Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


Hell on Earth – The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS 


This is one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen. It is also one of the most eye-opening, important, and memorable.

The documentary chronicles the Syrian civil war and the downfall of its society, which led to the rise of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. But it is so much more layered and so much more complicated than those few words can convey. Pulling from over 1,000 hours of footage from the front, news clips, firsthand accounts, and iPhone footage, filmmakers Sebastian Junger (award-winning journalist, filmmaker, and best-selling author) and Nick Quested (Emmy-winning filmmaker and director) bring viewers the real story from the ground, and from the people living the nightmare.

This is not Junger’s and Quested’s first foray into war-torn areas.  Their films, The Last Patrol, Korengal, the Emmy-nominated Which Way to the Front Line From Here? The Life and time of Tim Hetherington, and the Oscar-nominated Restrepo all delved into conflicts around the world. Their mission was always the same, according to Quested. “We were always looking to find the humanity in the darkest places. There’s no darker place than the Syrian civil war at the moment.”

IRAQ: A young refugee child inside the Debaga Refugee Camp. (Photo credit:Junger Quested Films LLC/Nick Quested)

But explaining the story of this country posed a special set of challenges. There is a long and complex history behind the civil war, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s determination not to go the route of his Arab Spring predecessors like Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak. The calculated and relentless incursion of ISIS into the area on both an economic and ideological level created another story.  And then physically getting access to the people and the front line amidst changing allegiances was another obstacle. It took the filmmakers a year and a half and 39 trips to the area to make it happen. During that time, their network of contacts grew to include other journalists, fixers, activists, human rights workers, politicians, army commanders; and even former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.  They have seamlessly knit together these disparate bits and pieces to create a clear picture of a complicated tale.

TURKEY – The Mohammad family on one of their many attempts to cross over the Mediterranean into Greece. (Photo Credit:  Junger Quested Films LLC/Radwan Mohammad)

But the heart of this film lies with the ordinary citizens caught in the middle.  The scenes of dozens of young children laid out in rows, dead from a gas attack are horrifying; the lone mother in the middle of the town square calling out for her kids after an attack is heart-wrenching; and then there is the story of the Mohammad brothers and their families. They were first robbed of their rights by Assad and then bombed into submission by him. For a brief period, it looked like the “people” might actually be winning this war with the help of the Syrian Free Army.  But then ISIS took over and imposed a new set of rules and a religious fanaticism that included public beheadings in town centers with the dead being left there as a warning.  That is when they decided to leave Syria.

The film tracks the brothers’ frightening journey from Aleppo to Turkey to Greece and back, with the Mohammad’s doing the actual filming. They were given a two-page set of instructions on how and what to shoot, according to Quested.  He coached them, saying, “Try to focus on your feelings and your children’s feelings and try to give us a sense of your environment.” The result is raw, intimate, and emotional … as is the film.

When asked what he wanted people to take away from the film, Junger said, “We wanted to humanize America’s view of people who have to flee violence. This country is a beacon for people who are hopeless and desperate.  We are hoping that our country can continue to be that.”

Hell on Earth will air globally on National Geographic in 171 countries and 45 languages starting Sunday, June 11th at 9 p.m.

Top photo: QAYARRAH, IRAQ – After leaving Qayarrah, ISIS sets oil fires as a parting gift for the villagers. (Photo credit:Junger Quested Films LLC/Nick Quested)

In Search of Israeli Cuisine


In the early-70’s, I spent over three months on a kibbutz in the Negev. It was an amazing experience in many ways, but the food was not among the highlights. Breakfasts consisted of “Israeli salad,” yogurts, bread, tea, and something we called, “chocy sauce,” a pre-curser to Nutella. Dinners were a monotonous and not very adventurous boiled chicken.

In the Kitchen

In the Kitchen

So when I heard that there was a new film about Israeli food, I was intrigued. What could a 94-minute documentary possibly have to say about a cuisine of almost no note? To my surprise, the answer is “a lot.” In the skilled hands of director Roger Sherman and the warm embrace of chef and James Beard Award-Winner Michael Solomonov, also the on-camera host, the film opened up a whole new culinary world to me. And it went well beyond just humus and falafel.

