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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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