

Stacey Pearsall, a former combat photographer, was in Cody this week to add Wyoming veterans to the “Veterans Portrait Project,” a program she launched in 2008 while recuperating from injuries she suffered in Iraq.

Pearsall has been photographing veterans for more than 11 years, traveling to 35 states on the way to her goal of taking pictures of veterans in all 50 states by November of this year. Her work has hung in the Smithsonian, the Pentagon and at Arlington National Cemetery.

The project has helped with Pearsall’s healing process from her injuries, she said.

“It’s been cathartic, both physically and emotionally,” she said. “The doctors said I couldn’t do photography any more, but here I am 11 years later, still doing it, still telling stories and on my own terms.”

So far, Pearsall has taken pictures of more than 7,500 veterans from all branches of the military.

Among her subjects in Cody were Sandy and Jim Pederson, both former master chiefs in the U.S. Navy, who endorsed Pearsall’s project.

“I think it’s important that veterans tell their story,” said Sandy Pederson. “No matter what war, or if they never were in combat, that they tell their story for future generations.”

“They need to know what we went through, both good and bad, and share some of our stories with these young people,” said Jim Pederson. “Some of them, unfortunately, have only been in combat in Afghanistan or Iraq. They’ve never had a chance, like we have, to stay in the military, make a career and see the world.”

Bob Richard, a historian in Cody, agreed with the Pedersons.

“It’s the history that’s so important, for everybody to be aware of what has happened in the past,” he said. “And we build on the past for the future.”

Pearsall said her project has been a journey of discovery.

“Getting to know my own veteran community a lot better and in the process also educating those who have never served,” she said. “To be able to continue to keep the veterans’ dialog in the forefront of people’s minds and those issues that impact us.”

Missile systems upgrade could bring billions to SE Wyoming

in Economic development/News/military/Business
1467

If the missiles under control of F.E. Warren Air Force Base are made part of a massive upgrade program, Cheyenne could see challenges in managing the resulting growth, according to the former head of the Wyoming Business Council.

Bob Jensen, now part of Wyoming Entrepreneurs, said F.E. Warren’s involvement in the Ground Based Strategic Missile Upgrade program could generate growth among existing businesses and bring in new businesses as well.

“So this is going to be a big change and managing that change is as big a deal as having the opportunity in the first place,” he said.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman are in competition for a project to upgrade the nation’s Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, about 400 of which are deployed in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, at an estimated cost of $90 billion.

Jensen said if the missiles in Wyoming are made part of the project, opportunities for growth would be seen throughout Cheyenne.

“People that are already here will have an opportunity to grow their businesses in relation to this if they want to,” he said. “But there will be new businesses that will come in and new workforce that comes in.”

To take full advantage of the program, Wyoming and Cheyenne will need to be able to look ahead and act on the opportunities it provides, said Eric Trowbridge, the founder of Cheyenne’s Array School of Technology and Design.

“We must have ‘leapfrog’ moments,” he said. “Wyoming does something that no one else has done before. We have to have that courage to be able to say we’re going to do it and leapfrog ahead of all the other states to do it.”

Boeing and Northrop Grumman have been awarded three-year contracts for the preliminary design phase of the upgrade.

An upgrade to Wyoming’s nuclear weapons system could be coming to Cheyenne’s FE Warren Air Force Base — but is Cheyenne ready?

VA to implement Mission Act, cutting wait times, enhancing healthcare programs

in Health care/military
File photo
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A congressional act going into effect June 6 could make it easier for Wyoming veterans to access the health care providers of their choice. The Mission Act will replace the Choice Act of 2014, which was adopted as the congressional response to extreme wait times experienced by veterans seeking medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The Choice Act was a three-year law, which was intended solely for the purposes of pulling the VA into a newer era of community care,” said Sam House, a Cheyenne VA Medical Center spokesperson. “Then, President (Donald) Trump extended it for a year. The Mission Act, however, does not have a sunset, so it will be in place until Congress decides to remove it.”