Michael with tomatoes

In the Tomato Field

Traveling up and down this tiny [the size of New Jersey] but incredibly diverse country, viewers are introduced to Israel’s history, culture, and religions. Michael meets chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, winemakers, and journalists and delves deep into the origins of the foods they grow and cook, their families, and the immigrant experience. And what an experience it is.  This “new” cuisine draws from thousands of years of history and over 150 different countries and cultures including Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, Turkey, Poland, Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. All of them celebrate the bounty and abundance of the local products around them.  As one chef says, “It’s the flavor of Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel.”

Michael and cheesemaker

With the Cheesemaker

The film is also a heartfelt reminder of Solomonov’s own heritage. He was born in Israel but grew up in Pittsburgh eating his Romanian grandmother’s cheese and potato “borekas,” a dish he recreates on camera. During the production, he also visits the place where his brother was killed during the Yom Kippur fighting in 2003. That history led Michael to re-examine his own Israeli/Sephardic roots; and ultimately to open his restaurant, Zahav, which means “gold” in Hebrew.

Fishing in the Galilee

Fishing in the Galilee

From a filmmaking standpoint, this doc is a lovely little gem. The pacing and editing is spot on; the chefs, farmers, and restaurateurs are passionate and articulate; and the scenes of the landscapes are stunning. Kudos also to the light, atmospheric touch of the music created by Amit Gur and Moshe Da’aboul.

So what is Israeli Cuisine? Like any good recipe or great dish, it is a subtle and ever-changing mosaic of rich and colorful flavors; full of history and personal stories; and all of it touched with love.

Top: Michael with spices

All photo credits:  Florentine Films

Intelligence – Outing a CIA Operative


In 2002, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson was sent to the the African nation of Niger to assess whether Iraq was buying uranium ore to build nuclear weapons. Wilson’s investigation found no such evidence, but in the 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Four months after, the U.S. invaded Iraq, basing that military operation on the erroneous information that Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction.” Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times titled, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” basically accusing the Bush Administration of lying to justify the war.

Retaliation against Wilson zeroed in on his wife, Valerie Plame, a career CIA operative whose identity was leaked to the press by members of the Bush Administration and first published in the Washington Post by conservative columnist Robert Novak. Plame’s outing effectively ended her career and also placed any assets she had worked with in danger. Although Plame did not send her husband to Niger, she also was held responsible for that decision, bringing about charges of nepotism.


Hannah Yelland and Aakhu Tuahnera Freeman

Jacqueline E. Lawton’s aptly titled Intelligence, now playing at Arena Stage, purports to tell Plame’s story. First commissioned in 2015 as part of Arena’s Power Play initiative, Lawton’s work is well-timed. Intelligence leaks are in the news, but as Intelligence shows, those leaks are not new. In a tight and tense 90-minutes, Intelligence imagines Plame’s double life – on one hand, an undercover CIA operative, and on the other, a wife to Wilson and mother to their three-year old twins.

In Playwright’s Notes included in the program, Lawton said that she writes “out of a deep frustration for the lack of strong, complex and engaging roles for women in the American theater.” She was drawn to Plame’s story about a woman “fighting to ensure the national security of the United States.” Intelligence is directed by Daniella Topol, artistic director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York.

In Arena’s Kogod Cradle, Misha Kachman’s set design, dominated by dark gray moveable walls, creates the perfect backdrop for clandestine activities. On the left side of the stage, couches and a coffee table represent the more intimate and comfortable Wilson/Plame living room. The columns also work as screens where video scenes from 9/11 are played, along with snippets of speeches made by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.


Ethan Hova, Nora Achrati, and Hannah Yelland

Working for the CIA’s counter-proliferation division, Plame (a passionate performance by Hannah Yelland, who also resembles Plame) is investigating whether Iraq is amassing weapons. The importance of her mission cannot be understated. Not only will her findings produce valuable evidence that may or may not result in the U.S. attacking Iraq, but any assets who provide that information might be targeted for death. Intelligence is a fictionalized account of what might have transpired as Plame went about her duties.

