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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.

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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:

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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.

As we wrap up the Month of the Military Child, we asked the past winners of our Military Child of the Year award what they want Americans to know about military kids. Nine out of 17 of our past recipients provided input for this blog. They brought us up to date on where they’ve been — and where they’re headed — and they STILL continue to inspire us!

Now, in their own words…

operation-homefront-blog-kids-1“Military kids are little warriors themselves. Many have to move multiple times and start over in new schools and towns, make new friends constantly (a scary thought for those in middle school), and send their fathers and mothers off to war. That being said, military kids are not to be underestimated. Military kids are outgoing, resilient, creative, and strong. The hardships and the sacrifices that comes with being part of a military family only makes us that much stronger and that much more motivated to change the world for the better.”

Nicole Goetz – 2011 Air Force Military Child of the Year(Nicole is working on her undergrad degree in Georgia and is partnering with fellow MCOY recipient Maggie Rochon to create a new military nonprofit that focuses on reintegration and bridging the military-civilian gap.)

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-2“The children share their parents love for serving.”

Willie Banks, 2010 Military Child of the Year (Willie, a very active 8th grader, is working towards becoming a historian, a professional soccer player, and a saxophone player.)

 

 

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-3“I truly don’t think anyone can understand the reality of what it’s like to be a military child unless you’ve been one yourself. Military families are unique in that they all have a common bond and that is knowing how to accept change. Whether it is moving every few months/years, or having a parent go away or get deployed for lengthy periods of time. It can be challenging. Not only are our active duty military parents making self-sacrifices for our country, but those families are making sacrifices too. It’s incredible to see the service our young military heroes make for both their families and our country. I think that’s the beauty of living the life as a military child. We are presented amazing opportunities to enrich and immerse ourselves in new cultures and ways of life. It is up to us to take advantage of those opportunities and cherish every moment of it.”

Alena Deveau, 2012 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year (Currently, Alena is double majoring in Meteorology and Geography and minoring in Communications. Right now, she is leaning toward working in the service sector.)

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-4Being a Military child is the best way to grow up. Yes, it is hard at times but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. We learn the respect, values and morals from the military environment. I think most military children would agree that we have a bond that can’t be broken because of the military experience we share.”

Chelsea Rutherford, 2012 Air Force Military Child of the Year (Chelsea hopes to be an elementary teacher by this time next year. She is eager to start in her classroom and begin her journey.)

 

 

 

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-5“I want America to know about all the sacrifices that military children make every day. (They) move countless times, have to step up and become the leaders of the house when their loved ones are deployed, or continually be the rock when times are tough.”

Mark Newberry, 2013 Air Force Military Child of the Year (Mark is a pre-med student, through the Air Force ROTC, in Michigan. He wants to become a surgeon, so he has joined a pre-med club on campus and is shadowing a thoracic surgeon).

 

 

 

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-6.jpg“The saying, “kids serve too” is very true. We move every few years, have to make new connections and support systems, and many of us face the fact that our fathers and mothers might not come home. It is a fact of life for military children, and we continue to live our lives as normally as possible. Many of us do not have hometowns or childhood homes that we grew up in. I was born in Japan, and have lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Hawaii. These experiences are difficult to cope with, but form our personalities, and make us who we are. We adapt, and change is just part of our everyday lives. We devote our lives to the military lifestyle, and home is where the military sends us.”

Erika Booth, 2012 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year (Erika is currently an undergrad student in North Carolina. She is a biology major with a minor in chemistry, and hopes to get into medical school after getting her undergraduate degree.)

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-7“I want America to know that military kids sacrifice just as much alongside their parents in order to protect this country. They move schools frequently, adapt to new environments, and travel the world representing our country. They are the strongest people I know. “

Nicole Daly, 2013 Army Military Child of the Year  (Nicole, a senior in high school, has started her own nonprofit with a mission to spread awareness about the problems of poverty and their connection to the lack of education throughout the world. She says that after college she has a passion to fight the global education crisis.)

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-8“I want America to know that military kids should be honored because of what they go through.  Moving all of the time, parents being deployed, and not being treated the same, military children go through some daily struggles that other children do not. And they should be recognized for that.” 

Amanda Wimmersberg, 2013 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year (Amanda is an undergrad student in Florida. She has a dream of eventually becoming a nurse practitioner for either surgery or pediatric oncology.) 

 

 

 

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-9.jpg“They are the best kids in the world! They live extremely tough lives, yet they continue to work hard and challenge themselves every day. They make sacrifices for our freedom, just like their parents. They are a very special breed- one that deserves recognition. Next time you meet a military kid, thank them!” 

Abigail Perdew, 2013 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year (Abigail is a “plebe” at the U.S. Naval Academy. She is working toward a political science and Arabic double major. She is hoping to earn a commission in the Marine Corps, where she would like to serve her country as either a Public Affairs Officer or a Foreign Area Officer.)

by Jim Knotts
President and CEO of Operation Homefront.

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There are two million children under the age of 18 with an active-duty parent. 500,000 of those are children under the age of 6

With April as Month of the Military Child and our signature Military Child of the Year™ (MCOY) program just completed – there’s no better time to pause and reflect on the unique challenges of being a military kid today – and why our focus on them is so important to what we do here at Operation Homefront.

