It is not Sgt. Al Brenner who should be ashamed. It is you and I

There was this Marine who was in trouble and was facing a
administrative discharge out of the Marine Corps.  He popped positive for pot and the Marine
Corps does not tolerate drugs, period. I was appointed senior member of the
admin board that included two first Lieutenants as prosecuting and defense attorneys.
I also had a new GySgt and a second Lt who was a GySgt recently commission on
my board. The prosecuting attorney told me this was a open and closed case and
it wouldn’t take all day. The defense seemed to be thin.

The separation board commenced and the prosecuting Lt came
out firing at the young warrior explaining how he was a bad Marine, had
specific agendas to do harm, had gang related tattoos and should be
dishonorably discharged immediately. The defense attorney didn’t do him any
favors by defending him.  The defense
continued to show how the Marine was gang related and had gang related tattoos covering
his arms.

After both sides were done I simply asked the Marine, what
do you want to do son, do you want to stay in the Marines? He said he would but
knew it wouldn’t be possible. He continued that he did smoke something but he didn’t
think it was pot. I asked him if he had ever been in a gang and he said no. He
continued to tell me in front of the court how his parents are dead, his wife
left him during deployment and he has nothing. 

I’m not a gang expert but I’m pretty sure skulls and the
like are not gang related.  I also know
that by reading this Marines service record, we chewed some of the same dirt in
Iraq and Afghanistan.  I also knew this
warrior had received the Navy Marine Corps accommodation medal with device
(just short of the Bronze Star) for heroic actions during his multiple tours
along with other medals.  I also knew he
was probably suffering from PTSD (just my opinion)

I conveyed a recess for 10 minutes. I asked the Gy that was
on my board his recommendation, he said to hammer the Marine. The Lt on my
board said he couldn’t believe we were wasting time on this. Two ends of the
extreme.  Bothe asked what I was going to
give the Marine. I told them I would let them know shortly. I went on a recess.

I went outside and chewed on a C-gar during the ten minutes.
I knew what my decision was all along. I came back in and assigned the a other
than honorable discharge, I had no choice because of the drugs, however, I did
grant him the right to keep his rank and receive 100% health disability and
everything else like anyone else getting out of the Marines. Court dismissed.

The prosecution asked to approach me and the board
afterwards.  The Lt was confused on how
the case wasn’t won by their efforts and the Marine wasn’t hammered. I let the
Lt get everything  out, then asked the
Lt, to look at the ribbons on your uniform. You have only one. A National
Defense ribbon. This Marine has been to hell and back and despite some bad
decisions you want to hammer him? I then explained and  to listen closely and always to remember that
even you Lt that is a lawyer has the obligation to ensure we return our Marines
back to society better than we found them. We owe it to that Marine and to this
country. The Lt just stood there.  I told
everyone there we are responsible for this Marine and if we don’t take care of
him, we will read about him dead somewhere. 
He has nothing, gave everything and you want to hammer him? Sorry, I don’t
believe my Marine Corps works like that. I am fair and firm, regardless of the
way I choose to go. We owe it to our Marines.

The above is a bit long intro to the below but I feel the
exact same way about the below as I did above.  As a US marine(which there is no such thing as
a former Marine) I will always take care of fellow Marines. I’m not made of
riches but Marines take care of Marines, period.  

Thus I have started a new category on One Marine’s View
called Al’s corner. It’s for  any
warrior, any branch to reach out for help, regardless of the situation and I
will do all I can to help. I named it for Al in the below story and for my
dad  who is named Al as well because he
always gives good advice and helps, even if he has to give you his shirt off
his back. THAT’S, Al’s corner.  I don’t know
how I can help, but I will lead the charge and if we help or save one Marine,
well then it was all worth it.You can also make a difference. Want to help, email me, Im open to suggestions.

Now, read the below story about a warrior, a Marine that
needs help. He has come to the right place!

Time for a C-Gar!

