How Is the US Navy Preparing For Climate Change


"The Department of Defense is clear-eyed about the challenges climate change poses.

“The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world,” the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, issued in 2014, states. “These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.”"

To prepare for these eventualities, the US Navy is transitioning to alternative sources of energy - both on land and at sea - even as it pursues greater energy efficiency.

To learn more, read this recent article in The Harvard Business Review.

#climatechange #mitigation #adaptation #navy #military

Music Therapy and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Challenge America is excited to announce the launch of a new music therapy program in Northeast Ohio. This program is made possible with the generous support of our local non-profit partner, Northeast Ohio Patriots (NEOPAT), The Lodge at Geneva on the Lake, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

With this retreat, we plan to work with 12 local veterans over the course of four days. It is our goal to introduce these veterans to proven mindfulness and music-based techniques that will help them cope with the trauma of their military experience. Among other things, the retreat includes two full days of mindfulness and music therapy at the Lodge at Geneva on the Lake. On the final day, we plan to conclude the retreat with a concert for family and friends at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

This will no doubt be a transformative experience for everyone involved but it is your support for our organization and its mission make these life-changing events possible. If you are able, please help us sustain these efforts with your donation to Challenge America. A donation of just $200 will buy a guitar for a veteran who is struggling with post-traumatic stress - a gift that may well transform and perhaps save his or her life. So please, make a donation today. 

Thank you!

To learn more about our effective and evidence-based approach to music therapy, please watch our information video below: 

Stephanie Boshea on the National Exhibit of Veteran Art

Our local TV station, Aspen 82, was kind enough to feature the National Exhibit of Veteran Art in its Saturday morning show, The Lift. Attached is a recording of this segment, which presents our summer music intern, Stephanie Boshea, in her debut TV appearance. We are proud of Stephanie and thrilled to have this opportunity to share the news about our exhibit. 

Your support helps us sustain these efforts to support veterans and their families. Please help us continue these proven, evidence-based initiatives by making your tax-deductible donation today. 

Can social media lead to meaningful reductions in MST?

According to a recent report, between 9.3 and 33 percent of women report experiencing an attempted or completed rape during their military service. And reports of sexual assault in the military are on the rise. Between 2007 and 2013, these reports increased 88 percent. Indeed, the VA has estimated that one in five women who use its health-care program screen positive for military sexual trauma.

While this problem is pervasive in the military, it has thus far been difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice. According to one study, fewer than 15 percent of victims report the assault to a military authority. For those who do, the burden of proof makes it difficult to produce successful convictions.

In the civilian world, the victims of sexual assault are increasingly taking their cases to social media. Feeling abandon by the legal system, some are seeking justice in the court of public opinion. While this strategy raises the risk of being subject to a defamation lawsuit, given the broader trends in society it seems likely that the trend will only grow in the years to come. It also seems likely that this trend will soon find its way into the armed forces, where the practice may well force the hand of military leaders to take a more aggressive approach in addressing the problem of military sexual trauma.

#army #navy #airforce #marines #veterans #veteran #MST #sexualassault

Considering an MBA? Perhaps you should reconsider.

When it comes to running a business, what does an M.B.A. do for you that a doctorate in philosophy can’t do better? According to this author, not much. After years of business consulting work, the author concludes the following: "just as most people are able to lead fulfilling lives without consulting Deepak Chopra, most managers can probably spare themselves an education in management theory. . . In most managerial jobs, almost everything you need to know to succeed must be learned on the job; for the rest, you should consider whether it might have been acquired with less time and at less expense."

This article follows on the heels of the scathing critique of business programs in "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses". In this work, the authors make the following observation: "business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major."

So if you're considering an MBA, perhaps you should rethink your strategy. You worked too hard and sacrificed too much to earn those GI Bill dollars just to see them wasted on a degree with so little value. Perhaps you should consider a philosophy degree instead.

#army #navy #airforce #marines #nationalguard #studentveteran #veterans #veteran #gibill

Artist Spotlight: Jennifer Doherty

We are officially 7 days out from the opening night of the exhibit! We can’t wait to share all of the beautiful submissions with you in Aspen. Until then, we have our 4th #ChallengeArt17 Artist Spotlight: Jennifer Doherty. 

