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Diana estimates Back-to-School Brigade™ saved her about $100 in 2013 and again in 2015.

Navy wife Diana Moyer saw information about registering for Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade on Facebook. At the time, she and her husband, Steven, were stationed at Great Lakes Naval Station, Illinois. “In Great Lakes, there were a couple web sites that were really great about getting the information out,” she said. Diana registered her oldest son for the Back-to-School Brigade™ event, held at the community center in the Moyers’ housing complex.

The Back-to-School Brigade™ program saves families money by providing backpacks and school supplies for military children. Since inception in 2008, the program has distributed over 250,000 back packs filled with school supplies to military children nationwide. As any parent of school-aged children can tell you, the cost of school supplies can quickly add up, especially in families with multiple children.

Not knowing what to expect from her first Operation Homefront event, Diana was impressed by how organized everything was. Though the line was long, “they were great with getting us through,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling like the kids were going to get lost.” School supplies were organized by grade. “Each kid was able to pick up the box they needed. They picked out their backpack.”

“It was great,” Diana continued. “We didn’t get everything we needed for school, but it was a huge help.” She estimated Back-to-School Brigade™ saved her about $100 in 2013 and again in 2015. The kids re-used their backpacks in 2014, which added to the savings, she said. Their son, Jaxon, now 5, wasn’t old enough to register, but received a backpack because organizers had extras left over.

Diana is looking forward to coming to our Back-to-School Brigade this year in Norfolk, where the family is now stationed.

Diana saw how helpful Back-to-School Brigade™ was for other Great Lakes families too. Recruit division commanders work such long hours during certain periods, “it’s like they’re almost deployed,” she said. “It’s one less thing, especially when you’re stationed away from family.” Not only does Back-to-School Brigade™ help alleviate some of the financial impact of buying back-to-school supplies, but also cuts down on errands. Minimizing the “runaround,” was a great help because at that time, Jaxon was newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, so going anywhere was “a battle,” Diana said. BTSB enabled her to go shopping with just her older son, Connor, now 10, so he could pick out a few special items. “I only had to stop at one place,” she said. “I didn’t have to run to 900 places.”

Their daughter, Romayne, now 3, wasn’t old enough to participate, though OH provided something for preschoolers too so they wouldn’t feel left out: a little suitcase with coloring books.

Diana has registered for the 2017 BTSB in Norfolk, where they now live, glad for the support while Steven, a petty officer 1st class gas turbine electrician, is deployed.

The impact of Back-to-School Brigade™ goes beyond just the family. “I have a lot of teachers in my family,” Diana said. Knowing that the bulk of her kids’ supplies are covered, Diana would buy a couple extra boxes of tissues or containers of wipes for the class, she said.

Diana appreciates that Operation Homefront recognizes the importance of military service, respects the sacrifices that family members make, and shows that through events like Back-to-School Brigade™.

Registration for Back-to-School Brigade™ 2017 events is now open! This July, join Operation Homefront as we help welcome thousands of military families into communities across the county through our #1Mil1Fam Back-to-School Brigade.

 

Thank goodness our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence in the summer! The 4th of July is the perfect time to celebrate freedom…freedom from school, freedom from our jobs (for at least a day), and freedom to shoot off fireworks, splash in the water like crazy people, and stay up late at gatherings of friends and family.

But behind all the fun-filled frolicking lies a heart-felt regard for the liberties we enjoy as Americans. That shared love of country draws us together at rodeos, picnics, concerts, parks and services all around the country.

Like one big happy family.

For those of us who serve, have served, or know someone who is serving, we already know that our military is like one big family. We may be next door to each other on base then soon separated by continents, but we share a bond that runs deep, and the support we give each other is often as strong as those from the families of our birth.

At Operation Homefront, we strive every day to honor that bond, and we believe wholeheartedly that strong and stable families help build stronger and better communities. This summer, we invite you to become part of our One Military One Family Back-To-School Brigade initiative.

Throughout the rest of the summer, Operation Homefront will welcome thousands of military families into communities across the county through our Back-to-School Brigade, collecting and distributing backpacks and other school supplies. Now in its 10th year, Back to School Brigade has become one of our favorite events of the year.

It’s like a gathering of one big happy family.

