Archive for January, 2011

O and O

Oprah and Obama. There aren’t two bigger names in the country. And yesterday, Oprah and First Lady Michelle Obama put the spotlight on military families and the epidemic of disconnection the average citizen has with the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Oprah hosted families, journalists and Mrs. Obama as part of her “wake up” call to the nation to recognize the challenges facing our military families. It was an overdue call for help because most military families won’t ask for it themselves.

Mrs. Obama told Oprah that military families’ shoulder the burden themselves.  “They never ask for help,” Obama said. “You get it done when you’re in the military. That’s what you’re trained to do, that’s what you’re taught.”

Because most people don’t personally know a military family, they aren’t even aware of the issues they face or the support they need.

“It’s not that people won’t help. It’s just that we’re not aware of the stories,” she said.

The First Lady said she was astounded by some of the stories she heard when she began to meet military spouses during her husband’s run for the presidency.

“They don’t talk about the pressure deployments have on families,” she said. “These families need some help and support.”

She is right. These families struggle with big issues. Difficult, painful and often life-changing issues.

Military wives are left to shoulder the responsibilities of raising the kids and running the households while their husbands are deployed. The children have to sacrifice time with mom or dad for the greater good of the country. They go through birthdays, holidays, soccer games enduring the absence of one of the most important people in their lives. Not just once but through multiple deployments. And for some children, that person never returns from war.

Many military households have endured six more deployments.

For the men and women who do return, they are often plagued with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), debilitating injuries, feelings of isolation, financial struggles, marriage problems, depression and more. Maybe the war didn’t take their life but it changed their life forever.

 Spouses, families and friends on bases across America have become ever vigilant of their warriors. Now, it’s time for neighbors and families in the cities and towns far from military bases to look after their heroes as well.

Want to get someone’s attention? Bring in Oprah and Obama. The First Lady said that she and Elizabeth Biden would be rolling out a huge initiative in March that will call on America to more effectively support our military families. If their names and their influence can’t do it, who can?

At Operation Homefront, we do the best we can. But the need extends beyond our reach…it takes all of us…every single American…to provide the support these deserving troops and their families need. If you haven’t already, find a way to help.

Go to our web site to find volunteer opportunities. Go to serve.gov, a site highlighted on Oprah with opportunities to help. Or go down the street to visit that military family to see if you can do anything. Just go. They have given their lives for our country, now it’s our turn to give back.

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See The Difference

It wasn’t until Operation Homefront was gone that Sharon Rice realized just how much she relied on the organization’s help.

As a family readiness support assistant at Fort Bragg, N.C., she was in constant contact with the OH chapter in that state. She sent families there for support. She sent volunteers to work at the local events. She made dear friends in the OH chapter headquarters.

When she moved just one state south and began doing the same job for families at bases there, she quickly realized that her job was a lot harder for one reason: there was no Operation Homefront chapter in South Carolina.

So, Sharon did something about it. She started a chapter, or better said, the intensive process to be recognized as an official Operation Homefront chapter. Now, Sharon helps military families as both an employee of the government and as a volunteer with the South Carolina Operation Homefront Volunteer Community Team. Through her leadership and dedication the team is well on its way to becoming an official chapter.

At their first toy drive in 2010, the South Carolina team collected 70,000 toys. Every single child on Fort Jackson was given a Christmas toy.

“That was one of those, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid for doing this’,” Sharon said. “It’s very rewarding.”

Volunteers for Operation Homefront have a rare opportunity to actually see the smiles their hard work brings.

Amy Palmer, Operation Homefront Chief Operation Officer, said most volunteers at Operation Homefront get the chance to work directly with the families they serve.

“So often volunteers are stuck in an office doing paperwork or making calls but our volunteers get to see the change and the improvements they make to people’s lives,” she said.

At the volunteer community team in Colorado, leader CarolAnn Mountjoy said the organization helps more than just military families. Their work touches the lives of the volunteers as well.

“We meet all sorts of new people who want to volunteer,” CarolAnn said. “There are some in the military and some who’ve never had experience with the military but have a passion for what our troops go through and want to help.

“We’re giving them an outlet to help,” CarolAnn said. “That’s probably the best part.”

Want to volunteer with Operation Homefront? Go to http://www.operationhomefront.net/volunteer.aspx to find the chapter and volunteering opportunities near you.

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Times are tough. America is sinking in over 1 trillion dollars in debt. Something had to give.

Last week Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced that the Pentagon has been directed to cut spending by $78 billion over the next five years. Analysts say the change means the Army and Marine Corps will eventually shrink their ranks by thousands of troops.

There have been few hints as to where exactly the cuts will be made. In a time of war, it is prudent to believe that some family programs may hit the chopping block first.

