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2013 newsmakers: Where are they now?

Dec. 30, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Air Force Times checked back with a number of 2013’s newsmakers. Here are updates:

Linda Ambard

Linda Ambard was nearing the finish line at the Boston Marathon on April 15 when she heard the bombs go off. It was the second act of violence to interrupt her life.

The first was in April 2011, when her husband, Maj. Phillip Ambard, was among eight airmen and a U.S. contractor killed by an Afghan turncoat while on a voluntary deployment to Kabul.

Linda Ambard was running the marathon in her husband’s memory. Seven and a half months later, on Nov. 27, she marked what would have been the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary by doing “random acts of kindness.”

“I donated money to people who have less than I do. I bought coffee for the person in line behind me. I sent messages to people who were hurting worse than me. I called my mom, which is not always easy, because I lost my dad last year. When you’re hurting, it’s hard to reach out to someone else who is hurting. It gave me that spark of hope,” Linda Ambard said.

Later, she put up a Christmas tree, a first since her husband’s death.

“I still miss him every single day. I would have given anything to have that 25th year blowout celebration” the couple had planned, she said. “If I stop living because of that terrorist, that assassin, then he got two of us. My response is to live life as fully as I can. To try to make a small difference, even if it’s a little ripple of a difference.”

Linda Ambard, a youth programs director at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., is set to receive a master’s in human services counseling with a specialty in military resiliency from Virginia’s Liberty University in May. She wants to help counsel families who have experienced military loss.

“I really think the family is totally impacted by a lot, and we forget. We forget our adult children suffer, too, from military loss,” she said. “There are so many people that came home [from war] looking normal who aren’t normal anymore. They bear the scars and pain of what happened. We have to look out for each other, especially this time of year.”

Rebecca Edmonds

After a more than two-year battle, a nurse who was kicked out of the Air Force for becoming pregnant — and whose case led the service to change its policy on pregnancy and single parents — is getting ready to return to active duty.

Rebecca Edmonds discovered she was pregnant in March 2011, a few weeks before her graduation. She was commissioned that July — her father, a Navy captain, administered her oath at the ceremony. Then she reported to her nursing transition orientation program, where she reported her pregnancy. Soon afterward, the Air Force’s ROTC began investigating her, concluding she was fraudulently commissioned because her pregnancy would have disqualified her, and summarily discharged her as a cadet.

Edmonds challenged her discharge, and this year, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records decided her commissioning was valid. On Dec. 12, Edmonds said, the Air Force told her she would soon be assigned to a duty station.

“I’m definitely thrilled with the outcome,” Edmonds said. “I’m just so glad that this has come to a conclusion and I know where my life is headed now. I’m excited to start a new chapter.”

In July, the Air Force announced that it would now allow single parents and parents with military spouses, who have up to three children, to enter officer training school, as long as they have an approved care plan for their children. All applicants who have no more than two children under the age of 19 who cannot care for themselves also will be able to enlist with an approved child care plan. Cadets with dependents who are single parents or are married to military spouses also now may sign contracts to join the Air Force’s ROTC with an approved child care plan.

Officer Training School and Military Training School trainees are also now allowed to return to their programs after pregnancy upon receiving medical clearance. ROTC cadets can be commissioned and proceed to follow-on training once they are cleared to do so by a medical authority. The Air Force said Edmonds’ case prompted the service to re-examine its rules on pregnancy and single parents.

Had Edmonds remained in the Air Force, she likely would have made first lieutenant by now, but she said she’s not sure whether she will receive that rank or second lieutenant when she goes back on active duty. She also is not yet sure where she will be assigned, but expects it will be one of 10 duty stations in the Air Force that have major hospitals, where newly commissioned nurses are typically assigned.

Edmonds’ son, Dominic, turned 2 in November, and she said he is doing well.

Jason King

Retired Staff Sgt. Jason King is confident justice will be done when the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals in January takes up for a second time in six months the case of Senior Airman Andrew Witt, who was sentenced to die for the attempted murder of one airman and the murder of another airman and his wife.

A 10-member panel of appellate judges will hear oral arguments Jan. 28 at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on whether the death penalty should stand. The appeals court 3-2 ruling in August that Witt’s defense overlooked key evidence that could have persuaded jurors to spare the killer’s life was set aside two months later after the Air Force requested all 10 judges hear the case.

King, the survivor of the 2004 attack at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., said he plans to stay home for the hearing.

“I believe it’s going to be positive,” said King, who supports the death penalty for Witt. “Then we’ll move onto the next step. I’m not losing sleep over it.”

In an Oct. 21 cover story, King shared his battle with post-traumatic stress and drug and alcohol addiction in the years after the attack. He medically retired from the Air Force in 2011 and returned to his hometown in Tennessee.

In an interview a week before Christmas, King said he continues to do well.

“I’m relearning how to be a part of this family,” said King, who is divorced and has a daughter. “That’s a huge thing. It sounds boring, but everything is progressing. I’m happy about that. I feel even better than I did” in October.

He said he gave up one of his last remaining vices — smoking — and remains sober.

“It’s amazing how quickly my financial problems have begun to resolve. When you’re spending $100 a day on drugs and then you stop, you’re going to have some extra money,” he said. “The whole focus for me right now is not only being honest with myself but with everyone else.”

King said he spent years telling lies about his drug and alcohol addiction.

“They were lies built upon lies, lies so layered and complex it would take a supercomputer to keep up with,” he said. “People think, ‘Well, gosh, I can’t [tell the truth] now, I’m too deep into this web of lies.’ Yeah, you can. It just starts from today on, I’m just going to be honest with people. People notice and see it.”

