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sean grimes photo 3For Sean Grimes, life started in a way that was similar to most American kids. He grew up in the heartland of Bloomingdale, Ill. After high school, he got a job, and moved out into his own apartment.

Then Sept 11, 2001 happened. Sean was so deeply affected by this tragedy that he joined the Marines in November and by December, Sean was in boot camp. Sean wanted to be a Marine because he believed the Marines were “the best and the hardest of the military branches.” His family was not thrilled with his decision even though two uncles and a grandfather were former Marines. But Sean persevered.

After boot camp, Sean went to Japan for three and a half years and then returned to Camp Pendleton before getting out in 2005. In 2007, Sean was recalled to active duty and sent to Camp Lejeune. He then deployed to Iraq for almost a year. Sean was discharged in March 2008.

For almost a year, Sean tried to adjust to civilian life, but he struggled. In early 2009, he admitted himself into a nearby PTSD clinic. That same year he thought he had a heart attack. Although the symptoms were close, in reality Sean was diagnosed with pericarditis. He spent seven days in the hospital.

A few months later, Sean entered college, working full time as he attended classes and studied. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in October 2011. He began working towards his Master’s degree, but Sean was hit by something unexpected.

sean grimes photo 1Headaches began to plague Sean daily. He went to the doctor and discovered that he had a tumor on his brain and stage one cancer. A series of intricate surgeries removed forty percent of the tumor.

In his usual style, Sean continued to persevere through the disease and continued working but he couldn’t keep up. By May of 2014, Sean found himself in a financial dilemma. Although he received VA disability and worked, monthly bills plus the extra gas needed to drive to his medical appointments for cancer and PTSD treatments left him without any extra money. While he was making it, he had no room for anything to go wrong.

Because of the extra wear and tear on his vehicle, the tires on Sean’s vehicle wore out and needed to be replaced…soon. He was advised by a mechanic that the car was unsafe to drive. Sean didn’t have the money.

“Normally I would not ask for help, but I really needed some assistance,” Sean said. He decided to apply for assistance from Operation Homefront. Soon, his tires were replaced and he was able to safely drive to work, school, and medical appointments.

“Being a Marine, I don’t like to ask for help, but I am glad that there are programs like Operation Homefront out there for veterans. It is heartwarming to know that (Operation Homefront) was there for me. I am very grateful.”

Sean is back on track to completing his Master’s degree. Unfortunately, one month after Operation Homefront assisted Sean, he was laid off from his job. But in his typical style, he will not give up. Sean continues to look for a job and is receiving treatment for his PTSD and brain cancer.

He is optimistic about his future: “I have a good head on my shoulders, my fiancé has moved in with me, I am attending school, and I am looking for a job.”

We wish Sean all the best.

vets-day_blog_thumbOur supporters are the reason we are able to help veterans like Sean, who persevere through difficult circumstances. Find out more how Operation Homefront is increasing their efforts to help military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall.

You could say Edward Smith has the military in his blood. Born and raised in Freeport, New York, Edward knew early on that he wanted to answer the call to serve his country. It’s easy to see why. His father was a Korean War veteran and had a major influence on him wanting to join the military.

edwardsmith-300pixelsHis father had served in the Army, but Edward had a longing for the wind and the waves. So in 1984, he joined the Coast Guard in his hometown. After serving for seven years in the Coast Guard, Edward’s love of the water led him to join the Navy. He served another seven years and received an honorable discharge from the Navy before returning to the Coast Guard as a reservist in 1998.

As an assistant master of arms, Edward assisted in law enforcement by enforcing discipline and non-traditional punishment. During his 30 years of military service, Edward was deployed to Iraq in 2008.

Unable to afford his own home, Edward was living in a one bedroom apartment. With two teenage children, it felt a little crowded for a family of three. After hearing about our Homes on the Homefront program through a veteran’s program, Edward decided to apply for a home.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and our partner Wells Fargo, Edward received a mortgage-free home in Connecticut. “It’s a perfect situation,” Edward said. “This will provide stability and improve my financial situation.”

