Train Like a Warrior: Veterans and Pleural Mesothelioma

As we continually to critically look 

Veterans who served in certain military occupations between 1930 and 1980 have a high risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure, and account for 30% of mesothelioma cases diagnosed annually. 

From the 1930s to the 1970s, the US military used thousands of asbestos-containing products to strengthen, insulate and fireproof military bases, ships, aircraft, and land vehicles. Many veterans who were active during this time, could encounter asbestos in base housing and almost everywhere they worked. Persistently breathing in asbestos fibers can cause them to build up in the lining of the lungs, and eventually lead to pleural mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma, which forms in the lining of the lungs, is the most common form of the disease, accounting for more than 75% of cases. This form affects veterans at a disproportionate rate compared to the general public. Veterans exposed to asbestos during military service who develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases qualify for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. 

Because of the latency period of the disease, about 20-40 years, many veterans do not get diagnosed until much later in life. However, there is help and support for veterans and their families. The Pleural Mesothelioma Center offers information and assistance for those who find themselves battling this terrible disease. Through their online information hub, patient advocates, and medical outreach program, they are able to help educate patients and families, and connect them with the appropriate care and treatment.   

Check out some of these other sources for more information and reach out if you think this could be affecting your health and well-being:


Interview Series: Jess Zemlicka, Public Relations and Media Manager

We want you to be able to get to know our newest member of the ONA team, Jess Zemlicka! She is serving ONA as our new Public Relations and Media Manager. We wanted you to get to know her a little better so we asked her all the tough questions 😉 and you can read her responses below.

How did you learn about ONA and why you decided to get involved?

Having volunteered for ONA in the past, and knowing Susan and MeKenzie for just over five years, I was familiar with the organization’s mission and service. I had always thought about joining the ONA team in a larger capacity. I mentioned this, and my interest in expanding my public relations and marketing skills, to Susan and we agreed to hit the ground running! I’m very excited to be working with the team and helping serve our veterans and active duty service members!

What role are you filling with ONA?

I am ONA’s PR & Media Manager. I’ll be connecting our mission and services to local news outlets, getting the word out so we can serve even more veterans and active duty service members. Once we’re able to host and take part in events, I’ll be there volunteering with my husband and son and our wonderful team! 

We just love your relationship with MeKenzie! Tell us how you two are connected and how you’ve become so close.

MeKenzie and I are connected in a lot of ways! She is my sister-in-law, son’s godmother, maid of honor, wedding officiant and one of my best friends! Not only are we all that, we’re less than 12 hours apart in age! Our friendship started when I began dating her brother, Brennan, almost six years ago. We have grown closer every year since even though we’ve never lived in the same town together. She really has become my sister! 

What are your hobbies?

My husband and I really love to go antiquing, thrifting and doing DIY projects together. I also love to cook and do hand embroidery/cross stitching. Most recently, I started a Poshmark closet (@focusedthreads) where I sell second hand clothings, shoes and accessories!

What is your favorite book, podcast, and/or TV show and why?

I really love listening to true crime podcasts! I don’t have a favorite, but my recommendations are My Favorite Murder, And That’s Why We Drink and Crime Junkie. Plus, all are run by amazingly smart and strong women! I’ve been a fan of true crime since I was younger and watched Lifetime movies and Unsolved Mysteries. 

As far as TV goes, I really love British and historical fiction shows. My favorites are Downton Abbey, Outlander, Great British Baking Show, and, my guilty pleasure, The Only Way is Essex. 

What inspires and motivates you?

My happiness and enjoyment for what I do on a daily basis is what inspires and motivates me. If I’m not happy about or enjoying what I’m doing or experiencing, then why do it? My happiness is spending time with my son and husband, being able to enjoy my hobbies, and knowing that every day I do something that helps someone else. 

What do you want to be when you grow up? / What is your dream job?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I have been wondering this myself for the last couple years. When I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer. In college, I wanted to work for a professional sports team doing community relations. I’m currently exploring digital media and graphic design by taking free online courses and watching YouTube videos to explore both areas and what the work entails.

Allison Foster

Director of Communications and Care Packages

Jess Zemlicka

Public Relations and Media Manager

ONA Intern Feature: Matilda Cretens

How did you learn about ONA and why you decided to get involved?

