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Archive for May, 2014

By Jim Knotts, president and CEO, Operation Homefront

cemetery-operation-homefront-memorial-dayLast month, many of you might have seen the news headlines that March of this year was the first time since February 2003 that an American service member wasn’t killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s a sobering statistic and the reality for a nation at war for more than 13 years. As Memorial Day weekend arrives, we’re grateful for the tremendous sacrifice of those who’ve given their lives in defense of freedom, and hopeful that their sacrifices will continue to be instructive so that future generations may avoid being sent into harm’s way.

In recent times, a good deal has been made over whether or not Americans think about the meaning of this holiday weekend as anything other than a three-day weekend, or take time to reflect on what service to country means. Not surprising, of course, given that less than one percent serve their country in uniform. Congress has even considered changing the holiday from the last Monday in May to its historical founding of May 30, as a way to “force” a reminder to everyone about the significance of the day. Yet I believe – and our organization is a testament to it – that Americans are conscious of the sacrifices made, and are able to live their lives in a way that allows them to enjoy the freedoms of life in this country thanks to the selfless sacrifice of others. One of those freedoms is the right to thoroughly enjoy the unofficial start of summer and the Memorial Day holiday weekend. We shouldn’t begrudge anyone for living the American life to its fullest, but we can encourage everyone to take time to reflect on how that life is protected and made possible.

Arlington National CemeteryFor those of us in the Washington, D.C. area, so rich with history, it’s not hard to seek out a place to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, and there’s no more appropriate place than Arlington National Cemetery. If you’ve been, undoubtedly you visited Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial. This 19th century mansion was never envisioned to be surrounded by more than 250,000 graves as part of a national cemetery, and was initially constructed as testament to George Washington by his heirs. One of those descendants, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, inherited the home at the time of her parents’ passing, and she eventually married a West Point graduate named Robert E. Lee. While Lee considered Arlington House his home for 30 years, he never owned it. And when he resigned his commission to join the Confederacy, he would never see the home again, after the government claimed it for unpaid taxes. In 1864, Arlington National Cemetery was established, and by direction of the Army Quartermaster General, graves were placed as close as possible to the home to render it “uninhabitable” should the Lee family ever want to return. This, you might say, was an ever present reminder for General Lee on the magnitude and consequence of war.

So while none of us find ourselves in General Lee’s place 150 years ago, we are very cognizant of the fact that our way of life has stood the test of time – including a Civil War – thanks to those who have worn the uniform and fought for our country. We are forever indebted, and grateful for their sacrifice.

I wish you all a fantastic Memorial Day weekend, and I know you’ll reflect on the meaning of the day while enjoying time off with family and friends, celebrating the American way of life that we all enjoy.

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By Jim Knotts, president and CEO, Operation Homefront

No one relishes being the bearer of bad news. I knew that when the Joint Chiefs testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee a week ago today, there wasn’t going to be a lot to like about what they had to say. After listening to their testimony, I am sure as I can be that they certainly didn’t want to have to say it.

Joint Chiefs testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.-pic by Military Times

Joint Chiefs testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.-pic by Military Times

Simply put, there isn’t enough money available to do what they must do, let alone what they would like to. So, the Joint Chiefs looked at the money that will be appropriated for FY 2015 and beyond, and had some choices to make. None of them good. As Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said, “None of us like where we find ourselves today.”

Our military cannot stop defending the nation, and the world continues to be a volatile place. It is easy to calculate what you can see. Not so much for what you can’t. The world can change in an instant. Our men and women in uniform must be ready to handle what comes, or lives are lost. Already as a result of sequestration, the services have made drastic cuts, cancelling critical training and delaying the modernization of equipment. Nearly 13 years of combat operations have worn down equipment. Some of our hardware is 50 years old. The Joint Chiefs were very clear that being in this state, if continued, will put lives at risk.