Edward still spends time on the water as a tug boat captain, but he hopes to retire soon. He also plans on transferring his GI Bill to his children and help put them through college. Until then, he’d like to spend more quality time with them camping and white water rafting.

Vets-Day_blog_icontact“Operation Homefront and Wells Fargo are what make this country great,” added Edward. “Thank you all for helping the veteran community.”

Thank you, Edward, for how you chose to answer the call and build a life of military service.

Join Operation Homefront as we increase our efforts to help our military families. Find out more at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

operation-homefront-veteran-johnsonPaul Johnson understands that you never know where life will take you, what doors will close, and the others that will open. One life changing journey began for Paul when he emigrated to the U.S. from England in 2000. He settled in New York City.

And then, on September 11, 2001…

After that day, Paul felt the need to answer the call on behalf of his “new country.” He attended fleet week, toured several Coast Guard vessels, and fell in love with the Coast Guard. He decided to join.

It was a perfect match. Paul loved his job. Not only was Paul protecting his adopted country against the drug trade, but he was also saving lives. Paul and his unit made countless rescues, many involved migrants desperate to reach America who jeopardized their lives trying to cross the seas in structures barely seaworthy. Many of those rescued exhibited the signs of what they would give for a new life. They were exhausted, hungry, dehydrated and frequently required medical attention.

In 2013, however, it was Paul who needed medical attention, as he suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in a shipboard accident. In addition to the TBI diagnosis, Paul was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a result, Paul’s dream of serving his country was ended with a medical discharge from the Coast Guard.

The loss in active duty pay caused a financial hardship, but rather than being deterred, Paul looked at his options. That is when he found Operation Homefront. Although he was not one to ask for assistance, his discussion with our caseworker made him feel like he had a sense of control, a voice in the process. Paul’s family received financial assistance for an auto payment, travel expenses, food, and later, a move to a home where they could focus on their future.

Now on more solid footing, Paul can reflect on the different direction his life has taken. Having a TBI has changed Paul’s life in both positive and negative ways. He became involved in adaptive athletics and that has opened up a wide world of new experiences for him. He has skydived in tandem and became a member of Team USA for the Invictus Games in England, the only Coast Guard member. He received a bronze medal in rowing. He is currently working with a Paralympic rower in a double scull with his eyes on the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Paul hopes that his participation on Team USA will inspire others to perform, believe, and move past their disabilities.

Vets-Day_blog_icontactPaul believes in the importance of understanding that one has options despite changes, injuries, and perceived inabilities. He tries to not think in terms of what he can’t do, but instead how he can do things in a different way.

Because he has been helpedby others so much in the past, Paul would like to get into the other side of service by doing peer counseling. To reach this goal, Paul is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Psychology.

But if we know Paul, he won’t stop there. He has learned that everything is a beginning, not an end.

If Paul’s example has inspired you to do something to help military families and wounded warriors, we invite you to join Operation Homefront and find your own way to answer the call. There are many stories like Paul’s, and they need help now. Visit www.OperationHomefront.net/AnswerTheCall

 

Stephen Comeau isn’t afraid of a challenge. When he felt the call to service, he chose the Marines because, in his view, they were “the hardest”.

operation-homefront-veteran-comeauHis time with the Marines would call on all of his courage and determination. As part of the First Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., Stephen deployed three times. One of those deployments was defined by the Battle of Fallujah, which the U.S. Military called “some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968.”

Stephen would return stateside and become an instructor of mountain warfare training in California.  After three years as an instructor, he joined another battalion at Twentynine Palms, Calif. and was deployed to Afghanistan and Jordan.

Jordan would be Stephen’s fifth and last deployment.

One day while at work, Stephen was showing someone how to do knots when he could not remember what he was doing. Stephen had been involved in several blast incidents and a Humvee accident over his five deployments. It was determined that he battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In June 2013, Stephen was medically retired from the Marine Corps.

