The Signal Newsletter

Atlanta Branch, Commissioned Officers Association
of the U.S. Public Health Service
(representing members assigned to Atlanta-area federal agencies)

Vol 19, Issue 6                                                                                              April 2010


President's Column

Calendar of Events

1. Show Your ACOA Spirit While Working Out or Just Out and About
2. ACOA Uniform Store
3. PHS Flag Sales

1. Camp Children’s Day 2009
2. The Community Garden Project
3. ACOA Serves Holiday Warmth at the USO
4. Using Your Uniformed Services Benefits While Visiting Walt Disney World
5. 3rd Annual ACOA Anchor and Caduceus Dinner

President's Column

Jasen Kunz, LT, USPHS, ACOA President

Thanks to the creativity and vision of former ACOA president CDR Ross Spears, The Signal now has a reoccurring anchor piece in the form of “The President’s Column.” The column is unique because it provides ACOA membership with a rare glimpse into the ACOA executive committee. Being new to the ACOA executive committee last year, I was taken aback by the amount of work that occurred amongst our highly committed membership. I was even more surprised when I found out how many volunteers it takes to make ACOA a successful organization. Therefore, it was no surprise to me when the ACOA was awarded the 2008 COA Branch of the Year Award at the 2009 USPHS Scientific and Training Symposium.

Consequently, this caused much anxiety last fall as I contemplated my leadership vision and how to steer this fast moving ship. It was evident that 2010 would be a year dedicated to getting back to the basics of what makes ACOA a premier organization. Now that the time consuming liability issue and 2009 USPHS Scientific and Training Symposium are behind us, we can concentrate fully on strengthening our core committee functions.

Each January the ACOA executive committee holds a half day planning retreat where the yearly agenda is set. Out of this meeting came a renewed focus on strengthening professional and personal development for local officers. During my presidency, I plan on building the ACOA website to make the updates more timely and the content more rich and entertaining. As a result, ACOA is strengthening the communications committee to meet the anticipated increased demands on the webmaster.

I would also like to highlight that our community service committee is off to another unprecedented year of offering numerous volunteer opportunities to our local membership. Additionally, the professional development committee is putting together a very distinctive Lunch and Learn program for 2010. If you missed CDR Spears successful Awards lunch and learn, the slides are available on the ACOA website. Finally, I want to thank the special projects committee for putting together another memorable Anchor and Caduceus Dinner at Fort McPherson. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but the special projects committee has some fresh ideas for the 2011 Anchor and Caduceus Dinner.

On a final note I want to welcome current ACOA vice president, LT Chris Fletcher to the ACOA Executive Committee. LT Fletcher is a highly committed officer who brings a fresh set of ideas to the executive committee. I have complete confidence that ACOA will be in great hands when it comes my time to ride into the sunset. Until then, I look forward to another professionally enriching and fun filled year for the ACOA membership.


LT Jasen Kunz

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Calendar of Events

Lunch and Learn. Thursday, April 15, 1145-1300, CDC, Chamblee Campus, Building 106, Room 1 A. Topic: Officers share their deployment experiences. Speakers: CAPT Holly Williams and LCDR Trent LeCoultre- Haiti Response and CAPT Doug Hamilton -USNS Mercy. Contact: LT Andrea McCollum, 404.639.4164 or CDR Nicole Flowers, 770.488.5176.

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Show Your ACOA Spirit While Working Out or Just Out and About

ACOA has PHS Tee Shirts available! The popular wicking shirts are available for $20.00. These are the same shirts that we sold out of at this year’s COF Symposium. If you wanted a shirt but were not able to purchase one, now is your chance! The tee shirts are solid gray wicking material displaying the America’s Health Responder logo pictured below. Available sizes are adult S, M, L, XL, and XXL. Also available are Women’s cotton tee shirts with “USPHS” and our four core values printed on the front. The women’s tee shirts are $15.00. Available sizes are small and medium. Children’s 100% cotton tee shirts are available with “Lil’ Officer in Training United State Public Health Service” printed above a U.S. Flag. The children’s tee shirts are $10.00. Available sizes are 4T, youth S, youth M, and youth L. For more information or to order a shirt, please contact LT Chris Fletcher (770.488.0755).

Adult t-shirt Women's t-shirt Child t-shirt

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ACOA Uniform Store

Did you know ACOA has a uniform store? If you have uniforms to donate, wish to purchase gently used uniform components (at discount rates), or if you would like to swap gently used uniforms/shoulder boards, contact LCDR Gino Begluitti (770.488.7930) for men's components or LCDR Sue Sloop (770.488.0703) for women's components.  