So what’s left to look at? The answer, it seems, is compensation and benefits. For those of us who’ve raised our hand and taken an oath to serve our great country – we’ve done so invariably with a sense of patriotism and pride – but at the same time to earn a living and provide for our family. And while no one will argue that those serving in uniform today are overpaid, there is the undeniable fact that compensation as a whole has consumed more and more of each service branch’s budget in recent years. As Gen. Amos testified for the Marine Corps, it’s .63 cents of every dollar. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno reiterated past testimony on compensation, where he stated: “If we continue along the way that we are going now, we believe by 2023, 80 percent of our budget is going to be on compensation.”[1] For other branches, the percentages have remained steady at between 30-35 percent of their budgets, but the Chiefs noted that this percentage remained steady as they have reduced force strength.

The Chiefs advocated capping pay raises at 1 percent, reducing commissary funding, and streamlining Tricare. “We’re seeking $31 billion in savings in pay compensation and health care over the future-year defense program,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified. “If we don’t get it, we’ll have to take $31 billion out of readiness, modernization and force structure over that same period.” [2] Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Welsh testified, “If we can’t make tough calls on compensation now, we won’t be ready today or viable against the threats of tomorrow.” Gen. Dempsey also stated, “Today’s readiness problem is tomorrow’s retention problem.”

Think about it. If your work environment deteriorates to such a degree that you are not given the tools to do your job, or that your life is put at risk unnecessarily, what will you do when the time comes to make a choice to continue or look for safer and more secure career options? The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, testified, “Our sailors and families are not enthusiastic about compensation reform” [but] “are clear that quality of service –work environment — needs to improve.” He also relayed being told by his sailors that “these long deployments are killing us.” With respect to the Marines, Gen. Amos said, “We will not do with less with less, we will do the same with less.” So while no one is happy that pay and benefits will take the hit, the Chief’s testimony helped clarify why difficult choices are being made now.

There are some who agree with the Joint Chief’s assessments and recommendations, and others who don’t. I found that it was clear that they spent enormous amounts of time and energy looking for any available dollar, weighing and measuring their options, and listening to their people. Agree with their decision or not, I believe the Joint Chiefs are trying their hardest in a tough situation to be good stewards of their most valuable asset: the men and women who serve our country.

As always, Operation Homefront will do our best to help military families get through any tough times that may face them. We are grateful to the many supporters who help us fulfill our mission.

blogjkhug

The most priceless treasures, like a homecoming hug, are still free.

 

Download and read Tuesday’s testimony by the Joint Chiefs and MSOs/VSOs on the NDAA

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/gen-raymond-odierno-leaner-army-will-have-more-expertise/2013/07/31/1bd8e4c4-f939-11e2-b018-5b8251f0c56e_story.html

[2] http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=122193

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Mom, when thoughts of you are in our hearts, we are never far from home. ~Author Unknown

momblog1It’s Mother’s Day, and we want to give a little extra love to the Moms of our military men and women. We asked Mothers to reflect on their sons’ and daughters’ service, and what they shared with us will touch the hearts of all Moms:

Kristin shared, “Our son is stationed in Alaska. I miss him every day, but I’m so incredibly proud of the man he has become. We cried a lot when he told us he was enlisting, even though we knew it was a great choice for him. He’s always wanted to be a soldier. My advice: Support your military child 110%! Respect the journey. Go to graduation, be available when they call, obey the rules and be encouraging! But mostly: PRAY. For your soldier, pray for our country, the men and women who serve, those who have served, their families, and for our leaders.”

Dawn has a son and daughter serving, and her youngest son is set to join the Navy. She writes, “I AM A MILITARY MOM ANmomblog2D PROUD TO SAY SO! My children are successful, strong, kind, intelligent, and independent young individuals! What more can a parent ask for? I love my children and although I miss them all so very much and wish I could see them more than once in a great while, I carry them all in my heart and prayers every day. It is not easy letting your children go but it is easier letting them go when you know that they are doing something they love and are successful at. I carry the fear of seeing my children in harm’s way but know they carry with them, not only the pride and confidence I have in them but that their country has in them as well. It doesn’t stop the tears of having them so far away or the fears you carry into your sleep at night but God granted me the privilege of having these children and raising these children and now He watches over them when I cannot.”

