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As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, we’re thankful to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Through all of the sacrifice and time apart, our military men and women themselves are full of gratitude for the life they lead, and we’d like to share some of their thoughts with you:

 

Thanksgivingblogpic1For some people, it may sound like a cliché, but for me it’s something that I take pride and cherish. (Being in the military)… changed the way I live my life now. Deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, I learned to appreciate our brothers and sisters in arms as well every American citizen that supports us. Every time we are home they give thanks for our service and those words are the strength, courage and energy we need to continue to fight and defend this great nation we call United States of America. HOOAAH!!!!!!

-W, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army

 

 I am extremely fortunate to have a wife who supports my every move and decision and will stay with me through thick and thin. Being in the military has not only brought my professional dreams to fruition, but has also given me a wonderful life which I wouldn’t change for the world.

-T, Petty Officer First Class, U.S. Navy

 

Thanksgivingblogpic2I always wanted to be a Marine from a very young age. I cannot remember ever wanting to do anything else. Even for Halloween I always dressed up as a Marine. Serving my Country was (a) top priority of mine. I met my wife at my 1st duty station and we moved all over the Country with the Marine Corps. I was seriously wounded in Iraq and that had a major effect on my family as well as my health. I have many health problems and was medically retired in 2009. I miss the Marines every single day and I wish I could still serve. I do not regret anything that I did, only that I could have done more to serve my Country. I am the proud father of 5 amazing kids and have been married almost 13 years now to my wife. Without the military I never would have met her and I definitely would not have the life I have now.

–D, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps

 

Growing up I was always surrounded by family. Everyone was close and everyone cared. As I grew, I grew closer and learned what it meant to have family that cared and loved each other. I learned why we have the freedoms we do, and because of those freedoms, we are able to grow together, and live our lives to the fullest. It was my Uncle Mike who taught me these values. I’ve always seen my Uncle as a smart, wise person who always seemed to have everything under control. Mike is now retired from the Air Force, and growing to look up to him, I knew that I wanted to serve just like him. I wanted to be in the same Air Force that taught him to be the person that he is today. One year and two months ago, that dream came true. Living in Guam for the past ten months is and will continue to be an amazing experience. It’s part of a journey that will take me to new places, and teach me new things. Joining the military has left me with no regrets….-J, Airman First Class, U.S. Air Force

 

To our brave men and women in uniform we say…though duty may keep you away from your friends and family, you are always close to our hearts.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Operation Homefront family.

 

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These are only a few examples of the reasons why our brave men and women in uniform are compelled to answer the call to service, and why they represent the best of America. If you would like to learn more about how you can answer the call when they need it most, please visit

www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

 

 

LuntFamily

“I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Stephen

Ashley and Stephen Lunt met on an airplane when Stephen was flying back to Japan for a deployment and Ashley was heading back to college. They made an instant connection on that flight and have been together ever since.

Stephen was born and raised in Charleston, S.C. and answered the call to serve in the Marine Corps in 2004. During his time in the service, he was stationed in Japan and at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and deployed three times, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

During his deployment to Afghanistan, he was forced to fight an insurgent in hand-to-hand combat. During the fight, the insurgent took a pickaxe to Stephen’s head which caused a great amount of internal damage, and resulted in multiple surgeries and a long and painful recovery. The injuries forced him to medically retire from service.

Ashley stood by him when he returned stateside. She encouraged and helped him through some of the hardest parts of his life. “I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Stephen said.

But Ashley has had her share of heartbreak as well. When they received word that they would likely never have a baby on their own, they were crushed. They resigned themselves to the idea of a childless future.

But something unexpected changed their future forever.

Operation Homefront provided them with a mortgage-free home in South Carolina. Because they no longer had to worry about paying for a roof over their heads, the Lunts were able to set aside the funds needed to undergo in-vitro fertilization and allowed Ashley to conceive her first child. In late 2013, they gave birth to a beautiful, healthy son.

“It really was a blessing for us. If it wasn’t for us getting this house and having that help, we would have never been able to have children,” Ashley said.

In addition to having a new child, Stephen has thrived in his new house. Not only is he closer to his family in South Carolina, but he has also been able to work hard through his recovery to channel his interests into a new career in hydroponic agriculture.