We see firsthand in our work that the strains of more than 13 years of war have exacted a toll on not just those who serve, but the family members who stand with them in service. We also know that a number of research efforts have been completed in the past several years trying to quantify the impact and catalog the challenges confronting military kids.

A Child Trends Research Brief, Homefront Alert: The Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families, published last year found that the composition of military families today is very different than thirty years ago. Today, about half of active-duty service members are parents, compared to just 15 percent in the Vietnam era – most of whom were officers. And significantly, the report noted that of two million children under the age of 18 with an active-duty parent, 500,000 of those are children under the age of 6. So at a time when our country has been fighting its longest sustained war, the stresses associated with military life are falling on an increasingly young military child population.

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The stresses associated with military life are falling on an increasingly young military child population

As children deal with life without their deployed parent and help the other parent along in the process, it creates family stress. A RAND Corporation study conducted throughout 2008 and 2009 found that 30 percent of the youth surveyed reported elevated anxiety levels, as compared with 15 percent of non-military youth. They face a burden that non-military children do not, and many of those non-military children cannot understand what it’s like for the military children, which creates additional stress in an already difficult situation.

I highlight this research because when you think of military kids, and the programs supporting them and military families, the importance of our work is all too abundantly clear. Whether it’s Back-to-School Brigade™, or Holiday Toy Drive, we seek to normalize where possible what we know are demands that military kids and families face that are often precipitated by service to country. And all kids, no matter their background or their parents’ occupation, deserve the chance to realize their full potential.

As we near the end of the Month of the Military Child, Operation Homefront will continue to deliver at the highest level with the programs and services we provide to this most deserving group of young patriots, and, continually look for ways we can help break down barriers that might impede their progress in realizing their dreams.

If you haven’t already, read the bios of this year’s MCOY award recipients. They truly are amazing and inspirational. If you’re like me, you can’t help but feel humbled by their tremendous achievements. Meeting this exemplary group of young people each year always inspires me to re-double my efforts and recommit to our mission, and I hope you too are spurred to action to do whatever you can in support of military kids and military families.

 

Jim (second from left) with MCOY 2014 for Coast Guard Juanita Collins and family, along with VADM Manson Brown, USCG, at the 2014 MCOY gala, April 10.

Jim (second from left) with MCOY 2014 for Coast Guard Juanita Collins and family, along with VADM Manson Brown, USCG, at the 2014 MCOY gala, April 10. Military children truly are amazing and inspirational. Our focus on them is an integral part of the mission of Operation Homefront.

Related:

Why Month of the Military Child? Because they deserve to take center stage.

We’re going to do a little bragging… (Military Child of the Year 2014)

Military Kids Take Center Stage

Bret Michaels pops in to meet and greet the kids before the gala.

Bret Michaels pops in to meet and greet the kids before the gala.

On a night fit for a rock star, the 2014 Military Child of the Year (MCOY) gala lived up to its billing last week as the “preeminent recognition event for military kids,” in the words of president and CEO Jim Knotts. More than 300 loyal fans gathered to celebrate and honor five truly outstanding young Americans who understand what it means “to serve,” at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Va.

 

With more than 2 million military kids today – who all serve their country as an extension of their parents – it’s incredibly difficult to select just five honorees. However, when you consider the level of achievement, selfless service to others, as well as future goals and aspirations, there’s no doubt that these kids stack up to any group of young people across America!

 

 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey joined us for the third year in a row.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey joined us for the third year in a row.

MCOY wouldn’t be what it is today without the literally “uniform” support of our nation’s senior most military leadership. Back for the third straight year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey set a tone and an example modeled by the other service chiefs and senior leaders in attendance. “We can’t settle for mediocrity…the kids here tonight will not accept mediocrity and will make a difference in the world,” General Dempsey told the audience when acknowledging a common question he faces about whether the country is advancing or declining.

 

Legendary musician Bret Michaels and General Dempsey surprised and delighted the audience with an impromptu duet.

Legendary musician Bret Michaels and General Dempsey surprised and delighted the audience with an impromptu duet.

General Dempsey proved once again this year that he can set tone through more than stature and presence alone – and treated everyone to a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” – but with a twist. Recognizing the star power available to him in the audience, General Dempsey sought out the keynote speaker for the evening, legendary rocker and philanthropist Bret Michaels, to join him on stage. While there aren’t any plans in place for them to go on tour – yet – there’s no doubt that together they injected an unprecedented level of energy into an already high power evening.

 

For Michaels, his opportunity to deliver remarks as the keynote was an expression of his thanks for the sacrifices made by those in the military and their families. As a military kid himself, he stood in awe of the achievements of the honorees. “I get to play music the way I want to do it, I get to look the way I want to look and it’s all because of the sacrifice you made,” Michaels said to the honorees, their parents, and those veterans and service members in the audience. “I want to congratulate [them] on their fight in overcoming adversity [and] taking a chance to make some great opportunities.”

 

Fox News correspondent Mike Emanuel brought polish and authenticity to an already memorable evening .

Fox News correspondent Mike Emanuel brought polish and authenticity to an already memorable evening .

FOX News Chief Congressional Correspondent Mike Emanuel did a masterful job as emcee for the evening, adeptly moving between each senior military award presenter and guest, with the perfect balance of humor and genuine expression of gratitude for military service writ large.

 

Congratulations again to all the recipients. Read more about the award winners here. Click here to view a full display of photographs from the event.

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