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Archive for November, 2013

bobbyhenline3Today we wrap up our 11 Days, 11 Stories series with a story about a very special wounded warrior, Bobby Henline. When you meet him and get to know him, you will never forget him. But not because of the visible scars he carries. You will remember him because of his great spirit and slightly irreverent sense of humor.

If you follow Bobby Henline on Twitter (and you should), it won’t take you long to see the guy is really funny…sometimes in a twisted “gasp” sort of way. Like when he comments how his amputated hand looks an awful lot like the pork loin filet he just bought at the grocery store and hopes he doesn’t “bite the wrong one.”

A veteran of Desert Storm, Bobby re-enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and deployed to Iraq three times with the 82nd Airborne Division and 3rd Armored Calvary regiment. He was the lone survivor of a roadside bomb attack in Iraq in 2007. With severe burns, he spent six months fighting for his life and endured dozens of painful surgeries.

But despite the seriousness of the journey he’s traveled, Bobby Henline wants to make you laugh. He pokes fun at himself so the rest of us feel less uncomfortable about his obvious injuries and to prove that it is possible for wounded warriors to heal and do great things.

Recently, Bobby was one of five comedians featured in the movie Comedy Warriors. The movie follows each warrior as they are mentored by nationally known stand-up guys (Bob Saget, Zack Galifianakis, Lewis Black, and others). It is full of heart-warming moments. For example, Bobby’s teenage daughter tearfully wonders why people stare at her Dad’s scars on his face, “He didn’t ask for this.”

After a screening of the movie in San Antonio, Bobby took questions from people in the nearly full theater. Bobby said, “I owe it to the ones who didn’t make it, to do everything I can so they didn’t die in vain. I hope to bring more joy and good from this experience” to outweigh any bad from those who tried to end their lives.

Bobby’s gaining increased national exposure for his comedy and his passion to make a positive difference. Time magazine recently released an inspiring documentary about Bobby. You’ll see why it’s easy to laugh and be inspired by Bobby.

Henline is a familiar face at Operation Homefront. He lives in San Antonio so he joins us for local events when he can. He’s hosted comedy shows to raise money for Operation Homefront. He also served on the Board of Directors for the Texas Field Office (now called Southern Plains). In addition, his daughter Brittany was selected as Operation Homefront’s very first Military Child of the Year Award winner for her maturity and the example she sets in supporting the military. (Photo credit – posted on Bobby Henline’s Twitter page.)

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

 

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mantheveteransblogAs we near the end of our 11 stories series, we meet a wounded warrior who focused on gaining stability for himself and his family. That quest took him all over the world and eventually back home to Wisconsin.

Army Specialist Ben Manthe was born and raised in Spencer, Wis. He always wanted to do something bigger with his life. He wanted to make a difference. Ben went to college right after high school and got a degree. He was working in his degree field, but was not really enjoying what he was doing. He wanted to do something that he felt mattered.

He and his wife Kristal also had two children to provide for, so they were looking for more stability in pay and benefits. One evening the couple was watching television when an Army commercial came on. Ben and Kristal each looked at each other and the discussion began. Shortly after that evening in 2010, Ben enlisted in the Army.

Ben was stationed at Ft. Polk, La. and deployed to Afghanistan. While deployed, he suffered multiple injuries that would lead to his medical retirement. The injuries would also land him in San Antonio, Texas for treatment and recovery. He and Kristal have made the best of their time in the city, but missed being close to friends and family. Kristal was from a small town called Seymour, Wis., about two hours away from Ben’s hometown.

Early in 2013, the family heard about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program and immediately applied for a mortgage-free home in Kenosha, Wis. A few months later, the couple received word that they would be awarded the home, enabling them to move closer to family and their support system as  Ben made his transition from the military.

“We weren’t having the most secure time financially, and Ben’s joining the Army became a great help to us,” said Kristal. “It was a stable life and stability is such an important thing. When that stability is taken from you, it can be very tough. “

“I am still pinching myself to wake up from this dream,” said Ben. “I am at a loss for words. This is going to help us so much to put down roots and recreate that stability for our family. We are very excited to actually have a place to call home.”

To date, our Homes on the Homefront program has matched more than 200 homes with very deserving veteran families. And there are nearly 100 more homes in process. We are grateful to have partners like Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and recently, Meritage Homes, who join us in awarding mortgage-free homes to veterans.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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We continue to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans through stories of people who seem ordinary at a glance. But they are extraordinary in their service to country and their will to keep moving forward.