Starting at the age of 8, Jennifer took adult sewing classes from her mother, a sewing instructor. She started quilting over 20 years ago, taking breaks from her craft only for deployment. 

This incredible quilt is a paper pieced, machine quilted (freehand), queen-sized quilt with over 500,000 stitches.  In her own words, “the best part of finishing a quilt is being able to see it through to the end. With deployments, you come home when your tour is completed, but the battle continues.” Jennifer says that quilting calms her soul, and allows her to work on a design of love and of art. 

Artist Spotlight: Kristy Kaburopulos

It’s time for week three of our Artist Spotlight Series! We’re a few weeks away from the opening night of our exhibit, so if you’re in Aspen this summer, mark your calendars for August 4th and come join us for a wonderful night of art. 

This week, we are focussing in on veteran artist, Kristy Kaburopulos. Kristy received an Associates Degree in Visual Arts in 2013, and another Associates Degree in Photography in 2015 from Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. At her school, Kristy represented the sculpture department twice in the Women of the Arts Show for Women’s History Month. Kristy also represented her school in the 28th League for Innovation, an international student art competition. She is currently designing a website for her work, and working on numerous commissioned pieces. 

In art, Kristy found a way to cope with the struggles of her military experience. She is driven by exploration through the process of creating. In her words, “in the same way a single smile has the power to change the course of someone’s day, my intent for the viewer, and myself, is to bring thoughts and feelings of affinity and harmony to the surface in an attempt to let go of the struggle and discord of our experiences.”

Kristy’s featured artwork, titled “Resilience,” is made from steel as an expression of inner strength. She chose to use ivy as the structure of the body because it is a plant of high resilience—Kristy explains, “whether it is basking in the rays of the sun or hiding in the shadows, it will flourish and continue to climb to new heights no matter what lies in its way.” Kristy wants you, the viewers of this piece, to know that no matter what you have been through, you can choose to focus on growth.

Artist Spotlight: Andrew DeJesse

Hunter's Window

Hunter's Window

For week two of our Artist Spotlight series, we bring you the work of Andrew DeJesse. Andrew served one tour in Iraq, and two tours in Afghanistan. During these tours, Andrew worked with local populaces on education, infrastructure, governance, and cultural heritage projects. Andrew now serves as a Civil Affairs Officer for the military here in the United States, specializing as a Cultural Heritage Preservation Officer. 

Andrew's art career began when he graduated in 1993 from University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a BFA in Illustration. He worked as a freelance illustrator, and as an in-house art director in pharmaceutical advertising in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York City. When Andrew moved to Texas, where he currently resides, he started his expressive art career with a focus on the Great Plains heritage and expressing the lives of outliers in terms of 21st century regionalism and modern social realism. When Andrew expresses his history with the military through his art, he focuses on the two worlds that combat veterans occupy: “reflections of home, or of overseas.”

Two of Andrew’s paintings will be on display in the National Exhibit of Veteran Art from August 4th through the 31st at 415 E. Hyman Ave in Aspen, Colorado. On our online gallery that is currently in the works, three of Andrew’s pieces will be featured. For more information, please visit To check out more of Andrew’s work, please visit his website:

Artist Spotlight: Peter Buotte

Challenge America is proud to announce that we will post a weekly Artist Spotlight to feature the talented artists that submitted works to our National Exhibit of Veteran Art. This exhibit will appear in Gallery8K on the Hyman Pedestrian Mall in Aspen, CO, from August 4th-August 31st. After which, the exhibit will move to the Aspen campus of Colorado Mountain College, from September 25th-November 16th. In addition to these exhibits, Challenge America will also feature the works in the digital gallery on our website. 

This week’s spotlight is Peter Buotte, a veteran artist from Fort Hood, TX. Peter spent 27 years in the military but has 35 years of artistic experience. Currently, he serves as an Art Therapist at Fort Hood. 

