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By Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer and Interim CEO, Operation Homefront.

Two weeks ago, you could almost hear a (virtual) pin drop before the announcement of the findings of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). The Services are still buckling from the heavy toll exacted on people and equipment from more than 13 years of war – and sequestration remains the law of the land returning next fiscal year unless our elected officials choose a more reasoned approach. How much bigger of a sacrifice will be asked of our military and their families?

Military pay and compensation is always a topic you must be prepared to dive into. Changes to military pay and compensation are almost certain to attract passionate responses. But as more detailed information about the contents of the report began to leak, and then after the 300+ page paper dropped, the responses across social media were surprisingly moderate.

Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green, sergeant major for I Marine Expeditionary Force, expresses his ideas to representatives of the Department of Defense Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Mar. 25. The Commission's goal is to update programs and resources to fit the changing needs of service members. (photo by LCpl Caitlin Bevel, DVIDS)

Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green, sergeant major for I Marine Expeditionary Force, expresses his ideas to representatives of the Department of Defense Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Mar. 25. The Commission’s goal is to update programs and resources to fit the changing needs of service members.
(photo by LCpl Caitlin Bevel, DVIDS)

Perhaps it was due to the fact that the Commission visited 55 military installations and gathered more than 150,000 responses and input from military members, their families, and veterans over two years. Or maybe that the reality of tight fiscal conditions and the 21st Century military means accepting that the status quo is unrealistic.

Perhaps, it is indeed time for fresh ideas.

After all, the stated focus of the MCRMC was to modernize. In fact, commissioners testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee were quite blunt about it. Repeatedly, the mission of the Commission was described as modernizing, not cutting costs.

It is no surprise that the Commission landed heavily on retirement and health care. The current military retirement system is 70-plus years old. Currently, as designed, only 17 percent of those who serve will make it to the 20-year mark, and a significantly larger percentage of officers reach retirement than enlisted members. Under the MCRMC proposal, it is estimated that 75 percent of those who serve will leave with some retirement benefit. Combined with significant emphasis on financial education throughout one’s time in service, this could mean strengthening our military and their families, not only while they serve, but helping build a strong foundation for life after their service has ended. This does not come without risk, and puts a greater onus on service members and their families to plan financially for their long-term sustainability.

TRICARE was implemented in the 1990s, and in speaking with families, service members and veterans, the Commission stated that, over and over again, families wanted choice, access and value. Allowing them to choose a commercial health insurance plan and providing allowances for the cost of deductibles and premiums should ideally allow families more control over their health care needs. That said, this will likely come with increased individual family costs, and must be taken into account.

Additional recommendations made by the Commission are intended to strengthen support of families with more childcare and improved access to services for special needs children. We hope this intent can be realized.

We encourage ideas that empower our military families not only while they serve, but prepare them for success in life when they transition,

We encourage ideas that empower our military families not only while they serve, but that also prepare them for success in life when they transition.

Our mission at Operation Homefront is to provide emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors. Though policy matters are not our mission focus, anything that affects them is something we keep an eye on. We receive calls from transitioning service members every day, and see the challenges they face starting over. It is one of the reasons we offer and often require financial counseling as part of our emergency financial services. We encourage ideas that empower them for life after service, especially when that service ends far earlier than expected at great cost to their physical and mental health.

Our team here at Operation Homefront certainly understands and shares some of the same feelings of concern and uncertainty that our families have about the future and what, if any, changes are adopted. With the ever increasing global crises, threats and strain on readiness and families, we stand prepared to support them in any way we can so that our volunteer force in the 21st Century continues to remain, as MCRMC Chairman Alphonso Maldon, Jr. put it, “without peer.”

Carnival Brings The Party!

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Surprise!

It was a total surprise. Military kids Ryan, age 8, and Johnily, age 11, had no idea where they were going as they left Ft. Hood that day. You can imagine how their eyes must have gotten bigger as the cruise ship came into view. And how the excitement increased as they boarded the beautiful vessel, reading the words Carnival Freedom along the side.

The name of the ship was aptly chosen…because those who protect our freedom were about to be given a grand celebration!

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It has been a tough few years for Marily, John and the kids, as Marily has battled breast cancer.

Army Major John Considine and his wife Marily were excited when they were chosen to attend Celebrate Freedom, a night planned by Carnival Cruise Line and Operation Homefront, to honor military families and welcome the ship to its new homeport in Galveston, Texas. “We had never been on a cruise ship, the kids thought it was amazing!” said Marily.

