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Tag: Military

Alliance director stresses importance of longleaf pines

By Jody Conrad

news@srpressgazette.com

It’s hard to imagine today, but just over 100 years ago the coastal plains of America from Virginia to eastern Texas were covered by about 92 million acres of longleaf pines. Fortunately, we have folks like Vernon Compton who care about preserving and restoring the 1.3 million acres left in Northwest Florida and South Alabama.

Compton, who works with the Longleaf Alliance as their director of the Gulf Coast Plain Ecosystem Partnership, said that the Alliance is a voluntary public and private land partnership formed in 1996 to preserve and restore these forests.

“Today we only have about 12,533 acres of virgin old-growth longleaf left in this area, and most of it is on Eglin Air Force Base,” he said. “Quite possibly all that spared these acres was the inability to get a railroad spur there.”

According to Compton, a lot can be learned from these remaining forests. Some of these things include diverse flora and fauna that once existed on the forest floors that look nothing like the dense brushy thickets associated with pine forests today.

“Over 170 species of herbaceous plants are native to these ecosystems, with over 6,000 plants found only in the longleaf ecosystem of the Coastal Plains,” he said. “Where the forest floor today is choked out with invasive woodies like Chinese privet, it was once covered with low-growing native shrubs and wildflowers that reveled under the canopies of the trees. The groundcover is the most important part of the ecosystem and without the pines, the groundcover disappears.”

The trees themselves were home to many endangered animals that are at risk of becoming extinct. “The red cockaded woodpecker is an example of an endanger bird that we are working diligently to restore habitat for,” he explains. “They thrive only in these coastal pines and nowhere else in the world.”

Vernon Compton of the Longleaf Alliance. Contributed photo

Local residents are no strangers to the smoky skies of forest fires, and Compton explains the role that fire plays in keeping these forests healthy.

“Many local people get angry about the smoky skies and think we’re destroying forests, but the public needs to be educated about the role fires play in forest health,” he said. “Longleaf is a ‘fire forest,’ meaning that without it, the forest floor would be choked with hardwoods and woody shrubs, leaving no room for the native plants and animals

“Since we live in the ‘lightning strike’ capital of the world, lightning used to take care of this problem. Then man intervened. For many years, the federal forestry department believed that fire was bad, and today we frequently see on the news how this thinking has worked out for California. These days, very detailed plans allow controlled burns to do the work nature once handled. When the thickets are burned, the forest thrives again,” he added.

The Longleaf Alliance strives to ensure a sustainable future for this ecosystem through partnerships, landowner assistance, and educational and outreach opportunities. “Without this work, we’d still look like the early 1900s when the logging industry had cut down every pine in site and the vestiges had been ravaged by the turpentiners and wild hogs,” Compton concludes.

“While the longleaf was a huge component in building much of America, we’ve come a long way in understanding the value of leaving portions of our forests undisturbed and replanting and restoring what we need to use.”

The sound of freedom – Freedom Brass – rings in Crestview

With selections ranging from Renaissance marches and “Amazing Grace” to The Muppets and Willy Wonka, Freedom Brass’s Crestview debut swept the gamut of genres and time periods, handling any seeming complexity with aplomb.

The brass ensemble of the U.S. Air Force Band of the West, stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, is comprised of two trumpets, French horn, trombone, tuba and percussion, and played to a full house at Warriors Hall on a cold, rainy Friday evening.

However, newly enacted Department of Defense COVID-19 restrictions limited available seats to 50, making a “full house” a lot smaller than the hall’s usual 200-seat capacity.

Percussionist Airman First Class Austin Pierce performs “Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie” on an electronic vibraphone during Freedom Brass’s Crestview concert. Photo by Brian Hughes, Cultural Services Specialist, City of Crestview

“Next time we can hopefully put out more seating,” Mayor JB Whitten said after the concert as he helped fold up chairs.

Freedom Brass’s appearance drew a diverse audience, including several middle and high school band students, who welcomed the opportunity to see professional musicians at work. Many military veterans also speckled the audience, receiving applause as the band played a medley of service branch anthems and each stood for his or her branch’s anthem.

The band earned laughs as they introduced the new U.S. Space Force’s interim anthem, which is based on John Philip Sousa’s 1901 march, “The Invincible Eagle,” with Master Sergeant Eric Proper inviting trombonist Senior Airman Evan Drumm invited to play it “as you’d hear it in space.”

Airman Drumm then proceeded to play the number. Without sound.

Homeless man with ‘senior issues’ refuses to leave Crestview shelter

At 73, John Porter has been everywhere he ever wanted to be, from flying former President Gerald Ford in Air Force 1 to spending 46 years at the side of a woman he describes as magical.

“Look at her eyes,” he says, showing off the tiny picture on Ann Porter’s driver’s license.

They had money, homes and credit card debt. He had adventures. He met important people, like the King of Saudi Arabia, and taught them to fly. The couple lived “high on the hog,” he said.

They had it all and he has lost it all.

Now, he’s living in a homeless shelter in Crestview and appears to be staying, despite staff finding him apartments several times and offering to provide support while he gets on his feet. He told the media last week that he’d been kicked out, but he’s still there, according to Ann Sprague, president of the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless.

John Porter had a big life before losing his wife, his house and his life savings. Now, this new car, cosigned by a friend, is all that connects him to that former success. Photo by Wendy Victora Rudman

“He has never been kicked out and where did he sleep last night? In the shelter,” Sprague said.

Porter gets $2,300 a month in Social Security and Veterans Administration disability. A friend helped cosign on his new Nissan Altima, which gleams in the handicap spot at the shelter on Duggan Avenue.

Sprague said that because of Porter’s income, she’d been able to find him apartments that he could afford and that they would continue to subsidize him in an apartment while he got himself sorted out.