The Lunts were recently chosen to appear on a special military edition of the home makeover show, Designing Spaces. The opportunity was perfect for Ashley. “I majored in construction management in college, and I love to redesign and decorate,” Ashley said. They were excited not only by the improvement to their home but also by being involved in the remodeling process.

Hosted by R. Lee Ermey “The Gunny,” TV and screen actor, and former U.S. Marine Drill Instructor, “Designing Spaces of Hope – Military Makeover” will chronicle Stephen and Ashley’s story and the generous contributors who came together for their home renovation. Airing over three consecutive Fridays beginning this week (Nov. 21), the show appears on the Lifetime channel at 7:30 a.m. ET/PT.

Clearly, Ashley and Stephen have faced and overcome some large obstacles in their life. They may have met thousands of feet in the air, but their future clearly has a strong foundation on solid ground.

vets-day_blog_thumbOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

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Together we answer the call. Together, we are stronger – and our military families are stronger.

Our military is the best model of teamwork, without exception.

It starts on day one of basic training. What is the most important thing new recruits need to learn? How to work together as a team. It’s important to their success and their survival. And getting there takes work. But once they function as a cohesive unit, enemies fall, lives are saved and battles are won.

Together, they answer the call. For better or for worse, they are in it, side by side. But it goes beyond that.

With a common goal and shared sacrifice, bonds form that last a lifetime. Veterans who we have spoken to in our mission often mention that one of the toughest parts of trading military life to become a civilian is the loss of the comradery, the bonds, and the mission. That kind of connection is tough to find outside the military.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” At Operation Homefront, we are one of many dedicated organizations supporting our military, veteran and wounded warrior families. Each has a unique mission and varying programs: addressing suicide prevention, advocating to our elected leaders, raising awareness of the challenges of a life in service. We are on the same path to a common goal…to honor and serve those who sacrifice so much for our country.

Operation Homefront can’t serve every need that military and veteran families have. Their challenges and situations are as unique and varied as they are. That’s why it is important to work together with other military and veteran service organizations so that the safety net of support extends as deep as it does wide.

While we work with MANY organizations and government agencies, we have some level of formalized collaborative relationships with the following:

100K Homes

American Legion

Auxiliary

American Red Cross

Armed Services YMCA

BBB Military Line

Code of Support

Clearpoint (Credit Counseling Services)

Feed The Children

Give-An-Hour

Goodwill Industries International

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Kids In Distressed Situations

National Military Family Association

Military Child Education Coalition

Mission Continues

MOAA

Operation Gratitude

Our Military Kids

Semper Fi Fund

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)

USA Cares

Wounded Warrior Project

Yellow Ribbon Fund

We can’t say enough how proud we are to work together with others to help military families. Take some time to learn more about their work, and you will find powerful stories of families that were helped, crises that were avoided, or lives that were pulled back from the brink of going hungry or homeless, or both.

Together we answer the call. Together, we are stronger – and our military families are stronger.

vets-day_blog_thumbWhile we have formalized partnerships with the organizations listed above, it is certainly not an all-inclusive list of organizations who do great things for military families. That list would be much longer. There are many amazing small and large non-profits who step up in many ways to answer the call to help military families.

 

 

Find out more about how you too can answer the call to help military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

“I was blessed with a gift on my birthday” with Tim McGraw at his Chicago area stop, where Donna received a mortgage free home thanks to our partners at Chase.

When U.S. Army Sergeant and wounded warrior Donna Pratt won her first gold medal in the 2011 Valor Games Midwest, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. She had become part of another kind of team.

Donna originally joined the military because she wanted to explore the world and needed a way to pay for college. She also wanted to answer the call to be a part of a team that was greater than herself. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Donna joined the U.S. Army in 1991 and again in 2007.

Her first tour was in the Gulf War. After serving for eight years, she reenlisted in 2007 and pursued a different mission fueled by a passion to do something after the events of Sept.11, 2001. She was assigned as a unit armorer responsible for fixing, distributing, and maintaining all weapons.

In 2008, she toured in Iraq. Because of injuries she incurred there, she began to suffer swelling and pain in her legs, which led to surgeries to repair damaged tendons, ligaments, and fractured bones in her feet and ankles. While she was in treatment, several soldiers in her unit were injured by an improvised explosive device and the guilt was difficult to deal with and she also battled PTSD.

