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Archive for February, 2015

By Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer and Interim CEO, Operation Homefront.

Two weeks ago, you could almost hear a (virtual) pin drop before the announcement of the findings of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). The Services are still buckling from the heavy toll exacted on people and equipment from more than 13 years of war – and sequestration remains the law of the land returning next fiscal year unless our elected officials choose a more reasoned approach. How much bigger of a sacrifice will be asked of our military and their families?

Military pay and compensation is always a topic you must be prepared to dive into. Changes to military pay and compensation are almost certain to attract passionate responses. But as more detailed information about the contents of the report began to leak, and then after the 300+ page paper dropped, the responses across social media were surprisingly moderate.

Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green, sergeant major for I Marine Expeditionary Force, expresses his ideas to representatives of the Department of Defense Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Mar. 25. The Commission's goal is to update programs and resources to fit the changing needs of service members. (photo by LCpl Caitlin Bevel, DVIDS)

Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green, sergeant major for I Marine Expeditionary Force, expresses his ideas to representatives of the Department of Defense Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Mar. 25. The Commission’s goal is to update programs and resources to fit the changing needs of service members.
(photo by LCpl Caitlin Bevel, DVIDS)

Perhaps it was due to the fact that the Commission visited 55 military installations and gathered more than 150,000 responses and input from military members, their families, and veterans over two years. Or maybe that the reality of tight fiscal conditions and the 21st Century military means accepting that the status quo is unrealistic.

Perhaps, it is indeed time for fresh ideas.

After all, the stated focus of the MCRMC was to modernize. In fact, commissioners testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee were quite blunt about it. Repeatedly, the mission of the Commission was described as modernizing, not cutting costs.

It is no surprise that the Commission landed heavily on retirement and health care. The current military retirement system is 70-plus years old. Currently, as designed, only 17 percent of those who serve will make it to the 20-year mark, and a significantly larger percentage of officers reach retirement than enlisted members. Under the MCRMC proposal, it is estimated that 75 percent of those who serve will leave with some retirement benefit. Combined with significant emphasis on financial education throughout one’s time in service, this could mean strengthening our military and their families, not only while they serve, but helping build a strong foundation for life after their service has ended. This does not come without risk, and puts a greater onus on service members and their families to plan financially for their long-term sustainability.

TRICARE was implemented in the 1990s, and in speaking with families, service members and veterans, the Commission stated that, over and over again, families wanted choice, access and value. Allowing them to choose a commercial health insurance plan and providing allowances for the cost of deductibles and premiums should ideally allow families more control over their health care needs. That said, this will likely come with increased individual family costs, and must be taken into account.

Additional recommendations made by the Commission are intended to strengthen support of families with more childcare and improved access to services for special needs children. We hope this intent can be realized.

We encourage ideas that empower our military families not only while they serve, but prepare them for success in life when they transition,

We encourage ideas that empower our military families not only while they serve, but that also prepare them for success in life when they transition.

Our mission at Operation Homefront is to provide emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors. Though policy matters are not our mission focus, anything that affects them is something we keep an eye on. We receive calls from transitioning service members every day, and see the challenges they face starting over. It is one of the reasons we offer and often require financial counseling as part of our emergency financial services. We encourage ideas that empower them for life after service, especially when that service ends far earlier than expected at great cost to their physical and mental health.

Our team here at Operation Homefront certainly understands and shares some of the same feelings of concern and uncertainty that our families have about the future and what, if any, changes are adopted. With the ever increasing global crises, threats and strain on readiness and families, we stand prepared to support them in any way we can so that our volunteer force in the 21st Century continues to remain, as MCRMC Chairman Alphonso Maldon, Jr. put it, “without peer.”

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carnivalblog1

Surprise!

It was a total surprise. Military kids Ryan, age 8, and Johnily, age 11, had no idea where they were going as they left Ft. Hood that day. You can imagine how their eyes must have gotten bigger as the cruise ship came into view. And how the excitement increased as they boarded the beautiful vessel, reading the words Carnival Freedom along the side.

The name of the ship was aptly chosen…because those who protect our freedom were about to be given a grand celebration!

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It has been a tough few years for Marily, John and the kids, as Marily has battled breast cancer.

Army Major John Considine and his wife Marily were excited when they were chosen to attend Celebrate Freedom, a night planned by Carnival Cruise Line and Operation Homefront, to honor military families and welcome the ship to its new homeport in Galveston, Texas. “We had never been on a cruise ship, the kids thought it was amazing!” said Marily.

But the night was even more special because of the years that came before that night. Along with the difficult sacrifices military families have to make, Marily has battled breast cancer for four years. And one of their favorite songs, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” is sung by Martina McBride, who performed in a special outdoor Carnival LIVE Performance on the top deck.

“We were only 3-4 rows from (her),” said Marily. The beautiful weather made for a perfect evening and they were able to dance together.

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Christine Duffy, President of Carnival Cruise Line, John Heald, Senior Cruise Director, Carnival Cruise Line presenting Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer and Interim CEO, with a $100,000 donation help military families.

Carnival organized the pierside event for hundreds of military families who got to spend one night on the cruise ship, enjoying all the best:

  • entertainment (music, dancing, comedians, video arcade and more),
  • food (complimentary food and cocktails, from Guy’s Burger Joint (created with Guy Fieri) to lobster at dinner and everything in between),
  • fun (hot tubs, dancing waiters, ice cream kiosks, comfy rooms) and
  • the cruise ship experience (fresh air, beautiful environment, free kids camp, friendly staff)

And the celebration got even bigger when Carnival President Christine Duffy presented a $100,000 check to Operation Homefront, “so you can continue to do the great service that you provide today for military families.”

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We are honored to be able to say “Thank You” to our military families in such special ways, thanks to great companies like Carnival Cruise Line.

For the Considine family, they were touched by all of the non-military families on board who took the time to thank John for his service. “The appreciation (from Carnival and the other guests) was wonderful and nice to hear.”

As for Ryan and Johnily, who is a semi-finalist for Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year, they enjoyed unlimited amounts of ice cream, pizza at midnight (just because they could), fun in the hot tub, the arcade and the theatre dance show. “As much as they explored, they were still unable to see everything,” said Marily.

“We would like to thank Carnival for this opportunity and it was nice to see the ($100,000) donation by them to Operation Homefront.”

The family capped a night under the stars watching a “dive-in” movie on the Lido Deck while their kids swam in the nearby hot tub. We wish them many more nights (and days) of happiness together.

View more pictures from the event.

Read the full press release.

Operation Homefront is extremely grateful for partners like Carnival Cruise Line who not only help us honor and celebrate military families but also provide much needed emergency financial and other assistance for military, veteran and wounded warrior families.

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