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Archive for August, 2011

When Army Spec. Giovonttie McLemore is feeling bad about his own wartime injuries, a quick look around the basketball court fills him with gratitude, and just a little jealousy.

The wounded warriors who shoot hoops in wheelchairs are good. Real good. “They’re fast in their wheelchairs, it’s like wow,” McLemore says.

And perhaps more importantly, they inspire wounded warriors like McLemore to live life to its fullest, despite their setbacks. “It’s awesome to get out there with people with no legs who still play tough,” McLemore says. “They are getting up and doing stuff with their life.”

A bomb tore through McLemore’s body in Iraq in 2008. The blast left him serious injuries to both knees and damage to his heart. The single father struggled to care for his two young children (shown with McLemore in photo), recover from his injuries and rebuild a life for his family, outside of the military. McLemore and his children ages 4 and 3, now live at the Operation Homefront Village in San Antonio.

There, McLemore and his children are thriving, growing and McLemore is on his way to preparing to try out for the U.S. Paralympic team.

On a whim, he attended a weekend training session with the local paralympic volleyball team to keep a friend company. His friend didn’t make his team but McLemore did. Now, he not only is part of the volleyball team, but he plays wheelchair basketball and has competed in shooting events.

The hard work on the courts, three times a week, doesn’t really help him physically recover. If anything the physical training is painful, he said. The recovery comes in his heart and mind. “I’m on a team again. In the Army we were part of a team and, when we get hurt, we have to leave the team and it makes you feel unwanted and depressed,” he said.

Being part of the Paralympics team changes that. “I have brothers here. I feel wanted again and I love it,” he said.

McLemore has already competed in regional competitions and has earned a stack of medals including, most recently, third place in wheelchair basketball and fifth in volleyball at a tournament in Colorado. His team has just one more year before the Olympic auditions. McLemore says he’s hopeful and is striving to make the team, but at the same time, is enjoying being active again.

“This has shown me that what happens to me don’t have to be the end of me,” he said. “I can keep pushing and keep having fun.”

(by Allison Perkins)

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Master Sgt. Tara R. Brown taught computer skills to Afghani military forces. She was killed by enemy fire in Kabul, April 27, 2011.

Staff Sgt. James Justice was an infantryman, rescuing the crew of a downed helicopter in Afghanistan when he was killed on April 23, 2011.

Army Chief Warrant Officer Bryant Nichols, a pilot, died in the recent Chinook crash in Afghanistan.

All three were doing jobs they loved. All three were on the front lines serving a country they were willing to die for. All three left a hole in their families that can never be filled.

Yet, when Brown perished, there was no mention of her on the front page. When Justice died, only his hometown newspaper took note. When Nichols was killed, the whole country stopped in its tracks.

But it was the 17 Navy SEALs who died alongside Nichols that the media and the nation mourned first. The team’s unusual and storied training made them quick to recognize. Tales of SEAL team adventures are the stuff legends, and heroes, are made of.

But Nichols, and the 20 others who also died aboard that helicopter, are heroes too. And his 10-year-old son Braydon wanted to make sure the world remembered that.

This week, Braydon Nichols posted an iReport on the CNN website to honor his father. He had one request – that his father’s photo be posted along with those he saw of the other crash victims.

Braydon’s note was simple and sincere. He didn’t have to expand upon what was lingering in his mind. His father is his hero and his memory should be treated as such.

The little boy’s short note spurred thousands of responses from around the globe and an outpouring of understanding, appreciation and gratitude.

It’s doubtful a movie will ever be made about military members who do routine jobs, often behind the scenes while the battle wages on. But the military would collapse without their dedication and the nation would undoubtedly be at the mercy of her enemies.

The Navy SEALs are heroes. Brown is a hero. Justice is a hero. Nichols is a hero. They all deserve our attention and their picture on the front page.

It took a grieving, little boy to remind us all of that. Let’s not forget again.

(by Allison Perkins)

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Choices in Hawaii

(By Allison Perkins) Gabrielle Labox had a tough decision to make. The fourth grader was tasked with picking backpacks for her brother and sister. Blue? Green? Red? Black? This could get sticky.

Gabrielle’s dilemma meant peace of mind for her mother, Rose. The school supplies for her children would be free this year. With three children in school, that meant she would save hundreds of dollars. In Hawaii, where the Navy family is currently stationed, the high cost of living makes the annual shopping trip a dreaded affair. Last year, the average family spent $606.40 on school supplies, clothes, shoes and electronics.

“This helps,” she simply said as she helped Gabrielle pick out supplies.

Gabrielle, along with other military children across the country, is heading to school this fall with brand new supplies thanks to the Back-to-School Brigade hosted by Operation Homefront chapters throughout the United States. During these events, military families receive free backpacks filled with school supplies for each of their children.

In 2010, the program raised over $2 million in school supplies nationwide through its partnership with Dollar Tree. Through the generosity of individual and corporate contributors, Operation Homefront provided 29,000 filled backpacks for children of military service members. This year, Office Depot and Lexmark developed a program to give printers to 4000 military families as well.

In Hawaii, the volunteer community team for Operation Homefront, received donations and help from local companies such as BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, Crossfit Oahu, Crossfit 808 and Hardass Fitness.

Military families across the island were excited for establishment of the Hawaii team, which will soon charter to become an official chapter of the organization. “This is a wonderful thing they do for the community,” said Army wife Erin McQuaig. Her husband is currently deployed and she said the backpack program not only saved her money, but also her time.

“This is very helpful,” McQuaig said. “It saved me a shopping trip.”

As 200 military children filed through the Hawaii event, Gabrielle made her backpack selections: green for her brother, blue for her sister and black for herself. She held the bags close to her chest and smiled as she headed out the door.

“I’m excited,” she said.
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There are still some Back-To-School Brigade events planned around the country, check for your local chapter to find an event near you. Or follow Operation Homefront on Facebook to get updates on other upcoming events for military families.

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