Want to join the fun? Here are some ways:

• If you’re a military family, review our list of events to see if there is event near you.
• Set up a Collection Bin at your office, store, church or school –we’ll provide the signage! Just contact your local field office.
• Help us distribute supplies in your area. Contact your local field office to find out more.
Become a Pick-Up Volunteer and help pick up donated school supplies from a local location
• Make a tax-deductible donation to Operation Homefront which will go to help military families through our Back-to-School Brigade™ and other programs. Or shop at Amazon using this link and Operation Homefront receives a percentage of your overall sales.
• We also love getting pictures from our community. You can send them to socialnet@operationhomefront.org or post to social using #1Mil1Fam.
• Change your Facebook pic to show your support for the military. See more instructions here.
• Follow us on our Facebook page where we will be sharing great moments around the country from our BTSB events and supply drives as well as words of welcome to new families into the community.

We wish you all a Happy Fourth of July and look forward to carrying forward the spirit of America with you in the coming weeks…

One America. One Military. One Family. #1Mil1Fam

by Christy OFarrell.

Marine Corps Sgt. Ruben Barnett, a single dad, and his 3-year-old son, Ruben Jr. are planning to go to Dave & Buster’s arcade in Columbia, South Carolina, to celebrate Father’s Day. The two often play games, go on outings and take road trips together because Ruben arranged his schedule to allow him to spend more time with his son.

Ruben now works at the Naval Consolidated Brig at Naval Weapons Station, Charleston, South Carolina. He prefers the schedule — working 12-hour shifts, but only 14 or 15 days a month — to his old job before he was divorced, working nights often from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., as an avionics technician on helicopters at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Having enlisted in June 2009, Ruben changed his career field and schedule when he re-enlisted in 2014, the year after Ruben Jr. was born. He became a correctional officer at Camp Pendleton, California, and they moved in 2015 to Charleston.

Ruben said it can be a rough job sometimes. “Every once in a while, you’ll have one prisoner that’s not having a good day, and kind of just wants to make everybody else’s day miserable too,” he said. But serving in the military has “definitely more ups than downs,” he said. “I love the Marine Corps,” including the structure and the fraternity. “I’m proud to represent it and be a part of it.”

Ruben Jr. is proud too. His dad said he used to have a children’s Marine Corps uniform that matched his own. Ruben Jr. “always says, ‘that’s cool dad,’” Ruben said. “He likes the badge and belt.”

But things changed the day before Thanksgiving 2016. When Ruben and his son left for work and daycare early that morning, all seemed normal. About 90 minutes later, the fire department called to notify Ruben at his workplace. “When I got there, I could see [the fire] from way down the street and it was terrible,” he said. “I was crushed at first but there were a lot of people there to help me. … Everyone just had words of encouragement and helped me through it.”

The fire is still under investigation, but apparently started with a faulty Bluetooth speaker, Ruben said. Right afterward, he and his son visited his hometown in Indiana to see his dad and stepmom. Then they moved into temporary housing, not far from the burned unit, and after about a month, into a more permanent location.

Photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin West.

The base housing office immediately secured a new place for the pair to live. But their new digs would have been empty since they also lost all their belongings, including furniture, clothing, household goods and food. “It was all just gone,” he said.

Operation Homefront arranged for BAE Systems in Summerville, South Carolina, to provide Ruben and his son $750 in gift cards to Lowe’s, Sears, Target and other stores, plus an additional $1,500 worth of goods, including a bed and mattress for Ruben Jr., a washer and dryer, many household items, and Christmas gifts and toys. “It was really nice,” Ruben recalls. “It was crazy like over time you build up so much stuff,” he said. “You buy stuff here; you buy stuff there. You don’t really think about how much you have or how much you’ve spent, or what you have until something like that happens.”

“I’d never heard of Operation Homefront until this fire,” Ruben said. “It was a huge relief. I was excited, I guess kind of at a loss for words.” Ruben said he was thankful that people who didn’t even know him would help. “I was grateful to be where I’m at and to receive the blessings. It’s not something that happens for everybody.”

“Hearing Ruben describe his ‘huge relief’ as a result of Operation Homefront’s support is precisely the impact we seek to deliver,” reflects John Pray, CEO and President of Operation Homefront. “We know that if we can help military families’ overcome their short-term financial challenges, we are able to ensure they stand a better chance for a brighter future — one where they thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

“Thank you to Operation Homefront and BAE Systems,” Air Force Col. Robert Lyman, Joint Base Charleston commander, said in a base publication about the fire. “This was a nice and gracious touch from our community.”