Here is Peter describing his incredible sculptures: "The concept for the "Spirit of Survival" nation-wide sculpture project occurred during my second tour in Iraq. It seeks a creative and historic context for the consequences of conflict, and to be emotionally present with military burn survivors, amputees, and those who have PTSD. Finding fellow Veterans to pose and become a sculpture is the ongoing process.” Peter’s sculptures often expose the raw duality that veterans can often experience as they undergo the transition to civilian life.  

Peter’s work will be displayed in the Challenge America National Exhibit of Veteran Art from August 4th-31st and again at the Colorado Mountain College exhibit from September 25th through November 16th. You can also see his work in our online gallery.


Building Resilience Through Music

Participants, songwriters, and staff for our inaugural Nashville Music Therapy Retreat. 

Participants, songwriters, and staff for our inaugural Nashville Music Therapy Retreat. 

With your generous support, veterans in the Nashville area recently completed a three-day music therapy retreat. Each participant received a free guitar courtesy of Two Old Hippies Lifestyle Store in Nashville, a delicious BBQ dinner courtesy of Jim-N-Nicks of Nashville, and of course three days on the farm courtesy of Vince Gill and Amy Grant. Your support positively transformed the lives of everyone involved, including the songwriters and staff. We are counting on your continued support to build on this success by organizing three or more additional retreats by December. 

Participants with their new Breedlove guitars courtesy of Two Old Hippies.

Participants with their new Breedlove guitars courtesy of Two Old Hippies.

We have big plans for these retreats. From the very beginning, we set out to do something unique: rather than develop another program, we want to build an evidence-based therapeutic model that other organizations and communities can apply in their local areas. Leading this project is Mack Bailey, a certified music therapist with over 10 years of work experience with the veteran community and more than 20 years experience as a commercial musician. Mack has helped us assemble an amazing team of songwriters, interns, and support staff, as well as community partners, including Bedell Guitars, Belmont College, The Nashville VA Hospital, Vince Gill and Amy Grant, Jim-N-Nicks, and others. In addition, Mack supervised the design of our research instruments and survey analysis. As you will see, his expert guidance and support grounded our efforts on a firm foundation and ensured your contributions were put to good use.

Honorary founder of Challenge America, Amy Grant, welcoming everyone to the farm. 

Honorary founder of Challenge America, Amy Grant, welcoming everyone to the farm. 

Here are just a few excerpts of the feedback we received following the Nashville retreat:

"Participating in the retreat was like taking a really awesome medication that took my anxiety, worry, stress, fear, etc from 8-9's down to 5-6's."

"It's like I'm trying to hear the music more now. Not just the lyrics, you know like trying to pick out the tempo of the drums, the sounds of the guitar, even trying to air strum to the beat."

"To me, music therapy is an alternate approach to therapy that doesn't involve fighting the stigmas the military engrained into me about mental health and resilience. It was about trying something new, that gave me something to lose and pour my soul into, that didn't feel selfish or like a pity party, but instead a constructive and creative outlet."

"To be able to talk with someone about what was going on in my head without feeling I was being judged. "

"Every morning I grab my guitar and do the breathing exercises, followed by practicing my guitar for an hour before I start my day, and that hour of practice is also how I end my day. I am continuing guitar lessons and also songwriting lessons. Thank you so much"

Challenge America founder and CEO, Houston Cowan, kicking off the opening night festivities, courtesy of Jim-N-Nicks BBQ.

Challenge America founder and CEO, Houston Cowan, kicking off the opening night festivities, courtesy of Jim-N-Nicks BBQ.

Your support made these outcomes possible. Now it's time to roll up our sleeves and build on this success. Your continued support will allow Challenge America to organize additional retreats over the coming months, allowing us to refine our model before we scale up to the national level. Please make a donation today to help us reach the men and women who sacrificed so much on our behalf and continue to bear the scars of their service.  


Challenge America is thrilled to announce its plans to host a National Exhibit of Veteran Art, August 5-31. Challenge America has secured gallery space on the popular Hyman Avenue Pedestrian Mall in Aspen, Colorado. The exhibit will feature the works of veteran artists in a variety of media, including paint, ceramics, bronze, photography, music, and creative writing. This event will celebrate the accomplishments of veteran artists, endeavor to raise the public profile of the military healing arts, and foster support for veteran artists and art therapy programs. Challenge America expects this exhibit will create positive incentives for veteran artists to continue their efforts while also generating public awareness of and support for the military healing arts.