With the Choice Act, veterans could seek primary and mental health care services from a local health care provider rather than from a VA facility if they lived outside a 40-mile radius of a VA medical center or could not schedule an appointment with their primary care provider at the VA within 30 days.

The Mission Act reduces those standards to a wait time of 20 or more days or a drive time of more than 30 minutes.

“They are not using specific matrix to look at drive times, but rather looking at the average drive time and taking into account heavy traffic periods,” House explained. “A guy living in Denver could live 5 miles from the VA, but it might take him 45 minutes to get there.”

For specialized care, the new act reduces the veterans’ wait time to be eligible for services at non-VA facilities from 30 days to 28 and changes the 60-mile radius requirement to a 60-minute radius.

“Congress is focusing on ensuring our vets are getting the best possible care as quickly as they need it,” House said.

Enhancing programs

In addition to easing access requirements, the Mission Act seeks to improve services already in place such as tele-health options, caregiver programs and VA infrastructure.

“The Mission Act streamlines and improves community care,” House said. “It establishes a new urgent care benefit for our veterans, and it expands caregiver eligibility.”

When the Choice Act was implemented, veterans were given the opportunity to seek healthcare providers outside VA facilities, which is referred to as community care, he said.

The VA’s internal software, however, did not communicate with the myriad programs used by health care providers outside its facilities. Simple tasks such as transferring medical records and authorizing payments required mountains of paperwork as well as numerous case-worker hours, House explained. The Mission Act seeks to streamline the process through installing new software, HealthShare Referral Manager (HSRM).

“HSRM is an end-to-end healthcare referral system,” said Josh Benavente, Cheyenne VA Community Care supervisor. “That’s where the VA will build our authorizations for payments and providers can submit medical records.”

The new system goes live in June.

“The biggest problem it’s fixing is previously we were relying on too many outdated programs to get information to and from community providers,” Benavente said. “It allows the VA to communicate with community providers faster and easier.”

Eligibility for the VA’s caregiver program is also slated to expand to include veterans from all eras of service. The expansion is scheduled to roll out during the next two years, starting with veterans who were injured on or before May 7, 1975.

On the tele-health front, the act could facilitate community partnerships in rural areas to increase long-range, video and phone healthcare-conferencing accessibility, House said.  

“What the Mission Act will do is strengthen our ability and reason for going into communities to establish a centralized tele-health port,” he explained. “We have a number of veterans that don’t have internet capability, but they want to stay with the VA and can’t make the trip to the Cheyenne VA every time.”

One such program could soon provide veterans living near Saratoga an opportunity to use equipment at the Saratoga Care Center to access Cheyenne VA tele-health programs, House added.

Bureaucracy

As June 6 rounds the corner, House said the VA is racing to ensure the transition is smooth. 

“It’s been a mad rush for all of the VA to be trained by June 6,” he said. “There are so many pieces and parts to the act.”

Despite more programs and enhanced services, House said the act will not likely lead to an increase of staffing at the Cheyenne VA.

Cowboy State Daily talked to several veterans who were unaware of the changes coming to the VA, but most said they would like the Mission Act to make it easier for veterans living in rural Wyoming to enter the community care program.

“The Choice Program didn’t work too well because of all the bureaucracy,” said John Hursh, a Laramie resident and former captain in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. “So, I’m hoping the Mission Act can fix some of that.”

“And they were proud to do so”: A moving Memorial Day tribute to the fallen

in News/military
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Start your day with gratitude and patriotism.

Watch this moving report from Monday’s Memorial Day service in Cheyenne. The ceremony offered a moving tribute to those who gave all in service to our country and a great reminder to share with our children and grandchildren of the blessing of being born in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“These people gave their lives,” said Air Force veteran Floyd Watson. “Eighteen, nineteen, twenty-year-old kids gave their lives in sacrifice to this country. And they were proud to do so.”

The event was held at Cheyenne’s Beth El Cemetery and attended by area active duty military, veterans, local families and elected officials including Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr.

War is Hell: A Memorial Day remembrance

in News/military
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As we reflect this weekend on the sacrifice of those who have given of themselves in our armed services, our Robert Geha visits with his Uncle Eddie “Goose” Gazel, a World War II veteran, about the battle of Tarawa in the Japanese archipelago.

