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Archive for October, 2011

By Catherine McCarthy

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

-Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, 1883

On October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland unveiled what would become the quintessential symbol of freedom recognized around the world: the Statue of Liberty.  Seventeen years later, Emma Lazarus’s poem would be inscribed in a plaque at the base of the statue, becoming America’s invitation to the oppressed and downtrodden of the world to come and start anew.

As quoted in the New York Times, statue historian Barry Moreno explains “It was,” he recalled, “built to pay tribute to the United States of America, the Declaration of Independence, American democracy, and democracy throughout the world. It honored the end of slavery, honored the end of all sorts of tyranny and also friendship between France and America.”Only later, “letters were written home, word of mouth, taught people that you would see this wonderful goddess in New York Harbor when you arrived in America to welcome you.”[1]

My grandfather, Petr, was one of the huddled masses, gazing upon this symbol of hope as he arrived at Ellis Island after being liberated by Allied troops from a German “re-education camp” during World War I. As a young teen in the Ukraine, he and his friend had been captured by Austro-Hungarian troops when they wandered away from their village, curious to see the battle raging not far from their homes.  They were sent to a camp where young men like them were trained to be returned and act as spies for the Central Powers.  But before their plans could be put in action, Allied troops advanced on the camp and liberated my grandfather and the others who had been stolen from their homes.

As the Allied troops interviewed the boys to find where they were from, they were surprised to hear my grandfather say, “Rhode Island”.  My grandfather had been born on American soil, just prior to his parents returning to the Ukraine, and he misinterpreted their question as where he was born. Because the war still raged in the Ukraine, and because he was an American citizen, my grandfather was put on a ship to America.

He arrived on American soil virtually penniless, and because he was a citizen, he was not eligible for the assistance that was provided to new immigrants.  He immediately sought work, and became a window washer on skyscrapers.  I can still remember visiting him and my grandmother and playing with the red wax pencils he used to mark the windows that they washed.  But what I remember the most was my grandfather’s fierce belief in the privilege of living in America.  To not live in fear.  To have the opportunity to dream of endless possibilities, and to have the chance to see them realized.  He knew what it meant to not have hope.  When he said we lived in the “greatest country in the world”, he meant it, heart and soul.

Over the years, I have heard many stories from those who fled from the horrors of World War II, the purges of Stalin, the Holocaust.  Some stories I wish I could erase from my memory, so disturbing in their description on how we can dehumanize our fellow man.  But each and every one of those tales reinforces that no matter what our current troubles in America, we don’t have to fear the knock in the night, that guns will be placed in the hands of our 8 year sons with instructions to kill people different from them, or that we’ll have to hear the wailing of infants dying of starvation.

As we celebrate our troops returning from Iraq this holiday season, we must remember that there are always those still “yearning to breathe free”.  In Afghanistan, the Sudan, Somalia, North Korea.   That our enduring belief that men deserve to live free threatens those who seek to control and degrade others, and that our brave men and women of the United States Military stand watch every day around the world to send the message that we are not afraid, and that we stand ready to welcome and support those who desire to live free.

Happy 125th Birthday to the Statue of Liberty.  May you always be a source of hope for our sisters and brothers who suffer and dream of a better world.


[1] Oct. 28, 1886 | Statue of Liberty Is Unveiled, New York Times Learning Network, October 28, 2011.

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By Jim Knotts, CEO of Operation Homefront

By December, defense officials estimate the number of U.S. troops left in Iraq, if any at all, will amount to less than 5,000. At the height of the war, in 2006 and 2007, the U.S. had between 130,000 to 172,000 men and women fighting there.

By summer 2012, the total number of deployed troops in the Mideast will drop from 150,000 to 70,000.

Cue the ticker tape parades and kissing couples in Times Square, right?

Wrong.

After almost ten years of fighting, America’s soldiers, and their families, are exhausted. The military’s expansive manpower needs have meant that active duty as well as Reserve and National Guard forces have served overseas, often, more than once.

An astonishing 2.3 million servicemembers have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001. Roughly 1 million of those people have deployed twice, three and even four times.

As the battles waged, there was a groundswell of support for the soldiers and their families from local communities. Nonprofits were formed overnight to provide everything from baby showers for Army wives left home alone to summer camps for teenage military kids.

The military too increased its efforts to support families. New programs were created and individuals were hired specifically to organize family support groups within individual units. Money, millions of dollars worth, was spent to help stabilize these families during very rough times.

Now, the troops are headed home. It would be easy for outsiders, especially those who have never endured a wartime deployment, to believe that all is happy and good for those families.

Unfortunately that may not be the case.

During those years of war, many military children grew up seeing their servicemember parent for only a few months each year. Thousands of other children had a parent killed in action. Thousands more now live with a parent who is severely disabled due to their wartime injuries.

