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By Jim Knotts, President & CEO

I think most people would accept that an office doesn’t define an organization. People make an organization what it is. While the paint has just dried on the walls in our new San Antonio office, I can’t help but reflect on the deeper significance of what the recent move means for the growth of our organization, the reach of our impact for those we serve, and the manner in which our staff carries out its vital mission with such tremendous dedication on a daily basis.

We’ve been fortunate thanks to the generosity of the American public and very gracious corporate partners and donors to transcend from humble beginnings as a spouse support network shortly after the 9/11 attacks, to a full service nonprofit that received donations from 1,800 individuals, corporations and foundations in 2013. The best part of course, is that our success is directly transferred to those who have worn and still wear the uniform of our country.

We would not be where we are today without the dedication of our community, our supporters, and our incredible staff. You are the reason we can make a difference in the lives of our military and veteran families.

We would not be where we are today without the dedication of our community, our supporters, and our incredible staff. You are the reason we can make a difference in the lives of our military and veteran families.

Paramount to the success we’ve enjoyed is the sacred trust we hold with donors thanks to a constant focus on carefully managing costs, so that 93 cents of every dollar goes to programs that benefit military families, veterans and wounded warriors. As we studied the need to move from our old office to a bigger space, the numbers told the tale. In just two years, we’ve grown from 33 to 125 staff; we’ve gone from offering no mortgage-free homes to veterans – to receiving more than 400 homes from our bank partners; and last year alone we more than doubled our emergency assistance grants for those military families in times of crisis. We’ve centralized and consolidated our operations in the name of efficiency with the majority of our housing caseworkers and emergency assistance social workers based in San Antonio for redundancy and knowledge sharing, and we’ve been able to increase the number of states we serve through our field offices from 27 to 45, thanks to strong coordination and volunteer support.

So while an office move across town isn’t exactly the stuff of headlines, I couldn’t be more proud of the team at Operation Homefront and what our staff has been able to accomplish in such a very short time. For those of you who know us well – it shouldn’t be surprising that we closed the office door of the old space on a Friday and welcomed everyone to the new office on Monday. It required a team effort to make it seamless, most importantly without skipping a beat for those clients we serve.

If you find yourself in San Antonio, please drop by and see us, we’d love to show you around. Please take note of our new address:

1355 Central Parkway S

Ste. 100

San Antonio, TX 78232

reception

We’d love you to stop by and learn more about our mission and how you can get involved.

Whether you’re a donor, a client, or just follow this blog, thanks for your interest in Operation Homefront and our mission. It’s an honor to lead an organization and a group of people so committed to making a substantive difference in the lives of families who sacrifice so much for all of us. Learn more or find out how you can join us in our mission.

HOTH_home_CallForEntriesAlbanyGAThrough our Homes on the Homefront program, mortgage-free homes, like this one in Albany, GA, are currently open for application. We also currently have open homes in CA, CT, FL, IL, MD and TX. While we don’t know when homes will open in  a particular state, if you are eligible and fill out an application, you will be notified via email when new homes open for application. Find out more at www.homesonthehomefront.org.

In addition, three of the homes come to us from our friends at Meritage Homes who have renewed their partnership with Operation Homefront to provide three more brand new Meritage homes to the Homes on the Homefront program.

Meritage Homes plans to build and donate a home in each of the following three Meritage communities: Winter Springs, Florida; Lincoln, California; and Houston, Texas. Find out more about our amazing partnership and how to apply.

In order to qualify for the Homes on the Homefront Program, the following requirements must be met:

– Must have an honorable discharge if a Veteran. This includes dual Military/Veteran couples; each Military Veteran must have an honorable discharge in order to qualify for the program.

– Cannot be a current home owner or mortgage holder. This includes any household member that would be residing in the home.

– Cannot have a felony criminal conviction. This includes all adult household members that would  reside in the home.

– Must have supporting documentation such as proof of income, VA paperwork, DD214 (member 2, 4, 7 or 8), Military ID and or government issued picture ID in order to process your application.

– If you or a member of your immediate family (parents, spouse etc.) are employed by Chase, Wells Fargo, or Bank of America you may not be eligible for homes donated by that banking institution, and we ask for full disclosure of the employment in that case.

