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Archive for November, 2011

YOU are Family.

by Allison Perkins.

On Thursday, my family is coming over for Thanksgiving dinner.

Always A Place For You!

There will be gaggles of children playing in the yard.

There will be men, young and old, yelling at the tv set as football rivalries play out in front of them.

There will be women in the kitchen, gossiping and laughing while the scent of turkey, yams and pumpkin slowly waft from the oven.

My newborn baby will be passed from one set of loving arms to the next and cooed at with absolute adoration.

Our children will inevitably argue and then fall back into each other with absolute glee as they begin their next game.

This is my family.

My family is my friend, and Navy wife, Melanie who I barely knew when we volunteered to organize vacation bible school together three months ago. By the end of a week filled with unruly 3-year-olds and difficult volunteers, we weren’t friends, we were battle buddies.

My family is the young family of a soldier who works for my husband. They stepped in to watch our children when our youngest was born just weeks ago. At the time, we barely knew each other. Now, our children consider their children among their “bestest” of friends.

My family is Army wife Marie, and her son who attends third grade with our oldest boy. Her husband is deployed to Iraq. Until we called to invite them, she wasn’t sure what the family would do this year without dad at home. She couldn’t bring herself to begin to make plans.

My family is the contractor who works in my husband’s unit whose own wife and infant daughter live thousands of miles away in Indonesia. At work, the men scuffle and argue over the best ways to do things. Some days, they might even call each other a few bad words. A lot of bad words, really. But on Thursday, they are happy to be together. Grateful, in fact.

We all are.

This is my family. No matter where we live, every Thanksgiving, we are surrounded by family. We gather with our co-workers, neighbors and some people we barely know – military families who have come together, thousands of miles from the families they know by blood to become a family in spirit.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my military family.

The entire Operation Homefront family is incredibly thankful to all who have shared in our mission to support the families of our deployed military members and wounded warriors. For those spending Thanksgiving far from home this year, we thank you, and wish for a safe and happy return as soon as possible to your families. There is always a place waiting for you here!

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Continuing To Serve Those Who Serve

 Jim Knotts, United States Air Force Veteran, President and Chief Executive Officer of Operation Homefront.

Jim Knotts recalls watching the clock tick
20 years ago in a tent in Kuwait. It was January 15, 1991, the deadline for Iraqi forces to withdraw from Kuwait. The deadline came and went, and a still defiant Iraqi government refused to comply with the demands of the United Nations.

Any minute, the call to arms would come.

Jim remembers the tension in the hours and days that followed the missed deadline. “I was in a tent with our location’s base commander….  The call came early in the morning on January 17th.  Everyone else was awake, knowing what the call meant, even though we didn’t hear the conversation.  It was a surreal moment, knowing that at that point I was a real combatant “.

A US educated Kuwaiti citizen volunteered to be their unit translator.  “He wore the Kuwaiti flag pinned to his shirt – right next to an American flag.  In his somewhat broken English, he talked about how thankful he was to America for helping to free his country, for giving him an opportunity to be a part of the liberation effort.  For him, he was fighting for his home, for his very way of life.  It made me proud when he reminded me that our country stands for freedom, and we’re willing to put our lives on the line to help protect the freedoms of those who can’t always protect themselves.”

That pride and fierce love of home, family and freedom was also evident in towns across America.  Reflecting on a Veterans Day parade in Huntsville, AL many years after his service was done, “(The parade) was a real slice of Americana…with Girl Scout Troops, marching bands, the local Ladies Auxiliary, High School JROTC units, VFW Posts, and vintage fire truck. The pride in the community, the overwhelming appreciation for our veterans and the sacrifices they had made – it was evident on every face.”

Our military members and all of the veterans before them have chosen to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  Jim advises, “That commitment to serve the greater good doesn’t end when you take off the uniform.  The leadership you exhibit by answering the call of duty and raising your right hand… that is the same leadership that your communities need every day.”

“ There are millions of ways to continue serving as a volunteer, as a community organizer, working with a favored nonprofit, or becoming involved with a local church”, he continues.  “You helped insure this country’s freedoms.  You’re short-changing yourself if you don’t enjoy those freedoms by continuing to serve in other ways within your community”

Answer Jim’s ‘Call to Action” by volunteering with your local Operation Homefront chapter or helping us meet one of our families’ urgent needs.  You can also find additional way to serve your community through  United We Serve, Joining Forces, and Hands On Network.

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Continuing To Serve Those Who Serve

Colonel John Smith, U.S. Army (Retired), Director, Public Relations & Marketing for Operation Homefront-National 

John Smith (Col, USA, Ret) recalls from his tours in Korea, “Stopping in small communities at local eateries or coffee shops … The proprietor and other town members who might be there would tell me that they never charge the military…with words to the effect, and almost the same, in scores of establishments: “you are over here, without your families, under harsh conditions, protecting our country.  We would be ungracious and rude to charge you while you are keeping us free.”

30 years of service including duty in 25 countries has given John a unique perspective on the challenges facing our global community. Witnessing the almost primal living conditions in Somalia, the harsh winters of Korea and serving on humanitarian projects in Central and South America, the Pacific, and Africa have shaped Johns view of the role of our military. “I watched our military making substantial, positive differences in people’s lives, continuously.  I realized that as a nation, we have no real understanding of “hard times,” even at the lowest part of any economic, humanitarian or security crisis here at home.  Our military, and those who have served, have a much more pronounced and informed world view.”  This experience will make our veterans strong leaders in our communities as we face our own challenges here at home.