Dr. Malik Nazari (a searing performance by Ethan Hova), representing one of Plame’s assets, is an Iraqi who once tested chemical weapons for Saddam’s regime. Often the most unpleasant part of a CIA agent’s job is pressuring, even blackmailing, those who are innocent. Leyla Nazari (Nora Achrati) Malik’s niece, is a dress designer who makes frequent trips to Jordan. Plame coming to Leyla’s shop, ostensibly to pick up a scarf, threatens to turn over information about those trips to the government unless Leyla convinces her uncle to meet with her.

Nazari agrees to the meeting, in the coffee shop he now runs. Now out of Iraq, he’s still wracked with guilt over testing chemical weapons on prisoners and others who were unable to defend themselves. He agrees to go back to Iraq to gather information, not for Plame or the U.S., but for his people, he tells her. Plame promises to go with him to Iraq, but is ordered not to do so by her supervisor, Elaine Matthews (Aakhu Tuahnera Freeman). That won’t be the only promise Plame is forced to break. After she’s outed, she’s barred from the CIA (on her next visit, she’s given a visitor pass), and is unable to contact or protect Nazari or Leyla.


Hannah Yelland and Lawrence Redmond

Plame’s situation takes a toll on her at home, too. While her husband (Lawrence Redmond) is depicted here as being less than supportive about her job, complaining when she has to work late or travel (she’s a CIA operative!), he also doesn’t stop to think about what effect his Times column might have on her career. Seeing her name in print in Novak’s story, Plame lashes out at him, pointing out that he has placed her and the children in danger. (In real life, Plame and Wilson eventually relocated from Washington, D.C. to New Mexico, after receiving death threats.)

Never before has gathering intelligence been more important. And never before have these dedicated people who place their lives on the line every day to perform these duties come under such unrelenting attack. Intelligence is a cautionary tale that we have to do better, recruiting the best and brightest for these challenging assignments and then giving them the tools and the support they need to succeed in their missions to keep America safe.

Photos by C. Stanley Photography

Written by Jacqueline E. Lawton
Directed by Daniella Topol
Kogod Cradle
Arena Stage
Extended through April 9, 2017

Darcy Hotchkiss: Life in My Hands – Healing Myself, Healing Others


Even as a teen growing up in a small town in Maine, Darcy Hotchkiss visualized herself a world traveler. But she would take many detours before she realized those dreams. Along the way, she kept a journal to document her amazing journey from high school dropout and a single mom, to a soldier in the U.S. Army and a government contractor in Kuwait and Iraq. Working for NATO in The Netherlands, she sustained a serious injury which brought on a year of physical pain and emotional turmoil. When she finally found a way to heal through alternative medicine, she was inspired to become a healer herself. “I began feeling a nudge a couple of years ago to write down my experiences, trying to make sense of things with the idea that maybe there were women that have experienced similar struggles with life, love, parental roles, understanding their path, and healing,” says Darcy. “I’ve come to a deeper level of appreciation for who I am and the different way of managing my life; it doesn’t work for everyone but it works for me.” She hopes that her book, Life in My Hands – Healing Myself, Healing Others (WAT-AGE Publishing), will resonate with readers no matter where they are in their own odysseys.

Where Darcy now finds herself is all the more remarkable considering where she started out. She learned that she was pregnant shortly after attending her junior prom and was forced to drop out of school. “In my eighth month of pregnancy, I stood behind a cash register at the local grocery store, working as many hours as possible, trying to save money while I still had the ability to work,” Darcy writes. Studying to complete her high school degree, she was terrified with the thought that she was going to be responsible for the life of another human being. She and the baby’s father were soon married, a marriage that lasted for three years. “My husband and I had completely different goals about what our lives would be, certainly a challenge to our relationship,” she writes. “I wanted a career, and to travel and see the world, while he wanted to stay on the farm, raise children, and be the softball coach and team dad.”