And stay tuned… for the first time, we’ll have a residence in the Aloha State very soon!

 

 

Summer is just around the corner, but it has already been heating up on Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town Tour. Not only is the country music star’s concert tour one of the hottest of the season, but he’s also giving away mortgage free homes to military families and veterans for the third year in a row as part of a terrific partnership with Chase and Operation Homefront. The partnership has awarded 88 homes so far.  Fantastic!

The homes, provided by Chase, are awarded through Operation Homefront’s ‘Homes on the Homefront’ program. Chase has committed to provide 1,000 newly renovated mortgage-free homes to deserving veterans and their families, many of which are awarded as part of Operation Homefront’s ‘Homes on the Homefront’ program.

McGraw is passionate about helping those who serve and therefore continues his efforts for a third straight year. “My sister’s a veteran of the first Gulf War. My uncle was a Vietnam veteran and my grandfather was a World War II veteran. I’ve always felt a deep sense of respect and obligation to our troops,” says McGraw. “Being able to reward them for their dedicated work with a new home is even more rewarding for us. It feels so good to give back to them, and to have the opportunity to entertain them is something I’m honored to do.”

Tim spends time with each family personally prior to each of his evening concerts, and also takes time to recognize them and all they have sacrificed in front of his thousands of fans. Tim will continue meeting with veteran families throughout the summer.

We’d love to share with you just a few of the families we’ve been honored to welcome home so far on Tim’s tour.

 

gangfamilyblogThe Gang Family – Phoenix, AZ The U.S. Navy Fireman Justin Gang decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and enlisted in the military.

Justin served as a fireman along with chemical, biological, and radiological warfare defense. He was a member of team VBSS – Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure – with the USS Harry S. Truman Strike Group.

In 2008, Gang deployed to Afghanistan for one year. During his training, Justin suffered injuries to his spine and, during his deployment, sustained further injures that led to his medical retirement in 2012.

For the past two years, Justin and his wife Caitlin have faced financial hardship as a result of his medical discharge. Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Justin will receive a mortgage-free home which will allow them to live near both their families providing a strong support network.

“We are truly grateful for the generosity of Operation Homefront and Chase during this transition,” said Justin. “We are so very appreciative and no words could ever describe what it means to be honored with such an amazing gift. This new home will help us grow stronger as a couple and work toward a brighter future.”

  

brittonfamilyblogThe Britton Family – Stirling City, CA

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jacob Britton comes from a long line of service members; his father, uncles, and grandfathers all served in the military. Born and raised in Sacramento, Calif., Jacob realized his childhood dream by joining the Marine Corps in 2008.

In 2009, Jacob deployed to Afghanistan for one year where he served as a diesel mechanic. As a result of what he experienced in Afghanistan, Jacob was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and medically retired from the Marine Corps in December 2012.

Following his separation from the military, Jacob and his wife Wendy had to rent a small apartment in an unsafe neighborhood. As a result, their children weren’t able to play outside and the environment contributed to Jacob’s PTSD. The family struggled financially, money was tight and Jacob’s stress levels were severely high.

Now, their new home gives the family a safe neighborhood in a small community with minimal noise and distractions which has helped to alleviate Jacob’s PTSD. Jacob hopes to return to college and complete his degree in computer science. Wendy recently completed a pharmacy technician program and now works at a local CVS Pharmacy. She is going through training to become a licensed pharmacist.

“This house is amazing and has made a world of difference in our lives,” said Jacob. “I thank Operation Homefront and Chase for giving me this foundation and stability for my family. After having moved so many times, I’m looking forward to staying in one place and watching my children grow up in a great community.”

 

mcgrawhoulehanThe Houlehan Family:  Cleveland, OH

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Chris Houlehan wanted to build a better life for himself and his family. Like his father, who was a service member for 32 years, Chris made the courageous decision to enlist in the U.S. Army in 2003.

Sergeant Houlehan deployed to the Middle East in 2005. He toured Afghanistan then Iraq from 2007 to 2009 as a motor transport operator. He supervised and operated wheel vehicles transporting personnel and cargo. As the backbone of the Army’s support and structure, Chris provided advanced mobility on and off the battlefield.

Houlehan medically retired from the Army in 2012 as the result of a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. His wife, Danielle, is his primary caregiver and provides Chris with daily assistance. They have a 13-year-old son who is active in sports and a straight-A student.