I originally learned about ONA from a friend that went to college with Susan. I was looking to volunteer my time and gain some writing experience with a non-profit. I have a bachelor’s degree in Radio-TV-Film and a minor in Public Relations from UW-Oshkosh, so this seemed like a great opportunity. 

What role are you filling with ONA?

I am the intern grant writer for Operation Not Alone. I hope to be able to use my writing skills to write compelling grant applications to win funds for ONA’s various projects. I also work on other video or writing projects. 

What is your “real” job? Why did you decide to start working at the VA?

I have started a new position at the Milwaukee Veteran’s hospital at the end of April. I am a Medical Support Assistant and help veterans schedule appointments, get them assistance while they stay in the hospital and a variety of other administrative tasks. I began working at the VA as a Food and Nutrition Services worker. I would deliver the patients their meals. I enjoy working at the VA because I like being able to provide care for veterans. They deserve the best possible care, and it is fulfilling to do my best to serve them!

What are your hobbies?

RIP concerts because of COVID, but before the pandemic I saw about 10 shows a year. I like to watch movies and go on walks/hikes. If I could swim everyday, I would. I’m working on my cooking skills — (I recently made some really tasty chicken teriyaki). I also help judge high school forensics. I used to do it in high school and it is fun for me to see others perform and provide feedback. 

What is your favorite book, podcast, and/or TV show and why?

Favorite book: I’ve read Harry Potter my fair share of times, but I really like to read a variety of different books. My three favorite genres are historical fiction, self-help, and young adult fiction. The best book that I recently read was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s a love story with greek mythology involved. 

Podcast: I’m not a huge listener of podcasts because I’d rather be listening to music! I am a huge Taylor Swift fan and have a stan Twitter account to keep up with her. I also like a lot of oldies music because that’s what I was raised on. I could talk about music all day and if I had my own podcast, it would be about music. 

Movie: Legally Blonde! I will never get sick of this movie. I love it’s blend of comedy with female empowerment. Plus, the “bend and snap” is LEGENDARY.

TV Show: Currently, it is Degrassi. I’m binge watching it on Tubi (love free streaming services!) The show takes place in the early 2000s at a Canadian middle/high school. The show is very progressive for its time, and it’s nostalgic for me because I watched a lot of episodes when I was younger. The ensemble cast offers many relatable characters and I’m a sucker for young adult drama. 

What inspires and motivates you?

I am motivated by the fact that each day is a new chance. If one day you make a mistake, you have the power to choose to do better the next day. I think my ability to not let the past hold me back has helped me to experience and achieve goals in my life. 

I am inspired by strong leaders, like Susan, who have a vision and work to execute their dreams. I think that determination is one of the most important factors to being successful. Women like Susan don’t let anything stand in their way. 

What do you want to be when you grow up? / What is your dream job?

I’m still figuring it out. There are so many opportunities in the world, and I wish that I could take advantage of them all. I hope to find a job where I can use my writing skills and creativity to make an impact for the organization that I work with. I think it would be really cool to work with NPR as an interview host/coordinator. 

Allison Foster

Director of Communications and Care Packages

Matilda Cretens

ONA Intern

Train Like a Warrior with Operation Not Alone

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Warrior: a brave or experienced soldier or fighter. 

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘warrior’? I know my first thought is someone who is physically strong. Someone who is ready to take on anything that is thrown their way. These two things together are what make a warrior in my mind because it’s not just about being physically strong and capable. It is about being able to handle whatever life throws at you physically, mentally and emotionally. 

This is where our idea for the Train Like a Warrior Campaign really blossomed. We started with the idea of creating a campaign focused on physical health and exercise, while also fundraising through in-person or virtual fitness events. However, when we considered the term “warrior” as a whole, we knew that we wanted this to be much larger and more inclusive to what it means to be strong: mind, body and soul. We then chose to mix fundraising with access to free resources to create the “Train Like a Warrior Campaign” for all.

In the beginning, this campaign was intended for the month of January (ONAs birthday month). However, with the challenges that COVID-19 has created we realized that many of our plans would have to wait or be modified. To be honest, I think it’s been a blessing in disguise, because it has allowed us to have a year-long focus on health and fundraising.

This will be our nation-wide campaign for 2021 that aims to be half focused on in-person workout events and half focused on providing free resources to the masses via our YouTube and social media channels (mainly Facebook and Instagram). 