Ruben Jr. never saw the burned house, his dad said. If there was a bright side, it is that Ruben Jr. has enjoyed the places they moved to after the fire. The temporary house they stayed in initially for about a month had something his old house didn’t: stairs. “He just wanted to play on the stairs the whole time,” Ruben said. And at the one-level home they’re in now, the park and playground are practically in their backyard. “He just wants to go out the back door, right to the park,” Ruben said. “It worked out perfectly.”

Now, life is getting back to normal. On Ruben’s work days, Ruben Jr. goes to daycare from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The facility is only about 15 minutes away from their home, but not on base because there was a wait list for the on-base center. On his days off, father and son have fun. “We go get haircuts every week,” Ruben said. “In the military, obviously, I have to have a haircut. I don’t feel like it would be right for me to have a haircut and he doesn’t.

“I’ll pick him up early from daycare,” he continued. “We’ll go to the park,” indoor trampolines at Velocity Air Sports or Chuck E. Cheese pizza, where they eat one of his son’s favorite foods, a list that also includes pasta and chicken nuggets. “When I’m going out, he goes with me.”

Ruben expects to be in Charleston for at least another four to five months. “Hopefully, I get selected for promotion,” he said. “I’d like to stay in for the full 20 years.”

Ruben Jr. regularly sees his mother, who also lives in Charleston, but his father is his primary caretaker.

Ruben’s father was in the Marines before Ruben was born, so he did not experience military life when he was young. But he believes it will benefit his son, maybe even giving him a chance to learn another language, if for example, they move to Japan.

“You get to experience different cultures and different walks of life,” he said. “You meet different people and see how they live. It should be a positive thing versus just growing up and you only know one thing or one way of living. It’s a huge world out there. You’ve got to get out and see it.”

 

“Every act of kindness grows the spirit and strengthens the soul.” Anonymous

Thank You for joining us throughout May to show your support for military families as part of our #Mission2Honor campaign. As we close out the month, we’d like to share some of our favorites we received. We hope they will inspire our military and veteran families and give them the strength of knowing their country stands behind them:

 

Thank you for the huge sacrifice and commitment to our safety and freedoms. I thank you for your selfless service. You are appreciated every day! 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸-Sally L.

 

Thank you so much for your willingness to serve, your commitment to protect, and your dedication to excellence! Take care! God Bless America. -Major Jeff B., USAF (Ret)

 

Thank you to our heroes! Your sacrifices to our country will never go unnoticed! ❤️-Tina F

 

Thank you for choosing to fight for this amazing country of ours. It is because of your service and your sacrifices our freedoms are cherished. Thanks be to those that fought to defend this country and those who lost their lives. But you all took the same vow, to defend your loved one and strangers and even enemies. Our family honors you today. Thank you for you and families service! -Collins Family

 

To all of our retired veterans and their loved ones; to all of our currently deployed military service men and women and their loved ones, and, to every recently-served service man and woman who has completed their tour of duty and is back in the U.S. as well as to any and ALL returned-to-the-U.S. service men and women who have sustained injuries, of ALL kinds, due to their recent service anywhere around the world, and, to all military service men, women and all of their loved ones, who are dealing with financial, emotional, familial, spiritual, etc., issues, and, finally, to ALL others, who have served our country, militarily, and their loved ones: THANK YOU! THANK YOU…each and every one! This country owes U OUR forever thanks!!! -Deborah T

 

Thank you for your service! May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you, guide you direct you, may his Angels bring you home safely without any harm. May Jesus comfort your loved ones and give them peace. Thanks again for your service! God Bless you! -Gail Hblessings to you and your family.-Adrian N

 

Thank you for everything you have done! I see many people forgetting what amazing people like you have done to give them the freedom they have. I hope you are having a great day and know that many people, myself included, thank you and your friends and appreciate you all so much for what you guys have sacrificed. I am in the JROTC program and just know that all of you are highly respected and we look up to you guys for your hard work and determination. I hope you are having the best day ever. Much love from Nevada -Tiana M.

 

I want you to know how grateful I am for your service to our country. You are making a great sacrifice and should be proud of yourself. I wish you the best of luck and hope you can come home soon. Our country is very lucky to good people like you. -Kathleen H.