For submission guidelines and registration information, please select the button below. 

If You Ride, Please Be Careful!

For much of the United States, spring arrived three weeks early this year. Among other things, this means motorcycle owners are dusting off their machines and hitting the roads.

Motorcycle riding is inherently dangerous. According to a 2014 study by the federal government, motorcycle fatalities occur 27 times more frequently than passenger car fatalities. There were 4,693 motorcycle deaths in 2015, accounting for 13 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths that year.

If you ride, please wear a helmet. Borrowing from data provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helmets are roughly 37 percent effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. in 2013, 25 percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were not wearing a helmet. In States without universal helmet laws, 59 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2013 were not wearing helmets, as compared to 8 percent in States with universal helmet laws.

Please also avoid riding under the influence. In roughly 40 percent of motorcycle fatalities, the rider was alcohol impaired.

Indeed, motorcycles are the leading cause of death for US service members unrelated to war.


Veteran Entrepreneurship Conference

The team at Challenge America is excited to announce its plans to attend the VETCON Conference in Redwood City, CA - the heart of Silicon Valley - March 23-25. 

VETCON is a conference built by veteran entrepreneurs for veteran entrepreneurs as well as veterans who want to launch their own businesses. 

Attendees will network with executives from several major Silicon Valley firms, including Bunker Labs, Hubspot, and Salesforce. They will also learn game-changing insights on topics ranging from product testing and validation to outsourcing to attracting and securing capital. 

Challenge America is collaborating with the amazing team at VETCON to share this incredible experience with the larger military community. We will interview presenters and participants, provide summaries of the advice offered in breakout sessions, and give you our insights on the lobby talk. 

If you are a veteran entrepreneur or aspire to start your own business, we strongly encourage you to make the investment in your business and your future by attending VETCON. As an added incentive, the team at VETCON created the exclusive promo code “Challange” that will give you a 20% discount on your ticket. 

To learn more and sign up, please select the following link:

3 Tips For Retaining Veterans in the Workplace

Although it is increasingly the case that medium to large companies actively recruit veterans to fill their workforce needs, many veterans continue to struggle with the transition to civilian employment. For those who cope with service related injuries, including post-traumatic stress, the strain of this transition piles on their other challenges. As many veterans lack the skills needed to cope with these difficulties, their work life is usually the first area that suffers. In other situations, civilian supervisors and employees can find it difficult to relate to their new veteran colleagues. For example, transitioning veterans not only have to learn a new position, they also have to learn a new corporate culture and vocabulary. When civilian counterparts lack the patience or empathy to accommodate this learning period, veterans can feel overwhelmed and discouraged. 

In this post, we offer several tips for promoting veteran retention in the workplace. To be clear, we did not set out to write an exhaustive list. Rather, we are merely hoping to start the conversation by encouraging veteran employees and their civilian counterparts to be mindful of the most common situations that result in an unsuccessful workplace relationship. 

Tip #1: Veterans, Choose Wisely

Far too often, veterans look for a job rather than a career. For a significant portion of their lives, these same individuals performed a job that was about more than just a paycheck. They took great pride in performing an important public service, namely the defense of this country and its values. It should therefore come as no surprise that working just any old job will leave these same individuals feeling unfulfilled. Given their military experience and the conditions in the current labor market, veterans would be wise to shop for a position that satisfies their instincts to contribute to a cause that is greater than themselves. More often than not, the veterans who do otherwise will find themselves back on the job market within the first year. 

Human resource professionals and hiring managers bear some responsibility as well. It is incumbent upon them to advise veteran applicants, particularly when the duties for the position mark a dramatic departure from their skills and experience. One additional way to overcome the retention problem is to articulate and reinforce your company’s values by making clear how the work they will do contributes to securing and advancing these commitments. 

Tip #2: Hiring Managers, Get Buy-in. 