Ryan Rodriguez describes himself as a combat wounded veteran who proudly served the United States Marine Corps from 2006 to 2012. During his service, he deployed twice to Iraq. “Over my two deployments, I had multiple brain injuries and some spine injuries,” Rodriguez said. The Marine also needed a corneal transplant.

rodriguezveteransblogRodriguez said this was the beginning of a difficult journey that included divorce, bankruptcy, having his daughter call someone else dad, and finally an eviction notice from the “worst apartment complex in Southern California.” Rodriguez said he had no place to go and was already dealing with a DUI and Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP). He said, as a Marine, he was held to a higher standard both in and out of uniform.

It was while he was at Wounded Warrior Battalion West in Camp Pendleton for rehabilitation that he crossed paths with Kristal Cardenas, Executive Director of the Operation Homefront Village in Oceanside, CA.  “I had no idea [she] would play such a vital role in my life. Kristal Cardenas was a guiding light that reached out to me when I thought I had dealt with enough in this lifetime,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez ended up moving into the Village where he could live rent-free, focus on recovery and start building his life again. He went back to school, eventually graduating with a degree in Organizational Management, a minor in Entrepreneurship and a GPA of 4.0 as he pursues his MBA in Public Administration.

“Second chances don’t always happen. With that said, I moved forward with my life and even found love during this period of reflection and rehabilitation,” said Rodriguez. But Rodriquez’ good fortune continued when he was chosen to receive a mortgage-free home in Kingwood, TX through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. The move brought him closer to his daughter, who lived with her mother in Texas.

“I stand here as a recipient of a home. I am married to a wonderful woman. And I have two amazing dogs and I am able to be there for my daughter who now understands who her dad really is. I am forever in debt to Operation Homefront for providing second chances to severely injured military members. I say that I’m lucky. My family reminds me that it’s not luck, that I sacrificed [a lot to get here]. I don’t see it that way, I see it as something that I wanted to do,” Rodriguez said.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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We continue to honor our veterans and the families impacted by injuries that occur in the line of duty. Today’s story gives insight into the real-life challenges brought on when one’s life is changed in service to country.

Carlos Westergaard served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. When he returned home, he tried to reintegrate into civilian life. He tried to forget about his traumatic combat experience. But it was too much to forget.

westergaardblogveteransAlthough most people around him thought he seemed unaffected by his experience in Iraq, he was struggling with his emotions and tried to deal with them in private.

In 2008, Carlos and his wife, Elana, met in college and began dating right away. She noticed he had some anxieties about being in public, but didn’t understand the full extent of it until they moved in together two years later.

“His anxieties and emotional outburst began to increase to the point where he couldn’t leave our home anymore,” said Elana.  In the summer of 2011, his PTSD and TBI completely took over his life. He became very suicidal and his wife had to take him on many trips to the ER.  He was a truck driver in Iraq and he found it too difficult to drive anymore with his flashbacks so she had to drive him everywhere.

Eventually, Elana quit her job because she was so scared he would commit suicide while she was at work. This allowed her to get more involved in his care at the VA. At the time, he was taking over ten psychiatric medications that put him in a fog. She became an advocate for him to make sure he received the best care he could.

Finally, they decided to move to the country because it seemed like it would help his PTSD symptoms. The peace and quiet of country living did make things better. In the summer of 2012, Elana and Carlos got married.

Carlos began working with Brigadoon Service Dogs that summer and received his service dog Fiona in October 2012. She was a great addition and helped Carlos in so many ways. They also welcomed a baby boy to their family. Elana said his PTSD and TBI make life more challenging, but not impossible. Every day, they both get a little better at handling his symptoms.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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Our nation’s veterans struggle with unemployment, homelessness, and poverty. After serving our country, they deserve so much more. Today, we are able to share the story of a female veteran who no longer has to worry about having a place to call home.

brashearsblogveteransLinda Brashears always wanted to be there for people. So just after a year of college, she decided to take action and joined the Army in 1974 at the age of 19.

While on active duty in Kentucky, she served as a Medic until 1977. From there, she joined the National Guard until 1988, during which time she had her only son and moved to Chicago.  Linda then took a break from the military to focus on her family. But she couldn’t stay away forever. In 2003, she found herself back in Kentucky where she worked in the VA hospital and enlisted in the Army Reserves on her 50th birthday.

It was shortly after she re-enlisted with the armed forces that she was deployed to Iraq.  While deployed, Linda suffered multiple injuries, and in 2008, Linda was medically retired from service.

When Linda first heard about the Homes on the Homefront program through Operation Homefront, she immediately applied for a home that was close to her family in Rockford, Illinois. She was awarded the mortgage-free home by none other than country music superstar Tim McGraw. This house allows her to be there for her family, and has removed the financial pressure of keeping a roof over her head.

“I am so grateful for organizations like Operation Homefront,” said Linda.  “Life has been challenging since I’ve been retired, and I try to stay active helping out other veterans suffering from similar injuries.  Now I have a home to call my own, and be close to my son and granddaughter.  This house will be a blessing to our family, and hopefully I can let more troops know about the support they can receive from programs like Wounded Warrior Project and Homes on the Homefront.”