But the night was even more special because of the years that came before that night. Along with the difficult sacrifices military families have to make, Marily has battled breast cancer for four years. And one of their favorite songs, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” is sung by Martina McBride, who performed in a special outdoor Carnival LIVE Performance on the top deck.

“We were only 3-4 rows from (her),” said Marily. The beautiful weather made for a perfect evening and they were able to dance together.

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Christine Duffy, President of Carnival Cruise Line, John Heald, Senior Cruise Director, Carnival Cruise Line presenting Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer and Interim CEO, with a $100,000 donation help military families.

Carnival organized the pierside event for hundreds of military families who got to spend one night on the cruise ship, enjoying all the best:

  • entertainment (music, dancing, comedians, video arcade and more),
  • food (complimentary food and cocktails, from Guy’s Burger Joint (created with Guy Fieri) to lobster at dinner and everything in between),
  • fun (hot tubs, dancing waiters, ice cream kiosks, comfy rooms) and
  • the cruise ship experience (fresh air, beautiful environment, free kids camp, friendly staff)

And the celebration got even bigger when Carnival President Christine Duffy presented a $100,000 check to Operation Homefront, “so you can continue to do the great service that you provide today for military families.”

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We are honored to be able to say “Thank You” to our military families in such special ways, thanks to great companies like Carnival Cruise Line.

For the Considine family, they were touched by all of the non-military families on board who took the time to thank John for his service. “The appreciation (from Carnival and the other guests) was wonderful and nice to hear.”

As for Ryan and Johnily, who is a semi-finalist for Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year, they enjoyed unlimited amounts of ice cream, pizza at midnight (just because they could), fun in the hot tub, the arcade and the theatre dance show. “As much as they explored, they were still unable to see everything,” said Marily.

“We would like to thank Carnival for this opportunity and it was nice to see the ($100,000) donation by them to Operation Homefront.”

The family capped a night under the stars watching a “dive-in” movie on the Lido Deck while their kids swam in the nearby hot tub. We wish them many more nights (and days) of happiness together.

View more pictures from the event.

Read the full press release.

Operation Homefront is extremely grateful for partners like Carnival Cruise Line who not only help us honor and celebrate military families but also provide much needed emergency financial and other assistance for military, veteran and wounded warrior families.

(Reflections from Operation Homefront staff members who saw the movie this weekend.)

Art. It can inspire. Or disturb. It is meant to generate strong feelings in the viewer. And the movie American Sniper has definitely generated plenty of those.

american_sniper_ver2The movie, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, America’s most well-known sniper, is still seeing record attendance at the box office since it opened two weekends ago.

Some have wept. Some have been stunned into silence. Others have cheered and felt inspired. And still others were angered, disgusted. Some pundits in the public eye have taken shots to discredit the man, the movie and by extension the military. That is difficult to stomach, if you carry a strong pride for the military, like many of us do.

THE DISCONNECT

One thing is clear from the numerous voices chiming in on the movie: there is still a difference in processing what has occurred through 13 years of war. One line in the movie aptly illustrates the disconnect between most Americans and the war “over there.”

In one scene, Kyle has come back from his first tour and he and his wife have just left the doctor’s office for her pregnancy check-up. Kyle says, “There are people dying over there and I look around and it’s like it’s not even happening. It’s barely on the news, no one talks about it. They’re all on their cell phones. No one cares. And if I stay too long, I’ll forget about it too…We’re at war and I’m headed to the mall.”

THE SACRIFICE

Before his death in 2013, Kyle found out the movie was going to be made. He said, “I hope…that the movie will give people a small understanding of the massive sacrifice these guys make in going to war. It’s hard to comprehend the journey and hardship these servicemen and their families go through…If this movie can offer a small window into that world, I’ll be very happy.*”

Unless you’ve lived the military life, you can’t comprehend the sacrifice of service members and their families. Months apart. Sleepless nights. Wondering if this good-bye will be the last. Knowing too many for whom it was. And then, once home, battling the wounds and scars that continue inside the mind.

This movie conveys that sacrifice in a way most Americans can understand. That’s critical for our service members who continue to deploy, if even on a smaller scale, and for those who bear the seen and unseen wounds of making that sacrifice. 

THE WAIT

In the movie, Kyle, like many service members, is torn between his family needing him at home and the desire to watch over Marines as they patrol and clear the streets of Fallujah and Ramadi. Kyle felt a strong urge to protect his country and by extension, his family, though they struggled as a result.