He refuses, turning down three so far. She said she has never had anyone turn down an apartment before. 

“Usually when I find someone an apartment to rent, they either cry or jump up and down,” Sprague said.

Porter isn’t easy to decipher. He was in the Marines for 10 years, has a VA disability and a bad leg, had a successful career as a pilot and flight instructor, and a good marriage, he said. He and his wife were “inseparable,” except his job kept him away from home 300 days a year.

Ann died in April 2016 while they were sitting in the living room watching television. She was still working at the time, leaving him with credit card debt that now totals $30,000.

She wanted to live an afterlife, if there is such a thing. So, he spent money to have her cremated and fly her over several states, disposing of a little bit of her over each one. He then used his former connections in the aerospace industry to get a small amount of ashes taken up in a space shuttle, he said.

“Part of her is in orbit,” he said.

Within three years of Ann’s death, their house was gone and so was their life savings. He stayed with a friend for several years, and tried staying with his adult son, from whom he is now estranged.

He has also lived in his car, staying at the rest area at mile marker 59 on Interstate 10 until officials told him he was limited to eight hours a day and 24 hours for a week. 

Around Halloween, he moved into the shelter and is in no hurry to leave. His car makes him a target of envy, he said. It’s a source of pride.

John Porter spent 10 years in the Marines, which included stints in Vietnam. Now he lives at a homeless shelter. Photo by Wendy Victora Rudman

“Everybody else in here has nothing,” he said. “They’re tapped out. I, on the other hand, have a new car.”

The car is what connects him from his former life to this one. What he used to be, instead of what he has become.

The items inside, while a seeming jumble even to him, mean something. There’s the painting of him and Ann on their wedding day, painted from that moment captured on Polaroid. He finds it in the back seat and gasps sharply, turning his head away to hide the pain of recognition.

In the trunk, amidst a laundry basket and garbage bags filled with possessions, he finds a broken table leg. His wife made him buy that table, he said. This stick of wood, ending in a jagged separation, is a treasure to him.

There’s also a random can of tuna fish, which he tosses back in, calling it and the other objects the debris of life.

He’s had a series of strokes and admits to some “senior issues,” saying his memory isn’t as sharp as it once was.

It’s clear he views the offers of an apartment as an attempt to get him to leave. His response is that he needs more time to save money. If is forced to leave before he’s ready, he won’t be able to pay for the car.

It’s ego, he admits. But it’s important for him to die someday with some semblance of prosperity. It’s where he draws the line.

“I will not allow that to be the postscript on my life,” he said.

Military housing allowance increase gets final approval

Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-01) and several community leaders recently announced the final passage of resolutions supporting an increase in the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rate for military service members in Florida’s First District. The resolutions were introduced and passed in Escambia County, Okaloosa County, Santa Rosa County, and Walton County.

In 2021, it was identified that the BAH rate, due to rising inflation and other factors, was insufficient to cover the cost of housing for service members in our district. 

Upon learning of the discrepancy, Gaetz drafted and supported the resolutions, signaling to the Department of Defense that the BAH rate increase is unanimously supported by the people of Northwest Florida.

The deficiency also prompted his office to add a provision in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act requiring the DOD to produce a report on housing and BAH rates in Northwest Florida due by spring 2022.

Gaetz thanks the following individuals and organizations for their exceptional contributions towards enhancing the military mission in Northwest Florida: 

  • Commissioner Jeff Bergosh, District 1 Escambia County
  • Commissioner Bob Cole, District 2 Santa Rosa County
  • Commissioner Danny Glidewell, District 5 Walton County
  • Commissioner Mel Ponder, District 3 Okaloosa County
  • Grey Burge, Pensacola Association of Realtors
  • Mike Dollen, Pensacola Association of Realtors
  • Dan Gullahorn, Pensacola Association of Realtors
  • Chuck Michaels, Pensacola Association of Realtors
  • John Waas, Pensacola Association of Realtors
  • Melissa Allegretto, Emerald Coast Association of Realtors
  • Keith Dean, Emerald Coast Association of Realtors
  • Bart Pullum, Navarre Area Board of Realtors

Freedom Brass coming to Crestview’s Warrior Hall

By Brian Hughes

Cultural Services Specialist, City of Crestview

Sound the trumpets! Freedom Brass, the U.S. Air Force Band of the West’s brass ensemble, will make its regional debut when it presents a live performance at Warriors Hall on Feb. 4.

Freedom Brass, stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, is generally comprised of two trumpets, French horn, trombone, tuba, and percussion, but for its Crestview concert, two more musicians will be added, trumpeter Staff Sgt. Justin Weisenborn said.

“It will be eight of us now instead of six, as we are bringing two new members to work them in to the rotation,” he explained.

According to its website, Freedom Brass “is dedicated to presenting to its audiences the total spectrum of today’s musical literature,” which means the Crestview audience can expect a diverse program of music, including pieces from a repertoire that stretches back hundreds of years.

The Freedom Brass performs one of its more than 100 annual concerts. Photo by SSGT. Justin Weisenborn, Freedom Brass

The group travels more than 20,000 annually, performing more than 100 concerts and clinics around the United States as well as performing at military ceremonies.

“The members of Freedom Brass bring to the United States Air Force many years of professional experience with symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, touring shows, and today’s popular artists,” the ensemble’s website states. Past performances include the New York Brass Conference and Boston University’s Tanglewood Music Center.

The concert is a program of the City of Crestview Cultural Services Division.

WANT TO GO?

What: Freedom Brass concert

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4

Where: Warriors Hall, Whitehurst Municipal Building, 201 Stillwell Blvd.

How much: Free

Notes: Due to Department of Defense recently issued COVID-19 safety protocols, admission will be limited to the first 50 attendees.

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