During his transition out of the military, Chris learned of an organization that provides service dogs to veterans as a means of helping them cope with TBI and PTSD. The founder of that organization is a ‘Homes on the Homefront’ recipient who referred Chris to the program.

After living in a small duplex and struggling with monthly rent payments, Chris applied for the home in Canal Fulton, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, he learned that he and his family were being awarded the home.

Chris’ plans for the future definitely include paying it forward and giving back to other veterans who served. He wants to volunteer his time working with the nonprofit organization that trains dogs to assist veterans.

“Being awarded a home is a humbling experience and I thank God every day for this opportunity,” said Chris Houlehan. “The things that Operation Homefront and Chase are doing are awesome.”

“It’s an honor and privilege to be awarded this home and it’s also an honor to be associated with organizations committed to helping veterans and military families,” added Chris.

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Learn more about Homes on the Homefront by visiting www.homesonthehomefront.org

 

 

By Jim Knotts, president and CEO, Operation Homefront

cemetery-operation-homefront-memorial-dayLast month, many of you might have seen the news headlines that March of this year was the first time since February 2003 that an American service member wasn’t killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s a sobering statistic and the reality for a nation at war for more than 13 years. As Memorial Day weekend arrives, we’re grateful for the tremendous sacrifice of those who’ve given their lives in defense of freedom, and hopeful that their sacrifices will continue to be instructive so that future generations may avoid being sent into harm’s way.

In recent times, a good deal has been made over whether or not Americans think about the meaning of this holiday weekend as anything other than a three-day weekend, or take time to reflect on what service to country means. Not surprising, of course, given that less than one percent serve their country in uniform. Congress has even considered changing the holiday from the last Monday in May to its historical founding of May 30, as a way to “force” a reminder to everyone about the significance of the day. Yet I believe – and our organization is a testament to it – that Americans are conscious of the sacrifices made, and are able to live their lives in a way that allows them to enjoy the freedoms of life in this country thanks to the selfless sacrifice of others. One of those freedoms is the right to thoroughly enjoy the unofficial start of summer and the Memorial Day holiday weekend. We shouldn’t begrudge anyone for living the American life to its fullest, but we can encourage everyone to take time to reflect on how that life is protected and made possible.

Arlington National CemeteryFor those of us in the Washington, D.C. area, so rich with history, it’s not hard to seek out a place to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, and there’s no more appropriate place than Arlington National Cemetery. If you’ve been, undoubtedly you visited Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial. This 19th century mansion was never envisioned to be surrounded by more than 250,000 graves as part of a national cemetery, and was initially constructed as testament to George Washington by his heirs. One of those descendants, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, inherited the home at the time of her parents’ passing, and she eventually married a West Point graduate named Robert E. Lee. While Lee considered Arlington House his home for 30 years, he never owned it. And when he resigned his commission to join the Confederacy, he would never see the home again, after the government claimed it for unpaid taxes. In 1864, Arlington National Cemetery was established, and by direction of the Army Quartermaster General, graves were placed as close as possible to the home to render it “uninhabitable” should the Lee family ever want to return. This, you might say, was an ever present reminder for General Lee on the magnitude and consequence of war.

So while none of us find ourselves in General Lee’s place 150 years ago, we are very cognizant of the fact that our way of life has stood the test of time – including a Civil War – thanks to those who have worn the uniform and fought for our country. We are forever indebted, and grateful for their sacrifice.

I wish you all a fantastic Memorial Day weekend, and I know you’ll reflect on the meaning of the day while enjoying time off with family and friends, celebrating the American way of life that we all enjoy.

By Jim Knotts, president and CEO, Operation Homefront

No one relishes being the bearer of bad news. I knew that when the Joint Chiefs testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee a week ago today, there wasn’t going to be a lot to like about what they had to say. After listening to their testimony, I am sure as I can be that they certainly didn’t want to have to say it.

Joint Chiefs testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.-pic by Military Times

Joint Chiefs testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.-pic by Military Times

Simply put, there isn’t enough money available to do what they must do, let alone what they would like to. So, the Joint Chiefs looked at the money that will be appropriated for FY 2015 and beyond, and had some choices to make. None of them good. As Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said, “None of us like where we find ourselves today.”

