First Deaf Graduate from Military College Excels!
Mr. Ethan Lusted is the first deaf graduate from The Citadel: the Military College of South Carolina, and all military colleges in the United States. He lost his hearing at 18 months of age due to HIB meningitis. Ethan received a cochlear implant at the age of nine. Military service has been his family’s tradition traced back to the Revolutionary War and the French-Indian War. Ethan is the eldest son of a retired naval officer. His brother graduated from West Point: United States Military Academy as an army officer. Ethan is originally from Atlanta, Georgia and currently resides in the area of Albany, New York.
After graduating from Niskayuna High School with honors and athletic excellence, he enrolled in RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) for one year before matriculating to his dream school, The Citadel with the class of 2011. The Citadel and it’s South Carolina Corps of Cadets carried and still carries a famous reputation of being the toughest military college in United States due to its high freshman dropout rate and strict 4th Class system.
Mr. Lusted was a two-time letterman in Brazilian jujitsu/judo and rugby. In addition of rugby, he served as the team’s captain during his senior year. Also, he served two years as a member and training sergeant for The Citadel’s national rifle drill team, Rifle Legion. As a student and cadet, he was recognized on the Dean’s list, Commandant’s list, and President’s list. He trained with Army ROTC during all of his four years at The Citadel. At the end of his Citadel career, he received his BA degree in Political Science with the concentration in International Politics and Military Affairs along with a minor in International Relations (history).
In addition of his education and training, Mr. Lusted completed his 13 weeks training and qualification at United States-K9 Academy in Louisiana; specializing in explosive, narcotics, and patrol as a police/ military-contractor dog handler & trainer. He has previously worked as an office assistant for a U.S. Congressman, and as a security guard at a nuclear research facility under the Department of Energy. Currently, he is on the waiting list for the New York State Troopers and pursuing full-time for a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Mr. Lusted applied for wavier twice with U.S. Army and once with U.S. Marine Corps as a Military Intelligence officer but failed to meet their hearing qualifications despite the fact he graduated from The Citadel. He will join with Mr. Keith Nolan for their march to Washington D.C. rally the support for the bills for the military demonstration program for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Interesting fact: Dr. Ed West, The Citadel class of 1966 was Ethan’s pediatrician when he was sick with meningitis. Dr. West and Ethan still keep in contact. Dr. West attended Ethan’s Citadel lifetime alumni ceremony. Dr. West is also a friend of a national best selling author, Pat Conroy, class of ’67.
Airman teaches Deaf man to fly
Senior Airman Christy Helgeson met Rob Drake at a local flying club, where she is an assistant chief pilot. A week after they met in September, Mr. Drake asked her to be his instructor, helping him become possibly the first deaf pilot in the state of Washington to learn to fly.
Mr. Drake said he was drawn to Airman Helgeson’s commitment and felt, based on her encouraging words when they met, that she was a natural choice as an instructor. Likewise, Airman Helgeson, an aerospace maintenance journeyman with the 446th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here, said she was impressed with Mr. Drake’s determination, along with his upbeat sense of humor.
“He never lets anything get him down,” she said. “Even when he’s having a tough day, he’s still laughing and joking, and he’s more motivated than any student I’ve had.”
Mr. Drake shared his memory of meeting Airman Helgeson.
“She said, ‘You can’t fly, and I can’t teach you,’” he said with a smile. “I knew she had to be my instructor so I could give her a hard time.”
He quickly won her over.
“I told him, not only will I teach you, but I will be an ally for you,” said Airman Helgeson, a four-year veteran in the Air Force Reserve.
The two have developed a friendship over the months, laughing and joking, quite at ease with each other.
“I found Christy very easy to communicate with,” Mr. Drake said. “She asked me if I was interested in flying, and she encouraged me to pursue my dream.”
While they were motivated to get started, the process was not easy.
“When you do something out of the ordinary like teaching a deaf person to fly, it’s not just about teaching him. You have to get people out of the notion that deaf people can’t do things,” Airman Helgeson said. “There have been a lot of meetings, phone calls and letters between us and the Flight Standards District Office. This was a whole new game.”
And the game took place at Airman Helgeson’s civilian workplace.
The club flies out of Boeing Field in Seattle where Mr. Drake knew a friend who owned a plane there. He visited one day and met Airman Helgeson. He began flying with her in October and took his first solo flight a month later.
“I knew I would land, but I wanted to land perfectly,” he said. “I didn’t want to make any mistakes or think I needed more practice. I wanted to know I was really ready to go solo, and to me, that meant I had to do everything perfect.”
In aviation, outside factors such as health, family situations and work can affect how a person flies. Fortunately, Mr. Drake had the support of his wife throughout his training.