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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greenblogveteransEvery marriage has its share of obstacles. Those challenges are magnified when a life-changing traumatic injury occurs. For Michael and Justina Green, their marriage almost didn’t survive Michael’s combat injuries. That is not uncommon between those who bear the scars of war and the ones who love and care for them. But this story, thankfully, has a happy ending.

Michael and Justina Green’s little sisters were friends. That’s how they first met…over 20 years ago. Fate brought them together and now they’ve been married almost three years. It might have been longer but their engagement was delayed because Michael was in the Army for three years.

He was on his first deployment in 2005 and only in Iraq for three months when he was injured. He was riding in a Humvee, facing the back as the gunner. As the vehicle traveled over a bridge, an IED was activated. The Humvee was thrown off to the side. Michael suffered a right arm amputation and deep tissue shrapnel wound to his right thigh.

When Michael first came home from the hospital, Justina did everything for him. He suffered from daily PTSD so she tried to make life as peaceful and calm as possible. Then she met another family in a similar situation. The wife told her to let her husband do things for himself and try to heal.

This was good advice because tending to his every need was very tiring and hard on Justina. There were many times when Justina wanted to give up and walk away. She didn’t think their relationship was going to make it. They were fighting all the time and sometimes they would not talk for days. This went on for almost two years.

Justina turned to Michael’s mother and brother for support. They gave her a break now and then and provided her with the shoulder to cry on. Justina also met a nurse through the VA Caregiver Support program that checked on her all the time. Justina explained that the nurse would allow her to cry and vent. “When I felt all alone and couldn’t understand why the man I loved acted the way he did, it was helpful to reach out and just talk to someone.”

Also, Justina educated herself on PTSD and how that was affecting Michael. “There was so much I didn’t understand,” said Justina. But as she learned about the effects of PTSD, she could respond more appropriately. Over time, they started talking more and communicating their feelings. And Michael became more self-sufficient. Though it was painful and he struggled, he slowly learned to do things on his own.

Earlier this year, Justina attended the Hearts of Valor caregiver retreat in San Diego, CA in March 2013. “It was a very humbling and emotional experience. I was able to connect with others that understood what I’d gone through,” Justina said.

Today, this resilient couple lives in San Diego. Michael is working for a non-profit helping other wounded warriors. Justina is actively pursuing her dream to become a labor and delivery nurse. Michael has been fit for new prosthetics that allow him to play the guitar, surf, paddle board and kayak. “Because we both love the outdoors, this has allowed us to spend more quality time together making memories,” said Justina.

Those who care for wounded warriors don’t need to struggle alone. There are resources to provide support. Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program is designed to support caregivers by providing social connections to other caregivers in similar situations, fostering support groups around the country, and sponsoring annual retreats to provide education on relevant issues.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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nicelyblogIt is impossible not to ask Cpl. Todd Nicely what happened when you first meet him. The 26-year-old Marine uses prosthetic limbs on both arms and legs.

But Todd doesn’t revisit the day in March 2010, when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan as an infantry squad leader on his way back from a security patrol.

He says he lost both his hands and his lower legs in the blast and then stops. He will, “spare you the gory details,” he says.

Now, he is one of only three men – a soldier and two Marines – from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive an attack as a quadruple amputee.

But he doesn’t talk about that either. Instead, he will tell you how determined he was to get up out of bed, and get on with his life.

“My plan was to get up and get out of the hospital as soon as possible,” Todd said. “I knew the quicker I learned to use these [prosthetics], the quicker I could make that happen.”

Todd has undergone several surgeries and has more to face. But he was up and walking less than three months after the attack.

Still, he and his wife Crystal, were stuck. Todd had more therapy and surgeries to face and the couple was living in a single room at a hotel near Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Todd beat the odds and walked again. And now he was limited to a few feet of space between his bed and the bathroom. The couple tried to rent a nearby apartment, but the cost of living was more than they could afford.

Operation Homefront gave Todd a place to continue to heal, and a home for the couple to finally relax in.

Todd says living in the Operation Homefront Village gave him a chance to really learn to care for himself again.

“The apartment was great,” he said. “It gave me a chance to experience living on my own again.”

Time in the village also gave the couple an opportunity to relax and plan for their future.

“In my situation, the financial future doesn’t always look so great, if you know what I mean,” Todd said. “It’s a big thing we’re worried about. Living here makes us a little less stressed.”

Since their time living in the Operation Homefront Villages, the Nicely family has moved to Missouri where they are working with the Gary Sinese Foundation, which played a part in giving them a brand new home. Todd is rightfully honored for his service on many occasions, including a meeting with Prince Charles in 2011 who said, “We owe them [service members], I think, an immense debt… for what they do on our behalf.”

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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