After the divorce, Darcy was working multiple jobs, taking college courses, and raising her daughter. “There were nights when I barely got four to five hours of sleep after I got Jordan ready for bed, finished homework, and had to be at my first job again by 6:30 a.m.,” she says. “I never had enough money to cover everything. It seemed like I just couldn’t get ahead unless I did something drastic.”


Darcy and Jordan

She knew that she wanted more for herself and for her daughter. But how would she accomplish that? With few options available, she made the difficult decision to enlist. That meant leaving her daughter in the care of her ex-husband. “I felt massively judged in the beginning for my approach to mothering,” Darcy says. “But my priority was the best interests of my daughter. At that time, her father was a better parent hands down, and I think it’s important to admit that as a woman, especially today. Gender roles and perceptions are being overridden all the time and there are many examples of the roles woman are playing now in the media, movies, and even in the military.”

Darcy soon discovered that life as a solider was, in many ways, easier than trying to keep things together as a single mom. “Everything was provided – food, clothes, lodging and direction,” she says. “I got more sleep than I did as a single mother. It was crazy! I was able to focus on my professional endeavors without wondering if I could scrape some spare change together for a hamburger at McDonalds.”

Make no mistake, though. Basic training was tough. In the book Darcy describes the grueling drills, including one that involved being confined in a chamber filled with tear gas. (Think of that scene in An Officer and a Gentleman.) While other recruits were panicking, Darcy, who had visualized the exercise many times in her mind, was calm and methodical, getting through the exercise with time to spare. That was the first time she realized the power of visualization, something that she would use many times in the future.

While in the Army, Darcy met and married another soldier. Since he had a higher rank and would often be deployed, Darcy made the decision to leave the Army. She had been working on college credits and had enough training in communications that she could land a job paying her three times what she was making in the Army. Still, because of frequent separations, the marriage didn’t last. Dealing with the trauma of facing a second divorce, Darcy began to have vivid dreams. “Dreams of traveling, working and living in the Middle East were starting to come through,” she writes. Those dreams would soon become reality when she accepted a position supporting the Army Information Technology operations as an information systems security officer on Camp Doha, Kuwait.


Darcy arrived in Kuwait a year after President George W. Bush’s “shock and awe” campaign which brought down Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein. While Kuwait was relatively safe, there were still challenges. Unlike some ex-pats, Darcy was open to learning about the people there and the culture. “I think I wanted to believe there was good in the world and the way for me to come to that was to immerse myself in another culture, befriend locals, and see what it was all about,” she says. “I met so many different types of people in the Middle East, some real characters. They made my time there great. There is so much diversity in this world. I would be hesitant to make gross generalizations on any group of people after my experiences.”

As an independent woman, Darcy often had to confront how women were treated in the Middle East. She became friends with one man named Mohammad who worked at the airport. Even though they spent some pleasant times together, she kept in mind a warning from his sister: “My brother is always angry and you should be careful with him.” When he became overbearing and controlling, Darcy made excuses for not being able to meet him. Fortunately, she was able to end the relationship on a friendly note and when Jordan visited Kuwait, Mohammed ushered her safely through the airport. Darcy made friends with another man, Waleed, but had to cut it off when he began to talk about marriage.

Darcy was certainly living her dream to travel. After celebrating the New Year in Lebanon, she took another job in Iraq, a country that was much more dangerous than Kuwait. “My assignment was working within the U.S. Embassy annex supporting the communications backbone for Multi-National Forces Iraq (MNF-I) in the area known as the International Zone,” she writes. She describes a trip in a Black Hawk helicopter  to Camp Victory in Baghdad. “Initially, I thought the pilot was giving us a guided tour of Baghdad, but really he was just trying to avoid random gunfire from some of the rooftops and keep us from getting shot down through a rough patch of the city,” she writes. Peering down, rather than seeing gunfire, she witnessed “only a beautiful afternoon with young Iraqi children playing soccer in a small patch of a lush grassy field.” At the base, Darcy had the opportunity to tour Saddam Hussein’s Al-Faw Palace. Staring at crystal chandeliers and marble work, Darcy says “I couldn’t prevent my mouth from falling open with awe.” Driving around, a solider also pointed out the small building where the former Iraqi dictator was being held.

