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The Ebola Fight

Commentary by Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer, Operation Homefront

Families of Troops Deployed to Africa Ebola Mission are Eligible for Assistance from Operation Homefront

“The U.S. military remains the worldwide rapid-response force whether facing a military foe or natural disaster, and they are in need of our support,” said Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer, Operation Homefront.

Last week, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the activation of the National Guard and Reserves in support of Operation United Assistance – the name given to the U.S. military’s humanitarian mission to fight Ebola in West Africa. Guard and Reserve families know very well what it means to serve our nation on little notice, as natural disasters and crisis situations rarely offer advance warning. Not only is our military the world’s finest fighting force, it’s also the world’s finest emergency response, crisis and humanitarian relief organization, bar none.

The present military mission in West Africa is as urgent and compelling as any war time scenario, which is why we’ve extended emergency financial assistance to the families of those deployed to support operations in West Africa. While our limited resources are principally focused to those deployed in combat or combat support roles, the nature of the Ebola fight is of no less consequence than any other our military might face on the field of battle. And just as service members are accustomed to remaining flexible when deployment orders are received, we need to be equally flexible and accommodating to the families they leave behind.

While the fight against Ebola is a non-combat operation, the military is an indispensable part of the international response thanks to the unique engineering, logistics and rapid response capabilities they bring to the table. With more than 500 service members already on the ground, as many as 4,000 could be involved in the operation over the course of a year. That’s a lot of families holding down the homefront on their own. So we are honored to provide peace of mind when the unexpected occurs: a car breaks down, a furnace stops working in the winter, or the costs of utilities become too much for a fixed budget.

It’s worth noting that we wouldn’t be able to extend our eligibility criteria for these families if it weren’t for our generous donors, who make our emergency financial services possible. Despite the drawdown of the mission in Afghanistan, it’s plainly clear that with the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State, and the uncertain nature of global security, our military is going to be called upon and they will continue to need our support well into the future. Equally important, our military families will continue to be the linchpin of solidarity and support when their loved ones are called into harm’s way. We’ll be here for those families, when their Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine can’t be there for them.

Families of deployed service members can apply for assistance online at OperationHomefront.net or by calling 877-264-3968.

 

Do you know an outstanding young patriot to nominate for our Military Child of the Year award? Two previous recipients have some notes on what your child might experience if they are selected for the award, which comes with $10,000, a laptop and a trip to D.C. for a special gala.

Ryan Curtin was the 2014 Navy Military Child of the Year and Gage Dabin represented the Air Force as its 2014 Military Child of the Year. Both were nominated during their senior year of high school.

When asked to describe the MCOY gala, Ryan replied, “It was a surreal experience. The entire experience surrounding winning the award was fantastic. Operation Homefront really went above and beyond for us. They had tours set up throughout D.C. at several monuments and museums, as well as several interviews with newspapers and news channels. The ceremony itself was as amazing as it was humbling. Operation Homefront did an excellent job.”

Gage described the awards event as “amazing.” He continued, “It gave me the opportunity to see a world in which I want to be a part of. The award also gave me the chance to meet and establish friendships that I would never have made due to the distance. You start off the week as strangers, but at the end you leave as family.”

The two believe that being a MCOY recipient affected their lives. Ryan replied: “It has inspired me to keep giving back to the military community for as long as I can, and that as hard as life can be as a military child, in hindsight, I would not have traded the experience for anything.”

Gage stated that “winning the award made people see that what I’m doing actually matters. The award helped me pay for school, and gave me a competitive package that waived all room and board fees for the rest of my collegiate experience.”

What is the best thing about being a MCOY recipient? Ryan stated: “That would be a tie between meeting all the great people over the course of the trip, and seeing the recognition and support for military programs grow in my city as a result of me receiving the award.” Gage also could not decide on one thing: “I got to meet the Joint Chiefs of Staff and see the people that are currently changing this world. Also, the friends I made are crucial to who I am as an individual.”

operation-Homefront-military-child-award-gage-dabinAs seasoned veterans of the MCOY nomination process, Gage offered this advice to others: “Be yourself. The packages being sent in should represent you as an individual, not a façade you want people to think is you. Even if they don’t win being honest with others on their character is notable, and just being nominated for it is amazing. Winning the award doesn’t define success so don’t let winning consume you.”

Ryan added, “First, I would say to do things that you really enjoy when it comes to volunteering. Don’t ever spend your time at an organization that you don’t have a passion for because you are looking for community service hours or experience. Second, know that as a nominee, you are already among the finest kids the military has to offer. No matter what happens in the award process, know that you are doing just as much good for your country and family as the eventual winner of the award is. Lastly, remember that, although the MCOY award is for a few individuals, the military is about the team, and service. Without support, none of the current recipients would have the award.”

