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pearlharborblog1Today is the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

One could argue that every generation has its defining moment. But there are a few events that so fundamentally change the world, in ways so profound, that they echo in our consciousness and our hearts…even seven decades later.

The attack on December 7, 1941 is one of them.

Though not ignorant of what was happening in the world at the time, Americans at the time felt secure, convinced to a large degree that the country was untouchable.

We weren’t.

The vast majority of us were not born when the nation was attacked in such a shocking manner. For many Americans, even their parents weren’t born. It can be easy, as the years go on and our World War II veterans pass on, to let the day pass unnoticed. There may be some who wonder why it is brought up at all.
But though we may not have witnessed the events of that day nor experienced directly the three years of global war and unfathomable loss of life that would follow, make no mistake. We have all been shaped by it.

As the Scottish philosopher and historian, Thomas Carlyle wrote “The Present is the living sum-total of the whole Past.”

pearlharboremembrancedaySo, we acknowledge the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor because we must remember that the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance. That cost was born by our WWII veterans then, and by millions more before and after. We can see the cost under the waves in Hawaii, in rows at Arlington, at our VA hospitals, and in the eyes of our loved ones who have seen war. Here at Operation Homefront, we see it mirrored in the experiences of the families we serve. The events of September 11th were their Pearl Harbor, and like the generations that went to war before them, these military and veteran families have paid a high cost. Our mission was born from the knowledge of the cost that would be paid because we remembered the lessons of history.

We acknowledge the anniversary because we must remember that our country is strong, and though we may be brought to our knees or reel from a blow, we get back up. We are reminded of one of America’s most dear ideals: that no matter what your circumstances of birth, or what destiny has in store, there always remains the opportunity to overcome them and forge your own path.

We acknowledge the anniversary because we must remember, every day, to endeavor to deserve the gift given to us by our military veterans. Our country may not be perfect, but we should never stop trying to be better. Never stop trying to earn the sacrifice made on that day and in days that followed.

Please join us today in sharing a message of honor or remembrance. You can post here in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter. We’d also like to share some online resources where you can learn more about Pearl Harbor and the 75th commemoration.

pearlharborblog2The official website commemorating National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and the 75th Anniversary.

National WWII Museum and their dedicated page for the 75th anniversary.

Smithsonian Learning Lab Pearl Harbor page.

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

coinblogpic1Military challenge coins are a time-honored tradition. Leaders at all levels in the military, up to and including the President of the United States as Commander in Chief, bestow coins to select recipients to recognize excellence or commemorate special achievement.

Like many current and former military members, I have lots of coins in my collection– each one serving as a tangible reminder of an important moment or event in my professional life. While each coin is important and meaningful to me, two in particular stand out.

The first is a coin I received from General Wayne Downing, Commander of the US Special Operations Command.

Downing was an innovative and dynamic leader whom I admire greatly and his coin is a daily reminder of his passion to serve his country and his understanding of the challenges military families face while loved ones are deployed. I do my best to reflect that same passion and understanding every day at Operation Homefront.

coinblogpic2The second is a coin I had the honor of presenting when I was the Commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base.

Over the course of my two year tour, I presented the Dover Coin to over 200 people for individual and team excellence.

The etchings on the coin define the 436th Airlift Wing as “America’s Preeminent Expeditionary Airlift Team” and present its’ values of integrity, excellence, and service; values that are shared by the team I now lead at Operation Homefront.

I treasure both of these coins. They represent my commitment to my country, the honor of military tradition, and my dedication to those I have served with and for.

John and Operation Homefront Board of Directors member Angelo Lombardi and friends from Cracker Barrel with Operation Homefront challenge coins.

John and Operation Homefront Board of Directors member Angelo Lombardi and friends from Cracker Barrel with Operation Homefront challenge coins.

Join in the conversation by sharing a picture/description of your favorite military coin. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #militarycoins or click the link to Leave a Comment here.

Returning from the holiday weekend, we found this message in our inbox:

“I just want to say thank you for sponsoring the Thanksgiving Meal this year. My son was born last Friday and funds have been a little tight this month. Having a wonderful home cooked meal meant the world to me and my wife. Thank you so much!”

