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Aerospace, defense companies meet Wyoming businesses in conference

in Economic development/military/News
Cheney
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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 military/News
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 military/News
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 military/News/Tourism
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 arts and culture/Community/military
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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 Agriculture/military/News
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 Business/Economic development/military/News
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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
Veterans Affairs Health Care
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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 military/News
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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.

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