For Darcy, there was a bonus for her stay in Iraq. In Lebanon, she had met and fell in love with Majed, who would also be working in Iraq. The two would spend one glorious holiday together in Jordan before the romance came to a tragic end, sending Darcy into a tailspin.

She retreated back to the U.S., giving herself time to grieve. She returned to Kuwait for a short time, but soon found herself accepting a position with NATO in The Hague. Her initial excitement about the assignment didn’t last. She found the city cold, damp, and isolating. Playing netball (a Dutch version of basketball without the dribbling), she sprained her ankle. Shortly after that, she developed several health problems. “I had worked so hard to get to this point in my career,” she writes. “For what? Was this all that could be expected? Loneliness, sickness, and depression? It was a difficult pill for me to swallow.”

One evening she forced herself to socialize, accepting an invitation to a birthday party. She sustained a serious fall down a flight of stairs, injuring her lower back, pelvis, and shoulder. “If you have ever been in chronic pain, you understand that it goes beyond dealing with the physical pain,” she writes. “There’s a psychological effect as well.”

After trying in vain to get treated in The Hague, a friend took her to Paris. While the doctors there were able to diagnose her injuries, a cortisone shot in her spine just made matters worse. One of the doctors suggested she try alternative forms of medicine to relieve her pain. Thus began her search for help which finally led her to Zoran Hochstatter in London, the founder of a healing modality called PureBioenergy Therapy. Darcy not only scheduled a healing session with Hochstatter, but also signed up for his training class. Zoran sported a white beard and long, white, shoulder-length hair. “He looked like a healer, but was wearing normal clothes – a T-shirt and blue jeans.” When he approached her, Darcy rattled off her long list of ailments. After saying, “Is that it?” he turned on some classic rock and went to work. Darcy recalls swaying and rocking as he waved his hands around her. “The movement was involuntary, out of my control,” she writes. When it was over, Darcy felt peaceful and calm. After a second day of therapy, she woke up realizing that for the first time she had slept a full eight hours; there was no pain in her back or her hip. Attending Zoran’s training session, she was energized with the possibility of helping others heal.

“Upon returning to Holland, it was hard to conceal my excitement about how good I was feeling,” she writes. “For the first time in almost a year I was walking upright, without a limp.” Others noticed and Darcy began to use what she had learned from Zoran. “Initially, my intent was to help others heal, but I eventually understood that each person I helped was also helping me,” she writes. “By allowing me to co-create wellness and health within others, the process took me outside of myself. It got me out of my own head by focusing on being of service to someone in need.”


Returning to the U.S., Darcy settled in Washington, D.C. and took a job at the Pentagon. Her healing work continues. She’s particularly proud about helping those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “These days I don’t get many skeptics in my healing space, but in the past I learned quickly that some people just don’t resonate with what I’m doing,” Darcy says. “I’m okay with that. I’m actually a skeptic and come from a computer engineering background, so I understand that what I’m doing goes against traditional and convention thinking. But, I never feel compelled to explain or convince anyone of what I’m doing. We are all responsible for our own health and we all can choose how to get there. Belief is a big part of a person’s healing process.”

Darcy and Jordan continue to enjoy a close relationship. “I think it was confusing and hard for my daughter in the beginning, but as she got older she understood more about why I made the choices I did and it makes sense to her,” she says. “She’s 21 years old now and always says she got the best of worlds, a stable home and an opportunity to see the world and have great experiences that otherwise would not have been possible.”

Writing Life in My Hands gave Darcy the opportunity to reflect on her journey. “I made mistakes along the way, but I learned from those mistakes and became more savvy, focused, and confident in the process,” she says. “Living with regrets about things you didn’t do or chances you didn’t take, especially out of fear of failure, are some of the most painful to live with. I have no regrets in my life. I’ve lived fully and still have many more exciting times ahead.”