There is no better feeling than to know that you made a difference in someone’s life when they needed some help. At Operation Homefront, we are privileged to witness this every day, thanks to the generosity of our fellow Americans. While we see the willingness to give year round, it is particularly evident during the holiday season.

givingtuesday2We are immeasurably grateful for this support, for this time of year also brings an increase in requests for assistance from our military and wounded, ill, and injured veterans. Since our inception, Operation Homefront has distributed over 57,000 holiday meals and served over 172,000 military children through our Holiday Toy programs.  But beyond holiday assistance, we warm homes, keep vehicles running, and ensure cupboards aren’t bare. To date, nearly 30,000 families have been helped through our emergency financial assistance program. Still more have been served through our rent-free transitional housing, Homes on the Homefront, the wildly successful Back-To-School Brigade, and more.

All thanks to the support of our community, partners, and donors.

Today is #GivingTuesday. For the 5th year, people the world over are joining together for one day to give back. Last year, on one day, over 700,000 individuals raised $116,000,000!

Please help our critical work continue by joining us this #GivingTuesday by #GivingStrength to our military, veteran and transitioning families when it is needed the most.

givingtuesday1Give Time:

With the help of our 3,200+ volunteers, we give strength to military families across the nation every single day through our programs. But there are always more families to support. You can help. Sign-up today to be an Operation Homefront volunteer to support military families in your area throughout the year.

Give Support:

We get requests from military families every day who need some assistance. Help us give strength and support to our service members when they need it the most. From help with a utility bill, to food assistance, to keeping a roof over a family’s head, you can help make life just a little easier for our military families and wounded warriors. 92% of all our donations made go directly to programs and services to support military families.  

16givingstrength_smpost_640x640Give Your Voice:

Email your Message of Thanks to info@operationhomefront.net or post a photo of a service member, veteran or military family member you know with their name, branch of service and when they served on the Operation Homefront Facebook page with #GivingStrength. You can also submit your personal stories for a chance to be featured on “Operation Homefront Strong Families” or our “Thank Military” Thursdays.

Learn more about our Giving Strength campaign by visiting www.operationhomefront.net/givingstrength

About Giving Tuesday:

In 2012, the New York’s 92nd Street Y, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, pondered the idea of harnessing the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities. They decided to promote a day of giving worldwide. You can learn more about #GivingTuesday at www.givingtuesday.org

 

 

 

Giving Strength.

3a3087d5-7199-4826-982d-7bd9b50a02cbAs Thanksgiving approaches, those of us in military and veteran communities will gather around tables and give thanks, and yet, among all the hustle and bustle, something may be missing.  This could be a loved one deployed or unable to come home, a loved one who never made it home, or a feeling of loss and disconnection for some families who are transitioning from service or coping with injuries from war or years of service.

As many are wont to do when times are hard, these families will stay busy and do their best to plaster a smile on our faces during the holidays. But the feeling of something missing, the uncertainty of the future, and the heaviness of heart will  often remain despite these valiant efforts.

But valiant efforts will be made. Commands overseas and deployed will do their best to be a substitute family, and so will our communities back home.  Families with a deployed loved one will add more chairs to their tables, inviting other families with deployed loved ones to join them.  Others in our community, some with no military connection whatsoever, just love of country and service, will open their hearts and their homes to service members stationed near them that can’t be with their own families. Some will continue to honor service by volunteering at community events to serve their neighbors in need on Thanksgiving, with hearts filled with gratitude and drive to serve others above self.

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Our Holiday Meals for Military events will distribute over 11000 meal to military families across the country, including 1600 just distributed in Texas this weekend.

At Operation Homefront, most of us have personally experienced how our community can come together to fill a void. 85% of our team at Operation Homefront are veterans or families of active duty.  Almost 50% of our staff had a parent who served – giving us a unique connection with the military children we support.

We are honored to see the tradition of service continue year after year through support and response to our Holiday Meals for Military program and the messages and comments we receive about ways to reach out and help military and veteran families during the holidays. But, mostly we know this to be true because this is just what the military and veteran community does.

They look out for each other. They give each other strength.