Veteran hiring programs can sometimes suffer from poor planning and execution. Often the directive to create or expand a veteran hiring program flows directly from he lips of the CEO to the desk of a hiring manager, without any regard for building the internal support and infrastructure needed to ensure the program will succeed. This strategy can pose problems down the road, particularly when department heads and staff begin to question hiring choices. 

To avoid confusion and conflict, communicate. Share the rational for your hiring initiative to your entire staff and connect the initiative to your corporate values. Then reinforce this message in your newsletters and meetings. Demonstrate your hiring successes with pride and enlist the support of employees in overcoming obstacles. For instance, you could solicit input for hiring campaign slogans and reward the lucky winner with a paid day off. This type of strategy tends to build support for your initiative and produces a more hospitable environment for new veteran employees. 

Tip #3: CEOs, Educate Your Employees

To successfully implement a veteran hiring initiative, companies often need to educate their civilian workforce. It is not enough to simply generate support for the initiative, companies also need to ensure the staff has a basic knowledge of the military experience, as well as some of the common challenges veterans face during the transition to civilian life.

Fortunately, there are several free sources of excellent information your company can adopt as part of a comprehensive training curriculum. Our favorite source is PsychArmor, which offers classes in Engaging Staff & Retention, Why Hire Veterans, and Welcoming A New Hire. By encouraging employees to review these materials, CEOs can ensure your new veteran workforce is properly welcomed and nurtured in their new roles.

Ultimately, one of your goals is to maximize the efficiency and productivity of your workforce. Therefore, anything you can do to ease the onboarding process, particularly for the veteran community, will help you advance this objective and ensure the future success of your firm. 

3 Easy Steps To Help The Veterans In Your Community

Are you interested in doing more for the veterans in your local community but don't know what to do or how to get started? There is no doubt that service members, veterans, and their families often need your support. However, if there is one universal truth about the military community, it is this: as a group, it is intensely self-reliant. Unfortunately, far too many veterans and their families consider an appeal for help as a sign of weakness. 

If all of this is true, how can you or any member of your community do more to give back to the men and women who served our country?

Step 1: Learn About Your Local Military Community

It stands to reason that the first step towards helping a veteran is to ask veterans what they need. However, actually doing this is easier said than done. After all, veterans are often difficult to spot in a crowd and many are reluctant to self-identify. 

Before you take the initiative to strike up a conversation with your military neighbors, we recommend taking a few minutes to learn about military culture and the broader challenges nearly all military families face. Fortunately, our friends at PsychArmor offer a wide range of free online videos that can help you navigate these waters. While all of their courses are excellent, we particularly recommend "15 Things Veterans Want You To Know", "Veterans 201: Military Families", and "Invisible Wounds of War: Overview".

Once you have some basic knowledge, look for an opportunity to meet with the veterans in your local area. You can usually spot veterans on special holidays, like Veterans Day or the 4th of July. However, if you aren't willing to wait that long, you can scan your local paper for notices of veteran-related meetings. If you attend a local church or participate in a local club, you can also ask the other members to arrange an introduction with veterans in your community. 

When you finally have a chance to meet, simply introduce yourself by expressing your interest in honoring their service by giving back to those who sacrificed to defend our country. While many veterans are reluctant to talk about their military service, most are quite open to discussing the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life. And while many of these problems are universal, you will likely discover that the veterans in your local community also face unique barriers, perhaps related to education or housing or health. In the course of your conversation, you might strike up a new friendship and perhaps uncover a way to apply your unique skills and experience in the service of the veteran community. 

Step 2: Reach Out To Local Veteran-Nonprofits

Now that you have taken some time to learn about the challenges confronting the local veteran community, it's time to learn how local nonprofits endeavor to address these issues. To get started, you can use a resource locator tool like Warrior Gateway to quickly find the veteran-related nonprofit organizations in your area. Take a few minutes to research the websites of these organizations to learn what you can about their programs and activities. Once you feel you have the lay of the land, reach out to one or more of the organizations on your list to arrange a meeting. In virtually all cases, you will likely discover that these organizations are thrilled to meet with you and answer your questions. Indeed, you might discover that they are all too eager to get you involved in their efforts. If you choose to do so, the key is to find a good fit between your skills and experience, on one hand, and their programs, on the other. 

