Archives for November 2012

Task Force Dagger


Jack’s boat team and dive team after 90 foot wreck dive on USS Vandenberg, Jun 2012, Key West, FL. L-R standing: Team Doctor, ACDU SF, Raytheon Diver, Raytheon Diver, Wounded SF soldier, Wounded SF soldier L-R kneeling: ACDU SF, Jack in chair (quadriplegic), ACDU SF, Raytheon Diver Glen Bassett is kneeling.

Unique Group Offers Wounded Special Ops Vets Whole-Family Support and Healing

By Ana Hebra Flaster

As Jack floated in the choppy waters 12 miles off Key West, a team of active-duty and retired special operations soldiers treaded water around him, balancing him carefully before one of the men took off Jack’s mask. The team watched Jack’s face for a sign

Glen and Shirley Bassett of Lexington

that their week of work in the pool—figuring out how to stabilize his body, manage his air flow, communicating with only eye and head movements—had paid off. When they peeled off his mask, a smile spread across Jack’s face. “This is the best day!” he

said, for the first of many times that afternoon.

That’s the kind of reaction Lexingtonians Glen and Shirley Bassett live for in their volunteer work with Task Force Dagger (TFD), a not-for-profit founded in 2009 to provide assistance to wounded special operations veterans and their families.

Glen Bassett is a retired colonel and former recon Marine, so when a Raytheon colleague of his, Keith David, told him about his unique idea for a wounded warrior project that would offer exciting rehabilitative activities to veterans and their families, Bassett was all in. Other groups were stepping forward to help wounded veterans, but no other group seemed to be including families this intensely and physically in its rehabilitative work with veterans.

1.6 million veterans have served in the post 9-11 wars, our nation’s longest. Approximately 6,400 Americans have died in those wars. But wounded soldiers have been kept alive at an unprecedented rate in the post 9/11 period; an Associated Press report this fall cited a 95% survival rate. (By MARILYNN MARCHIONE 05/27/12 01:40 PM ET, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/27/iraq-afghanistan-veterans-disability-benefits_n_1549436.html). However, the increase in the number and complexity of injuries requiring extensive rehabilitation is also unprecedented, and many groups have stepped in to address the needs of these returning veterans.

Dive team preparing Jack to be brought back aboard the dive boat after the 90 ft wreck dive to the USS Vandenberg, Jun 2012, Key West, FL. CW from Left: Raytheon Diver (me), ACDU SF soldier, Raytheon Diver, Raytheon Diver, ACDU SF. Jack in the middle, immobilized on backboard.

A former special operations soldier himself, David named TFD after the first special operations team that went into Afghanistan after 9/11. His goal was to offer immediate assistance to wounded or ill special ops soldiers and their families. But David also wanted to offer rehabilitative activities that tapped into the spirit of adventure so many soldiers share. And he understood that the injury to the soldier affects the entire family; he wanted to include the wounded warrior’s family in whatever TFD offered. David hoped that by experiencing challenging activities together the whole family would build new skills, strengthen bonds, and, well, have a blast as they all healed.Although TFD events include a variety of activities, much of the recreation occurs in the water, a medium that increases ease of movement for the wounded soldiers. “Water is liberating for a person who’s lost mobility or a limb,” says Glen Bassett. “They’re just…Wow! A guy missing two legs gets around great. You can put fins on prosthetics! These guys are used to doing exciting things. Now, they can dive again—or even learn to for the first time. They can do thrilling things again, and we can teach their families how to do it with them.” Family members and caregivers train along side the soldiers, and earn their diving certification in the process of learning to assist their soldiers in the water, as they themselves learn to accommodate their blindness, loss of limbs or mobility. Jack’s story is just one example of what a week of such attentive rehabilitation can mean to injured soldiers and their families.