This Thanksgiving, we are thankful for the opportunity to serve, for the chance to fill a need, whether it be a boost of encouragement or the relief of a burden. We invite you to express your thanks and gratitude. We all have friends, family, loved ones or neighbors who are serving or have served. Join us in giving strength by honoring and recognizing our military and their families through our #GivingStrength initiative. Here are some ideas:

  • Submit your personal stories for a chance to be featured on “Operation Homefront Strong Families” or our “Thank Military” Thursdays.
  • Email your Message of Thanks to info@operationhomefront.net or post a photo of a service member, veteran or military family member you know with their name, branch of service and when they served on the Operation Homefront Facebook page with #GivingStrength.
  • Support a current need of families who have reached out to us for help. This time of year, we see a dramatic increase in requests for assistance. Any amount you can contribute goes directly to helping a struggling military, transitioning or wounded warrior family.
  • Serve. Sign-up today to be an Operation Homefront volunteer to support military families in your area throughout the year.

Go to www.operationhomefront.net/givingstrength  to see ways YOU can be #GivingStrength and doing your part for military families in your community and around the country.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Operation Homefront family!

mason-on-deck

The Masons were one of 750 military families invited to attend “Honor. Family. Fun.” hosted by Carnival Cruise Lines in New York City. The event featured a special concert by Carrie Underwood and a naming ceremony for the newest ship in their fleet, the Carnival Vista. See more pictures here

Shay Mason served in the military as an Army Counterintelligence Agent and as a Russian linguist…and then she completed her active duty service in 1989.

Shay met Gary while at Howard University and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Print Journalism. They fell in love, got married and then Gary decided to join the military.

Gary enlisted in the Army for a number of reasons: a better life, travel, opportunity, future stability for his family, and to serve his country. Shay and Gary agreed that Gary would serve, hoping to make the Army a career. During his years of service, they welcomed four children into their family.

As an infantry officer, Gary was deployed three times to the Middle East. His first deployment was to Iraq in 2008. His second and third were to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. The last two missions were Special Forces and after serving for fifteen years, Gary had to retire in 2015.

He medically retired with an honorable discharge due to injuries he sustained from his last deployment. He suffered from back and ankle injuries and battles the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Shay became his full-time primary caregiver.

While Gary was transitioning out of the military, the condominium they were renting received serious water damage that made it uninhabitable. They had no place to call home and were forced to stay at a local hotel. Their financial situation became dire, causing additional stress for the family of six.

While living at a local hotel, they heard about Operation Homefront Villages and the rent-free transitional housing program in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They applied and were accepted and still currently reside there.

The Village provides them with a furnished apartment with all rent and utilities covered. In addition, families who stay at the Village get financial counseling and attend support groups with other wounded veteran families to help them make a successful transition to civilian life.

“Living at Operation Homefront’s Village is an opportunity – a tremendous blessing and stress relief,” said Gary. “We can save money, repair our credit, and restablize our children and focus on getting healthier as a family.”

So far, as a result of being at the Village, they have saved $14,000, and paid off $6,000 in debt.

The Masons are definitely on their way to a strong, stable future. Two of their kids are attending college and the two younger children are doing well in their respective schools.

“We have had a great time living there, there are other military families living at the Village and we bonded,” said Gary. “We are in communication with them and we hang out. There is a sense of community and it makes it easy for us…there is so much veteran support.”

Gary and Shay have started a family business to create media support kits. They will use these to help other military families navigate the unique challenges of military life, using their past experience to benefit others.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

walmartblog1

By Emily Schmid
Director, Walmart Digital Communications
November 11, 2016
(reprinted with permission. Original article can be found here.)

Twelve years ago, Michael del Rosario was a Captain in the U.S. Army looking to make the transition back to civilian life. He loved the military, but wanted to focus on starting a new chapter with his family.

An officer with years of experience, Michael had no shortage of job prospects in the private sector and it wasn’t long before he had a decision to make. But after a series of interviews with Walmart, Michael knew he had found the perfect place.

So in 2004, Michael began his new career as an Operations Manager in Tobyhannah, Pennsylvania. It was a big change at first, but the support from his fellow associates helped.

“There were some prior service veterans that I had the good fortune to be reporting to, and they would sit down with me and make me feel that I had all the time in the world to talk about any of the struggles that we all have,” he said.