Step 3: Contact Your Elected Officials

Ultimately the responsibility of caring for our military community rests on the shoulders of our government. It is therefore appropriate to ask your elected representatives for their insights into these challenges and the strategies they intend to use to solve them.

To get the ball rolling, you should first identify your local officials and make appointments to meet with them in person. We recommend starting with city and county officials, including the mayor, city council, and/or the county commission. City council and county commission meetings often include a public comment period, which offers an excellent opportunity to ask how your representatives view the veteran community and how they are addressing the challenges local veterans face. If you are feeling particularly motivated, you might also consider meeting your state and federal representatives. To do so, you can use a search engine like Common Cause to identify these officials and arrange a meeting. 

You might be surprised to learn that a little initiative on your part can go a long way toward helping the veterans and military families in your community to live a happy and dignified life. 

Is Water Resource Management a Matter of Concern for Veterans and Military Families?

Vörösmarty, C. J., McIntyre, P. B., Gessner, M. O., Dudgeon, D., Prusevich, A., Green, P., Davies, P. M. (2010). Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature. Vol. 468, pp. 555-561. In this landmark study, the authors found a strong correlation between the severity of water security threats for humans, on one hand, and biodiversity, on the other. 

Vörösmarty, C. J., McIntyre, P. B., Gessner, M. O., Dudgeon, D., Prusevich, A., Green, P., Davies, P. M. (2010). Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature. Vol. 468, pp. 555-561. In this landmark study, the authors found a strong correlation between the severity of water security threats for humans, on one hand, and biodiversity, on the other. 

A great deal of blood and sacrifice has been expended to protect America freedoms and the America way of life, both of which are now threatened by the most mundane sources imaginable: fresh water. 

Looking up the abandon boat ramp at Hite Marina, Lake Powell, Arizona. November 2016.

Looking up the abandon boat ramp at Hite Marina, Lake Powell, Arizona. November 2016.

Water resource scarcity is a severe challenge and one that grows worse by the day. When most people think about this issue their minds tend to race to the desert Southwest, where places like Phoenix and Las Vegas draw water from distant reservoirs and the complex latticework of pipelines and canals that connect these man-made bodies of water to the cities they sustain. 

While these desert cities certainly struggle with water resource management problems, many other locations - some of which are in the seemingly water rich Midwest - also face severe water resource challenges. In some instances these surprisingly water poor places were made so as a result of contamination. This was certainly the case in Flint, Michigan and Corpus Cristi, Texas. In both cases, industrial waste seeped into the municipal freshwater supply, contaminating the local tap water. In other instances, water managers attempted to overcome surface water shortages by drawing ever increasing volumes of water from underground sources. As the amount withdrawn exceeded the rate of recharge, water resource scarcity ensued. Changes in precipitation rates over time have exacerbated these trends, triggering prolonged droughts in some areas and more frequent and intense flooding in others. Indeed, the problem of water resource scarcity is now so widespread that few places in the US are immune to intensifying water resource management challenges. 

On a conceptual level, the issue of resource scarcity is nothing new; however, water scarcity is in a category of its own. Although we might imagine some alternative to oil or copper, there simply is no alternative to fresh water. If you run out of fresh water you die, it’s as simple as that. Every living organism needs fresh water to survive. And while technological approaches like desalination might seem like an obvious answer to our water resource challenges, at this point in time these approaches are all energy intensive and we all know that energy is another resource in short supply. 

When we view water in this context, it is not a partisan issue. It is not a topic that is or should be the subject of debate between democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives. Rather, the issue of sustainable water resource management is or should be of concern to all Americans. It is the foundation of the America dream and the American way of life. It is therefore the principle for which scores of Americans across all generations fought and died to defend. There is nothing more patriotic than that! And yet, it is a principle that’s under threat. 

If you want to be a patriot, if you want to uphold the principles and values of American democracy, consider taking the time to learn about the water management challenges and strategies in your local community. If you see the opportunity to help, put your shoulder to the wheel of water resource policy by making your voice heard. Remember, citizenship is not merely a set of rights and privileges. Citizens also bear the responsibility to act to defend our way of life against threats foreign and domestic. There are few threats more pernicious, more corrosive to our way of life than water resource scarcity. 