It has come to this. A disabled Marine Corps veteran,
horribly wounded in Afghanistan, holding a fundraiser for himself so he and his
bride can buy a damn home. And feeling ashamed for it, at that. It is not Sgt.
Al Brenner who should be ashamed. It is you and me.

I met the 24-year-old Al Brenner for breakfast the other day. Same South Jersey
diner, nearly the same booth, where we sat and talked two years ago. Back then
Al was a corporal, just released from Bethesda, where Navy Docs had sewn his
mangled right leg back together and treated the burns that covered most of his torso
after he and his bomb-sniffing dog, the three-year-old German Shepherd named
Grief, had been blown to holy hell outside of Kandahar.

The Docs had also rebuilt Al’s shattered right arm using flesh, muscles,
tissue, arteries, and veins grafted from his left arm. His missing left pinkie?
Couldn't do much about that. Same for the several dozen microscopic and
cauterized pebbles and grains of dirt and sand the IED blast had embedded in
his eyeballs. But Al was luckier than Grief, who died from his wounds and was
buried the next day in an unmarked Afghan grave.

Coming out of Bethesda, the Corps assigned Al to a Wounded Warrior battalion at
California's Camp Pendleton. But he was determined to return to his K-9
training unit. Knew he'd probably never fight again. But felt that his
Downrange experience, if he could impart it to the newbies heading over, might
save American lives.

"It was initially something of a shock to them." Al laughs. Loud.
Hearty. "Think they expected me to be all blowed up. All dead and stuff.
Yet here I was walking, talking. The same guy they worked with overseas. But
then I started to get, 'Well, you don't have to be here. You've earned your
ticket out.' But I just felt that it would be pointless for me to have gone
through something like I did and then just sit at home and not be able to share
the knowledge with the guys going back over."

So what Al did was, "Make sure I taught them everything I didn't know before I left."

He went, he says, "beyond" the training book. Setting up courses on
how to react to live fire. How to spot secondary and even tertiary booby-traps.
How to recognize battlefield loiterers who might turn out to be IED triggermen.

"I even took MREs and other foods, macaroni and cheese from the mess hall,
clumped and molded it together with twigs and dirt to simulate decomposing
bodies that could distract their dogs."

When Al's K-9 trainee team deployed to Afghanistan in late 2011, he finally
reported to his Wounded Warrior battalion. To begin not only his physical rehab,
but his transition to civilian life. Still, his wounds were not healing as fast
as he was wanted, as fast as he was trying to will
them to heal. One year later, last November, he was medically retired with a
100 percent disability. This is when his world began to fall apart.

Al and his wife Megan returned from California to Jersey. Broke. He had no
idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He hoped to become a
service dog trainer, but almost all of the outfits who run such businesses are
non-profits who rely on volunteers. Al needed a job. He and Megan wanted to
start a family. They wanted to buy a home. "But," Al says, "I
fell into that gap in the system between active-duty pay and VA benefits."

Al, waiting the standard two months to receive his first disability check, did
not have the money to rent an apartment, much less buy a home. He waited
another three months for his next check to show up. Megan, who married Al in
2009 and had followed him from Marine base to Marine base since, had too little
work experience on her resume to get callbacks from the jobs to which she
applied. And Al was still too physically debilitated to work at the few jobs

"I can't lift a box to work at Loewe's. You have to be able to lift 50
pounds to stock shelves at CVS. I can't do that. I'd be a greeter at Walmart.
But I can't do that because I can't stand for eight hours. This is my world.
Living in the basement of my parents' home.

"If you don't have parents you're screwed, you're homeless," Al says.
"You're unemployed, in some cases physically or mentally unemployable. The
world thinks retired, disabled servicemen and women have all the job sources in
the world. All the housing sources in the world. Sure, if you want to live
where they have homes with housing allowances. Upstate New York? Kentucky? I
grew up in New Jersey. It's where my friends and family are. Why should I have
to live in the Midwest because that's where designated veteran's housing
happens to be?"

So Al became, in his words, "proactive." He and Megan began house
hunting. With no money. Realtors, the ones who took them seriously, scoffed. It
did not stop them. By this November when his disability payments will become
steady, he calculated that even without he or Megan working, "I'd be able
to afford a modest house in an okay area around here."