 

I don’t need to know you to know My heart thanks you so much for all that you do for the people of this Country. A sacrifice not many do. Always be strong and don’t let anything break you. Always stand on the side of right. You got this. Sending many

 

There is still time to send your own message of support via the link below, or create your own social media post using the hashtag #Mission2Honor.

Send a message of support!

Thank you for joining us in helping build strong, stable, and secure military families.

Find out more about our #Mission2Honor campaign and ways you can honor military families beyond Military Appreciation Month.

Flags In.

by John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.). President & CEO of Operation Homefront.

From our Arlington office, it’s a short 15-minute walk to N. Marshall Place near an entrance to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. That’s where you can see over the brick wall into the northern section of Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 400,000 military members, family members and others who have perished in the service of our great nation.

Section 27 is one of the oldest plots at Arlington National Cemetery.

Directly ahead is Section 27, where the first black combat soldiers of the Civil War are buried. Much further away is Section 60, the final resting place of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even further is Section 6, where my father and mother are buried.

While Memorial Day has become increasingly synonymous with the kickoff of summer, it is meant to be a day of remembrance for those who have “given the last full measure” in service to our country. Today, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, will place flags at over 228,000 headstones and 7,000 rows at the Columbarium to honor our fallen heroes.

Section 60, the final resting place of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At Operation Homefront, we have the unique ability to see firsthand the challenges that our service members and their families make to protect our way of life. We thank them for their service through our own service. Our promise – to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect — drives us all.

I would encourage all to consider The National Moment of Remembrance and to pause wherever where we are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to our nation. It is an opportunity to reflect the true meaning of Memorial Day, and honor those who gave their tomorrows for our todays.

As part of our #Mission2Honor campaign, we asked you to share messages of thanks to our military families. Today is Thankful Thursday, and with Armed Forces Day around the corner, we challenge our community to send your own message of support via the link below, or create your own social media post using the hashtag #Mission2Honor.

Send a message of support!

This week, we picked some of our favorites we’ve received so far!

Thank you so much for all that you do and for the family that was left behind while you were protecting mine. You are true heroes. Thank you for everything. — Sherri C.

Thank you for your sacrifices each day so my family can live in such a wonderful country! From one Veteran to another, I appreciate each of you! — Retired Sgt. And Wounded Veteran, Don R.

Thank you so much for your sacrifice and service. Military members and their families have had to sacrifice so much, the past 16 years especially. I want to offer my heartfelt thanks and gratitude for all you do for our country. — Jim W.

A world of thanks to those who serve and their families for securing peace and prosperity for our country.  We are the best nation because our military guarantees us the space, resources, and freedom to pursue excellence in business, education, health care and all the other endeavors which make us Number 1.  THANK YOU!  THANK YOU!  THANK YOU! — John A.

I support all our military personnel and their families. You guys do a great job by serving and protecting our country. Thank you so much!! Salute for all of you guys!! — Janine S.

Join us for Military Appreciation Month and send a message of support to honor those who have served and are continuing to serve our communities across the country, using this link or via your social using #Mission2Honor. We will continue to share your messages as they come in.

 

Last year for Mother’s Day, Air Force mom La Toya Wall received four “crazy looking birdhouses” that each of her children made at a Home Depot workshop in Anchorage, Alaska. The workshop was among many La Toya took her kids to on weekends while her husband, Blake Jacob, was deployed to Kuwait during the first half of 2016.

m2h operation homefront mother military WallJacobFam“It actually helped pass the time while he was deployed,” she said. “It put me on a schedule, knowing that they had these events” to occupy Sidney, 11; Khloee, 10; Khodee, 4; and Storee, 3. Blake also has a 9-year-old daughter, Ryleigh, who lives in Arizona with her mother. “It was awesome,” said LaToya, who compared the workshops to Scouting because Home Depot gives the kids aprons, achievement certificates, and patches or pins for their aprons. “It helped out a lot.”

Creative solutions are one of the things La Toya is known for at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, where the family has been stationed since 2013. She also wows her friends as a cook, baker, seamstress, decorator and multi-family game night coordinator.

“We’re a nerdy family,” she said. “We have a lot of game nights,” lip synching karaoke battles and Iron-Chef-style competitions, even sending guests home with to-go boxes because she was tired of all her Tupperware disappearing.