John’s advice to our new generation of veterans? “Don’t expect them (civilians) to understand what you went through… expect to be asked awkward questions because the vast majority of the US public has not served.”  As for what’s next after the uniform: “Your values and your work ethic are great currency, but it is up to you to put it in laymen terms so future employers can understand that.”   And finally, “Know there are hundreds of organizations, and thousands of veterans who can potentially help you in this significant transition.  Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.”

John and his wife Angela live in San Antonio with their Westie, Buddy. They have five children, military brats all: Randy Gibson (who was born in Kentucky and served 5 years in the Marines); US Navy LT Christopher (Steve) Smith (Born in Nocona, TX. A wounded warrior, has been serving in the Navy for 18 years, now serving in his first command),  Steve Gibson (born at Patrick AFB, FL);  Sarah Smith (born in Germany);  and Amy Smith (born at Fort Hood, TX).  They also have four grandchildren with additional two due in December 2011 and March 2012.

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Continuing To Serve Those Who Serve

Colonel J. S. Anderson, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), Chapter President of Operation Homefront Southern California.  

From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean:
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.-USMC hymn 

As the strands of the Marines Hymn rang out over the AAA baseball game he was attending, Jay Anderson, (Col, USMC, Ret.) rose to stand  with another Marine veteran, one who had fought  in World War I.  The crowd responded to their display of pride with a standing ovation. Jay recalls experiencing that same pride, “Every day that I put on the uniform of the United States Marine Corps, particularly when serving overseas.”  His service to our country spanned 30 years with the USMC, and he continues to serve our country’s finest as Chapter President of Operation Homefront of Southern California.

Over the course of his career, seeing the initiative, creativity and ability of Marines in his commands to adapt, innovate, and improve in the face of any challenge convinces him that today’s young veterans are poised to lead our country through these troubling times and build a stronger future for our nation and our children. “Their World War II forefathers returned from war, after seeing the worst that man can do to his fellow man, and worked together to fix the problems of our nation, making it the strongest in the world.  These young vets have also experienced the horrors of war and are doing the same, in politics, business, and society in general.  They are the future leaders in every element of our society.”

“The OIF/OEF veterans are America’s next greatest generation.”

To learn more about the great work that Jay and his staff are doing for our military families and wounded warriors in the Southern California region, please visit them on the web, connect with them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.

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Part I: Behind the bandages  
By Allison Perkins

Shortly after doctors removed shrapnel fragments from his left eye, Army Capt. Ivan Castro demanded to know when they were going to remove the bandage. The Army Special Forces soldier was anxious to see his wife again after weeks of living in complete darkness.

Team Operation Homefront at the 2011 MCM. Cpt Casto on the left, rockin' some cool shades.

Shrapnel from enemy mortar rounds in Iraq had already claimed the vision in his right eye. He was ready to move on with his recovery and return to his family and his unit.

Ivan, however, didn’t know the bandages were already gone, as was his sight.

When the doctor explained how extensive the damage was, Ivan asked for a second opinion, and then a third, at another hospital.

That last medical appointment was nearly identical to the first. The doctor shined a light into the soldier’s eyes and delivered the same prognosis: he was blind. His eye could not be fixed.

Only then did Ivan accept the reality of a lifetime of darkness.

“That was it. The doctor walked out of the room,” he said. “I heard my wife cry for the first time.”

Ivan said in that moment, he became aware of the extent of his other injuries as well.

The blast from the mortar round had torn through his body. His left arm and shoulder were destroyed. His nose was broken, his right cheek bone shattered. His right index finger was blown off in the blast and the artery in his neck was damaged. His lungs collapsed. Much of his body was peppered with shards of shrapnel.

Over the coming months and years, Ivan would endure 40 surgeries to repair the damage and hundreds of hours of physical therapy. It would have been easy to succumb to the pain. It would have been easy to quit.

Ivan, did not.

“I had to decide that I was not going to let this take me down,” he said.

“I could still speak and my hearing was good. I still had my mental faculties,” he said. “When you walk into a military hospital, you realize how fortunate you are. You see the other injuries and you tend to stop and think, ‘Wow, I was really fortunate’.”

One day during treatment, he overheard the staff discussing the upcoming Army Ten-Miler and Marine Corps Marathon. That day, Ivan decided he would recover and he would train to run both.

He did. And then he kept on running.

This weekend, five years after an enemy mortar nearly ended his life, he showed others how to live theirs to the fullest.

Ivan ran the Marine Corps Marathon, again, as part of the Operation Homefront team. Since his recovery, he has kept his promise to overcome his injuries. In the past four years, he has run 19 marathons, 10 half marathons, five Army Ten Milers, two 50-mile races, three triathlons and climbed a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado.

“It’s painful, it’s enjoyable,” he said. “What gets me through is not competing. I enjoy challenging myself. I love to appreciate life and every second of it, I try to enjoy.”

Join us next week for Part II, Battle wounds: black, white and gray

Connect with Team Operation Homefront on Facebook, and be sure to check out pictures from the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon on our Flickr page.

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