Five of our favorite homemade holiday gifts

This holiday give a gift from the heart, not the pocketbook

This morning, December 3, we learned that the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6% and wages increased by 2.5% since the same month last year. While this is definitely good news, for far too many military families these broad measurements of labor market conditions have no bearing on their day-to-day reality. According to the 2015 Veterans Economic Opportunity Report, roughly 1/2 of post-9/11 veterans will face a period of unemployment. We also know that the holidays can be a period of significant economic stress for those military families on the razor's edge of financial solvency. According to a recent report by the National Consumer Federation, 9 in 10 consumers surveyed admitted they could be convinced to spend an extra $25 this holiday season that they didn’t originally budget for gift giving.  

At Challenge America we understand it can be tempting to spend beyond your means during the holidays, but we also know that the most meaningful gifts are often the ones that come from the heart, not the pocketbook. It is in this spirit that we decided to share a few suggestions for creating your own heartfelt homemade gifts this holiday season. Not only will your friends, colleagues, and loved ones likely appreciate these gifts, but you can make these gifts without breaking the bank. 

Earphone Cord Management

1. Earphone Cord Holder For That Special Music Lover

At one point or another, virtually everyone has to cope with the frustration of a tangled earphone cord. This simple and thoughtful gift helps that special someone avoid this frustration and it does this with a touch of love! If you are planning to make this gift for a service member or veteran, you can always decorate your heart with a patriotic theme. Head on over to the good folks at Wahsosimple to learn how it's done. 

2. Bacon!

The team here at Challenge America LOVES bacon. We just can't get enough of the stuff! If you have a bacon lover on your gift list, we feel certain he or she will love this delicious caramelised onion and bacon jam. We know it may sound a bit odd, but it sure is yummy. The Good Housekeeping website has all the details for creating this culinary masterpiece. 

3. Solar Mason Jar Lights

If you have a few mason jars sitting around the house, you can make these attractive and useful lights in no time. If they are well sealed, these little lights can withstand some extreme weather. And best of all your friends and family will think you are a solar power guru! For straight-forward instructions, check out this link on This Old House

4. Chocolate!

If there is one thing better than bacon, it's chocolate. Mmmmmmm, chocolate! This is without a doubt our favorite chocolate treat around the Challenge America offices, and it's marginally healthy. Marginally. Our favorite recipe comes from the culinary masters at Thug Kitchen. Warning: the language is this recipe is PG-17 at best, but if you can tolerate a few rough words, the reward will be well worth the bits of crude language. Here is the recipe from The Offical Thug Kitchen Cookbook. 

5. Vanilla Bath Salts

Everyone loves to take a nice hot bath at the end of a long stressful day and everyone appreciates bath products that wash their cares away. These bath salts definitely do the trick. This of this as the gift that keeps on giving. For something so simply to make, this gift will get you more appreciation for buck than any other item on our list.  For quick and easy instructions, see the folks at hometalk.

Do you have a favorite homemade gift that didn't make our list?

If so, feel free to offer it up in the comments area below (especially if they involve chocolate!)

Support The Victims of Military Sexual Trauma

The transition to civilian life can be difficult even under the best of conditions, but it is particularly hard for those who are the victims of military sexual trauma (MST). In the most basic terms, MST is the result of sexual harassment or sexual assault during the course of military service.

Unfortunately, MST is a significant problem. Although the vast majority of cases go unreported, researchers can use anonymous surveys to uncover the scope of the problem. According to these surveys, researchers estimate there are some 26,000 victims of sexual harassment each year, of which roughly 5,000 are victims of sexual assault. From these findings, researchers conclude that 15- 36% of servicewomen and 1-2% of servicemen are victims of MST. While cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault also exist on the civilian side, most studies conclude these problems are particularly acute in the military context.

Sadly, MST victims often suffer significant and long-term health problems. Women are 20 times more likely to be victimized than men and female victims are 2.37 times more likely to receive a PTSD diagnosis than men who did not experience MST. However, both male and female victims tend to have higher rates of mental and physical health disorders, including depression, liver disease, and obesity.