Bassett was one of the four members of the team helping Jack get comfortable in the water again that day. Jack had suffered a broken neck in an accident during his last tour of duty, and had lost all mobility and feeling below his neck. He’d been an Air Force special operations combat diver, specializing in getting behind enemy lines and guiding aircraft with radio and lasers. Now, Jack was being guided back to a sport he’d loved before his accident. All that week, as the team practiced in the pool, Jack talked about going even deeper than planned on their 60-foot dive to the top deck of a sunken US Navy ship off the coast of Key West. The ship lay under 140 feet of water, with the top deck at 60 feet, the top of the mast at 30. The goal was to get to the deck at the 60-foot depth, if things went well.

On the day of the dive, the tail end of a tropical storm had stirred up the sea. The buoy line marking the dive site was at a 45-degree angle, the current very fast, about 1.5 knots. There were other wounded soldiers on the same dive. Jack and his team looked at each other and debated, Should we do this? But Jack was adamant. No way was he not diving. They went in.

Jack after the 90 ft wreck dive, Jun 2012, Key West, FL. His caregiver is behind him, his wife is on the right looking away.

Bassett was on Jack’s right side, another teammate on his left, another preparing to lock arms around Jack and stay face to face so he could read Jack’s eye and head signals. The fourth helper on the team would hover over the other four men to watch for any trouble. Bassett and his teammates let out their own air, then Jack’s, so they could begin to sink. With one hand Bassett grabbed the rope l

eading down from the buoy to the sunken ship. With his other hand, he held the soldier who was holding Jack.

As the team descended, the teammate reading Jack’s eyes knew when to stop to check Jack for signs that he needed to release pressure. At that signal, the helper would hold Jack’s nose so he could blow and equalize the pressure in his head. Slowly, the team dropped lower into the ocean. The pressure is greater at the lower depths, and in such a strong current, the team was going through their air faster than expected. Bassett kept a close eye on the supply.

They reached the mast, then the pilothouse of the wreck, where the current slowed a bit. Finally, they reached the top deck at 60 feet. A 6-foot barracuda hung just off to one side watching them. Jack motioned with his eyes. He wanted a better look. As the team watched the barracuda watching them, they were celebrating inside. They’d made it to 60 feet without killing anybody. Mission accomplished. Everybody was smiling. They gave the hand signal to start going up. Jack shook his head. He wanted to keep going. Now, the team realized Jack hadn’t been kidding all that week when he told them he wanted to go to 90 feet.

The men continued to drop farther down into the ocean. Finally, they hit the lower deck at 90 feet. Bassett shot Jack a look and signaled: 90 feet. Can we go up? Jack was beaming. They could begin their slow ascent now, stopping every 30 feet for five minutes to let the nitrogen bubbles out of their bloodstreams in order avoid the bends. “The whole time we were getting Jack back on the boat, he just kept talking and talking and talking. He was just so happy,” Bassett says.

The team took Jack, his wife, and his caregiver out for one more dive that week. This time, they dove in “only” 25 feet of calm water over a coral reef just off Key West. By then, Jack was totally comfortable in the water. All the team had to do was hand him off in the water to his wife and caregiver and watch as they had a great time together.

This is a unique program,” Bassett says. “Most programs focus on the injured soldier alone. But the soldiers’ caregivers and family members are a major factor in successful healing. TFD works with the whole caregiving unit around the injured soldier; it makes all the difference, and they’re all so appreciative.”

TFD operates entirely on private donations and some corporate help—Raytheon is one backer and American Airlines, which discounts the soldiers’ airfare for the event, another. Once TFD determines the number of volunteers who can attend the Key West event, they tell Special Operations Command (SOCOM) the number of injured soldiers they can host, and SOCOM selects the list for that year’s program.

This year, TFD expanded the program to include Gold Star families—families who have lost a soldier during his or her service in the military. “They’re going through a different kind of healing,” Bassett says. Some of the Gold Star families’ soldiers had trained at the Key West Special Forces Underwater Operations School where the TFD held the program’s final activities this summer. “Two of the boys whose fathers had died, had never dived with their dads. But they earned their diving certificates right there—at the same pool—that day. I’ll never forget that ceremony.”

Nor will those boys, or the many soldiers and their families who shared that moment with a group of devoted, and highly skilled, volunteers.