Donna medically retired in 2012 and moved back to her hometown. She battled depression and felt like there wasn’t much she could do in her condition. During this time, she met her partner Tinisha and her five-year old son, which became her family. Tinisha took on the role of primary caregiver for Donna, but they struggled and Donna didn’t know how she was going to provide a secure and stable environment for her family.

Around this time, she heard about the Valor Games Midwest and decided to compete. And she did well, winning a gold medal in archery. And then she won some more, competing in sports like archery, cycling, shot put and discus. Over time with three gold medals under her belt, Donna regained confidence and found a new focus for her life. She hoped to attend a local university and continue to compete and become part of the U.S. Paralympics Team.

Operation Homefront first met Donna when she applied for and received a mortgage-free home in O’Fallon, Illinois, on her birthday. As part of the celebration, Donna got to meet Tim McGraw and go to his concert in the area, thanks to our friends at Chase who donated the home.

Between her new home and her sports, Donna is “racing” toward great things. She no longer has to worry about a mortgage payment so she is free to pursue her academic and athletic dreams.

“I want to truly thank Operation Homefront and Chase for looking down at a little person like me that decided to go and fight for our country’s freedom,” said Donna. “I was blessed with a gift on my birthday.”

vets-day_blog_thumbDonna is one of many veterans served by Operation Homefront’s various programs and services. To find out how Operation Homefront wants to help even more wounded heroes like Donna, visit www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

Putnam Family at hospital while roof repaired

The Putnams, in the hospital with their newest family member as their roof was being repaired.

Sometimes, you can do everything right and still have something go wrong. That’s what happened to Joseph and Dawn Putnam, when their excitement of owning their first home and the impending arrival of their infant son was quickly dampened by water leaking from the ceiling.

For Joseph, joining the Army was a natural choice for him. He grew up in a military family—several family members including his uncle and grandfather had served. Joseph’s father served in the Army and Marines, was a Gulf War Vet, and saw service in Iraq. Joseph joined in 2006, went into airborne infantry, was stationed at Fort Riley, and found himself in Iraq from 2007-2008.

Dawn and Joseph used his VA loan to buy a house. The home had been inspected during the winter, when there was a lot of snow and the home passed the VA inspection. Soon after moving, though, the family noticed water leaks. Dawn and Joseph were notified that a new roof would be needed in order to maintain home insurance. The family—with Dawn pregnant—started worrying how they could afford a new baby, pay for roof repairs in excess of $10,000, and became concerned that the home could develop a mold problem. Dawn started a Facebook page “I am a Veterans Wife” and one of her followers told her about Operation Homefront. Dawn and Joseph applied for roof repair assistance.

Through Home Depot funding, Operation Homefront was able to approve funding for the roof repair. The contractors began work and Dawn began labor. The roof repairs were completed while Dawn gave birth to the couple’s second child. Their infant son named Russell, in honor of Joseph’s friend who was killed in action, was brought back to a cozy, safe home.

Dawn reflects “When you have kids and are afraid of being dropped by the insurance and the mortgage companies, then you are in a beyond scary situation. When we found out that Operation Homefront was going to help, the elephants left our chests. We were so stressed out.” Then we were so relieved.”

“Now we are so grateful and cannot begin to describe how relieved we were that OH could help. Joseph has PTSD and of course, any stress is bad, but this was really bad with the roof situation. You helped my husband; you were there when there was no one. We will be forever grateful to Operation Homefront, and we really love you guys,” added Dawn.

vets-day_blog_thumbOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

Super (Caregiver) Woman

saritajason

We are grateful for women like Sarita, who stand strong beside their warriors and fellow caregivers.

When Sarita met Jason, little did she know that her love for him would take her on a very unexpected journey. But it ended up being a path that allowed her to answer the call to help wounded warrior caregivers, because she would become one herself.

Sarita Pettus-Wakefield met Jason Wakefield and developed a long distance relationship with him, via email, while he was deployed. Jason was a staff sergeant in the Air Force and Sarita was an air traffic controller trainee. They both loved airplanes and soon they fell in love with each other.

And then things began to change.

Jason deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and suffered exposure to smoke and burning trash and battled a parasite for two years. (He still deals with ongoing asthma and gastrointestinal issues.)

While in Iraq, he injured his ankle and received a minor TBI from a mortar blast. Then came a head-on car collision in Afghanistan, which resulted in another TBI. Jason also battled anxiety disorder and severe PTSD as a result of his combat experiences. But Sarita’s challenges were just beginning.

