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  1. Military

Can a 'Green Alert System' help veterans in crisis?

Donald Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general now living in New Hampshire, is helping lead the charge to create a national "Green Alert System" to help veterans and service members in crisis. The system would be akin to the Silver and AMBER alert systems used for seniors and children respectively. {Photo provided by Donald Bolduc]

The first time I met Don Bolduc was in his office in Kabul, where he served as commander of the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command, Afghanistan. He is an Army brigadier general and I was there to talk about operations to improve Afghanistan's stability.

Fast-forward five years and Bolduc is now a civilian, but still working on stability. Among other things, he is now focused on service members and veterans in crisis.

Bolduc is among a small cadre of dedicated individuals who are pushing what they call the "Green Alert System," which is similar to the existing Amber and Silver alerts that hit our cell phones and highway electronic billboards.

"A lot of veterans, for various reasons, come up missing,'' Bolduc said. "We are trying to develop some kind of system like there is for the elderly and children."

At present, Bolduc's Green Alert System is an ad hoc operation where a four-member team gets information about a missing service member or veteran and spreads the word via social media.

The team gets notified, or finds a case of a veteran or service member in crisis, then springs into action, said Mimi Bradley, a team member.

"We immediately verify it and if the case is active we post it," Bradley said. "Our posts get about 40,000 views in a 12-hour period.

The team is now working three cases but say the need is far greater. The list of the missing includes two from our area.

Army veteran Robert David Helphrey was 38 when he went missing in Palm Harbor on May 22, 2006. Another veteran, Scott Douglas Hamilton, was 52 when he walked away from the Hillandale Assisted Living Facility in New Port Richey on Feb. 19, 2011. Both men are still missing, authorities told me.

Bradley said she doesn't know exactly how many people the network has helped. But with 20 veterans a day taking their own lives, according to the most recent Department of Veterans Affairs study — including 557 in Florida in 2015 — there is a big gap the Green Alert System can fill, she said.

The team, Bradley said, was inspired by the case of Corey Adams, an Air Force veteran from Wisconsin who was found dead last year after going missing for 18 days.

Earlier this year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the Corey Adams Spotlight Act into law, setting up a Green Alert system in that state. In addition, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin earlier this year introduced the Corey Adams Spotlight Act in Congress, which would have the Attorney General establish a national communications network, known as the Green Alert communications network, within the Department of Justice to provide assistance to regional and local search efforts for missing veterans.

Bolduc's team's efforts have spurred U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire to also take the Green Alert System nationwide.

"I am drafting legislation that would provide federal assistance to states to help them establish Green Alert systems," Hassan said in a message to the Tampa Bay Times. "It is a commonsense step we can take to ensure that we can be there for our veterans who have so valiantly served on behalf of us all."

•••

The Pentagon announced the deaths of three troops in support of ongoing missions since my last column.

Staff Sgt. James T. Grotjan, 26, of Waterford, Connecticut, died July 12 at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, from injuries sustained in a non-combat related incident July 8 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

Grotjan, who was assigned to the 4th Civil Engineer Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Andrew Celiz, 32, from Summerville, South Carolina, died, July 12, in Afghanistan, of wounds sustained as a result of enemy small arms fire while conducting operations in support of a medical evacuation landing zone in Zurmat district, Paktiya province. The incident is under investigation.

Celiz, who was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, was supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

Cpl. Joseph Maciel of South Gate, California, died July 7, 2018, in Tarin Kowt District, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan from wounds sustained during an apparent insider attack. The incident is under investigation.

Maciel, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Georgia. Task Force 1-28 Infantry is currently deployed in support of the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, was supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

The Pentagon announced no new deaths last week in ongoing operations.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 52 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel; 55 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; one death in Operation Octave Shield and six deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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