 

For more on TFD, please visit:
www.taskforcedagger.org
As we commemorate Veteran’s Day, 2012, please consider a financial donation to TFD, as it continues to help wounded special ops veterans and their families: Task Force Dagger Foundation, 5900 South Lake Forest Dr., Suite 200, McKinney, TX 75070
The Task Force Dagger Foundation was established in July of 2009 and is a federally recognized 501(c) (3) non-for-profit foundation. The Foundation assists US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) soldiers and their families when a valid need is identified.

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What’s on the Menu at Lexx?

Executive Chef Eric Zedicker, Owner Don Rosenberg and Manging Partner Chris Bateman at the recently renovated and expanded Lexx bar.

By Heather Aveson

“A little elegant, with a cozy atmosphere. Even if it’s your first time it feels like you’ve been here before,” that was the first impression Executive Chef Eric Zedicker had of Lexx Restaurant when he visited this summer. But don’t let that cozy feeling make you too comfortable with the Lexx you know. There are lots of new things happening at the restaurant.

Chef Eric Zedicker just joined the staff of Lexx in October. Owner Don Rosenberg and Managing Partner Chris Bateman like the fit, “His personality works with ours. He’s humble, but he’s talented, and he’s got just enough of an edge that his food is really good,” says Bateman. Zedicker grew up on a farm in upstate New York so he’s all about fresh, high quality ingredients and letting the food speak for itself. He earned his stripes at Sonsie, the Newbury Street bistro, the Back Bay Social Club, and most recently a high-end caterer in Wellesley where he rounded out his culinary skills by working in every kind of cuisine.

So far Zedicker has been busy at Lexx getting a fresh fall menu off the ground, with new duck and chicken dishes, and seafood and vegetarian paella, along with Lexx favorites such as Morroccan Stew and of course, the famous Lexx burger.

Now the fun begins. Eric is firing up the smoker, which got little use before he arrived, and creating specials, especially “market fish” dishes based on the freshest catch of the day. These creative opportunities are what drew the 28-year old Chef to Lexx, “I had worked in the city and I was looking for a nice, small American bistro. I like simple food with unique tastes. I want to create a style that’s what I want it to be.”

Managing partner Chris Bateman is happy to have Eric taking over the reins in the kitchen. He’s been a jack of all trades at the restaurant for several years, running the kitchen and the front of the house as well as buying, hiring and managing, “I’ve been in charge of everything for several years and finally we got to the point where the restaurant outgrew me. I couldn’t do it all anymore. Having someone who’s not pulled in five different directions, who’s just focused on the kitchen, is going to have a huge impact on us.”

With the kitchen in good hands Chris has more time to focus on building other areas in the restaurant. This fall Lexx has introduced a Premium pour program. Diners can now order premium wines by the glass, rather than having to purchase an entire bottle. The restaurant invested in a high tech system that replaces the liquid with argon, rather than letting the bottle fill with oxygen. Chris explained that it’s oxygen coming in contact with the wine that breaks it down. They’ve started with four red wines this fall and they’re waiting to see how it goes.

The wine list, as well as the menu, is constantly changing in response to customer tastes. “Three years ago we had a fifty two bottle wine list, all world encompassing,” Chris says, “After a year we realized that Lexingtonians want California wines. So we pared the list down to twenty eight wines, mostly California.” But Chris wants his customers to remain adventurous too. “I’ve always tried to push people to pick some stuff that’s on the edge, right now we have an Albariño, a white wine from Spain. That’s their grape and it’s phenomenal. But most people would be scared to pick an Albariño, so we always try to put a few things that are a little bit different. Pushing the envelope again.”

All this takes place in a newly redesigned space that reflects the dining trends in Lexington and beyond. Owner Don Rosenberg worked with an interior designer to create a better experience, including a larger lounge area. “That’s an obvious trend, the lounge has become a strong focal point in urban and contemporary restaurants. Now you can really enjoy a meal with friends in the lounge.” Before the renovation sounds swirled around the space and bounced off the low, hard ceiling. So the ceiling surface was softened and walls reconfigured to quiet the space.