Life in My Hands – Healing Myself, Healing Others
Darcy Hotchkiss
WAT-AGE Publishing

Photos courtesy of Darcy Hotchkiss

Veterans at Work – Winning on the Home Front III


Before we observe Veteran’s Day on November 11, Woman Around Town completes a three-part series by career strategist Jason Veduccio interviewing experts who help returning warriors re-enter the workplace. This week, Jason talks with Leslie Lightfoot who is the Founder and Executive Director of the Veteran’s Homestead Inc., an independent, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Fitchburg, Massachusetts whose mission is to provide medical, psychological, and spiritual care to veterans who are diagnosed with a terminal illness, elderly, disabled, or otherwise in need.

Part III – Holistic Help for Veterans

Many might think of a veteran’s search for work as something that begins with a resume and an interview but in many cases that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Returning soldiers face numerous challenges, beginning with finding proper housing and medical care. In the last part to this series I went a bit deeper into the roots of the problem, still under the assumption that veterans are in the best position to help their fellow veterans – with our support.

This brought me to Leslie Lightfoot, a humble and soft-spoken woman quietly doing incredible things for veterans on a national level. After learning of her organization and its work I was eager to meet this person who works tirelessly to develop a safety net for those courageous soldiers who return most in need. Yet when speaking with her she was sturdy in her humility, always pointing the attention to others, to the veterans and their families. I mentioned to her a few times that her story was important too, if only because through it we will learn of other stories. (Please see below for a more complete bio of Leslie Lightfoot.)

How did you become interested in the armed services? Did you come from a military family?

My father and uncles were all World War II veterans, but upon my father’s return from his duty in Germany he left the service for civilian life so I wasn’t necessarily an “army brat” but it was then I became interested in the military.

Was it then that you knew you wanted to follow in his footsteps in some way?

When I was nine years old my father gave me his Purple Heart and though at that age I didn’t know exactly what it was, I knew it was something very important to him and it affected me deeply. Then because of the times we were in, a very good friend of mine got killed in Vietnam and that also awakened me to something. I came from a middle class background in Canton, Ohio and most of the kids from my neighborhood were drafted, and so all of it was very much on my mind at the time. But when my friend got killed it really became something I felt strongly about, so at the end of high school I wanted to save the world as they say, and I joined, though at that time they weren’t sending female medics to Vietnam, they only sent nurses, so I ended up in Germany – just like my father.

What was it like coming back from that war as a female veteran?

Everyone knew that if you were a male you were probably drafted but as a woman they knew that you had chosen to join and because of the anti-war sentiment at the time I remember returning and going to a basketball game in Ohio wearing my uniform and I was so proud yet people looked at me like I was a pariah – so it set the stage for me not wanting to tell anyone I was a vet for a while.

When did it change for you and what brought you to working with veterans?

I went to school in Massachusetts and got a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in psychology and I became board certified in traumatic stress. I started to work with combat vets at a shelter in Boston, but at the same time I was also taking workshops in Virginia with famed psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross who wrote On Death and Dying. All of this got me involved but it truly crystallized when I met this one man, his name was Tom Evans, a veteran of Korea. He was in the hospital and he couldn’t stay because he had no insurance, and he had no family, and he was dying of cancer with just eight months to live. So upon seeing this I talked to my family and we agreed to take him in but sadly he died that weekend. So that was the defining moment of “something needs to be done here” for me and that’s how the veteran’s hospice got started, a twelve bed facility in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

Tell me about some of the challenges veterans you care for face before they can even consider looking for work?

Many times the physical challenges are more obvious and those need acute attention, but what people don’t realize, even veterans themselves at times, is that other factors such as alcohol abuse can really exacerbate their problems. And some don’t have close family relationships and we try to encourage them to become closer if it’s possible. Others are now older and their spouses have passed or they have a hard time living on a small pension. So the problems are many but as they heal, work becomes an important part of the equation.

How did your efforts expand?