Drawing on his military leadership experience, Michael brought a unique perspective to his new role. Today, he is General Transportation Manager at a Walmart distribution center in Woodland, Pennsylvania, where he oversees everything from maintenance of vehicles to the safety department that ensures the well-being of his team.

Once he finally felt established in his new life as a private citizen, Michael started thinking about how to give back.

“I figured it was my turn to reach backwards and pull somebody else up,” he said.

So he volunteered to join the Walmart Foundation State Advisory Council, which is comprised of managers across each state who help support local communities. Once onboard, he noticed that despite the strong veteran presence in Pennsylvania, no veterans’ organizations were applying for grants. That’s when he found Operation Homefront, an organization that provides financial assistance to military families and veterans.

He brought the organization to the council’s attention, and soon Michael was off to deliver a check himself. He and the organization’s regional director instantly connected over their shared passion. So well, in fact, that before he left that day, the director asked Michael to join Operation Homefront’s advisory board.

Ever since, Michael has made it his mission to make a difference in the lives of military families. Last year, Michael received the Walmart Logistics Community Champion Award for his work with Operation Homefront, which under his leadership, coordinated the efforts of more than 170 volunteers, 6,500 volunteer hours, and fundraising efforts that raised more than $350,000 for veterans in 2015.

Through his work with Operation Homefront, Michael also began working with Penn State University’s Military Appreciation Committee. Together they organize events like Seats for Service Members, which donates free Penn State football tickets to military families. Every year at a Military Appreciation Day football game, Michael assembles the volunteer forces of Operation Homefront, Walmart, and Penn State to throw a massive cookout for current and active service members and their families.

Earlier this month, 500 Walmart volunteers converged on State College to serve food to nearly 10,000 military families before the game.

“It’s just great to be able to show them that we have their backs, and that we haven’t forgotten what they’ve been through, and most of all, that we truly appreciate what they’ve done for our country,” he said.

Michael has received multiple honors for his support for veterans, but he’ll be the first to tell you that the recognition is the result of the teamwork from his fellow Walmart volunteers.

“It’s not just me,” he insisted. “It’s the teammates I’ve got around me.”

yovonnie-wordlow-pic1U. S. Army Specialist Yovonnie Wordlow had one main reason for enlisting in the Army – to get her education paid for. Ironically, after enlisting, she realized there was no time to go to college. Nevertheless, Yovonnie grew to love her job as a chemical specialist in the military and took pride in being in the service as a soldier and as part of a whole battalion.

In 2015, after serving for ten years, she was medically separated with an honorable discharge. As a veteran and single mother, Yovonnie has had to juggle taking care of her own health while attending to the needs of her three children, ages six, five and four. Yovonnie copes with her service-related injuries on a daily basis, which includes a disability stemming from two hip replacements.

Despite her struggles, Yovonnie weathered several financial hardships until the home she was renting was sold and her family was forced to move in with a friend. Yovonnie was no longer sure what her future would be.

Through an active duty friend, she learned about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. With the support of donors and dedicated corporate partners, this program provides mortgage-free homes and supportive services to veterans and their families. Once families are matched with a home, they work with an Operation Homefront caseworker for the next two to three years to help build up their savings, reduce their debts and establish a budget plan so that they are better prepared for home ownership.

Yovonnie saw that there was a home in the Little Rock area, near her family, so she applied and was awarded a mortgage-free home.

“It means everything for me and my family,” said Yovonnie. “It is a fresh start. I have had a lot of obstacles – it’s a new beginning and new start for us.”

yovonnie-wordlow-pic2In September, Yovonnie was one of five veteran families who were recognized at the Military Heroes Keys for Life event at the annual Five Star Conference and Expo, where Operation Homefront joined the Five Star Institute and Chase to officially award the homes to these deserving families.

“It will help me start a savings plan and college fund for my children,” added Yovonnie. “I want to be an asset for nonprofits and start helping locally. I can’t say thank you enough – it’s a blessing. Thank you for a new beginning.”

Yovonnie is now busy getting back on track towards a strong, stable and secure future. She is currently focused on growing her personal business and spending quality time with her children and is returning to school with plans to earn a degree in psychology and social work. Eventually, Yovonnie would like to pursue a career in life coaching and life mentoring, especially work with young teenage girls and women on their self-esteem and provide motivational speaking skills.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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