Rosenberg recognizes the importance of creating a comfortable space as part of the changing role of dining out in America. “Restaurants have become a very high form of entertainment. When I was a kid, restaurants were a place to go and eat. Now it’s a community, a gathering place almost like the movies used to be. Now you’re going to go out to dinner instead of the movies to enjoy company.”

Lexx customers keep coming back for that experience. So much so that Lexx has started a Loyalty program. More than 1,000 people have signed up for the points program that rewards frequent diners with big savings.

It seems Lexingtonians and their neighbors agree with Chef Zedicker, “Food should be simple and pure, with a different twist.”

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Local Architect Renovates 1935 Cottage

By E. Ashley Rooney

Older homes, often built before residential building codes were put in place, have steep stairs, narrow doorways, or bathrooms only on the second floor.

Sally DeGan, A.I.A. Principal, at Lexington’s SpaceCraft Architecture, Inc.

These environments make it difficult for adults to remain in their homes as they age. Modifications such as enlarging doorway openings, increasing the width of hallways or other pathways, and adding a full bath to the first floor can make a significant difference. The Emmy® Award-winning PBS home improvement series This Old House® will feature the transformation of a 1935 cottage in rural Essex, Mass., into a universally accessible space for seniors as one of its renovation projects for the upcoming 33rd national season.This Old House general contractor Tom Silva selected Sally DeGan, A.I.A. Principal, at Lexington’s SpaceCraft Architecture, Inc. as the architect because of her listening skills and knowledge of sensible design practices. “Some of that,” according to Sally, “is knowing the different products to specify; some of it is common sense.” The house needed a significant amount of work to get “its bones back in shape.”

Once that was done, Sally and her team at SpaceCraft Architecture, Inc. added a new kitchen, a four-season porch, and master bathroom and bedroom on the first floor, all connected by an open floor plan. The doorways became wider and lost their thresholds; the bathroom became bigger so that a wheelchair or walker could be used within it; the kitchen became more user friendly, i.e., a mere touch opens cupboard doors; the outside walkway was raised and graded so it was flush with the first floor of the house, eliminating tripping hazards. When completed, the cottage will seem like anyone’s home, but the new design will allow residents to live entirely on the first floor. The cottage has another two bedrooms and a bath upstairs for grandchildren or caregivers.

Family members often worry than an older person’s own home would become unmanageable and unsafe. With the rising number of aging baby boomers, more and more attention is being paid to the increasing ranks and needs of older people. Instead of skirting around the issue of limited physical functions, architects and design professionals are accepting it and dealing with it as a design challenge. And instead of seeing the solutions as sterile, hospital-like environments, architects such as Sally are coming up with beautiful, thoughtful, and personal solutions.

Sally says, “I have experience with younger clients who suddenly have a knee replacement or a family member who has significant health problems who need to retrofit their house accordingly. There are many home modifications and services that create a safe, living environment. For example, we use lever handles on faucets and showers, encourage hand held showers in every bathroom, and build a room that can be used as a first floor bedroom, if necessary. When clients are building new houses with the traditional half bath downstairs, I suggest they add enough space so that a shower can be installed within it.”

In a user-friendly house, the goal is to increase the flexibility of the space, preparing for the unknown and creating an environment that creates useful options for how to use and function in the space. When planned to incorporate any physical changes over time, these homes will end up beautiful and enjoyable.

 

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Riding the Big Yellow Bus

Hank and Chuck

By Hank Manz

I am getting used to the fact that much of the world views me as an Old Guy.

All the signs are there. Kids I know mostly call me “Hank,” but young women—and at my age that means they are under 45—almost always call me “Sir.” The clerk at Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t even look twice before giving me the senior discount. And the Lexpress bus driver doesn’t start the bus until I have taken my seat.

So it was interesting to return to my childhood a few days ago when Judy Crocker, long an advocate for getting school kids out of cars and off to school by bus, bike, and foot, arranged for me to make a morning school bus run. There I was at 7 AM, along with fellow Selectman Norman Cohen and School Committee Member Jessie Steigerwald, outside Lexington High School, waiting for Chuck Trombly who drives bus #7 for C&W Transportation.