And as proud as all of them are on seeing their sons and daughters transform into fine young men and women in service to the nation, a part of Mom will always see you as that little boy or girl. All the more difficult when they have to send them off to war. Karin shared just that thought. She wrote a poem for her son “to always have no matter where he goes”. The last stanza reflects the emotions shared by many Moms:

momblog3

I will fly this flag and think of you

Knowing you must do what you do

My heart is filled with pride and joy

But to me you will always be my little boy

 

 

 

momblog4We also ask that today, you hold a little nearer to your heart the mothers who have suffered immeasurable loss, either on the battlefield or when the war came home with their children. Our hearts broke when Sarah shared, “Last Mother’s Day was the last day I kissed my son, hugged him, this Mother’s Day is my first birthday without my only son. Michael took his life May 20th, 2013. He had PTSD”. (24/7 help is available for military, veterans and their families. Call 1-800-273-8255, press “1”)

No matter how old we get, or how many years and tours we do, it’s clear our Moms will always be Moms. They will worry. They will shed a tear, often at the same time as a smile. They will pray for our safety and the safety of our brothers and sister in arms. Sometimes, they will scold us, especially when we don’t call or write, though they understand when we can’t. And they will always have our back, keep a light on in the window, look forward to the day we’ll come strolling through the door, and be ready to smother us in hugs.

Thank you, Moms, for all you do to support your sons and daughters, and in return, we promise to honor their service and support them any way we can.

PS: Call Your Mom!

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This Mother’s Day weekend, we’d like to share some love for our Moms, as reflected by a few of our terrific Operation Homefront teammates who have served in the military. We thank you, Mom…

For Being Proud of Us:

mothersday1Adam recalls family day at boot camp, and how proud his mother was of him. “It made me want to be a better Marine.”

Throughout his service, his Mom made sure he knew that she was his biggest cheerleader.

“Every time I came to visit or came back from war, my parents would throw a big party for me. My Mom was very adamant about throwing parties and having cake and making a huge deal about every time I came home.”

(Adam is the Program Coordinator for our Pacific Northwest Field Office. He joined the Marines Corps at 22, and did tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.)  

 

For Your Guidance:

mothersday2After his college path took an unexpected turn, Cecil’s Mom was the one who suggested calling the Air Force recruiter. Dropping him off at Basic herself at 0430 in the morning, she imparted a final piece of advice: “Go in, give it 100%. Maintain your integrity and your core values… and don’t embarrass the family.”

(Cecil is the Arkansas Community Liaison for our Southern Plains Field Office. He retired from the Air Force after 25 years of service.) 

 

 

 

For Setting the Standard:

mothersday3Jack credits his Mom for instilling in him the values that are core to military service. After a serious health condition left his father unable to work, his Mom took the lead. The example she set, “how she focused in on taking care of her employees, her work, and how she took care of us at home” really impressed upon him the significance of what it means to give of oneself. “The example she set for me was one of service and obligation.”

(Jack, Executive Director for Operation Homefront California, joined the Navy in 1991 during the first Gulf War.)  

 

For Your Unconditional Love:

mothersday4Jack speaks for so many of us, “Their support, at the end of the day, makes all the difference in the world. We have to make sure we say “thank you” for all that they do in our lives”

Adam’s advice is to always keep them close. “She’s always going to be there for you, no matter what.”

 

And finally, words to live by:

“Don’t do anything that would embarrass your mother,” Cecil advises. “If you have to think about it, it’s probably wrong.”

 

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day from all of our Operation Homefront team to the special women in our lives who taught us the value of service, to give back to the people who have given so much to us, but most importantly, who taught us to love and take care of each other.

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