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'Take on Today' Honors Veterans and Military Families on Veterans Day

Hear inspirational stories of service members and their loved ones

Monte Gould

Courtesy Monte Gould/AARP

Bob:

Veterans Day is a time to celebrate the dedication and sacrifice of America's service members. Today, we'll listen to storytellers who shine a light on the journeys, veterans and their families go through. First, we'll hear from AARP's TJ Cooney about Monte Gould, a 59 year old Army recruit, who just re-enlisted this year. And later, we'll discuss Sky Blossom, a new documentary that follows the next generation of caregivers with MSNBC anchor Richard [Lui 00:00:44].

            Hi, I'm Bob Edwards.

Mike:

I'm Mike Ellison.

Bob:

With an AARP Take on Today.

TJ:

Picture yourself, a 59 year old man being thrusted into the situation by which you have to be with 17 to 19 year olds for three months. Words are pretty cheap. You don't sit around and talk about what you can do. You show people what you can do.

Bob:

At 59 years old, Monte Gould decided he would re-enlist in the military for the third time. Together with his time as an Army Reserve civil affairs specialist, Gould had 18 years of experience in the military. If you have 20 years, you can draw a military pension. So Gould decided to do another hitch and reenter the military. It was a shock to him and his family, when he was told he would have to complete basic training again. His story was captured in a new AARP video titled The Oldest Trainee, produced by our guest, TJ Cooney.

            TJ, why did you want to tell this story?

TJ:

It's just unique, somebody going to bootcamp, in general, later in life is very fascinating and distinct in and of itself. But the fact that our character, Monte, went back for a second time and at 59, it was just screaming for it's answer, the question, why?

Bob:

Well, when he went back into the service the first time, he wasn't required to do basic training.

TJ:

That's right. So Monte first joined the Marine Corps in 1978 and did three years. And then, got out and became a police officer. In 1992, he enlisted in the Army in which they did not require him to go to basic training. And then when he got out of the Army in 2009, he never really expected to go back. And here we are in 2020, apparently the Army had changed their rules and required him to go back.

Bob:

Do you think that's real? Or were they just telling him, "Hey man, you're 59, you don't want to do this?

TJ:

From my conversations with Monte, the initial feedback he got from recruiters was essentially that, why are you doing this? It was a very big uphill battle. And at his age was a massive aspect of that. I'm sure they weren't quite positive that he could, yes, get through basic training, but also do the duties he needed to do at his rank and at his position. But he is a very determined person, Monte. He's one of the most motivated individuals that I've ever met. And outside of the military, he's a businessman, he's a family man, a very, very hard worker. And he doesn't take no for an answer, very clearly. So literally he got to get generals to write him letters of recommendations and do several physicals and PT trials to get them to be like, "Okay, let's give it a shot." And he ended up graduating in the top 10% of his class at the end of basic training.

Bob:

He had multiple reasons for re-enlisting. He'd wanted to punch his retirement ticket, but he also wanted to serve with his son.

TJ:

He followed in his father's footsteps very much. His son is an enlisted soldier in Las Vegas, doing the same job that Monte did back when he was in the Army. And Monte did do his best to encourage him to go that path when he was looking for what he would do in the Army. And once he had gotten that assignment, that's what kind of sparked Monte to think, maybe I could get back into this. He's just up the road. Las Vegas is about 45 minutes north of where he, of [inaudible 00:04:47], and his wife live in Fort Mojave, Arizona. And that was really the spark to think, wow, maybe I could do something that most people don't get to do, which is be in the military with their children.

Bob:

Now, that's the guy I feel sorry for, in the same unit with his father, and he has to keep up. I did this when I was 22 and found it very challenging. That was a few years ago. Here's a guy who's 59 years old. He's in amazing shape.

TJ:

Yeah, Monte has always been in shape. His professional life outside of the military has required that of him. And when he first started the process at the beginning of the 14 month endurance trial, I guess I'll say of convincing the Army, he did lose about 40 pounds to really just get his body in top gear, to survive and also succeed at basic combat training. And Monte, from what I was hearing from him, a lot of issues he was going through are the same things that the 17, 18, 19 year olds are going through, sore back, sore knees, tired, mental and physical, just exhaustion at every level. It really showed him that his age was a big asset. Something he had told me was, when you're 17, 18 years old, you really can't see the horizon yet. You're always looking at the now. It's hard to see into the future when this bad moment's going to be over. And when you can't see that far out, it makes those moments way worse.