In a news conference to announce the cuts, Gates said, “We must come to realize that not every defense program is necessary, not every defense dollar is sacred or well-spent, and more of everything is simply not sustainable.”

In an instant, I can think of a handful of programs that many families in our military community rely on, compliments of MWR, ACS and CYS – free childcare, respite care for families with special needs children, free counseling services, community fairs and holiday events.

These services are greatly needed and help military families, especially those working on a small budget. These services can also, arguably, be duplicated by non-military agencies. That makes them, I fear, an easy target for cuts.

The reduction of military family benefits has also already crossed Congress’ radar.

In November, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform unveiled a 58-part plan to cut the federal budget deficits by $200 billion by the year 2015. Among their suggestions:

All Tricare beneficiaries, including active duty family members, would have a co-pay for office visits and pay an enrollment fee.

The number of service members assigned to duty stations in Europe and Asia would decrease from 150,000 to 100,000.

More than 50 Department of Defense schools in Alabama, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia would close.

Cost of living allowance would be reformed and possibly reduced.

One trillion dollars is a lot of debt. The above programs cost a lot of money. It may not take much for non-military constituents to convince their legislators that military benefits can take a small hit now and then.

 After all, in the private sector, most people have already undergone pay freezes or months worth of unemployment after a layoff. And, in a lot of states there are many more non-military constituents than there are military.

 For military families, many of the programs they rely on are free or low cost. To seek the same quality of help and care outside the gate can be difficult, if not impossible with one parent deployed. It can also be costly.

 Also, once service members begin leaving their military careers as the new budget thins the ranks, they may not find work easily in the civilian sector.

 More men and women will be standing in the unemployment line. More children will go hungry. More families will suffer.

 Many of these military families will have the added stressors of combat-related injury and illnesses to tend to.

 This is when volunteers and supporters at Operation Homefront can step in and change lives for the better.

 When injury cripples a family, Operation Homefront can steady them and give them the tools they need to stand again.

 When military services are cut and families can no longer afford food, Operation Homefront can fill their tables and give them the strength then need to carry on.

 Operation Homefront has already helped thousands of military families across the U.S. Thousands more will need help in the years to come.

 Our volunteers can see the change that results from their dedication. They see families improve. They watch families succeed.

 As federal budget cuts loom and threaten the security of many of these warriors’ families, our volunteers and supporters are more important than ever.

 Join us as we give back to military families who have given so much.

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By Allison Perkins

Heroes are important.

Heroes rescue the good and defeat the bad. On these points, most kids seem to agree. But the muscular, flying do-gooder, complete with cape and superhuman powers, is not the picture some kids would draw to describe a hero.

In neighborhoods where yellow ribbons are wrapped tightly around tree trunks and blue stars cling to the front windows, the heroes wear boots and their superpowers seem unmatched by any villain.

They call home on special occasions, even though they are thousands of miles away. The sound of their voice is the sweetest tune on the planet. And their appearance, no matter how brief, can instantly wipe away sadness.

At her school at Fort Bragg, N.C., Army daughter Angela Hilliard, 7, drew a picture of her father in uniform under a blue, sunny sky. Under it, she wrote that her father was special because he keeps the country safe. Her father is her hero.

Her friend Ryan Mejia, 8, has a hero too: his soldier dad. What’s a hero to Ryan? “Someone who is very important to the United States of America,” he says.

And Navy daughter Brianna Bransfield, 12, of Hawaii, says her dad is a hero too. “He goes out and does stuff not just for our family but for other people,” she said.

What military children like Ryan, Brianna and Angela forget is that while their fathers are heroes on the battlefield, these youngest citizens are heroes on the homefront.

Last month, Brianna and her five siblings welcomed their father home from sea. The family was jubilant. But, inevitably, they will say goodbye again and the children will ban together to help each other, and their parents thrive through the separation.

Just a few days after Christmas, Angela and her 4-year-old brother Matthew bid their father farewell at the airport, after he spent two weeks home from Afghanistan. They will face holidays, birthdays and the end of the school year without their hero by their side to cheer them on. They do it for the greater good of children across America.

Military children around the globe spend months, sometimes years, without their hero by their side so that other families can be rescued. They do it without complaint, without pay and often, without thanks.

Many of these children rise above during trying deployments and become community leaders. Often, they take on the roles that many adults shrink from in fear. They don’t need to wear a superhero cape to show their bravery and courage.

These children, who understand more than most what a true hero is, are heroes themselves. They have earned a well-deserved thank you from America. Do you know a military child who has made a positive impact on their family and community? Nominate these young heroes for the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year Award. The deadline is Jan. 31.

Go to www.operationhomefront.net/mcoy for more information.

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