As we saw veterans with more diverse problems, we started something called the Armistice Homestead that used to be a rest home so we made that an aftercare program for veterans for when they leave an alcohol treatment center. It’s a place where they can live while they look for work and for a place of their own. After that we opened a farm in New Hampshire, where we use animal therapy and the veterans tend to the farm. It’s a very structured program but it does so well because these animals have no judgments and seeing the way these veterans would care for them, it really helps.

I noticed you opened a program in Puerto Rico. How did that come about?

After the farm we opened a program in Puerto Rico because it’s a part of the United States, and the amount of veterans per capita is greater than in any other state or commonwealth. According to my friends in combat, Puerto Ricans make fantastic soldiers and are extremely patriotic.

What are you working on most recently?

We have opened Northeast Veteran’s Training and Rehabilitation Center in Gardner, Massachusetts where vets can come with their whole families. We have ten acres of land and twenty condos. They pay on a sliding scale depending on what they can afford. In addition, they pay no heat or electricity because we are geothermal and use photovoltaics to capture solar energy. The local college there, Mount Wachusett Community College not only offers education for the veteran but also offers a free education to the spouse – which is terrific. And then all forms of counseling are available. Many suffer from Post Traumatic Stress, which is mostly misunderstood by so many.

What is PTS ?

PTS is something many try to define but it’s sprawling. It’s not always just the combat stress. Sometimes things that happened before they even joined were enough for people to have psychological stress after leaving the armed services. Anyone who has been traumatized can be showing signs of stress and some people won’t recognize it.

In terms of treatment for PTS, what is your methodology?

Shut up and wear beige. The people working with anyone who is traumatized you need to listen, listen, listen. And if you’ve been in the military it does help because certain things don’t have to be explained. So I tend to shut up and wear beige.

What do your programs do to help get them work?

Because we always try and treat the whole person, we help them with everything from resumes to tutors to free education arrangements with local schools. Anything they need to prepare, we try to provide. One of our caseworker’s even brought in an outfit for someone to wear to an interview. We can do this because we keep the size of our facilities manageable.

Are any corporations doing more than others to hire Veterans?

Yes. Home Depot hires a lot of our veterans, I don’t know if it’s policy for them but I know they do. And that’s on a national level. Other places that work in defense do as well – for instance Raytheon also hires a lot of veterans. But across the board it’s not as common it should be.

Is there anything someone reading this can do to help?

Educate, educate, educate – yourself and others! And learn about PTS. Not everyone who has it is so obvious, and just because they have it does NOT mean they can’t function. It just means you have to learn to notice it and how it affects the person’s point of view and that takes education.

If anyone reading this knows a Veteran returning from duty, where can they get information that we can learn from?

I suggest contacting the Department of Veterans Services in Massachusetts or a place like the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts to start. (Editor’s note: These groups can help you find agencies in your own area to help.) Then, depending on your need, keep reading, and ask for help. Educate, educate, educate is always part of the solution.

If you would like to contact Leslie Lightfoot you can visit her website, Veterans Homestead, or send your request to jason@in1concepts.com and it will be forwarded.

Leslie Lightfoot

Leslie served in the Army as a medic from 1967 – 1970, then pursued and obtained a bachelors and a master’s degree in psychology.   She is also a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress.  Leslie has been serving the needs of the veteran community since she left the army in 1970, is a nationally recognized expert on PTSD and has developed seven successful projects for veterans in need.  Leslie has served on the boards of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, The Central MA Coalition for Homeless Veterans, The Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund and on the Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Washington D.C. and the Governor of Massachusetts.  Her Awards include Hometown Hero Award from both Worcester Magazine and Boston radio station WTKK, the DAR Medal of Honor, Unsung Hero award for Civic Engagement from Mount Wachusett Community College and an array of certificates of appreciation from federal, state and local dignitaries.  She has two daughters and a son that are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Read the other stories in this series:
Part I – Helping Vets Find Jobs as Contractors
Part II – Helpings Vets Help America’s Businesses

Daniel Silva’s The Black Widow – Using Fiction for Political Change


Daniel Silva’s new Gabriel Allon mystery, The Black Widow, is not for the faint of heart. Think we’re safe? Think again. Silva pulls no punches and by the time you’ve read the last page, you may want to rethink those vacation plans or even that restaurant reservation. And if you live in Washington, D.C., the plot will hit (quite literally) very close to home.