            But for him, he was able to tell himself, man, I've been way worse situations. This may be bad right now, but I know that it's going to be better. And that is what helped him push through that grind of the extra pushups, the extra miles, the extra mental and physical endurance sessions that you have to go through in those situations. And yes, he was 59 years old, but he was approaching this at a completely different perspective than his counterparts.

Bob:

What resources are available to veterans and their families?

TJ:

Well with AARP, we do have aarp.org/veterans. It's a website where AARP tries to curate all kinds of resources that are yes, available through AARP, but outside of AARP. That is where I try to direct anybody who I'm working with, who may be looking for guidance or looking for advice. We have a lot of great resources there.

Bob:

Anything else to add?

TJ:

I'm just thankful that Monte was willing to let us tell his story in this way. And I really hope that he's proud of this story. We really tried to keep it as pure as we could to what it was. And hopefully, every viewer who watches this can get a good glimpse of the sacrifices that people in this position to have to make. But also get to see this very unique American in Monte Gould. And somebody who. I personally have learned a lot.

Bob:

Well, it's a great story. I'm glad you did it. Great talking to you. Thanks so much.

TJ:

It was great talking to you as always, Bob.

Speaker 4:

Got it. It's made me have to grow up a little bit faster than I should.

Speaker 5:

I check on them. [inaudible 00:08:08] always staring at him. Because a lot of people get bullied and it's not right.

Mike:

You just heard a snippet of the new documentary Sky Blossom, Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation. The film provides a window into the lives of five veteran families, teens, and 20 somethings caring for their family members who live with disabilities. Millions of children in millennials across the US are leading double lives, from high school cheerleaders to college students working part time. The young caregivers featured in Sky Blossom are quietly growing up as America's next greatest generation, serving those who have served our country. We sat down with the Director and Producer of Sky Blossom, veteran journalist and award-winning CNN and MSNBC news anchor Richard Lui, to learn more about the film and what inspired him to make it.

Richard:

World War II, when America first started to deploy the idea that we could have air power, they then said, "Why don't we have humans jump out of these planes during war?" And those paratroopers would often be who would be sent out to either offer medical assistance to our troops and our allied forces, or they would be more troops to refresh those troops that have been depleted, ergo, they were killed or injured. And so, the troops on the ground would look up and see these planes flying over, and then, these people jumping out and the parachutes popping open. And they would say, "Here come the Sky Blossoms." And they meant hope and help. And so, when we decided to focus on young caregivers in military families, they're Sky Blossoms. And they're doing it at home. And in many ways, based on their age, children, they're blossoming as well.

Mike:

You had quite the task in terms of narrowing the number of stories you were going to tell. And for our audience, we're not just talking about, okay, we found a few exemplary individuals. There were scores of people that you personally met and interviewed, scores more that you couldn't get to. And on a broader level, we're talking about over 24 million young Americans who are primary or secondary caregivers. Is that right?

Richard:

That's right. And just within the children themselves, in that category, there are studies that show, we're talking about children as caregivers, more than 5 million. And that is something that you can look at two different ways, Mike. Like, "Oh, I'm worried about them," "I'm empowered by them." And it's just like caregiving. Caregiving is inspirational. It is not a downer. It's the sort of energy I believe that makes us... it's not easy. I'm not saying that. As a caregiver, I have had to go through some very difficult times. But we often lead with or think of the stereotype around caregiving is generally negative. And I'm not saying it's all peaches and cream, but I think it's generally positive. And seeing what has happened with these young caregivers and older caregivers like myself. And so that's what we were trying to show, it can be tough and it is tough, but it also can be really, really redeeming. And that was what our approach was to the film.

Mike:

Sure. And I wanted to ask you about the timing, why you wanted to publish this now? In the midst of all that's going on, did that provide some added incentive for you to get this out to the public?

Speaker 5:

Yeah, I guess that's the small little upstart in me as I was like, I'm not going to let any of these difficulties get the better of me and what these families and these young caregivers represent to America. The viral pandemic, the economic pandemic, the racial pandemic, I was not going to allow it to stop what these families can teach us right now. We need to see their stories more than ever.