And then they found their dream house. Which led Al to rely on the kindness of
strangers to fund the closing costs on their bid by starting Donate Strength To Patriots. You can also find his
organization on Facebook and Twitter. (By the way, read the initials of Al's
organization backward; yes, he also suffers from PTSD.) Al has already raised
$2600 in three days, and has set a modest goal of $10,000 for himself. If his
outfit takes off, he says he plans to set up an on-line charity for similar
needy vets that will eschew the usual spaghetti dinners and 5K runs and get the
money straight to worthy dontes, cutting out the middelman. "My wife and I
need a home, a life, and aside from robbing a bank or committing suicide, this
was the best thing I could think of," he says. "At first I was
ashamed at having to do this. I felt horrible. Like begging on a street corner.
But I'm teetering right now. I'm on the tip of this teeter-totter and I'm
either gonna go one way or the other. And I’m not alone."

And here's where my conversation with Al got interesting. We started to talk
about the rash of active-duty suicides—more than double, annually, than actual
American KIAs in Afghanistan since US troops entered that benighted country in
2001. And the 53 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets diagnosed with mental
health disorders. And the almost 63,000 men and women who served in OIF and OEF
who are now homeless. The Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration
are basically gob-smacked by these horrific numbers. In fact, the day before I
met with Al I sat with a former US Navy Admiral who admitted that for all the
studies the Pentagon has commissioned, no one has any idea how to deal with
these problems.

"Everybody thinks it’s from the war, because we’ve seen combat," Al
said. "That's a lot of BS." He was excited, and speaking so loud we
both noticed heads turning in the booths near us. "It's the transition
period out of uniform that is causing most of this."

At this Al grabbed my pen, flipped his paper table mat, and drew a rectangular
block. He wrote "service" at one end; "civilian" at the
other. "That year-long block after getting out and before disability money
begins arriving with regularity, there's your problem right there. Believe me,
I lived it. There is so much red tape. So much bureaucracy."

Jabbing the pen point into the box, he said, "It's right here where
disabled vets become cave dwellers in their parents' homes—if they're lucky
enough to have parents with homes. It's right here where they start thinking
about suicide. It's right here where they start thinking about just giving in
to their PTSD and TBI symptoms. Staying in their Mom's basement playing video
games, abusing booze and drugs. It's this gap right here where people die.

"If I committed suicide tomorrow the news would report that the horrors of
Afghanistan drove a hometown hero to take his own life. But deployment has
nothing to do with it. It's the bureaucratic bullshit we have to go through
afterward. But it's easier to blame the war."

Al Brenner has returned to college part time. Aiming for a psychology degree.
Wants to help other vets like him. He knows he cannot change the world for
veterans, much less change the system. But he can try, and he can begin by changing
it for him and Megan. Before we parted ways I asked Al what he would do if
Donate Strength To Patriots brought in more than his requested $10,000.

"I was going to keep any overage," he said. "But then I thought
that that wasn't right. I said $10,000. It's all I need. So every penny over
$10,000, I'm just gonna find some people with better business heads than mine
to run the organization and start donating back to vets who need it."

"I heard that the actor Bradley Cooper has taken an interest in this kind
of thing since he filmed Silver Lining Playbook at Walter Reed Medical Center.
He'd probably know somebody who could run this for me if it takes off."

And here Al Brenner flashed a sheepish grin.

"Only trouble is, I don’t have Bradley Cooper's cell number."

By Bob Drury, Mens Health Magazine




  1. Their is a problem here with his disability. He’s getting 100% and as
    far as I know you can’t work with 100% disability. Most people take 80%
    so they can work at least part time. Home Depot does a lot with vets and
    might hire him, but he as that 100% disability. As for Als corner, hey I’m
    in, have know idea what I could do, put I’m in.