Right off the bat I was impressed with the reaction of a bus driver when Jessie asked him which bus he was. He immediately said that he could not take any riders. That’s good. The drivers are trained in security.

But then the #7 showed up and I waved goodbye to the other two and met Chuck who was finishing his first of three runs for the morning. I took a seat up front, once again reminded that while I am taller than average, I would have trouble seeing over the padded seat backs which are built high for safety in the event of a crash.

The high school run was over, but the second run of the day was for Diamond Middle School. This may surprise a few parents, but the kids were mostly quiet and when they got off the bus many thanked Chuck. They knew his name, but even better, he knew theirs and he also knew the names of many of the parents.

I had prepared for this trip by watching 16 Candles, the movie which was the breakout for Molly Ringwald. The one where she climbs on the school bus with a friend, looks at all the riders acting out, then turns to her friend and says “I just loathe the bus.” Someone has posted a video clip of that scene on YouTube which you can see at:

I found that the school bus in Lexington is nothing like that. The kids were mildly interested in why someone my age was riding the bus. Several of them greeted me by name. If I recognized them, then I probably knew them from Boy Scouts or baseball. If I didn’t, then it was probably hockey where I don’t recognize anybody unless they have on a helmet.

Shower shoes as school footwear are still in style even with winter approaching as are T-shirts with questionable slogans on them. Backpacks look incredibly heavy. One of my Scouts told me that he carries a backpack that weighs one third of what he weighs.

They chattered away about all sorts of things but only had to be reminded to use their “indoor voices” a couple of times by Chuck.

We were on time to Diamond and then immediately started a Fiske run. The riders were a little louder, but once again Chuck knew their names and the names of the adults waiting with the kids at each stop. There was one tough moment when it turned out that a cul-de-sac was almost completely blocked with construction material, but Chuck managed to get the bus turned around in a space that looked small for the Mini I drive. I was impressed.

We were a few minutes late pulling into Fiske, but with the street blockage and the traffic I wasn’t surprised.

But that wasn’t the end because now it was bus evacuation drill day back at Diamond. Once there the bus was the scene of several simulated accidents. After a short talk about safety systems and means of egress from a crashed bus, the students opened the back door and practiced getting out quickly.

Sounds like an enjoyable morning, right? As it turned out, inside the bus everything was great. Chuck not only knew his route, but he knew the people on his route. He knew which kids were going to be late out the door. He checked the bus for lost items and possible sleeping students after we unloaded at each school. He had obviously made friends with his passengers so they paid attention when he spoke.

Outside the bus was another story. Some parents were late getting their kids to the bus stop and were not shy about keeping the bus waiting. Automobile driver were reluctant to let the bus into traffic. Car drivers resented stopped school buses and thought nothing of beeping and yelling and making that hand sign which could mean “You’re number one” but which I think means something else. The glut of automobiles near each school slowed traffic and made it hard to get to the bus lanes.

There was the National Grid truck whose driver, talking on a cell phone, almost drove past the bus, but stopped. He was well into the danger zone, but at least he stopped, something I cannot say about other drivers.

While the automobile traffic at each school wasn’t a complete showstopper, it was clear that we are at, or at least close to, a point at which something will have to be done to move personal vehicles out of the way so that buses can do their job efficiently. Moreover, there were some almost heartstopping moments when parents let students out of a car so they could run across traffic to get to the school.

There were volunteers and school staff helping at each school to move things along and they were not only working hard, but were working effectively. They, too, obviously knew the students.

I made a mental note to come back on a rainy day to see how many more cars would be added to the queue.

The bottom line is that if you are a parent wondering how safe the bus is, I found it less stressful than my rides on the T. The drivers are skilled, the buses are in good shape, the ride is smooth, and I can’t say enough about the atmosphere on the bus. My bus ride was nothing like the rides I remember from my youth to which I can only say Thank You! But I hope that more students will start to ride the bus and I fervently hope that parents who do drive, will exercise caution when letting their kids out of the car. What I saw outside the bus was, frankly, too often a bit scary.

 

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