One week after they got engaged, the true nature and extent of his injuries came crashing in, literally. He was in a severe car wreck that was related to his PTSD. The accident resulted in severe leg injuries and several surgeries. In response, Sarita tried to be the super-perfect everything – fiancee’, caregiver, career woman and grad student. She did all this while juggling regular doctor appointments for Jason and dealing with the effects of his ongoing anxiety and PTSD. She tried to keep everything running smoothly, to make life easier for Jason. It all became too much for her to handle.

One day, she happened to be watching TV and saw an interview with Cheryl Gansner, program coordinator for Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program and Elizabeth Dole Fellow. “Cheryl was like an angel and I literally sat there crying like a total nut at the TV…so happy and relieved that there was help out there!” said Sarita.

After watching the program, she realized that if she tried to do too much, she was no good for anyone. So she became a member of Hearts of Valor for support, and she, and Jason, decided to simplify things. They would both focus on school. And they eventually got married too. “I feel really happy, relaxed, and settled into my role of helping my husband.  We spend two days a week at the VA on average and one day a week with the Brain Center so we stay busy,” said Sarita.

As a member of Hearts of Valor, Sarita loved meeting fellow caregivers who understood that, while things may look great from the outside, invisible wounds are no less real and can make life complicated. It was so nice “to meet other women in my area to whom I could say terms like PTSD or TBI without getting a pity or confused look,” said Sarita.

She also decided to volunteer to lead a support group for Hearts of Valor caregivers. “Jason and I went through a really rough time trying to find help and I wanted to help ease some of the stressors that other caregivers go through and help them navigate how and where to get help,” she said. She’s been leading the group for two years. The caregivers really enjoy the camaraderie of meeting with other women. “My group opts for art projects, like painting and pottery, and I think art ‘therapy’ is helping all of us relax. Group members reach out to each other… and I see pics of them hanging out with each other (on Facebook) which totally makes me smile!! We are learning to belly dance at this month’s meeting. I have had women come to support groups in tears and leave laughing. Support groups work!”

We are grateful for women like Sarita, who stand strong beside their warriors and fellow caregivers.

Hearts of Valor is a network of people caring for wounded, ill or injured service members, created and maintained by Operation Homefront. To find out more about how you can answer the call and help military, veteran and wounded warrior families, visit www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

harveyThough they were unable to wear a military uniform themselves, Ken and Ruth have always deeply admired the valiant men and women who serve our country. So they decided to answer the call in the best way they could.

After the events of September 11, 2001, Ken and Ruth Harvey realized that the rights, freedoms, and safety—something they had taken for granted—were not guaranteed. The couple knew that the attacks would trigger a conflict that would require our American service men and women to fight beyond our shores to secure our nation’s safety. Ken and Ruth admired those who sacrificed so much for their fellow countrymen.

Ken and Ruth also worried about the health and wellbeing of service members and veterans who have returned from overseas service. ”You’d assume that the soldiers who are wounded or returning with PTSD would be given more post-action care. While there is a structure in place, it’s not at the level that we would expect,” Ken said. Ruth maintains that Operation Homefront is addressing the problem in a positive, helpful way. “For every dollar we give most of it is going back to military families, so that’s great,” Ruth said.

The Harvey’s strong desire to support the military inspired them to search for a nonprofit that would allow them to make a difference in the lives of service members and their families. Ken and Ruth researched military nonprofits from a leading charity rating agency, and as a result, they chose to give to Operation Homefront.

“Operation Homefront takes resources from a person or a company and channels it to the highest need. It’s hard to imagine a more efficient organization getting that done,” Ken said. One of his goals was to ensure that his money would truly make a difference in the lives of military service members, wounded warriors, veterans, and their families.

Vets-Day_blog_icontactRuth and Ken give to Operation Homefront programs, such as Homes on the Homefront, because they want to see the lives of military families transformed, and the couple wants to be part of that impact. “Operation Homefront is giving families the tools they need to help them manage their finances. Operation Homefront is teaching them skills, and it’s different than charity; it’s trying to create something that’s going to last throughout their lifetimes,” said Ken.

Operation Homefront would not exist if it weren’t for donors like Ruth and Ken. They allow us to help military families in their hour of need. You too can make a difference and answer the call, in lots of ways, to support military, veteran and wounded warrior families. Find out more at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

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