The Military Child of the Year Award recognizes the resiliency, leadership, and achievements of our nation’s youngest patriots.

Where are Ryan and Gage today?

Ryan attends a university in Boston, tutors at an after school program, and moved into his dorm early to participate in a community service program. The Curtain family relocated to the East Coast after Ryan graduated. “A typical summer, by military standards,” stated Ryan.

Gage is enrolled at a college in Louisiana. He is double majoring in Political Science and English; and is active in college activities. Gage’s spent his summer travelling from Alaska to his new home in Louisiana. “I also helped unpack and organize the new house that my parents moved into,” said Gage.

Both Gage and Ryan envision a military career after college. Ryan is trying to decide if he would rather be a military physician or pilot, and Gage, despite being the Air Force MCOY, would like to join the Navy as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) lawyer.

Our country’s future is in good hands because of amazing military kids like these.

 

 

2014 Military Child of the Year Award "Rockstars": Kensie, Michael, Ryan, Juanita and Gage. Showing the world that our military kids shine no matter where they are.

2014 Military Child of the Year Award “Rockstars”: Kensie, Michael, Ryan, Juanita and Gage. Showing the world that our military kids shine no matter where they are.

MCOY15_CallForNominations_WEB_facebookGoogle “military kids”, and you’ll find there’s no shortage of research and statistics available about the impact of the military life on the children who live it. How many times the average military child can expect to move. How many schools the average military child can expect to attend. How many deployments the average military child can expect to face.

But those statistics don’t tell us who they really are. YOU DO. And they aren’t average. They are extraordinary.

Every year, when we open nominations for our Military Child of the Year Award, we get forms filled with the pride and love of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, teachers, coaches and community members. Yes, they talk of accomplishments; GPAs, leadership positions, obstacles overcome. But they also talk about the little things that matter the most. The smile that lifts up those around them. The jokester that keeps the family on their toes. The one who knows just when a hug is needed. The artist. The musician. The ever energetic powerhouse and the budding philosophers.

Quiet courage and strength that speaks volumes. They aren’t just making the best of what military life handed them….they’re owning it. With zest and joy and determination.

Which is why we always look forward to the opening of the annual nomination period for the Military Child of the Year Award. As part of our mission to raise awareness for the challenges faced by the children of our military families, we are always looking for the right words and message that captures just how terrific these kids are, and why it is so important to recognize them as a force behind the forces. For the past 6 years, we have truly had to look no further than you, our community, for the pride, love, and awe in your words as you share the stories of the youngest heroes in your lives.

mcoyblog2015familyHelp us tell the stories of who our military children really are. Anyone can nominate a military child in their life, so share with your friends, neighbors, schools, and community groups. One child from each branch will be honored in April at a special gala in our nation’s capitol. Recipients will also receive a laptop and a $10000 award. So, fire up those keyboards!

To learn more about the Military Child of the Year Award, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. You can also find the nomination form here and FAQ here.

Quietly Brave

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So used to putting others first, here wounded warrior caregivers learn it’s okay to take care of yourself, too.

Almost anyone can be brave for five minutes or an hour. The bravery no one talks about is the hardest bravery of all. When you get up in the morning, every morning, even though you’d rather shut out the world for a while longer….or maybe forever. That’s the bravery that doesn’t make headlines and no one notices.

I met some women this weekend at Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor retreat who exhibit that kind of bravery. They are young, beautiful, and energetic. Many women their age are pursuing careers and going out with friends. The reality these women live…day in, day out…most of us cannot comprehend.

These women have answered a different call…it’s a call they didn’t choose but couldn’t ignore. That is the calling of a wounded warrior caregiver.

They fell in love and married a service member. Or their son chose the military life. Through no fault of his own, their man was injured…badly. His injuries may be invisible – PTSD or TBI or both. Or they may be excruciatingly obvious…burns or amputations. And now their sole focus is to care for that man.

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Connecting with others who understand their unique journey can have a huge impact on the spirit of a caregiver.

Take the time to read about PTSD and TBI. According to this resource, “home is no longer the safe haven but an unfamiliar front with unpredictable and sometimes frightening currents and events.”

I spoke with one caregiver who said, “I am 28. I am young and I love to have fun and be loud. But I can’t be that way at home because I don’t know how he (her husband) is going to respond. I feel like he doesn’t see the real me anymore.” And many of these women say the man they live with is different from the man they married.

It can be frustrating, confusing and demoralizing when your husband doesn’t know how to show emotions of love and affection anymore…and it’s not his fault. It’s a result of his brain injury. Or maybe it’s the opposite…he’s overly needy, overly dependent and needs his spouse to be by his side to the point of suffocation.