Thank you to all who have served and serve today. We honor your sacrifice.

Standing room only crowd bids farewell to National Guard members

in News/military
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Frank Gambino for Cowboy State Daily

A standing room only crowd filled the Natrona County High School auditorium on Wednesday to bid farewell to 130 members of the Wyoming National Guard who are being deployed to the Middle East.

Friends and family members of the 130 guardsmen departing for a stay of nine months to one year filled the high school’s auditorium to take part in a farewell ceremony.

The guardsmen are part of the 2nd Battalion of the 300th Field Artillery.

Jason Lutz, a Natrona County Sheriff’s Office employee who was leaving for his third deployment, said the farewell ceremony Wednesday was emotional.

“But it’s good to be emotional with them,” he said. “Once we get deployed and get into a groove, and it’s the same with the family, once they get into adjusting, I think everything goes fairly well. It’s going to be a hard time, but we should be able to communicate very well.”

Guardsman Greyson Buckingham is departing for his first deployment and is looking forward to marrying his fiancee when he returns.

“My fiancee is not too thrilled I’m leaving, but she understands,” he said. “She knew what she was signing up for.”

The unit headed first to Fort Bliss in Texas before heading to the Middle East for its sixth deployment.

Cheyenne VA services remain intact a year after administrative downgrade

in News/Health care/military
Cheyenne VA services remain intact a year after administrative downgrade
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Services at the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center remain largely intact a year after the Department of Veteran Affairs downgraded an administrative ranking for the facility, a VA spokesperson said.

“Our lower complexity level has not affected the quality or services we provide,” said Sam House, the Cheyenne VA public affairs officer. “It didn’t affect our funding. The only thing it did was should we get a new director, they would be hired at a lower pay rate.”

According to the department, VA facilities are categorized by “complexity levels,” which are determined by characteristics of the patient population, clinical services offered, educational and research initiatives and administrative complexity. 

“It’s a system of looking at hospitals, and what they are capable of doing,” House explained. “They assign numbers to them, and they base the hospital director’s pay off that number. That’s all the complexity level means.”

The complexity system consists of three levels with level one and its subcategories being the highest and level three being the lowest. The Cheyenne VA, with a budget of $185 million in 2018, was downgraded from level two to level three early in 2018, which House said signifies no research is being conducted at the facility.

“We don’t have a focus on research,” he added. “Our focus is on mental health, primary care and geriatric care.”

House said one service was changed by the downgrade — orthopedic repairs. While the facility still provides othorpedic surgery, its staff no longer repairs orthopedic implants.

Wyoming Veterans Commission Director Steve Kravitsky said he was initially alarmed when he heard about the downgrade, but his fears were allayed after talking to Cheyenne VA Director Paul Roberts.

“(Roberts) assured me not only were they not going to decrease any services, but they were still bringing more services online,” Kravitsky said. “As director of the veterans commission and a veteran myself, I receive care at the VA, and I haven’t seen anything to the contrary.”

Built in 1934, the Cheyenne VA originally employed 100 staff members and provided 100 beds for primary care.

Nowadays, the facility’s area of service, also known as a “catchment” area, stretches from Rawlins to Sydney, Nebraska, and from Douglas down to north of Denver.

About 79,000 eligible veterans live in the catchment area, House said, but only 29,000 used the facility’s services in 2018, a 3 percent reduction from 2017.

House explained that the VA is made up of three entitles to administer three areas: Healthcare, benefits and the national cemetery.

Most of the services offered at the Cheyenne VA are centered around primary healthcare, but all three divisions of the department have offices on the grounds. 

“Recently, we’ve expanded our nursing home and hospice care facility,” House said. “The average age of Cheyenne VA users is 61. Our youngest user is 19, and our oldest is 102.”

A large portion of the facility is dedicated to offering primary care, including physical therapy, orthopedic surgery, cardiopulmonary lab work, audiology and otorhinolaryngology, or ear, nose and throat care.