  2. Other groups that could help:
    Soldier’s Angels has project for vets as well as the deployed
    Lone Survivor Foundation
    He can also give some of his GI Bill benefits to his wife for school.
    I’ve seen quite a few projects on Kickstarter, Indigogo, and GoFundMe for disabled vets.
    Gary Sinise’s foundation runs the Building for America’s Finest home building projects.

  3. “I did grant him the right to keep his rank and receive 100% health disability and everything else like anyone else getting out of the Marines.”
    This is confusing. All Marines don’t get 100% health disability when they get out. Are you saying he got to keep the RIGHT to get disability, if he rated it?

  4. Female Marine – he would not have been affordrd all veteran medical benefits if he left the Marine Corps with an “dishonorable”. This is the case esp for mental benefits. I believ thats what the Maj was saying.

  5. Comon sense – those arnt common sense and have different requirements. please expand on those you have mentioned as they are not – common sense.

  6. Thanks Gang – Ive leaned into this one and have had many of the blog readers chime in to help – I thank you for that- Ive contacted a few charities to include Semper Fi as mentioned above. Keep checking for follow ups on this warrior.

  7. VSO’S
    A person at the top of their game would have difficulty attempting to navigate the VA system. To expect our wounded Warriors to do so without assistance is unconsionable.
    This is where a Veteran Service Organization (VSO) comes into play. There are many VSO’s but not all are accredited by the VA. This is where a transition team on the military side should step in and help with the hookup insuring the VSO and their Veteran Service Officers have the best interest of the wounded Warrior as their number one priority.
    This wounded Warrior earned his benefits and a guaranteed home loan is one of them.
    The information I found on the net states The Marine Corps League Veteran Service Officer in NJ is located in the
    VA Regional Office
    20 Washington Place
    Newark, NJ 07102
    Telephone: 973-297-3378
    The caller may have to ask to be transferred to the Marine Corps League VSO (Veteran Service Officer).

  8. The answer to this problem is simple. Every person leaving the service after having served in a combat zone should be able to apply for assistance. That assistance should take the form of a monthly stipend equal to their military pay and should last for one year after discharge. Those vets that don’t need it don’t have to apply, but no vet should be refused. Those that do apply, disabled or not, should get the assistance, no questions asked.
    Once a disabled vet’s disability checks start arriving, the monthly stipend should be adjusted by the amount received for disability so that the amount of the monthly stipend remains the same for the first year. Hopefully the stupid bureaucrats can get a disabled vet’s pay situation sorted out in 12 months!
    There is absolutely NO excuse for not taking care of our vets when they are discharged. They have earned it.
    If we can afford to give Egypt F-16s, we can afford to pay our damn vets. As a veteran myself, I despise the treatment our government gives our vets, ESPECIALLY the disabled ones. It’s a national disgrace. I’ve never needed nor have I asked for assistance. But I’ll be damned if I will sit still while our government REFUSES to deal with this problem.
    The admirals are wringing their hands wondering what to do? Give me a break. The answer is staring you jerks in the face. TAKE CARE OF OUR VETS DAMMIT!

  9. How the government treats our Vets is disgusting! The VA is one of the worst govet organizations imaginable. No Vet should ever be left w/o help, ever!

  10. RE: Marines take care of Marines–
    I got out in ’04 and even then, taking care of our own was starting to become a forgotten concept in the Marine Corps. I remember as a young lcpl, we had a problem child in the platoon — the lcpl who couldn’t seem to do anything right. Two senior sgts wanted him out. They wanted to fry him. I still remember what the platoon sergeant — now a good friend of mine — said to the two sgts: “I will get rid of both of you before i get rid of him. If he’s screwing up, that’s OUR problem as leaders and NCOs.”
    I never forgot that lesson.

  11. You CAN work if you are 100%. There are two different VA Awards for 100%; schedular and individual unemployability (IU). As long as you are not IU, you can work. There is also an exception to working when drawing IU just as there is while drawing SSDI. As long as the money you earn isn’t from substantial gainful employment you are able to work.
    For more info on the difference between the types of 100% please go to Explanations can be found there in greater detail.

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