“She knows it’s my passion,” he said. “She knows I’ll be fine when I put my mind to something. She’s a great wife.”
While sincerity can propel a person to put forth his best effort, it cannot replace communication. For Airman Helgeson, this meant finding a way to teach her motivated student. She began teaching herself sign language so she could communicate even better with Mr. Drake.
“He speaks flawlessly, and he’s so good at lip reading, I almost forget he can’t hear me,” Airman Helgeson said. “He was born deaf. The nerves between his ears and brain are dead, but his ears still function, so he can sense pressure.”
While the two work together very well, there was still much to learn.
“There are so many aviation terms that don’t have an actual sign in sign language,” Airman Helgeson said.
“Once, while we were flying and coming in for a landing, the tower said, ‘Go around,’ meaning, we had to make another loop around before landing. I told Rob, ‘Go around,’ and then a second later I realized he couldn’t hear me,” she said. “Then I realized there was no sign for go around. So I put my hand on his and my other hand reached across his field of vision, so he knew he had to make a loop. Through trial and error, we came up with our own signs for those terms.”
For both student and teacher, the process was an experience to learn from.
“I’m a much better person all-around and a much better instructor since meeting Rob,” Airman Helgeson said. “This has opened up my teaching abilities to help students, since I can communicate in a lot of different ways, and I have more experience to draw from. That’s rewarding.”
Hearing loss a silent military epidemic!
The toll from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is high. Almost 7,000 U.S. service members have lost their lives, with more than 50,000 listed as wounded in action.
Thanks to wounded-warrior efforts, the nation is more aware of the dangers of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and of the challenges and possibilities for amputees using prosthetic devices. But military men and women, in far greater numbers than the Pentagon numbers reflect, have sacrificed something else that is too seldom acknowledged: their hearing.
As of last year, 414,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had experienced service-related hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or both. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, veterans are 30 percent more likely to have severe hearing impairment than nonveterans; those who served after September 2001 are four times more likely.
Tinnitus and hearing loss are the top two most compensated disabilities in the Veterans Benefits Administration. And the incidence of auditory injury among soldiers is rising by 13 percent to 18 percent a year.
“I don’t think any young man or woman joining the Marine Corps thinks that in four years or in 40 years, you will come away from your experience serving your country deaf,” Maj. Gen.Robert Hedelund said recently in an address to the American Cochlear Implant Alliance.
Service members are exposed both to sudden, loud noises such as from improvised explosive devices (50 percent of those wounded in blasts experience permanent hearing loss) and to the sustained roar of aircraft and ship engines, which can be just as damaging.
The military has had hearing-conservation programs in place for decades. Audiology got its start as a field after World War II, when an increase in hearing loss was already noticeable among veterans. Given the statistics, it would be hard to argue that prevention efforts have yielded great results.
One roadblock has been military culture. Hearing has been undervalued. For a long time, according to Hedelund and others, hearing loss was regarded as a necessary evil, even a badge of honor — an indication that someone saw combat or flew fighter planes or was otherwise close to the action. Many soldiers on the ground don’t wear their regulation earplugs because they have to listen carefully for signs of trouble.
Treatment is complicated because hearing loss may be one of several conditions soldiers bring home. Six years ago in Iraq, Mark Brogan, then an Army captain, suffered brain and spinal wounds, and his right arm almost was severed when a bomb exploded nearby. Brogan, now 33 and retired, also lost almost all his hearing and told NBC News last year that the hearing loss and the brain injury were his worst injuries.
A 2006 report on noise in the military called for improving prevention and treatment. All services have increased the number of required hearing tests to better document the problem, though not all are performing those tests.
It is also pushing Congress for line-item funding for more research on all aspects of noise-induced hearing loss, to encourage the same ingenuity in hearing technology that has been employed in improving prosthetic limbs. Other priorities include expanding research on medication that could retard hair-cell damage and cracking the mysteries of tinnitus, about which little is known.
There is a cost to hearing loss. It’s linked to diminished earning potential, anxiety and depression. The VA spends $2 billion a year in hearing-related disability benefits — a number that is expected to rise to $5 billion in five years. Hearing aids can cost thousands; cochlear implants cost more.
Noise-induced hearing loss is largely preventable. The military might succeed in reducing it by continuing to expand the amount of research it sponsors and the role of the Hearing Center of Excellence — investments that would benefit all Americans.
Lydia Denworth is author of the forthcoming “I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language.”
Tactile belts let soldiers feel their way through the field!
Soldiers may develop a sixth sense for combat, but the Army’s not done working on the other five.
Case in point: Research on a belt that incorporates “vibrotactile” technology — nodes that surround the wearer’s body, buzzing in response to a GPS marker, a squad leader making hand signals while wearing a tricked-out glove, even a robot.