“God, country, family – isn’t that what you guys always say? Let me know when that order changes.” Kyle’s wife Taya was forced to manage on the homefront without her husband and, at times, detested taking a back seat to the military. The sense of duty service members feel stirs up both pride and frustration in the ones who wait for their return. The loneliness can be excruciating and there is no easy solution.

THE AFTERMATH

Bobby Henline, wounded warrior, friend of Operation Homefront and star of the film Comedy Warriors had this comment about the movie, “…how real the home life with his family was and how real it was for him to deal with his PTSD triggers, that’s what really hit home with me… It reminded me that I haven’t come home yet. Don’t know if I totally ever will. It’s harder for me when I’m around my family then when I’m alone or with military friends…I left my family three more times after I was wounded to go overseas to the troops. It was easy and it’s sad that it’s easy to do that.”

Hundreds of thousands of military families feel the effects of war:  Post-Traumatic Stress; Traumatic Brain Injury; bodily injuries and death; and financial and emotional struggles. That’s where Operation Homefront is able to help with programs for caregivers, free transitional housing, and emergency financial assistance.

THE REALITY OF A DANGEROUS WORLD

The shootings in France, the periodic beheadings, the ongoing threats are all reminders that evil is always brewing just below the surface. And we need brave men and women who are willing to lay down their lives to combat the dark forces that plague our world. Our way of life, the freedoms we enjoy, have been earned through sacrifice that few will experience for themselves. And that’s ok.

And for the ones who choose to serve, we should always stand and applaud them. By coming out in record numbers, Americans are bearing witness. They are connecting. And we hope they continue.

The story is about Chris Kyle, but we all should be able to agree on one thing. This movie is rekindling a pride in our service members, a small understanding of the sacrifices our military makes and the reminder that they need our support beyond packing the theater and posting Internet missives.

Rest in peace, Chris. Thank you.

*Quote from the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by C

More Than Numbers

We asked. You heard and responded. Thank you for answering the call!

On Giving Tuesday last month, we announced that our friends at Murphy-Goode Winery had offered a $100,000 match for donations to Operation Homefront. Many of you jumped on board and gave! And we met our match…quickly…with flying colors!

But it’s more than just dollars and numbers. It affects real people, like:

  • Amanda, a single mom from Arkansas, who joined the Army and was injured while deployed. Operation Homefront helped her with food, diapers, and her mortgage payment, helping her get back on her feet again.
  • David, a sailor from Arizona, who has a long legacy of military service in his family. He was injured while serving on an aircraft carrier, underwent many surgeries and got caught up in VA delays with no money to make ends meet. We helped him with food, utilities and travel costs for his medical appointments.
  • Sean, a wounded Marine from Illinois, who joined the service after Sept. 11. He battles PTSD and brain cancer. Operation Homefront helped him with car repairs so he could get to his medical appointments.

And the list goes on and includes thousands of families we’ve been honored to serve. We asked you to answer the call and you responded. When you gave to Operation Homefront, you helped them too. You played a part in making life a little easier for our military families and wounded warriors.

So, from us to you, thank you!

And thank you to Murphy-Goode for generously supporting our military families for another year!

Assistance is in the form of grants, not loans, and covers some of the most basic of needs like food, rent, utilities, and critical home repairs. Transitional and permanent mortgage-free housing, as well as family and caregiver support, round out the host of services our organization provides to thousands of military and veteran families each year. Donations can be made using our online donation form or given to our ongoing list of Current Needs.

 

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’” Martin Luther King, Jr.

This third Monday of January, we recognize the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Over the years, it has also become a day to honor his legacy by encouraging a day of community service, “a day on, not a day off.”

A common theme expressed throughout his speeches is simply recognizing the value of each other. That we all have worth, that we all can be a driving force for change, and that together, we can overcome the seemingly impossible. One way to do that is through service and giving back.

military-counsellingMaking a difference is not just about money, or time, or goods supplied, although all of those certainly have the most immediate impact. The support that helps us fix a family’s only car while dad is deployed, or helps an injured soldier keep the roof over his family’s head while he recovers and navigates the VA leviathan is critical. But what is often overlooked is the enduring impact that the support of our community has: the connection we make with another human being at a time when they are most vulnerable and even hopeless.

Dr. King’s words often expressed the feeling one has when they don’t feel they have options, or value. When they feel overlooked or abandoned. Our families are always relieved and grateful for the financial assistance they receive, but what they often remark upon, at times, quite emotionally, is how much it matters that someone cared. That they are not alone, and how, when ready, they intend to pay it forward.