The Cheyenne VA also provides some emergency services through its emergency room.

“Our ER is open and staffed 24/7, 365,” House said. “But we’re not a trauma center.”

Because of this, ambulances do not deliver patients to the Cheyenne VA, but rather, veterans are transported to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, and the VA reimburses the medical center for the care provided.

“Because we have CRMC, we don’t have a trauma care unit in our ER,” he added. “We are in partnership with our community, not competition.”

Additionally, the facility offers limited dental care and was the first in the region to install a women’s clinic.

“The need for women-specific care is something I think the VA has really realized in the last nine to 10 years,” House said.

Laramie County is home to the largest concentration of veterans in Wyoming, and as such, the Cheyenne VA is well-placed to provide them with vital services, Kravitsky said.

“There are 12,085 vets living in Laramie County, according to the VA,” he said, “which is about 25 percent of the 47,472 living throughout Wyoming.”

Without the Cheyenne VA, veterans would need to travel to Denver or Sheridan for veterans services, Kravitsky added.

“With 20 veterans committing suicide every day, quality care close to home is essential to potentially reducing that number,” he said.

The veterans commission files veteran claims with the VA benefits division and is occasionally charged with reviewing inquiries into the VA’s quality or frequency of care. 

“Those inquiries are infrequent,” Kravitsky said. “We don’t get a lot of negative feedback about the Cheyenne VA.”

Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Comes to Casper

in News/military
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Frank Gambino for Cowboy State Daily

A traveling 80 percent replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington D.C., made a stop in Casper recently. The wall’s exhibition in Casper gave veterans the opportunity to reflect on their service and the friends they left behind.

“I appreciate it so very much,” said Vietnam veteran Kenneth Vroman. “It is a homecoming for myself and for other people.”

Wyoming lost 123 natives in Southeast Asia. At Casper College American flags waived for each Wyoming serviceman lost during the conflict.

USS Cheyenne submarine returns to Pearl Harbor, proud of Cheyenne name

in News/military
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Late last week, the USS Cheyenne submarine, known affectionately by its crew as “The Legend” and “God’s boat” returned home to Pearl Harbor after a six-month deployment. Cowboy State Daily attended the emotional ceremony and spoke to sailors and spouses about the homecoming and about the boat that bears Cheyenne’s namesake.

COMSUBPAC‘s Cheyenne sailors, members of the United States Pacific Fleet Submarine Force, returned safely to their families, thankful to be home, grateful for the support of American patriots, and resounding in their affirmation that “God’s boat does God’s work.”

Missile alert facility to become Wyoming’s next tourist attraction

in News/Tourism/military
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A missile alert facility that once served as a home to three of America’s most powerful nuclear weapons is soon to become a Wyoming tourist attraction.

Quebec 1, a missile facility built in 1962 about 25 miles north of Cheyenne, will teach visitors about the history of the country’s nuclear weapons system, said Christina Bird of the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Division.

“We’re going to be open to the public, invite tours, invite school groups in to really learn about the history of missile alert facilities and the Peacekeeper missile system,” she said.

While active, the facility housed Minuteman I, Minuteman III and the multiple-warhead Peacekeeper missiles, along with launch controls and a crew of “missileers,” U.S. Air Force personnel who were in control of the devices.

The site was decommissioned in 2005. Since 2015, Wyoming’s Legislature has worked to put the facility in the hands of the state.

Even though the site is still officially in the hands of the federal government, state officials have worked to restore Quebec 1 to its original condition, complete with launch controls and the living quarters for the missileers who staffed the facility, Bird said.

“When F.E. Warren (Air Force Base) first started this process, this was an empty shell,” she said. “Leaps and bounds have happened in the last few years to bring this all back.

The site is expected to be transferred to the state by the Air Force later this year. Bird said the state will work to put up directional signs to the facility on Interstate 25.

Based on the number of visitors who tour other former missile alert facilities, state officials expect from 40,000 to 80,000 people to visit Quebec 1 every year, Bird said.

“We’re hopeful that we can accommodate as many visitors as want to come in,” she said.

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