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Archive for August, 2010

The big story last week was the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The Today Show ran a lengthy package entitled “American Forces Withdraw from Iraq” — misleading if not outright inaccurate. Folks took exception to that vein of reporting on our Facebook page.

In reality, our troops are not gone from Iraq. The New York Times has a much more in-depth look at the future of Iraq and what kind of military presence we’ll need there over the long term.

So while it’s encouraging that the country appears to be more stable over all, our service members will continue to deploy to that region. They’ll continue to face the dangers of a war zone. They’ll continue to leave their families for long periods of time. They’ll continue to do their jobs.

That means despite what you may have heard or read this week, we still have service members in Iraq. And the ones who are coming home aren’t exactly done with the war either. The Washington Post points out these service members are bringing the war home with them. With an estimated one in five service members affected by PTSD, the families will share that burden as they welcome their loved ones home.

That means we’re not done with this war. We may never be. But we continue to hope and work toward better lives and resources for our military families.

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Is the future of our all-volunteer force at risk because of the cost of expensive family benefits?

Sound crazy? Well, according to a recent news report, at least one unnamed four-star leader recently lamented that the Department of Defense has turned into a benefits company that occasionally kills a terrorist.

Renowned military reporter Tom Philpott’s Aug. 5 column shared findings from the Quadrennial Defense Independent Review Panel and comments from defense industry experts. Personnel costs have grown due to benefit expansions such as TRICARE for life, more pharmacy perks, better survivor benefits, more generous housing allowances, active duty pay raises and more.

Without those benefits to help take care of their families, how is the military going to continue to recruit and retain volunteers to put their lives on the line, leave their families for a year or more, and give up so much more the rest of us take for granted?

And here’s something that really leaped out at me:

“(Ret. Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Gen. Arnold) Punaro, who served as staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee for eight years, noted that much of the recent entitlement growth has helped only retirees and their families, a population that now outnumbers the active duty community.”

Military leaders from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the Chief of Staff of the Army have reiterated the importance of family support to the morale and ultimately the success of our service members on the battlefield. Secretary of Defense Gates has promised to do all he can to preserve funding for military programs at the same time as he reduced overall defense spending.

I’m thrilled that they’ve expanded benefits for families. We’ve heard from families who say they wouldn’t be able to properly care for their children without EFMP.

But from the perspective of someone who works for a nonprofit that aids military families in need, there are still a lot of holes to plug. I know spouses who can’t get the medications they need for their kids from military pharmacies, being told “We’re here to serve soldiers, not families.” Even with $9 prescriptions, the Burfield family in Georgia is relying on help from Operation Homefront Georgia to pay their bills because all three of their children suffer from a deadly liver disease.

I don’t have a handy solution to these budget problems. I wish I did. But I don’t think cutting benefits to families and retirees is the answer.

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The setup: Guy walks into a bar with heavy scars and a missing hand.

But no joke, wounded warrior Bobby Henline is there to make you laugh. He mocks himself so the rest of us feel less uncomfortable about his obvious injuries, to prove that our wounded warriors can heal and start over.

Henline takes to the stage at a San Antonio comedy club to make some critical points: Don’t be scared. I’m OK. And I’m really funny.

Next week, the injured veteran is doing it to raise money for Operation Homefront. Read more about it in this article from the Express-News.

The lone survivor of a roadside bomb attack in Iraq underwent dozens of painful surgeries to heal his devastating burns and amputated hand. Throughout that ordeal, his family banded together despite the distance that separated them. Mom was in San Antonio to be with Henline. Daughter Brittany, then 15, stayed behind in their North Carolina home to care for her younger brother and sister. Brittany was later selected as Operation Homefront’s first Military Child Award winner for her selfless maturity and the example she sets for the rest of us.

So it’s a family tradition to step up on behalf of military families. They’re living proof that we can each find a way to make a positive difference, no matter our circumstances or challenges.

Brittany with Bobby Henline

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We’re always on the lookout for ways to get more for our families. So we’re really excited that our Texas chapter is in the running for free gas cards to share with wounded warriors and military families in need.

Fueling Good is a program from CITGO that’s offering $10,000 in gas cards to good causes. Operation Homefront-Texas is in the running. They have a long list of families they can help if they win. To do that, they need your vote. So please sign up and support them with your vote. The contest runs through Aug. 31.

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