This is how we begin to change the world. One family, one hand lifting up another, one message of hope that can be passed on.

Through service and giving back, we see each other more clearly, and achieve deeper understanding of our individual journeys. Volunteering brings together people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to meet. It is in these encounters that we weave the connections that strengthen our communities and help begin solving what can seem overwhelming.

It will take more than one day, once a year, but today can be a start.

Here are some links to help you find opportunities near you:

For information on getting involved with Operation Homefront’s mission, click here http://www.operationhomefront.net/getinvolved

Points of Light has helped millions of volunteers change the world. They mobilize people to take action on the causes they care about through innovative programs, events and campaigns. Points of Light is creating a culture of volunteerism, one that celebrates the power of service. http://www.pointsoflight.org/

VolunteerMatch strengthens communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect. The organization offers a variety of online services to support a community of nonprofit, volunteer and business leaders committed to civic engagement http://www.volunteermatch.org/

Serve.gov, the online home of United We Serve, is managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency charged with promoting and fostering volunteering and national service in America http://www.serve.gov/

Operation Homefront is proud to announce the semi-finalists for the 2015 Military Child of the Year® Award. These young men and women, ages 8-18, are making BIG impacts in their communities, not just in the US, but globally.  All while juggling the challenges of military life. Truly inspiring.

Join us in congratulating:

ARMY

Joseph C. – age 14 – Colleyville, Texas

Leslie C. – age 17 – Colorado Springs, Colo.

Johnily C. – age 11 – Nolanville, Texas

Savannah H. – age 15 – Coal Valley, Ill.

Haleigh H. – age 17 – Cadiz, Ky.

Amanda L. – age 17 – Watertown, N.Y.

Lorelei M. – age 9 – Duncannon, Pa.

Cavan M. – age 13 – Duncannon, Pa.

Grant N. – age 14 – West Point, N.Y.

Elizabeth O. – age 16 – Fuquay Varina, N.C.

India P. – age 17 – Appling, Ga.

Elisabeth P. – age 12 – Honolulu, Hawaii

Abigail P. – age 17 – Clarksville, Tenn.

Christian S. – age 17 – Seaford, Va.

Rachel S. – age 17 – Dahlonega, Ga.

 

AIR FORCE

Joel B. – age 16 – Dover, Del.

Andre B. – age 17 – Tampa, Fla.

Jacob D. – age 16 – Norman, Okla.

Meaghan F. – age 17 – Beavercreek, Ohio

Sarah H. – age 16 – Doha, Qatar

Andrew L. – age 17 – Laurel, Md.

Jordyn M. – age 8 – Trussville, Ala.

Bethany M. – age 16 – Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.

Gabriella M. – age 17 – Tucson, Ariz.

Kristen R. – age 17 – Osan, Korea

Bridget R. – age 16 – Burke, Va.

Eddie S. – age 14 – Beavercreek, Ohio

Angelo S. – age 17 – Hainesport, N.J.

Caleb Y. – age 16 – Enid, Okla.

David Z. – age 16 – San Antonio, Texas

 

COAST GUARD

Bryn B. – age 17 – Washington, D.C.

Jesse C. – age 17 – Port Angeles, Wash.

Mary Kate C. – age 15 – Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Emily C. – age 17 – Durham, N.H.

Ryan D. – age 11 – Wrightstown, N.J.

Madison F. – age 16 – Southgate, Mich.

Keegan F. – age 16 – Fairhaven, Mass.

Shyanne G. – age 17 – Onancock, Va.

Olivia K. – age 17 – Grangeville, Idaho

Marissa K. – age 15 – Grangeville, Idaho

John K. – age 12 – Grangeville, Idaho

Kylie M. – age 13 – Hamilton, N.J.

Ernesto M. – age 15 – Ashburn, Va.

Chase M. – age 16 – Mobile, Ala.

Caleb P. – age 18 – Pembroke Pines, Fla.

 

MARINE CORPS

Ashton B. – age 12 – Albany, N.Y.

Brianna C. – age 13 – Hill Air Force Base, Utah

Corey C. – age 16 – Havelock, N.C.

Tori E. – age 17 – Mesa, Ariz.

Adriana E. – age 13 – Havelock N.C.

Brady J. – age 17 – Alexandria, Va.

Mary K. – age 17 – Henderson, Nev.