At Challenge America, we actively support the efforts of nonprofit partners that provide physical and emotional support to the victims of MST - and now you can too. Please visit our fundraising page and consider making a donation to support the efforts to help the victims of MST live healthy and productive lives. 100% of your donation will go directly to the cause or project of your choosing, empowering you to make a substantial and positive impact in the life of a service member.

Burgess, A. W., Lee, W. J., & Carretta, C. M. (2016). Online Reporting of Military Sexual Trauma. Military Medicine, 181(4), 350–355.

Turchik, J. A., Pavao, J., Hyun, J., Mark, H., & Kimerling, R. (2012). Utilization and Intensity of Outpatient Care Related to Military Sexual Trauma for Veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 39(3), 220–233.

Wilson, L. C., Kimbrel, N. A., Meyer, E. C., Young, K. A., & Morissette, S. B. (2014). Do Child Abuse and Maternal Care Interact to Predict Military Sexual Trauma? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 71(4), 378–386.

5 Trips To Help Your Family Reconnect

Military families often struggle to reconnect as they navigate the transition to civilian life. In these situations, it is sometimes best to escape from the distractions and drudgery of daily life, load up the family car, and take a trip to our National Parks. With a bit of planning, it’s possible to visit the Parks without breaking the bank. Although they are climbing, gas prices are still relatively low and campground fees are often just $20 or less per night. If your family member is still on active duty or classified as a disabled veteran, your family may qualify for a free pass through the National Parks’ America The Brave program. For further inspiration, here is our top five list of National Parks along with additional sites to see along the way.

Yellowstone National Park 

Yellowstone is truly one of the most amazing places in the world. Every corner of the park offers a unique and inspiring experience, from the amazing hot springs at Old Faithful and Mammoth, to the magnificent views at Yellowstone Falls, to the relative tranquility of Yellowstone Lake and the Madison River. If you make the journey, we recommend a visit to the North Entrance, where you can see the old train station that greeted early visitors. Today it serves as the local library, with a friendly and knowledgeable staff who is more than happy to share the story of this historical building. Of course, no trip to Yellowstone is complete without a visit to nearby Teton National Park, with its awe inspiring views to the Teton Mountains and Jackson Lake. 

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest


While it is not part of the Park Service, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest offers an amazing window into our past. One of the last remaining old growth forests east of the Mississippi, Joyce Kilmer allows you to sense the wonder of early explorers who thrilled at the majestic towering forests and rick ecological diversity of North America. It time allows, plan a side excursion to nearby Bryson City for a fun family float down the Nantahala River. 

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde is the Tikal or Machu Picchu of North America. The sheer scale and sophistication of this ancient civilization is hard to fathom, particularly given its improbably setting against the red cliffs of the Colorado desert. Families can easily spend entire week exploring the ruins and the surrounding area. If you tire of the arid desert vistas, take a trip North along the lush Dolores River, where you will find ample camping possibilities within walking distance of the river. 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park offers exceptional hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing opportunities. A drive over Trail Ridge Road offers breathtaking views of 14,000 foot peaks and opportunities to see mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk, and marmot. If you are in the area, take a trip to the Stanley Hotel where they shot the exterior scenes for The Shining. If you have young children, a trip to the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery will provide a memorable experience. So too will a trip over Cameron Pass, with its moose and stunning views of the mountain peaks that line the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. 

The Oregon Coast, From Astoria to Coos Bay

It is easy to travel and camp along the Oregon coast, with its picture postcard lighthouses, impossible cliffs, and quaint fishing towns. To the north, you can explore abandoned WWII forts and see a recreation of Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark prepared for the long journey home. High-quality State and National Forest campgrounds are abundant and affordable. If you tire of the ocean scenery, take a drive up the Columbia River Gorge, where you can visit the Bonneville Dam and view breathtaking waterfalls. Just a short drive from Portland, Hood River offers a fun opportunity for the family to watch wind surfers, pick fresh berries, and soak in the majestic views of Mount Hood.