Phillip Monk

Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, who said he was relieved of his duties as a first sergeant of the 326th Training Squadron, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and forced to take leave because he disagreed with his commanding officer’s position on gay marriage, is now “enjoying his new unit,” according to his attorney, Mike Berry.

Berry, who heads the nonprofit legal group Liberty Institute, said in September that the Air Force manipulated Monk’s scheduled rotation date, reassigning Monkon July 26 — six weeks prior to his new assignment.

According to the Air Force, the incident in question occurred when Monk disagreed with the corrective action his commander planned to take against a military training instructor who made discriminatory remarks against homosexuals during a teaching session with basic trainees on July 20. The commander — in consultation with the base legal adviser — said the statements crossed the line, were discriminatory in nature, and required administrative action.

But according to Monk, the disagreement led to a discussion in which the commander, a major who Monk says is openly lesbian, pressed him into saying he objected morally to gay marriage. Monk said it was a contentious discussion, with the commander pressing him to agree that opposition to gay marriage was an act of discrimination. Monk said he told her: “I cannot answer your question because of my convictions.”

It also left open to question whether Monk would receive a Meritorious Service Medal for which his commander had recommended him in late June.

The Air Force investigated Monk’s claim in August and later found the claim unsubstantiated. The Air Force said Monk was not removed from his position, but rather moved, as scheduled, to another Lackland unit, an assignment he was notified of in April.

The investigation also concluded Monk made false official statements, but did not violate Articles 107 or 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Air Force said it would not take any disciplinary actions against either Monk or his commander as a result of the investigation.

Berry said his organization recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request the investigation report, which was so heavily redacted it was not useful in Monk’s case. Berry said they will not appeal the FOIA redaction.

Monk is now assigned to the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland. However, Berry said that Monk has “still not received his Meritorious Service Medal,” even though Monk’s award was approved in early October, according Collen McGee, chief of public affairs for the 37th Training Wing.

The Shunks

After the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, the military began the nuts-and-bolts work of extending spousal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Master Sgt. Angela Shunk and Tech. Sgt. Stacey Shunk were the first same-sex couple in the Air Force to receive a join spouse assignment, which tries to assign married active-duty spouses to the same or nearby locations when one spouse must be moved. The Shunks learned in early 2012 that they were likely to be reassigned from their former duty station at Aviano Air Base, Italy, which began their year-and-a-half-long struggle to stay together. Angela received orders to go to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, but Stacey was assigned to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

The Shunks asked the Air Force twice — unsuccessfully — to make an exception to the joint spouse policy and move them both to the same place, even though the service still was not officially recognizing their March 2012 marriage. They even volunteered to extend their time at Aviano, hoping for a policy change before they had to be separated. That change came after the Supreme Court’s decision paved the way for same-sex spousal benefits.

“I’m glad that Stacey and I didn’t give up,” Angela said. “We had no idea [the Defense of Marriage Act] would be [overturned], but we hoped that if it wasn’t, that the changes the secretary of defense made would help us. The Air Force was already taking steps to make us more equal; DOMA being overturned helped considerably.”

The Shunks were both assigned to Hill and moved to Utah in November. They said their new neighbors and colleagues have been supportive and welcoming, although Angela said that most days someone asks them if they’re sisters after seeing they share a name. Angela said she isn’t bothered by the confusion in those instances.

“It’s totally normal” for strangers to be confused, Angela said. “It will happen for a while, until people get used to the idea.”

The Shunks were surprised several media outlets, including Air Force Times, wrote about their situation, and said random people occasionally recognize them on the street. And Stacey said that because of their minor fame, several gay and lesbian service members have asked them for advice on how to navigate the military’s benefits process.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you talk to Sgt. Shunk? She can tell you who to talk to,’” Stacey said. “People know we have experience with it, so they come to us with questions.”

Jack Weinstein

Twentieth Air Force is a family tradition for Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, who took over command in October.

His father was a staff sergeant assigned to it during World War II, serving in a bomb squadron. When 20th Air Force was reactivated in 1991, he took the unit’s patch from his father’s old uniform to attach it to his.

“The heritage and what my father taught me is something I take with me to this day,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein took command of the numbered Air Force after a tumultuous year, which included the firing of his predecessor, multiple missteps in the nation’s nuclear missile silos and rampant low morale. He has set a challenge for himself to address the issues in his force and bring up the morale of the 9,600 airmen in his command.

“The past doesn’t have any bearing on the airmen doing the work,” he said.

Since taking over as interim commander in October and taking over permanent control of the intercontinental ballistic missile force in December, Weinstein has visited bases and talked with airmen in small groups to try to understand what is going on and how the situation can be improved.

“The best way to find out what is going on is to sit down with small groups of people,” he said.

He is focusing his efforts on highlighting the work airmen do, letting them feel recognized for their achievements. Lack of recognition is a shortcoming that had been identified in studies on the force, such as the Rand Corp. report released in November.

As a way to improve morale, he is working on re-evaluating the command structure of missile wings to give airmen more responsibility and authority over what happens in their squadrons.

“We are pushing responsibility down to the proper level, making sure people working in the 20th Air Force take responsibility at the right level,” Weinstein said, addressing another shortcoming identified in the Rand study. “They feel the ownership of a mission is a huge responsibility.”

The ICBM community has had trouble with its officers seeing a future in the field, so the command is now organizing leadership classes and setting a roadmap for advancement.

Weinstein goes back to his father and lessons learned in World War II for improvement in 20th Air Force. The service was young back then, with junior troops taking leadership positions. The same is happening in his command, with young officers taking alert duty and doing the brunt of the work.

“The biggest thing [airmen] tell me is that they want to have responsibility,” he said. “Morale improves when people are responsible for the mission and feel like they can make decisions.”

Kristin Davis, Brian Everstine, Stephen Losey and Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.

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