Mike:

You cover the cross section of America. And so, what do all these people have in common? Their parents, their family members, all served, and they're now serving as a result of their service. Do you think that people seeing themselves and others doing the same thing, making an incredible sacrifice, do you think that this can in some small way, plant a seed for healing and to bridge some challenges that we're having as a nation right now?

Richard:

I hope so in a small way. And that small way is it takes time. Right?

Mike:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Richard:

And so, we're doing our little thing. We are. We're doing our little thing, and it's called film, and it's a documentary. And we hope that the larger community will let little brother in to do this little thing. Because we wanted to add to the community that are out there looking about caregiving and caring for other people. And I think that it will give us a reason to have a discussion after or remember something or remember when I saw... Like, if you're you're 12 or you're 15, or you're from Wexford or Howell Michigan, Wexford, Pennsylvania, or you're that age, or if you're from that ethnic background, if you're a boy or a girl or whatever the case may be, you'll see that and go, "I remember seeing that person do that." I'm doing that too. I'm okay. In fact, I am actually more glad than I am sad that I am doing and I get to help. And so, I saw from some of the parents after they saw portions of the film say, "Wow, my kids are really special." I said, "Yeah, they really are." And when a parent can see that and reflect on it that way, I'm really happy.

            David Hyde Pierce, who's one of the executive producers. He cared for his father and grandfather. And one of the things he said is, there are more heroes per square inch in Sky Blossom than there is in Saving Private Ryan. And I really was like, first of all, he's an amazing writer and performer, David Hyde Pierce. But when he said that, I was like, I got to agree with you.

Mike:

As a parent, I'm happy to hear you tell this story. Because this generation, whether you're talking about Gen Xers, Millennials, they are often maligned and mischaracterized as being extremely selfish and constantly seeking immediate gratification. And the story you're telling could not be more antithetical to that narrative.

Richard:

That's right. You're exactly right. I'm tired of hearing it too. I'm not a Gen Zer, I'm not a Gen Yer, I'm a Gen Xer. But I know when I was a Gen Xer, people would look at me and go, "You're the selfish generation." And then the Millennials came after Gen Y, right?

Mike:

Right.

Richard:

... Oh, you're the selfish generation, then Gen Z comes... And the thing is, I've never believed those broad generalizations. It's just what, I'm an old person, I can say, this is what I... I'm an older person. And so that's what I say. And it's just that we need to think of ways of re-evaluating it. It's fun, given that I'm a person that's older that I say that for fun too. But I don't believe it. Right, Mike?

Mike:

Yeah. Right.

Richard:

Mike, the way I look at it is when you see this, you're going to know they're not that.

Mike:

Why are we not hearing more about these stories? Why are we not covering it? Why are we not presenting them? This is literally the first that I've heard the way you're telling this story. I've not seen this anywhere.

Richard:

In the military space, our veterans are amazing people. And so as storytellers, we tend to focus on them more. We've just done that. But there's the spouses, and then, there's the children. And it's easy to understand why we may have sometimes missed those stories, number one. And we don't have a lot of data on it. So the saying goes no data, then you don't exist. And so that's one reason, then overall 53 million Americans are family caregivers representing half a trillion dollars of value every year. We can't even really... We don't even talk about that so well. So I'm talking about a smaller group of a bigger... that's a huge group, first of all, which you know very well. But we can get that across. So how are we going to look at the children? And they're not anything to sneeze at either, 5 million that are going through that very experience.

Mike:

Yeah. And perhaps, you were telling the story from a young person's and a child's perspective may even help advance that conversation. Because as you know, kids tug at our heartstrings. And so hopefully, that opens up the door to facilitate that conversation. What are the daily lives of these young caregivers like? If you can just give us a glimpse into their daily routine and the challenges they're facing.

