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Howard Altman: Military-themed gifts for your holiday shopping needs

By Howard Altman
Published: December 15, 2017 Updated: December 16, 2017 at 11:07 AM
Horse Soldier whiskey, made by American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg, is now available for purchase. The distillery, run by a group of former Green Berets, was established in honor of Green Berets who rode horses in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and helped conquer the Taliban. [Courtesy of American Freedom Distillery]

The season of giving is upon us, so here’s a selection of military-themed gifts for the folks on your Christmas and Hannukah lists.

Drink up: American Freedom Distillery is a veteran-owned maker of artisan whiskeys, rums, vodkas and gins located in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District.

The distillery, formed by a group of former Green Berets, currently has three products for sale in the Tampa Bay area: the 95 proof Horse Soldier Bourbon, the 113 proof Horse Soldier Bourbon Barrel Strength, and the 85 proof Rekker Rum made with fresh-pressed cane sugar juice.

The bourbon is named for the legendary Green Berets who rode horses in Afghanistan after the attacks of 9/11 to help defeat the Taliban. Rekker is the Old Norse word for warrior.

Right now you can purchase both Horse Soldier brands at Lueken’s Liquor Stores website or try your favorite waterhole, such as Bad Monkey, Hattricks Tavern and Iberian Rooster.

Dress up: Pucker Factor is military slang describing the involuntary tightening of the buttocks in response to extreme threat. It’s part of the body’s reaction to stressful situations that can lead to post traumatic stress disorder and other unseen maladies of war.

" Pucker Factor 0" is how Carrie Elk, founder of Tampa-based The Elk Institute for Psychological Health Health & Performance, describes results patients experience after undergoing her treatment. And now you can wear a T-shirt with that phrase.

Made by the veteran-owned company Grunt Style, there are men’s and women’s versions and $10 from each sale goes to the institute so Elk can keep treating service members and veterans for free.

More information is at the Grunt Style website under the Elk Institute tab.

Read up: I first met freelance journalist Carmen Gentile in May 2013 as we were both awaiting a flight from Kabul to Bagram in Afghanistan. We bonded over his story about being hit in the eye with a rocket-propelled grenade. Now that story — and his saga of working as a freelancer in a war zone, coping with stress, severe injury and love woes — is the subject of a biography called Blindsided by the Taliban.

It comes out in March, but you can order it now at

Art up: Created in 2014, the Veterans Arts Center of Tampa Bay offers a venue for veterans to tap into their inner creative selves. While serving as a gallery is not the center’s primary mission, there is plenty of veteran-made art available for giving in a wide variety of media.

The center is at Gaslight Square, 6798 Crosswinds Dr N. St Petersburg. More information is at

Another option for holiday giving is contributing to a good cause.

Here are a couple of the many worthy charities out there.

Since 2004, Operation Helping Hand has provided assistance to wounded, ill and injured troops recovering at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, as well as their families, who are often forced to spend months in Tampa during that process. To date, the organization has provided more than $200,000 to the wounded and injured and their families plus more than $500,000 in in-kind support such as gasoline coupons, rental cars, amusement park, movie and dinner tickets.

More information is at

On Sept. 16, 2008, Army Chief Warrant Officer Romy Camargo, a member of the 7th Special Forces Group, was shot in the back of the neck in Afghanistan and paralyzed. But that was far from the end of the story. In June 2015, Romy and his wife Gaby opened the Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center at 10500 University Center Drive, Suite 130. The 4,500 square foot center treats veteran and civilian clients and their families dealing with spinal cord and neurological disorders through a combination of physical therapy, close-knit support groups, and mental strength-training. For more information, go to


The Pentagon announced the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Staff Sgt. David Thomas Brabander, 24, of Anchorage, Alaska, died Dec. 11 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, as a result of a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The incident is under investigation.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 47 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the followup, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan; 41 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a name, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.