Our military cannot stop defending the nation, and the world continues to be a volatile place. It is easy to calculate what you can see. Not so much for what you can’t. The world can change in an instant. Our men and women in uniform must be ready to handle what comes, or lives are lost. Already as a result of sequestration, the services have made drastic cuts, cancelling critical training and delaying the modernization of equipment. Nearly 13 years of combat operations have worn down equipment. Some of our hardware is 50 years old. The Joint Chiefs were very clear that being in this state, if continued, will put lives at risk.

So what’s left to look at? The answer, it seems, is compensation and benefits. For those of us who’ve raised our hand and taken an oath to serve our great country – we’ve done so invariably with a sense of patriotism and pride – but at the same time to earn a living and provide for our family. And while no one will argue that those serving in uniform today are overpaid, there is the undeniable fact that compensation as a whole has consumed more and more of each service branch’s budget in recent years. As Gen. Amos testified for the Marine Corps, it’s .63 cents of every dollar. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno reiterated past testimony on compensation, where he stated: “If we continue along the way that we are going now, we believe by 2023, 80 percent of our budget is going to be on compensation.”[1] For other branches, the percentages have remained steady at between 30-35 percent of their budgets, but the Chiefs noted that this percentage remained steady as they have reduced force strength.

The Chiefs advocated capping pay raises at 1 percent, reducing commissary funding, and streamlining Tricare. “We’re seeking $31 billion in savings in pay compensation and health care over the future-year defense program,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified. “If we don’t get it, we’ll have to take $31 billion out of readiness, modernization and force structure over that same period.” [2] Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Welsh testified, “If we can’t make tough calls on compensation now, we won’t be ready today or viable against the threats of tomorrow.” Gen. Dempsey also stated, “Today’s readiness problem is tomorrow’s retention problem.”

Think about it. If your work environment deteriorates to such a degree that you are not given the tools to do your job, or that your life is put at risk unnecessarily, what will you do when the time comes to make a choice to continue or look for safer and more secure career options? The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, testified, “Our sailors and families are not enthusiastic about compensation reform” [but] “are clear that quality of service –work environment — needs to improve.” He also relayed being told by his sailors that “these long deployments are killing us.” With respect to the Marines, Gen. Amos said, “We will not do with less with less, we will do the same with less.” So while no one is happy that pay and benefits will take the hit, the Chief’s testimony helped clarify why difficult choices are being made now.

There are some who agree with the Joint Chief’s assessments and recommendations, and others who don’t. I found that it was clear that they spent enormous amounts of time and energy looking for any available dollar, weighing and measuring their options, and listening to their people. Agree with their decision or not, I believe the Joint Chiefs are trying their hardest in a tough situation to be good stewards of their most valuable asset: the men and women who serve our country.

As always, Operation Homefront will do our best to help military families get through any tough times that may face them. We are grateful to the many supporters who help us fulfill our mission.

blogjkhug

The most priceless treasures, like a homecoming hug, are still free.

 

Download and read Tuesday’s testimony by the Joint Chiefs and MSOs/VSOs on the NDAA

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/gen-raymond-odierno-leaner-army-will-have-more-expertise/2013/07/31/1bd8e4c4-f939-11e2-b018-5b8251f0c56e_story.html

[2] http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=122193

Mom, when thoughts of you are in our hearts, we are never far from home. ~Author Unknown

momblog1It’s Mother’s Day, and we want to give a little extra love to the Moms of our military men and women. We asked Mothers to reflect on their sons’ and daughters’ service, and what they shared with us will touch the hearts of all Moms:

Kristin shared, “Our son is stationed in Alaska. I miss him every day, but I’m so incredibly proud of the man he has become. We cried a lot when he told us he was enlisting, even though we knew it was a great choice for him. He’s always wanted to be a soldier. My advice: Support your military child 110%! Respect the journey. Go to graduation, be available when they call, obey the rules and be encouraging! But mostly: PRAY. For your soldier, pray for our country, the men and women who serve, those who have served, their families, and for our leaders.”