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PHS Flag Sales

In an effort to support esprit de corps, as well as to raise funds to support organization activities, ACOA sells full-size (3 feet by 5 feet) USPHS flags and US/USPHS miniature flag desk sets. These flags are available for purchase by USPHS officers and civilians nationwide. These flags were purchased for use by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), as retirement, birthday and holiday gifts, and much more. The full size PHS flag design is not readily available from any other source and makes a great addition to your home or office. It can also serve as a great gift for fellow officers on any special occasion.

ACOA members can purchase the full-size USPHS flag for $50 and USPHS flags desk set for $15. Non-members pay $55 and $17, respectively. For more information, please contact LT Chris Fletcher (770.488.0755).

USPHS full-size flag US/USPHS miniature flag desk set

Please note: These items are for personal use. The USPHS flag is not intended to replace official USPHS flags, as noted in Subchapter CC29.9 of the Commissioned Corps Personnel Manual.

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Camp Children’s Day 2009
Contributed by LCDR Andrea Sharma

On Monday, December 7, 2009, the Atlanta Commissioned Officer Association volunteered, for the second year, to bring a camp experience to patients and families at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Six PHS officers helped children make winter-themed crafts that could be used to decorate rooms. These included decorating snowmen, stockings, wreaths, and gingerbread men. Given the fun we had last year, we also brought BINGO and enough prizes for all. Unfortunately, the impact of H1N1 was evident. To reduce the risk of flu exposure, many hospitalized children were advised by their doctors to stay in their rooms and the hospital limited sibling visits. In the end, we had a rewarding experience helping 4 families participate in the camp, and we were able to donate the remaining crafts and BINGO prizes to the mobile craft cart which visits patient’s rooms daily.

               Pictured from left: (top row) LCDR Adriane Niare, LCDR Andrea Sharma, CDR Karon Abe, CDR Diana Bensyl, (bottom row) LT Tchernavia Gregory, CDR Kathy Slawson

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The Community Garden Project
Contributed by 
LCDR Jennifer Rabke Verani

On a cold, wet morning in early December, a group of 14 USPHS officers and 5 other volunteers (friends, family, and colleagues) joined Fred Conrad, the Community Garden Coordinator for the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB), to work on the Mableton Community Garden in Mableton, GA.

The ACFB was founded in 1979, and currently distributes, each month, nearly two million pounds of food and other donated grocery items to more than 800 nonprofit partner agencies in 38 counties in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. In addition to their primary mission of food distribution, ACFB has several projects including the Community Garden Project. The Community Garden Project supports over 150 gardens in the Atlanta area. The goal of the Community Garden project brings neighbors together and empowers people to supplement their food supply by growing it themselves. The benefits of community gardening may include social interaction, self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, production of nutritious foods, and cost-saving through spending less on food. Member organizations are responsible for each community garden; ACFB provides gardening expertise, volunteer help, tools, seeds and more. ACOA volunteers enthusiastically provided the labor to help fix up Mableton Community Garden.

Mableton Community Garden is an organic vegetable garden in Cobb County. The garden has been badly damaged this year by flood water from the Chattahoochee River – plants were destroyed, soil was contaminated, and raised beds floated away. ACOA volunteers spent the morning doing maintenance in and around the garden, putting raised beds back in place, and working on the garden beds to improve the soil quality. Despite the temperatures in the 30s and forecast for rain, we had a productive, enjoyable morning. Fred and his ACFB colleagues were very appreciative of the help ACOA volunteers provided.



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ACOA Serves Holiday Warmth at the USO
Contributed by CDR Ross Spears, ACOA Past-President

On December 19, 2009, ACOA served its annual all-day feast at the Jean R. Amos USO, located in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. USOs around the country typically feed their visitors whatever food is donated. This usually means snacks and occasionally pre-prepared sandwiches. Beginning in December of 2003, ACOA began a tradition of serving a full day of hot food around the holidays. The holiday season is a particularly busy time for the Atlanta USO. The airport is the east coast port of entry for R&R flights returning from the combat zone. Atlanta is a hub for soldiers passing through on their way to new duty stations. Many young trainees from nearby Fort Benning are passing through on their way home for a much needed break from Basic Training. To serve these fellow members of the Uniformed Services of the United States, ACOA collected over $300 in donations, and donated an additional $250 in food.

ACOA served food at the Jean R. Amos USO beginning at 0900 on December 19, and served until late in the evening. Scrambled eggs and bacon were served for breakfast (as fast as they could be cooked). Chili dogs were the lunch fare. Soldiers told PHS officers more than once that these were the first hot dogs they had eaten in a year. Supper consisted of lasagna and garlic bread. Interspersed throughout the day were sandwiches and chips. In addition to the food, ACOA donated toys, books and DVDs to the children’s area to help entertain the families of service members stranded for many hours waiting for delayed flights.