La Toya’s family will celebrate her this Mother’s Day — Blake will cook breakfast and dinner, and take the family hiking — for many of the same qualities that military moms across the world are honored, including self-reliance, resilience and a can-do attitude.

“You don’t necessarily depend on other people,” she said. “Moving here has definitely helped me into allowing other people to help. I’m used to just doing things. You don’t just wait for someone to do it for you.”

For her part, La Toya is thankful that the military exposes her and her family to diversity, “getting to meet people from different nationalities and cultures … I love that.”

m2h operation homefront military mom WallJacobFam2La Toya wouldn’t have known about the Home Depot workshops, where she made friends with other families who introduced her to a hiking group, if she hadn’t attended an Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade event in 2015. Home Depot, an OH donor, and other organizations that serve military families often provide information at OH events. At BTSB, her children and many others received backpacks filled with money-saving school supplies. “I’m always helping other people, so it was nice to be on the receiving side,” La Toya said. OH has distributed more than 250,000 backpacks to military children since the program began in 2008.

In 2016, La Toya and Blake participated again in BTSB, and also in Holiday Meals for Military at Thanksgiving and the Holiday Toy Drive at Christmas. La Toya particularly enjoyed the social atmosphere, like a church potluck, at the Holiday Toy Drive event, which included a cookie exchange. Each child receives a gift, and Santa is there to take pictures with families, something La Toya had been having trouble finding time to do, especially since Blake had been working nights.

When La Toya first heard about Operation Homefront from a friend, she wondered if it was only for needy families. “I’m pretty sure there’s someone that needs it more than I do,” she said, adding she didn’t want to take away from another family. But after learning more about who can qualify for some Operation Homefront programs, she realized, “This is for everybody.”

The families at the toy drive also received children’s passes to the local indoor waterpark, which La Toya has been putting off visiting because of the expense.

Under the Holiday Meals program, military families receive groceries or gift cards to buy food. The defrayed grocery costs allowed La Toya to buy ingredients to bake extra treats for her daughter’s birthday, which is on Christmas Day. “The day she came, I just couldn’t imagine not having her or any of them. I like the crazy smiles that I get sometimes.”

La Toya comes from a large family, the oldest with 15 siblings, at least seven of whom lived together in Texas. “My [step] mom would have a full household of all of us kids at any given time,” she said. Stressful babysitting and elder care responsibilities for her siblings and grandparents often fell to La Toya before she was 18. Even after she married the first time, she would sometimes travel home to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

“Cooking is the only way I can get everyone together. Food is like my family’s binder.” Over the last several years, La Toya has come to better understand her family’s dynamics, but has also welcomed the opportunity to shift from caring for her extended family to herself and her nuclear family.

“My kids have never really had traditional grandparents, and I have never had traditional parents,” said La Toya, who has not had a relationship with her biological mother since she was 5. “I don’t ever want to miss a moment with my kids,” she said, adding that she volunteers to chaperone almost every field trip.

Her stepmother, as a Jehovah’s Witness, does not celebrate holidays, so La Toya typically would simply call to tell her “I really appreciate that you stepped up when you didn’t have to.”

La Toya has been further shaped by miscarrying a baby at two months, and twins at 6 months, her three “angel babies.”

La Toya and Blake will move their family soon to Colorado, where Blake, a staff sergeant in logistics, will support the Air Force band. La Toya is considering starting a baking business or some other creative line of work, but is concerned making it a profession might take the fun out of hobbies she enjoys. “It’s very therapeutic,” she said of baking.

Their journey will be another adventure, traveling by ferry for four days to Washington and then driving through Idaho and Wyoming. Blake wanted to surprise La Toya because she loves lighthouses and he knew they would see several at ferry stops. But she’s not a fan of surprises, and was resisting taking the ferry, so he told her.

Remembering the two-week drive to Anchorage from Texas, passing through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Canada including the Yukon Territory with three kids and pregnant, and a couple flat tires along the way, La Toya and Blake happily “found out we like being married to each other,” she joked.

It’s Military Appreciation Month! Consider joining us on our Mission2Honor military and veteran families throughout the month of May. No matter how you choose to honor service members and their families, don’t let this month pass by without doing something to show your appreciation.

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