But the real crisis occurs with flashbacks and unpredictable bouts of rage. As one participant said, “we are living with trained weapons…in his dreams, he’s running missions every night in his head.” So they sleep very lightly, very cautiously, just in case they need to get away quickly.

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Operation Homefront treated the caregivers to a special dinner cruise on San Antonio’s River Walk, giving them a much-needed chance to relax, have fun and bond with new friends.

In spite of all that…they stay. Love keeps them from choosing the easy way out. As part of a session on using writing or art to relieve stress, one caregiver wrote a poem that speaks to the inner strength of these women:

The battle is within. Me. Him. Us.
It is never ending. Worthy.

And that, my friends, is bravery.

It was Operation Homefront’s honor to host more than 30 of these amazing caregivers at a special Hearts of Valor retreat this weekend in San Antonio. The retreat provided extensive education about brain injuries, sessions to help women cope with stress, and time for them to just relax, take care of themselves and make connections with other caregivers who understand the life they live. Find out more about our Hearts of Valor program. Thank you to the following organizations that provided services to make the retreat a memorable experience for our caregivers: La Quinta River Walk, Seasons of Care, San Diego Sexual Medicine, San Antonio Military Medical Center, Mia Mariu, Azuca, Huskin Photography, Casa Rio, Sight-Seeing San Antonio, Zenergy Wellness and Rio San Antonio Cruises.

Today, AmeriCorps celebrates 20 years dedicated to making an impact in communities throughout the United States. Through AmeriCorps, more than 900,000 Americans have served more than 1 billion hours over the past 20 years. Thousands of communities and millions of Americans have benefited from their service.

At Operation Homefront, we have welcomed many AmeriCorps members inside our four walls. Each of them have brought their unique talents and insight to make our organization stronger. One such member, Vickie Starr, shares what the AmeriCorps experience has meant to her:

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Vickie Starr, who worked as an AmeriCorps member for Operation Homefront, landed her dream job in our communications department.

At a non-traditional age, I completed my Master’s degree. And like most college graduates, I was eager to join the work force (again). And ready to eat something other than Ramen noodles.

Instead of moving in with my parents until I found a job, I moved in with my son. Resume’ in hand, I filled out many applications.

AmeriCorps called, and I was extremely interested…until I found out that I would be a volunteer and receive a small stipend. I had just scraped through four years as a college student, so I really didn’t want to be a broke AmeriCorps volunteer.

But there was a huge dilemma. The AmeriCorps position with Operation Homefront was my dream job. And I really wanted my dream job.

My son agreed to let me live with him for very little rent (I think he forgot his years of free rent under my roof). My car was paid off, my student loans would be deferred for a year, and my medical would be paid for. Financially, I could make it work.

On July 30, 2013, I joined AmeriCorps and Operation Homefront. Unbelievably quick, my year flew by. I learned so many new things and developed valuable skills. Certain moments and experiences will be forever etched in my memories:

  • One mother, Donella, told me that she cried when her son arrived home, as part of our program to fly service members home. And she cried when he left too.
  • Purple Heart recipients were given toolboxes by the Sons of the American Revolution. They were touched by the gift. I was touched by the sacrifices that many of our veterans have made for their country.
  • Too cute kiddies came to our Back-To-School Brigade in San Antonio for free school supplies, joined by thankful and grateful parents that had one less thing to worry about.
  • One young son, whose family had just received a mortgage-free home, flexed his muscles during a key ceremony. I think he knew that receiving a home would strengthen his family.
  • That first thank you letter I got from a family that received food assistance is something I’ll never forget.
  • I tried not to cry as I attended a Homefront Celebration and listened to Michelle Cuthrell speak about her life as a military spouse. I cried any way.
  • It was cold outside as we pushed buggies loaded with groceries out to the cars of service members during our Holiday Meals for Military program. But my heart felt warm.
Operation Homefront staff in San Antonio helped welcome some of our newest AmeriCorps members to our organization. We're looking forward to a great year of helping military families.

Operation Homefront staff in San Antonio helped welcome some of our newest AmeriCorps members to our organization. We’re looking forward to a great year of helping military families.

 

I could go on and on about my experience working with dedicated Operation Homefront employees who truly love their jobs and helping out military families.

Every story should have a happy ending. This one does too. I am now a full-time employee at Operation Homefront. Thanks to AmeriCorps, my dream job is now my reality.

 

 

 

In 2010, Operation Homefront (OH) began its partnership with AmeriCorps by bringing on board Michael Heymsfield to work in public relations. Since then, 29 AmeriCorps members have augmented Operation Homefront in needed areas. Currently, OH has 16 AmeriCorps positions and two AmeriCorps VISTA positions. We were happy to celebrate with a swearing in ceremony today in San Antonio.