Over 50 ACOA officers from several different OPDIVs were involved in supporting the effort. Leading the effort were LT Bret Nickels of the National Park Service, CDR Edecia Richards (HHS), and CDR Kim Walker (CDC). On the first shift, there was a surprise and an honor…RADM Clara Cobb, Region IV Regional Health Administrator, HHS, served as the highest ranking cook to ever enter the USO kitchen! RADM Cobb has been a long-time and dedicated supporter of ACOA, and she showed her support once again this year. The determination and dedication of the officers who donated time, money, and effort to support this important community service activity was obvious. Well over 1000 members of the Uniformed Services were fed this year by ACOA officers, who proudly wore their uniforms and showed their determination to help wherever possible. Congratulations to all for a job well done!

“Please Pass the Olives …”

Contributed by CDR Kim Walker

For nearly 67 years, Mrs. Olive Cookson has remained a faithful servant of the United Service Organizations (USO) giving her time and service to the American men and women in uniform. Mrs. Cookson started her USO service as a local volunteer when she became the wife of a 1938 Massachusetts Maritime Academy Graduate, ENSIGN William Cookson. ENS Cookson was quickly promoted to LCDR and served as a line officer assigned in the United States Navy to serve in World War II (WWII). Mrs. Cookson’s father and brothers also departed to serve in WWII. She wanted to help make a contribution that would let our service members know that they are remembered and appreciated. “During that time as a registered nurse (R.N.),” Mrs. Cookson shared with us, “with the American Red Cross, I taught girls to be junior aids and to better service the military soldiers once they came home and would need some tender care.” Mrs. Cookson and her husband later had a son and a daughter, CAPT Susan Cookson, who joined the United States Public Health Service. CAPT Susan Cookson is stationed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, GA where she serves as a PHS Medical Officer with the Center for Global Health (proposed) and the International Emergency & Refugee Health Branch.

LCDR William Cookson passed away before CAPT Susan Cookson made her O-6 Rank, but the memory of her Dad lives on through his loving wife and his children. One very fond memory that Mrs. Cookson and CAPT Cookson shared with us was the phrase LCDR Cookson affectionately used, “Please Pass the Olives …” and endearment he coined for his wife, Mrs. Olive Cookson.

At 87 years old, Mrs. Olive Cookson proudly volunteered to continue her life-long service. “Mom is thrilled to be able to help. She almost cried when I told her,” CAPT Susan Cookson responded after the ACOA Executive Board’s approval for civil service volunteers willing to help staff the 2009 December Event at the Jean R. Amos USO Center located inside Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Mrs. Cookson not only made our servicemen and women feel right at home, but she shared a wealth of knowledge and information about what the USO and other volunteer organizations meant to so many of our troops who served during a time that is a part of our Nation’s great heritage. Her energetic, lively smiles and quick step had troops saying this is the friendliest USO I have ever been to in all of my travels. Mrs. Cookson served as a Greeter during the USO December Event in which she welcomed service members coming in, reviewed their current military ID card for admission into the facility, distributed Santa Stuffed Stockings, and hand-made Christmas Holiday Cards. She also, very proudly, said she received quite a few hugs. She will be volunteering again soon, even without being able to hand out Santa Stuffed Stockings, saying how much she personally enjoyed it.

We salute Mrs. Olive Cookson for her willingness to volunteer to serve our country until everyone comes home!

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Using Your Uniformed Services Benefits While Visiting Walt Disney World
Contributed by LT Matthew Weinburke

If your vacation plans include a visit to Walt Disney World ® (WDW) in Florida, then you should consider using your uniformed service (aka military) benefits and staying at the Shades of Green Armed Forces Recreation Center. As a Commissioned Corps officer, you have access to most of the same travel and recreation benefits provided to the military services. During our family’s vacation in December 2009, we took advantage of these benefits and stayed at the Shades of Green resort.

The Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) resort located at WDW, Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It is one of two AFRCs located in the continental U.S. The Shades of Green resort offers an excellent mix of resort accommodations such as a golf course, swimming pool, on site restaurants, an Armed Forces exchanges store (AAFES), café, amusement area, and an armed forces ticket sales booth. The Shades of Green is surrounded by beautiful grounds, views of the Walt Disney World Resort, and a championship golf course.