Silva has been writing the Gabriel Allon series since 2000 when he first introduced us to the art restorer/secret agent/assassin. Allon’s first wife, Leah, was injured and their son, Daniel, killed in a car bombing. Leah now suffers from severe PTSD and memory loss and Allon visits her often in the care facility where she lives, not far from the Jerusalem limestone apartment building where Allon and his second wife, Chiara, reside with their infant twins, Raphael and Irene.

The Black Widow is Allon’s 16th outing and there are hints that supporting characters will take center stage as Silva moves forward. Allon, tapped to become chief of Israel’s intelligence service, will now be spending more time directing the action rather than being in the middle of it. While Allon fans may be disappointed, those poised to take over – Mikhail Abramov and Dina Sarid, two reliable members of Allon’s team, and Dr. Natalie Mizrahi, a French-born Jew who is also a doctor – are compelling enough that the series will probably not miss a beat.

Before Silva was a novelist, he was a journalist, at one point serving as UPI’s Middle East correspondent, reporting from Cairo. His experience covering that volatile area of the world informs his novels. Silva was born a Catholic but converted to Judaism when he was an adult. Through Allon Silva conveys his affection for the Israeli people and his admiration for the Israeli secret service. Intelligence officers from France, Britain, and the United States, are portrayed as naive, ill-informed, and ill-prepared to face the new world order. In The Black Widow, the West, particularly the U.S., pays dearly for underestimating the enemy.

The Black Widow opens with a vicious attack in Paris that claims the life of one of Allon’s friends, Hannah Weinberg, leader of the Isaac Weinberg Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism in France. The bombing was carried out by Safia Bourihane, an Algerian who was living in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a banlieue north of Paris. After her Tunisian-born boyfriend was killed in a coalition air strike, Bourihane was dubbed the “black widow.” Although she had been under French surveillance as a “ticking time bomb,” the authorities felt she was no longer a threat after she stopped associating with known radicals and even ceased wearing the hijab. “Which is exactly what she was told to do by the man who masterminded the attack,” observed one of the French security officials. That mastermind, known only as Saladin, becomes Allon’s next target.

The real Saladin was a Kurd, born in 1138, who beat back the Christians, slaughtering many of them, to reclaim Jerusalem for the Muslims. The ISIS terrorist who goes by the name of Saladin was born in Iraq and was part of Saddam Hussein’s security force. His mission is now worldwide, striking targets in the West using suicide bombers and armed assassins.

To bring down Saladin, Allon plans to find and train a black widow of his own. Like so many Jews living in France, Natalie and her parents relocated to Israel, fearful of the violence being directed at their community. She needs some convincing to join the “Office,” the nickname given to Allon’s operation, but once she signs on, she convincingly transforms herself into a Palestinian, Leila, who mourns the loss of her husband and seems bent on seeking revenge by killing infidels. Natalie/Leila succeeds in her assignment, infiltrating Saladin’s network. But will her efforts be enough to stop the devastating attack that Allon believes is coming?

Silva’s characters are expertly drawn. Over the course of the series, Allon has suffered huge losses yet remains true to his cause. And while the male figures, even the evil Saladin, are very convincing, it’s the female characters that draw us into the story. We follow Natalie on every step of her dangerous journey, amazed at her courage and fearful for her survival. Allon’s wife, Chiara, is loyal to a fault, understanding her husband better than anyone else.

In Author’s Notes at the end of the book, Silva lays out a compelling case for constant vigilance and a concerted effort to defeat the terrorist group, ISIS. He blames both Republicans and Democrats for the quagmire that has developed in the Middle East – President Bush for invading Iraq and President Obama for failing to leave enough troops in the region. And while he reviews some of the recent attacks in Europe, he ends on a sobering note: “The American homeland, however, is ISIS’s ultimate target.”

The Black Widow
Daniel Silva