Samuel K. – age 17 – Barre, Vt.

Lyric N. – age 8 – Indianapolis, Ind.

Destiny O. – age 17 – Quantico, Va.

Christopher-Raul R. – age 17 – Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Cezar R. – age 17 – Waynesville, Mo.

Briley R. – age 13 – Saint Paul, Minn.

Emily S. – age 16 – New Kensington, Pa.

Faith S. – age 17 – Biloxi, Miss.

 

NATIONAL GUARD

Mabelle B. – age 11 – Winter Garden, Fla.

Rachel C. – age 18 – Wellesley, Mass.

Adam C. – age 17 – Newport News, Va.

Molly F. – age 14 – Pickerington, Ohio

Brandon G. – age 16 – Newburgh, N.Y.

Michelle G. – age 17 – Colorado Springs, Colo.

Christian G. – age 11 – Fresno, Calif.

Arial J. – age 16 – Lithonia, Ga.

Sara M. – age 17 – Chicago, Ill.

Lily M. – age 13 – Portland, Ore.

Zachary P. – age 16 – Warrensburg, Mo.

Kameron P. – age 16 – Norfolk, Va.

Colette S. – age 9 – Napa, Calif.

Brianna S. – age 13 – Oregon City, Ore.

Maggie W. – age 16 – Yardley, Pa.

 

NAVY

Carson A. – age 14 – San Diego, Calif.

Victoria B. – age 16 – Gulf Breeze, Fla.

Michael C. – age 16 – Alexandria, Va.

Hailey F. – age 8 – Bremerton, Wash.

Katherine H. – age 12 – Havelock, N.C.

Emily K. – age 17 – Ocoee, Fla.

Daniel K. – age 15 – Newport, R.I.

Katlyn L. – age 17 – Virginia Beach, Va.

Corbyn M. – age 17 – Honolulu, Hawaii

Autumn O. – age 17 – Aiea, Hawaii

Isabelle R. – age 10 – Jamul, Calif.

Brendan S. – age 18 – Niantic, Conn.

Brady S. – age 17 – Virginia Beach, Va.

Kenan T. – age 17 – Bahrain

Mariah W. – age 17 – New Bern, N.C.

 

2015 marks the seventh year Operation Homefront has presented the Military Child of the Year Award. Each semi-finalist will be interviewed by Operation Homefront staff, and award recipients will be chosen by a panel of judges including senior retired service members, senior spouses, members of Operation Homefront’s Board of Directors, and other leaders in the military support community.

The Military Child of the Year® Award will be given to one outstanding military child from each category: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and National Guard. Recipients will be announced in March. Each award will receive $10,000 and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C. for a special recognition ceremony on April 16, 2014.

To learn more, visit our Military Child of the Year Award page.

What better way to kick off 2015 than to help a family of service with a place to call their own? Thanks to Wells Fargo, we traveled to the heartland of America this week to award a mortgage-free home to the Williams family.

Born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, Robert Williams was seeking a higher calling to travel and see the world. He saw an opportunity with the Army and enlisted in his hometown in 1980.

And see the world he did. Robert served in Saudi Arabia, Korea, and Germany during his 20 years of service. Though he is retired now, the tradition of service continued with his children. Their daughter served in the Air Force until her medical retirement this summer, and their son is currently active in the Army.

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The Williams daughter told her parents about this mortgage-free home in Iowa and encouraged them to apply to our Homes on the Homefront program.

In June of this year, Robert and his wife of 35 years, Darlene, just moved to Bettendorf, Iowa due to his current employment. They found a small apartment where they are currently living. Their daughter recently told them about the Homes on the Homefront program and that as fate would have it, there was a home to be awarded in Bettendorf. So, Robert applied, and this week, he and Darlene were awarded the mortgage-free home.

Robert and Darlene are looking forward to spending quality time with their grandchildren. They would also like to change lives through joining a local church group and make a difference in their community. Robert and Darlene add, “…it’s a second chance and they [Operation Homefront and Wells Fargo] are making dreams come true. Through this dream, they will allow us to make more dreams come true.”

Since its inception, Operation Homefront and its partners awarded over 450 homes to military and veteran families across the USA. Wells Fargo has donated more than 105 of the homes. This is the first home with Wells Fargo and Operation Homefront in Iowa. To learn more about the program, visit www.homesonthehomefront.org

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We’re proud to honor the service of the Williams family and know they will make a lifetime of memories in their new mortgage-free home, thanks to our partnership with Wells Fargo.

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