Dawn has a son and daughter serving, and her youngest son is set to join the Navy. She writes, “I AM A MILITARY MOM ANmomblog2D PROUD TO SAY SO! My children are successful, strong, kind, intelligent, and independent young individuals! What more can a parent ask for? I love my children and although I miss them all so very much and wish I could see them more than once in a great while, I carry them all in my heart and prayers every day. It is not easy letting your children go but it is easier letting them go when you know that they are doing something they love and are successful at. I carry the fear of seeing my children in harm’s way but know they carry with them, not only the pride and confidence I have in them but that their country has in them as well. It doesn’t stop the tears of having them so far away or the fears you carry into your sleep at night but God granted me the privilege of having these children and raising these children and now He watches over them when I cannot.”

And as proud as all of them are on seeing their sons and daughters transform into fine young men and women in service to the nation, a part of Mom will always see you as that little boy or girl. All the more difficult when they have to send them off to war. Karin shared just that thought. She wrote a poem for her son “to always have no matter where he goes”. The last stanza reflects the emotions shared by many Moms:

momblog3

I will fly this flag and think of you

Knowing you must do what you do

My heart is filled with pride and joy

But to me you will always be my little boy

 

 

 

momblog4We also ask that today, you hold a little nearer to your heart the mothers who have suffered immeasurable loss, either on the battlefield or when the war came home with their children. Our hearts broke when Sarah shared, “Last Mother’s Day was the last day I kissed my son, hugged him, this Mother’s Day is my first birthday without my only son. Michael took his life May 20th, 2013. He had PTSD”. (24/7 help is available for military, veterans and their families. Call 1-800-273-8255, press “1”)

No matter how old we get, or how many years and tours we do, it’s clear our Moms will always be Moms. They will worry. They will shed a tear, often at the same time as a smile. They will pray for our safety and the safety of our brothers and sister in arms. Sometimes, they will scold us, especially when we don’t call or write, though they understand when we can’t. And they will always have our back, keep a light on in the window, look forward to the day we’ll come strolling through the door, and be ready to smother us in hugs.

Thank you, Moms, for all you do to support your sons and daughters, and in return, we promise to honor their service and support them any way we can.

PS: Call Your Mom!

Thank You, Mom!

This Mother’s Day weekend, we’d like to share some love for our Moms, as reflected by a few of our terrific Operation Homefront teammates who have served in the military. We thank you, Mom…

For Being Proud of Us:

mothersday1Adam recalls family day at boot camp, and how proud his mother was of him. “It made me want to be a better Marine.”

Throughout his service, his Mom made sure he knew that she was his biggest cheerleader.

“Every time I came to visit or came back from war, my parents would throw a big party for me. My Mom was very adamant about throwing parties and having cake and making a huge deal about every time I came home.”

(Adam is the Program Coordinator for our Pacific Northwest Field Office. He joined the Marines Corps at 22, and did tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.)  

 

For Your Guidance:

mothersday2After his college path took an unexpected turn, Cecil’s Mom was the one who suggested calling the Air Force recruiter. Dropping him off at Basic herself at 0430 in the morning, she imparted a final piece of advice: “Go in, give it 100%. Maintain your integrity and your core values… and don’t embarrass the family.”

(Cecil is the Arkansas Community Liaison for our Southern Plains Field Office. He retired from the Air Force after 25 years of service.) 

 

 

 

For Setting the Standard:

mothersday3Jack credits his Mom for instilling in him the values that are core to military service. After a serious health condition left his father unable to work, his Mom took the lead. The example she set, “how she focused in on taking care of her employees, her work, and how she took care of us at home” really impressed upon him the significance of what it means to give of oneself. “The example she set for me was one of service and obligation.”

(Jack, Executive Director for Operation Homefront California, joined the Navy in 1991 during the first Gulf War.)  

 

For Your Unconditional Love:

mothersday4Jack speaks for so many of us, “Their support, at the end of the day, makes all the difference in the world. We have to make sure we say “thank you” for all that they do in our lives”

Adam’s advice is to always keep them close. “She’s always going to be there for you, no matter what.”

 

And finally, words to live by:

“Don’t do anything that would embarrass your mother,” Cecil advises. “If you have to think about it, it’s probably wrong.”

 

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day from all of our Operation Homefront team to the special women in our lives who taught us the value of service, to give back to the people who have given so much to us, but most importantly, who taught us to love and take care of each other.

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