Feel a buzz on your stomach? Go straight. Tremor on your back? Turn around. A custom signal, like all the nodes firing at once? Maybe it’s time to get to the rally point. Or just get down.
“Normally, we navigate visually,” said Bruce Mortimer, director of research and development at Engineering Acoustics Inc., one of the companies attached to the Army Research Laboratory’s Tactile Multisensory Navigation and Communication Systems program. “We have to look at a map or a GPS display, figure out our orientation, do the mapping and orientation cognitively — it requires a lot of brainpower.”
Vibrotactile gear changes the pathway, bringing the information into the soldier’s brain, trading visual cues for a vibration similar to a silenced smartphone. It also allows soldiers to focus their other senses on incoming threats and, studies show, gives them higher confidence levels that they can recover their bearings when they take detours from a planned route.
In a recent ARL trial at Fort Benning, Georgia, groups of soldiers covered a 300-yard portion of a test course. Those who wore the belt made it through faster, but they also checked their navigation aides 1.2 times during the trek. Soldiers without the belt checked more than 17 times, on average.
“The tactile belt, in the navigation role, allows the soldier to not have to think about navigating,” Rodger Pettitt, a human factors specialist at ARL’s Benning-based human research and engineering directorate, said in a June 11 interview. “The benefit of that is, it allows the soldier to keep his eyes on the terrain, without having to look at an instrument or a GPS. Always, in his mind, he knows where his waypoint or objective is.”
Or, as one soldier put it after a test, the gear is “hands-free, eyes-free, and mind-free.”
Fits like a glove
Tactile-based communications research has been going on for a half-century, Mortimer said, beginning with studies using the vibrations to engage the blind or deaf. Other military-related applications include trial programs treating service members with inner-ear injuries, often stemming from explosions: A vibration could warn them that they’re off balance, for instance.
Until recently, work has centered on the aviation industry, with Army researchers at Fort Rucker, Alabama, using the sensors as a way to tell helicopter pilots whether they’re landing level. A version even made it into the early rounds of the Joint Strike Fighter program, Mortimer said, though tactors — the fancy word for the belt-embedded buzzers — can have trouble cutting through G-forces and the other rumblings associated with a jet cockpit.
The ARL picked up the tactile-navigation angle around 2003, said Linda Elliott, an ARL research psychologist also at Fort Benning. Early tests “pretty much proved the concept, that this could be extremely useful,” she said. “It was very well received with the soldiers.”
EAI came onboard later, as did AnthroTronix, which provides what it calls the NuGlove: a device designed for small-unit leaders who can control the buzzes sent to their squadmates through traditional hand signals.
In addition to letting soldiers “feel” the signals at night or when obstacles block their view, the same glove could be used to direct a robot’s movements, AnthroTronix President Jack Vice said in an interview. And the robot could send signals back to soldiers via vibrations — noting a threat or marking a milestone, all without a visual or auditory cue for enemy forces.
That level of secrecy has intrigued at least some soldiers who’ve tested the gear, Elliott said.
“You can program your own signals, make up your own pattern,” she said. “Snipers, for example, liked the ability to have covert communications, because covertness is what they’re all about.”
On the horizon
The EAI belt underwent a successful navigation test in March, Elliott said, and the NuGlove performed well in its last outing in fall 2013. Future tests will continue tinkering with the types of signals soldiers can receive via the belts, but the next steps in fielding such gear involve factors beyond its performance in trials:
Weight and power: The belt weighs about 0.8 pounds, Mortimer said, but Army officials consider the benefits of every ounce of gear. The tactors require minimal power, but their output might need to be boosted for soldiers on missions that would involve a good deal of tactile interference — rumbling tank treads or exceedingly rough terrain, for example.
The glove could be a standard-issue glove with a few sensors, taking up about the same amount of power as a computer mouse and able to connect to any available power source, Vice said.
Combat readiness: The gear hasn’t cracked under testing, Pettitt said, but the trials don’t mimic all harsh combat conditions. The signal strength may need to be boosted to cover a small unit’s operating area, and it likely would need some form of encryption before fielding.
Host system: Don’t expect a belt and a glove to show up at your unit’s doorstep — it’s likely the gear would be integrated into the Nett Warrior system or a similar “future soldier” setup, which would include a wearable battery that could be tapped by the belt and a smartphone-like device that could house the operating system for both belt and glove.
Vice said the NuGlove has received interest from the researchers behind the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit — better known as TALOS, but also known as “the ‘Iron Man’ suit,” with official Defense Department releases comparing it to the comic-book gear.
“Once the soldier gets some kind of computer on board … having these sensors that we integrate into the standard field glove is a no-brainer,” Vice said. “It’s not a matter of if it will happen, it’s a matter of when.”