Mental health experts are still grappling with the long-term effects of deployment on military children. From 2003 to 2008 the number of outpatient mental health visits for children of active duty parents doubled from one million to two million. During the same time period, the number of days military children spent in psychiatric care centers increased as well.

Reports of child abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse among troops also grew with each passing year. Military couples continue to post increasing divorce rates as the strain of repeated deployments grows heavier.

The war may almost be over, but the battle at home has just begun.

America’s warriors are now facing an uncertain future. Their bodies are broken. Their families have suffered. By year’s end, their jobs may be gone as well.

Federal budget cuts have already lopped $465 billion from the defense budget.

Additional cuts, which members of the House Armed Services Committee estimate could be as much as $500 billion, would mean 200,000 Marines and soldiers would lose their jobs.

In an economy already struggling to employ every American searching for a job, these men and women may have an even tougher search. The current unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 22 percent. For veterans combined, young and old, it’s 11 percent. Compare this to the national rate of 9 percent.

Wounded veterans face an unemployment rate of 41 percent.

Ships would not be built. Fighters would not fly. Troops would be asked to perform more missions with less people and more time away from home.

In military homes, the cuts could cause significant hardships as well. Lawmakers opposing the budget slashes suggest that military families living overseas could be asked to pay tuition for their children to attend on-post schools, as much as $2,850 per child.

Commissary savings would be reduced if not decimated completely. Spouses would receive less tuition assistance. Over $300 million in morale, welfare and recreation programs at bases around the world will disappear.

The changes ahead for our nation and its military leave Operation Homefront left to consider how our mission will change as well.

Historically, our role has been to assist the families of deployed service members. As those missions come to a close, we must re-evaluate the needs of these families now and how we can best serve them.

Part of this decision means evaluating not just our resources, but those of the nation.

As communities see more of their warriors returning, and staying home, will they lose their drive to rally around military families? It is easy to assume that military homecomings mean a happy ending. As the statistics above suggest, that is not always the case.

As budgets are slashed, and on-base resources are eliminated, will military families increasingly begin searching for help off base? Will those resources be gone as well?

After almost ten years of great personal sacrifice, America’s warriors, and their families, are being asked to give even more.

Americans everywhere need to consider not just the cost of the military in dollars. They need to weigh the years of hardship, separation and dedication given by the families who served and how sweeping budget cuts will leave many of them not just jobless but broken and destitute.

The war may almost be over but the fight has just begun. Continue to step up America. Your defenders need you now, possibly more than ever.

(Photo, left to right: Jim Knotts, CEO of Operation Homefront and Carlos Evans, a resident at one of our Operation Homefront Villages for wounded warriors, meet up at our Annual Reception.)

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-puts-iraq-withdrawal-plans-under-wraps-to-discourage-attacks/2011/10/13/gIQAGw4LiL_story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/24/AR2010052403842.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/sep/29/report-budget-cuts-would-leave-military-hollow/?page=all

http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_938.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/28/divorce-rate-in-military-continues-upward-trend/

http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=052aad71-19cb-4fbe-a1b5-389689d542d7

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/10/military-gop-lawmakers-dig-in-against-defense-cuts-101011w/

http://forbes.house.gov/StrongAmerica/

http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2011/08/01/more-young-veterans-jobless/

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By Allison Perkins

I consider my husband a rational man. I’ve heard him tell other soldiers who he thought might need help with PTSD or other deployment related mental health issues to seek treatment – that their careers would not be affected.

But when I suggested he might be suffering from some post-deployment anxiety or mood issues, he was quick to say no to outside help.

“No, not me,” he said first.

“That’s not for guys like me,” he said next.

“I don’t need that headache,” he said last.

Why is that we can offer sound advice to others that we cannot accept ourselves?

For soldiers, the admission of a possible mental health issue comes with its own set of demons. These toughest of the tough expect themselves to rise above the lingering effects of war.

But war is hell. And the aftermath you carry home can be even worse.

This month, mental health professionals are urging civilians and soldiers alike to seek treatment for depression and related mood and anxiety disorders during the National Depression Screening Day.

In recent years, the military has plugged into community groups and national organizations to help veterans and their families deal with the plethora of mental health issues that arise after deployment.

And the best part is, these services are often free of charge and records are not sent to the command.

The point is that the military wants its soldiers and veterans to receive the help they desperately need, without fear of their jobs being affected.

For immediate help with mental health issues, or any issue really, call Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647 or visit them online at www.militaryonesource.com

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

Take an anonymous assessment online to screen for PTSD, depression and related disorders at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org

Chances are, many of you reading this have sent other friends and soldiers to the above resources. If you need help, please do the same. You’ll thank yourself later.

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