Throughout 2021, we will aim to provide weekly content focused on mental, emotional, physical, nutritional, and spiritual health. Each quarter of the year will set a different focus and primarily push that content. The break down is below:

• Q1: Mental / Emotional Health

• Q2: Nutritional Health 

• Q3: Physical Health (majority in-person gym events happening here)

• Q4: Spiritual / Emotional Health

Especially, in the COVID-era we realized how important mental and emotional health resources are. With the heart for service that ONA has we wanted to make sure that our focus was on helping others take care of themselves. We still have a focus on fundraising because we can’t provide the services we do without that component. It’s been very rewarding to combine that with our constant mission of serving others. 

We are so excited to continue this campaign throughout the year and we’ve already seen a lot of success in the first few months! We were able to hold one in-person fundraising event with CycleBar Brookfield, provide a free meditation resource for PTSD and trauma created by a veteran, focus on financial health and a lesson on investing and give away a free year of full access to the Calm App for meditation and breathing, and more! 

If you’d like to partner with ONA by providing a video resource or an in-person event you can send an email to Or you can simply follow us on social media or join our email list to stay up to date on the latest with all things Train Like a Warrior.

We want to invite you to train like the warrior within you – mind, body, and soul.

Allison Foster

Director of Communications           

Making an Impact in 2020

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“Make an Impact” 

It’s a phrase that defines the work that we do and why we do it. We say it in meetings, social media posts, and in our everyday lives here at ONA. It is what fuels our passion, it gives meaning to the days that are less than stellar, and it’s the joy we feel every single time we know that we did it.

It’s even something we attempt to track. We can’t quantify the good feelings, the joy, or the heartfelt moments, but we can track our impact in other ways. We can track our services, and therefore, we can track what we do. Those numbers can give an idea of how far our reach is and the lives we have touched. 

We have heard it time and again; 2020 was a tough year! However, the rather dismal state of the world did not diminish our mission. Here’s a small recap on what our 2020 had to offer:

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Care Packages are sent to active military personnel who are serving overseas. They are a small token of our appreciation to the men and women in uniform who have made sacrifices many of us cannot imagine. Though our gratitude reaches beyond these packages, this is Operation Not Alone’s way of showing our gratefulness. In 2020, 67 Care Packages were shipped to service members stationed all over the world!

Cheer Packages are sent to former military personnel- veterans- in our database. They are a small token of our appreciation for the sacrifices our military veterans have made while defending our freedom. Though our gratitude reached beyond these packages, this is Operation Not Alone’s way of showing our gratitude toward those who have served in the military. Cheer packages are sent out annually around Veteran’s Day. 2020’s Cheer Package season was very successful, ONA sent out 375 Packages to all 50 states.

Last year, our VP MeKenzie completely revamped our Girl Scout Patch Program and had a wildly successful relaunch this fall! In just two short months, more than 550 Girl Scouts earned their patches in 27 states and 3 countries (thanks to the Girl Scouts Overseas program)!

In 2020, ONA gained 2 amazing interns. Allison as the spring Communications Intern and Nathan as the summer Marketing and Advertising Intern. Both have decided to stay on after their internship and joined the ONA board of directors this Fall!

During these unprecedented times, ONA wanted to show up for our ONA Family in the best way we could. Which is why our team has created COVID-19 Relief Kits available to anyone in our community. We sent out 125 packages containing some non-perishable food, hygiene products, Door County Coffee & Tea Co., and more in 28 states.

With an unprecedented year brought new challenges and new opportunities to serve. We did this again through bringing a little cheer to healthcare professionals through the form of restaurant gift cards, while supporting local businesses! We delivered gift cards to 35 healthcare workers in 9 states!

2020 allowed us to continue the services that ONA was founded on such as Cheer and Care Packages as well as founding new initiatives in the midst of a global pandemic to help us better serve our communities.We were able to see growth in our organization through our intern program and the relaunch of our girl scout patch program. There is no doubt in our mind that an impact was made in 2020. 

We want to thank each and everyone of our donors, partners, and volunteers for their continued support for our mission. We could not do it without you!

The ONA Team is excited for what a new year will have to offer and we can’t wait to share with you all the exciting things we have planned!

Check out a longer recap of special events & shoutouts that happened last year:

Also, please join us in thanking the sponsors and partners that made 2020 possible:

Allison Foster

Director of Communications