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Megan Leavey

Kate Hoit always dreamed of joining the FBI. Then she was deployed to Iraq in 2004, and her life took a different turn.

"I was a 17-year-old girl from the suburbs, I was a cheerleader, shitty at math, and I was just really interested in being an FBI agent," she says. After three years in the Army Reserves, she received that unexpected phone call that she would actually be shipping off to war.

Her official assignment? Working for the resident newspaper on the base, covering a wide variety of topics, from the construction of water treatment facilities in local villages to reporting from the hospital as injured soldiers were airlifted in. She spoke with Iraqi civilians and Australian soldiers alike and witnessed everything from horrible injuries to opportunistic generals posing for press photos.


Hoit on deployment in Iraq. All photos by Kate Hoit, used with permission.

"During that time, I really fell in love with the power of storytelling and journalism and photography," Hoit says.

"It was really just a way to see the war at different levels in a way I never would have if I had just sat behind a computer all day," she continues. "So that impacted me on the ground, and I realized I could tell stories and focus on the more humanized aspects of that."

Hoit saw a lot of things during her year in Iraq, but what she didn't see was the effect her deployment had on her family back home.

Her father was a veteran, too. But his experience in West Germany in the early 1950s was nothing compared to the dangers of the Iraq War, and he worried immensely about the safety of his daughter. This lead to a relapse into alcoholism, and later he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

Soon her mother struggled with alcoholism, too. The family ended up losing Hoit's childhood home when her father was checked into a nursing home.

Hoit with her parents before her deployment.

Hoit returned to a very different life than the one she had left.

"I didn’t have anyone to turn to," she says. "My friends got it as best they could, [but] at the time, I was a little bit frustrated going through this whole experience: My family’s destroyed, kind of, and I can’t connect with anyone."

Hoit re-enrolled in college with a newly inspired interest in pursuing a journalism career, but the transition wasn't easy.

She was angry and isolated, and it only got worse — until one of her professors encouraged her to write about her experiences. As numerous psychological studies have shown, the act of storytelling can have a profound effect on traumatic healing.

Hoit discovered a new passion for the ways that storytelling can connect with the veteran experience. "I was like, oh, I have a community again," she says. "It helped with my transition because I didn’t feel as alienated when I started writing."

Then a few of her criticisms drew the attention of the Veterans Affairs department.

They caught the eye of now-Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who had just taken over as the VA's assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, and Hoit was soon recruited into the department's newly formed digital engagement team.

During her time with the team, Hoit launched the department's social media presence and also worked on several crucial public relations campaigns, including Veteran of the Day and Strong at the Broken Places, which aimed to break down stigmas around veterans and mental health.

Since then, Hoit has made a career of helping veterans tell their stories — and making sure the public hears them.

Hoit left her role at the VA and worked in a congressional communications role while she pursued a master's degree in non-fiction writing.

Since then, she's found a new home as director of content at Got Your 6, a nonprofit that works with the entertainment industry, veteran groups, and government organizations to normalize depictions of veterans in the media and empower veterans to build communities and tell their own stories.

And all the while, her mission has remained the same: "You can draw on an emotion or a struggle, and even if people are on the opposite side of the spectrum, you can make that connection with people. That’s my goal with content."

Among their many programs, Got Your 6 offers official certification for films and TV shows ranging from Marvel's "Daredevil" to "Megan Leavey" in recognition of their efforts to depict the veteran experience with greater accuracy and humanity.

"It can be a challenge when people only want to see veterans as broken with PTSD or as superheroes," Hoit explains. "They don’t want see the normalized, nuanced story."

Hoit and her colleagues from Got Your 6.

It's been more than a decade since Hoit returned from Iraq, and strangers still email to ask about her experience.

"I feel like, at the end of the day, if you’re helping people and making a difference, then you should use your voice for some greater good," she says. From what she's seen, most veterans are eager and willing to talk about their service and all the complications that come along with it. They just need someone to listen.

Joy

Man uses TikTok to offer 'dinner with dad' to any kid that needs one, even adult ones

Summer Clayton is the father of 2.4 million kids and he couldn’t be more proud.

Come for the food, stay for the wholesomeness.

Summer Clayton is the father of 2.4 million kids and he couldn’t be more proud. His TikTok channel is dedicated to giving people intimate conversations they might long to have with their own father, but can’t. The most popular is his “Dinner With Dad” segment.

The concept is simple: Clayton, aka Dad, always sets down two plates of food. He always tells you what’s for dinner. He always blesses the food. He always checks in with how you’re doing.

I stress the stability here, because as someone who grew up with a less-than-stable relationship with their parents, it stood out immediately. I found myself breathing a sigh of relief at Clayton’s consistency. I also noticed the immediate emotional connection created just by being asked, “How was your day?” According to relationship coach and couples counselor Don Olund, these two elements—stability and connection—are fundamental cravings that children have of their parents. Perhaps we never really stop needing it from them.


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All photos from Pilllsbury used with permission

Pillsbury is partnering with non profit, Operation Homefront, to provide housing for veterans

It’s the dream of many veterans: a safe and swift return to the security of home – to a place where time can be spent with family while becoming part of a community and creating new memories. With the partnership of non-profit Operation Homefront, Pillsbury is helping give military families the opportunity to do just that.

For many of our American soldiers, the dream of making a comfortable return to civilian life is often dashed by harsh realities. Pew Research Center reports that 44% of veterans who have served since Sept 11, 2001 noted having a difficult time re-adjusting. From re-entering into the workforce to finding healthcare services, returning to civilian life can be a harrowing transition. While serving in the military is incredibly stressful, it also provides routine, structure and purpose that is not easily replicated in civilian life. Couple this with a lack of helpful resources for veterans, and the hope for a brighter future can be easily derailed.


However, some companies and organizations are stepping in to show support and provide resources. Operation Homefront, an organization dedicated to helping military families transition back to civilian life, launched its Transitional Homes for Veterans (THV) Program in 2018. The program places veteran families in safe, secure, rent-free single-family homes for a period of two-to-three years while providing financial coaching and training to reduce debt, increase savings, and prepare for independent home ownership. Since the THV’s inception, Operation Homefront has defrayed more than $500K in mortgage costs to military families.

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As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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