Stephen wanted to move somewhere quiet with trees and warm weather. They found what seemed like the “perfect house”, located in a quiet cul de sac in a town in Arizona, and purchased the home. Excited, Melissa and Stephen and their son moved, looking forward to healing and moving forward with life after the military. However, shortly after moving in, they realized the previous owner had remodeled and the downstairs areas had four different types of flooring. Some of the seams in the floor were a hazard for Stephen, who had gait issues as a result of his TBI.

Not long after moving in, Melissa attended a caregiver event in Washington, D.C., and in a conversation with one of our Operation Homefront representatives, learned about programs that help wounded warriors—one of which assisted with home repairs. That meeting was a turning point, as soon after Melissa returned home, Stephen fell and landed on his hip while walking in the downstairs area of their home. Melissa knew something had to be done. They could not afford to fix the floors, and they did not want to move. But Stephen needed to be safe in their home, and something had to be done. She remembered the conversation she had at the caregiver event about our home repair program. Melissa filed an application for assistance with us, which was approved.Vets-Day_blog_icontact

Thanks to the generous support of our partner, Home Depot, we were able to remodel the floors in the Comeau home and make it safe for Stephen. Just as Stephen answered the call to serve his country, Home Depot and Operation Homefront answered the call when he needed help.

Melissa and Stephen now have one less worry as they begin moving forward. Melissa expressed the couple’s thoughts: “Thank you for thinking of the home life and making it safer. I appreciate that someone is out there making the home better for veterans with challenges; people want to stay in their own homes which you recognize. Our home now feels brand new, and it is our dream home.”

Melissa wrote about her experience with Operation Homefront on an Elizabeth Dole blog http://elizabethdolefoundation.org/hiddenheroes-blog/#sthash.WNxqJPRC.i8f0d3iA.dpbs

Learn more about Operation Homefront’s effort to increase support for veterans by visiting www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall.

 

 

Three Simple Words

ATC-ways-to-giveIt’s not something that happens by accident. It’s a choice. A conscious decision.

It may be a path the young man or woman planned to follow since they were kids. It might come as a result of a major world event that stirs up their passion to protect their loved ones.

However they got there, they chose to answer the call.

These three simple words – answer the call – carry with them a great responsibility which less than one percent of Americans will experience through military service.

Not just any heart can answer the call. Only the courageous. Only the brave. Only those willing to take the risk. Only the ones who love their family, their way of life and their country enough to sacrifice it all.

answer-the-all-about-operation-homefrontAnd those mighty souls are the men and women who serve or have served in our military.

They uproot their families and their kids to serve. They spend months at a time thousands of miles from anything familiar. They sleep in humble structures sometimes under constant threat of attack.

They may be the ones who have come back from combat seeing unspeakable things and fight internal battles every day. Or they may be the ones who rest in peace – who offered their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

Since 9/11 alone, over 2.5 million have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 6,800 have been killed. Over 50,000 have been wounded. Hundreds of thousands bear the invisible scars of war. And the effects are felt by families – moms, dads, spouses, siblings, children – who serve, sacrifice and feel the impact right beside their service member.

And they did this for who? For you. For us. For freedom.

So how do we respond?

There is only one way to respond. With gratitude.

Vets-Day_blog_icontactAs we near Veterans Day, what can be said that hasn’t already been said? “Thank you” never seems like enough.

This year, at Operation Homefront, we want to take it a little further.

We will be featuring veterans who answered the call, once again in our “11 days. 11 stories.” blog series beginning on Monday, Nov. 10. Please take a moment to read their stories. Remind yourself what true bravery looks like. We’ll also share about those who may not ever see combat but are just as strongly committed to supporting those who do.

And we want you to join us. In our own ways, here on the homefront, we too can answer the call.

Find a way to support those who sacrifice so much. We have some really great ideas for doing just that on our special website. It includes ways you can show support to our veterans, and our military, as we honor the brave ones on Veterans Day, and as we experience the season of Thanksgiving.

Our veterans deserve it. They answered the call. Today, find your own way to answer the call in support.

To all those who have worn the uniform for the U.S. Military, who have given so much…thank you!

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.

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