 

As Americans, we can’t help but feel mixed emotions as the anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 approaches once again. 13 years have passed, and yet we still feel the pain over the senseless loss of life that occurred that day, the fear of a world that can and does change in the blink of an eye. Yet, at that same time, we remember the unity, the courage and heroism exhibited, and the voice of a people who would not be bowed by the actions of those who exist to break the spirit of a nation.

For some, the pain is still fresh even these many years later. And for some, it is just another day. For others, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 was the catalyst for change, a call to action. For millions, it was a call to serve and protect as a member of the United States military.

At Operation Homefront, we have had the privilege and honor to support these men and women for more than 12 years. Each one is an example of what makes this country deserving of the gifts of liberty and freedom and why it continues to be a beacon of hope for so many around the world. The cost to our military and their families has been high:

  • More than 5,000 have given their lives to the cause of freedom.
  • More than 50,000 have been wounded or injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • More than 1,700 required amputations.
  • Among service members deployed in these conflicts, 103,792 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the period 2002 to December 2012. Over that same period, 253,330 service members have been diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) of some kind.

          (From the February 2013 Congressional Research Service report)

I remember meeting Jane Horton, widow of Army Specialist Chris Horton, who was killed in action. She wore a black bracelet with Chris’ name as a visible reminder to others that Chris’ sacrifice will not be forgotten. I was moved when she took it from her own wrist and gave it to me, and I’m wearing that bracelet as I write this. I will help to insure Chris will be remembered and the freedom secured by his sacrifice will go on.

As we reflect on the sacrifices made and endured on this anniversary, we must never forget that freedom really isn’t free, but requires constant vigilance. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with vivid images of regional conflicts threatening national boundaries; demands from radical extremists who resort to horrific acts of barbarism to intimidate and inspire fear; and international figures who seek to destabilize their neighbors in hopes of advancing their own self interests.

sept-11-blog-operation-homefront-jim-knottsYet on this anniversary, we should reflect as well on the spirit of a united country that still holds fast. Of neighbors helping neighbors, every day. Those that spread the light to banish the darkness. And that young men and women still answer the call to protect and defend in the face of the unknown and unseen, no matter how far from home it may take them.

Please join me today in honoring the service, sacrifice, courage and commitment of an entire nation, with a special thanks to our active duty military, our veterans, our wounded warriors and their families.

Jim Knotts, President and CEO
Operation Homefront

If you would like to know more about our mission, please visit us at www.operationhomefront.net . At Operation Homefront, we support both active duty families as well as those wounded warriors who are in varying stages of their transition and recovery. Programs like our transitional housing, and permanent mortgage-free housing, serve critical needs for this community. Our emergency financial assistance program remains a lifeline for these families in their times of need. And you can help. We maintain a list of these current needs on our website where, thanks to your support, we are able to make a difference for these families every day. Or you could give a general donation to be used for any one of our programs.

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” ― Angela Schwindt

September is here, and that means that, by now, an estimated 1.3 million military children[1] are back in school. For the last eight consecutive years, our team at Operation Homefront has been honored to be there to send them off via our Back-To-School Brigade program.

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Ready to take on the world!

For our staff and volunteers, Back-To-School Brigade is not about the more than 100 distribution events held nationwide this summer, or the approximately 44,000 backpacks distributed. It’s about the 5-year-old who can barely contain his excitement about going to Kindergarten. Or the slightly nervous teen headed off to high school. The 3rd grader who can’t decide if their favorite class is math or gym. (you can tell they want to say gym, but feel like they should say math).

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Seeing all of the smiling faces and feeling the excitement makes Back-To-School Brigade a favorite time of year.

Back-To-School Brigade is, for us, also a time to learn. Learning who our military kids are and hearing their stories. For many military children, this may be their first school or their fourth. Mom or Dad may be helping them with Algebra this year via Skype on an iPad far away from home. The brigade lets us share a small part of their journey, and reminds us of the sacrifice made by all members of a military family, and why our mission to support them matters. They teach us about courage, resiliency, the power of gratitude and the impact of a smile.

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This is what it is all about!

Thank you to our amazing volunteers who collected donated school supplies over the summer, as well as those who helped organize and run our distribution events. In addition, none of this would be possible without the support of our community and sponsors, who donated everything from reams of paper, to crayons, to backpacks and much more: Dollar Tree, SAIC, Veterans United Foundation, RetailMeNot, eBags and Eckrich — you’re the superheroes of BTSB!

 

You're all heroes to us.

You’re all heroes to us.

Stay tuned! October 1 is when we open up the nomination period for the Military Child of the Year Award ® . This award recognizes military children who have demonstrated the characteristics of exceptional citizens while facing the challenges of military family life. Help us let our terrific military kids know just how special they are.
[1] http://www.militarychild.org/student-identifier

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