Richard:

They get up every day, like every other kid, but they live a double life in that they go to school. And as teenagers, we all remember what that was like, and we just want to fit in. And we struggled to try to do the best. We struggled that very dynamic in high school, fitting in versus not being who I am, but I'm not. And certainly talking about a parent with disabilities, isn't the easiest. Like, "Hey, Camille, how come you're not coming out with us?" "Because I'm going to go take care of my grandfather." "Hey, Hey, Hey, [Callejo 00:18:38], there's a pickup game down at the rec center. Come on." "I can't, I got to do something." Or "My dad, he doesn't have a right leg, so I need to help him go get a replacement for his prosthetic." These are just things... so what you'll find is they live these sort of double lives. They go to school and they want to be like every other high school student, you can't blame them. They come home and without even knowing it, they're living this very different life.

Mike:

Yeah. And from our perspective, we can say, man, this is admirable, why wouldn't they want to share it? But for them it can be embarrassing. It could be just too emotional to share. Their parent or whoever they're giving care for, may not want others to know.

Richard:

That's correct. Because they're parents can't talk about either. Yeah. Because we as adults can't talk about it.

Mike:

Right, right, right. Yeah and also perhaps, like you said, you want to fit in. You don't want pity from your peers. You want praise and likes.

Richard:

Yeah, and if parents can't talk about how can they talk about it? So I'm not shaking a finger at all. Instead, I am trying to hold their hands and hold them up because they're just so like amazing. When you see it, Mike, you, you know what. But when you see it, you'll feel really good about what this next generation is doing.

Mike:

Can you tell us a bit about [Rihanna 00:00:20:19]? There's an anecdote about Rihanna taking care of and protecting her dad. Can you share a little bit about that with us?

Richard:

Rihanna is on the spectrum and they confirm that during the filming. And so, she's fighting her own fight. But what she does is she sees her father's fight too. Because he is living with many disabilities. And to see somebody who's struggling at 12...

Mike:

12?

Richard:

12... fight for her father in the streets, people make fun of her. But that's what she knows, and she fights for her dad. When people point at him, she tells them, "Hey, turn around, look the other way. It's my dad. Treat him nicely." And that parallel of her going through her own journey of being made fun of, but she's able to understand and protect her dad. And it's powerful and simple. It's just so powerful. When I watch it, I come to tears every time when I watch that part of the documentary. Because you see her courage.

Mike:

You just gave me chills talking about that, man. I mean, that's [inaudible 00:21:39], man. What can civilians learn from this film, Richard. Especially civilians who are older adults.

Richard:

I think what we're going to do is we're going to, first of all, embrace our military community more. And number two, I think we'll more understand that they are different. Military families are different than civilian families, but they're more alike than they're not. And the way that they're more alike is that there's a bond that we can choose to exercise and take advantage of. And that's loving our family and giving everything we can for them. And as we live through these stay at home months and times, we're reevaluating what that mean. What does it mean to have family? What does it mean to have kids and parents and siblings and why do we value them? So this is a more perfect time than ever, I think, to show that that, that which we've all been living through and reevaluating. Because there's been that worry, the nuclear family is falling apart.

            Well, the last nine months, we've been really close and we're back together. And we're living through that joy and difficulty at the same time. And I think when you watch these families and what they've done so intensively for their entire lives, without COVID and taking care of people that have COVID symptoms. That's a whole other dynamic, a reemphasis of that family takes care of family now more than ever. Because we had to during COVID, you didn't go to the hospital. And these young care heroes have been doing it their entire lives. And why is that important? Because it reemphasizes at the end of the day, it's you and me at home and the family. We got to take care of each other.

Bob:

Thanks to Richard Lui and TJ Cooney for sharing with us today.

            For more information about Monte Gould and Sky Blossom, see our show notes. If you like this episode, let us know by emailing us at newspodcastataarp.org.

Mike:

Big thanks to our news team, producers Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon, production assistant Bridgette Reilly, engineer, Julio Gonzalez, executive producer, Jason Young.

Bob:

Of course, our cohost Wilma Consul. Become a subscriber on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, and other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well. For an AARP Take On Today, I'm Bob Edwards.

Mike:

I'm Mike Ellison. Stay safe and be encouraged.

This Veterans Day, we're honoring those who've served our country by telling their stories. On this episode, we hear the story of Monte Gould, a 59-year-old soldier who re-enlisted in the army, and later, we talk to MSNBC anchor Richard Lui about his new documentary featuring young caregivers who are caring for their veteran family members.

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