We contacted Shades of Green just three weeks before our arrival date, and were able to confirm our reservations over the phone by credit card. Variable, inexpensive, and tax free rates are provided according to the rank of the service member. We were also advised that a service member can reserve up to three rooms per stay. In addition to being close to the WDW theme parks, Shades of Green provided courtesy bus service to many of the resort’s parks, and the nearby Disney monorail provided free transportation to all of the resort’s parks. For more information, contact the Shades of Green at 888.593.2242.

In addition to the lodging savings, we were able to take advantage of an incredible admission deal to WDW, the “Disney’s Armed Forces Salute” ticket.** WDW is still offering a great 2010 deal to uniform service members. From January 3, 2010 to July 31, 2010, Active and Retired U.S. Military/Uniformed Service Members may purchase 4-Day WDW Armed Forces Salute Tickets for themselves and up to five (5) family members and/or friends for $99/each. You will be required to pay taxes if you purchase these tickets directly from Disney. The tickets must be activated at a Disney ticket window no later than September 26, 2010 (Please see special offers for more information). We purchased our 2009 Salute tickets at Fort McPherson, but you can also purchase these tickets (with the benefit of purchasing them tax free) in person at any military installation or at the Shades of Green.

The Shades of Green sells tickets to local and non-local attractions including Sea World Tampa Bay, Universal Orlando, and the Kennedy Space Center. We took advantage of the discount family tickets to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL (located about an hour’s drive from Walt Disney World). We spent an entire day visiting and enjoying the beautiful space center. The Kennedy Space Center store even provides military/uniformed service members with 10% off on gift shop purchases.

Our uniformed service benefits of reduced costs to attractions, discounts at stores/restaurants, and utilization of the military/uniformed service resorts can stretch one’s vacation budget, and insure a trusted source of “great deals”. Knowing this information, we enjoyed a full spectrum of these benefits. During our stay at the Shades of Green Resort, we met a serviceman who was nearing Navy retirement, who visited WDW, multiple times in the past decade, and only recently learned of the Shades of Green resort and its benefits. I talk with many Commissioned Corps Officers who are not aware that we can use facilities targeted to serve the military and their families. When planning your next vacation to WDW, consider staying at the Shades of Green resort. You will not be disappointed.

Some Additional Resources:

**Disney is offering a new ticket deal for Florida residents. The “4 Day Dream Pass” allows entry any four days between now and May 25, 2010, for $99. For more info, go to, and search on “Florida residents.”

The Military Recreation or Morale Welfare and Recreation  

Armed Forces Vacation Get-Aways   


        Shades of Green® Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL

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3rd Annual ACOA Anchor and Caduceus Dinner
Contributed by LT Danielle Mills

The Atlanta Branch of the Commissioned Officer Association’s 3rd Annual Anchor and Caduceus Dinner was held on Saturday, January 23, 2010 on Fort McPherson. Approximately 50 Atlanta-based officers attended, including several Admirals and Chief Professional Officers. This was a celebration of the 121st birthday of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. The evening began with a reception and ceremonial entry, into the banquet hall, of honored guests. The pre-dinner program started with the presentation of the Colors by the Atlanta Area PHS Honor Cadre; a performance by the PHS Chorale and Wind Ensemble; and an invocation by CAPT Craig Williams. CAPT Bruce Tierney, the Master of Ceremonies, gave a short presentation regarding the history of the Corps and the tradition of formal dinners in the uniformed services. Following dinner, five formal toasts were given and then the cutting of the Commissioned Corps birthday cake. The cake ceremony was conducted by the honored guest and keynote speaker, RADM Kenneth Castro, Commanding Flag Officer for CDC/ATSDR, and the most junior officer in attendance, LTJG Shauna Mettee. After dessert, CAPT Gerald Farrell, US Navy (Ret), Executive Director of the Commissioned Officers Association of the US Public Health Service spoke on issues concerning COA legislation on Capitol Hill, including the latest news regarding the transferability issue of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. The Keynote Speech, 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) Response: Role of USPHS Commissioned Corps, was delivered by RADM Castro. 

The annual ACOA Anchor and Caduceus Dinner is a great opportunity for officers in the Atlanta area to come together to promote USPHS and ACOA. It combines uniformed service tradition and fellowship amongst officers, as well as provides the opportunity for formal dress and interesting presentations, in celebration of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.


        Back: SCIPAC CPO CAPT Sharon Williams-Fleetwood and CDR Rachel Avchen
Front: CDR Diana Bensyl, CDR Ross Spears
CDR Tom Shimabukuro, CDR Edecia Richards, LCDR Paula Peters, and bagpiper Richard Smith

        RADM Clara Cobb and her husband Milton Cobb LTJG Shauna Mettee, RADM Kenneth Castro

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CDR Vasavi T. Thomas.

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The Signal, Volume 18, Issue 6666