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Archive for March, 2015

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by

Sea Fever, By John Masefield

Coming home from war can be the beginning of another journey, one that, at times, takes our wounded warriors into the unknown, the lonely sea and sky.

For Chris, it began in 2008, after a 15 month deployment. Chris came home from that deployment a different person, according to his wife Heidi. Gone was her funny, sweet, loving husband. The jokes had stopped. She said, “He was self-medicating with alcohol and would become angry over the smallest things.” As time passed, Chris’s health worsened and in 2011, Chris was given a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). By that point, the lack of sleep had triggered a dissociative episode. This started the process that would eventually determine that Chris should medically retire from service.

Chris’ health continued to worsen, and in 2013, Chris went missing. Thankfully, he was found unharmed… but would he next time? Chris’ hospitalization after he was found was the turning point. Together, he and Heidi worked hard to find solutions, get treatment, and learn as much about PTSD as they could. Chris sought alcohol dependency treatment as well. Though the years have passed, Chris still has PTSD. It impacts him daily. But he has learned ways to manage his PTSD. He has his tall ship.

Heidi is his star.

Being a caregiver for our wounded warriors is an incredible burden, but one born and sustained by love. Chris and Heidi met in the high school lunch line when Heidi was a freshman. They have been married for 17 years. On the tough days, and there are very tough days, Heidi always remembers to tell Chris that she loves him. “That’s one thing I have learned, he needs to hear I love him, no matter what his mood is.” Still, it is not an easy path. Heidi wakes up every day to all the household chores, gets the children where they need to go, and manages all the household finances. PTSD affects Chris’ short term memory and he can’t drive to the store, or help get their three children to school or lessons or balance the checkbook and manage the bills.

heidi1

Heidi, Chris and the kids, enjoying time together as a family. Though there are tough days, Heidi knows that sharing her experiences with other caregivers is important. “No one should feel alone and not know what help is out there for them.”

 

So, how do we keep the star from burning out? That is focus of the mission of our Hearts of Valor program and the Dole Foundation’s Caregiver Fellows program. Heidi has been a member of HOV since shortly after her husband’s diagnosis, and was recently selected as a 2015 Dole Foundation Caregiver Fellow. Of the 32 Fellows selected, 12 of them are participants in Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program.

“When I first found Hearts of Valor, not long after my husband’s PTSD diagnosis, I was able to attend a retreat in Oklahoma City where I was able to learn so much about myself as a wife, caregiver, mother, and friend. The retreat truly taught me to be understanding, dedicated to my veteran but also to myself.” Heidi continues, “… Hearts of Valor has given me the opportunity to meet some of the greatest friends I have ever had and the chance to donate my time to help caregivers and wounded warrior families. No one should feel alone and not know what help is out there for them.”

As a Dole Fellow, Heidi will not only continue to build the network of support and friendship vital to the health and well-being of our wounded warrior caregivers, but to be a guiding force to caregivers nationwide. Senator Elizabeth Dole was inspired to launch the Elizabeth Dole Fellows Program after hearing from hundreds of caregivers across the country that they were not being given an opportunity to voice their challenges and needs. The mission of the program is to engage active military and veteran caregivers directly in the Foundation’s initiatives, allowing them to advise and play a leading role in raising awareness for the needs of caregivers throughout the nation.

When Heidi heard about the Dole Foundation accepting applications to be the voice of caregivers in her state, she was excited to help. As a volunteer with Operation Homefront since 2012, Heidi is perfect a perfect fit for this role, as she is selfless and incredibly kind. She believes that giving back is the most important part of being a caregiver and she is excited to travel with the other fellows to tell her story.

A tall ship and a star to guide her by.

As we continue to face the impact of 13 years of war on a generation, these guiding stars will remain critical to staying on course..

Learn More:

Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor

Hearts of Valor seeks to honor the service and sacrifice of the people who care for our nation’s wounded, ill or injured warriors by providing a community of support based on a foundation of empathy and mutual understanding. Twelve Hearts of Valor community members have been selected as 2015 Dole Fellows, and our Program Coordinator, Cheryl, us a Fellow Emeritus

Caring For Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

(The Foundation believes) that our nation’s military caregivers need and deserve robust, effective support in light of the mental, physical, and financial challenges they face in caring for wounded warriors suffering from physical injuries, invisible wounds of war, or both.

 

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Surprise!

With a little help from her husband, we were able to surprise Hailey at home.

One minute, she was an average military wife at home on a Saturday morning. But this day was quite different, she was being given an experience most people only dream about. With the ring of the doorbell, Hailey Lorati found herself in the midst of balloons, flowers and photographers, being whisked away in a limousine. “I remember being so excited that I was shaking and just happy,” said Hailey.

First stop was a local bridal store to pick out any dress she wanted, thanks to a donation from an anonymous donor. The last time Hailey picked out a dress for herself was the day before her wedding. Like many military wives, she was young and in love but didn’t have much money for a big fancy wedding. Her best friend and she went to a shop the day before her wedding, looked at the clearance section and picked out a dress that would fit. But now, not only could she choose her dress, but shoes and jewelry to match. The VIP experience continued on to a spa for a manicure and pedicure. And she visited a local salon to have her hair and makeup done. “My husband was the last person to give me a haircut, so it was pretty messy,” said Hailey.

Operation Homefront hosts Homefront Celebrations to honor military spouses at spots around the country every year. When Hailey signed up to attend our Homefront Celebration at the beautiful Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Wash., she indicated she wanted to be considered for a scholarship from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), our partner for this event. In spite of the challenges of military life, her husband being away a lot and having children, Hailey has continued to work to complete her degree. She was contacted for an interview but had no idea she had been selected. “I assumed that I really messed up the interview,” said Hailey.

But Hailey impressed everyone with her willingness to put others before herself. “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office. So she was selected not only to receive the $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University, but was given the VIP experience to make her day extra special. With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to have an education.

Others Before Self: “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office.

Others Before Self: “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office.

 

Hailey, in true form, thought of others first when the limo pulled up to her house. She has a baby, so she was concerned that everything would go okay if she was away. “I was nervous about leaving my baby. I had never left my baby prior to… this event. Operation Homefront and SNHU staff took turns caring for him and… made it work so I could feed him (and still) look presentable for the big night,” she said. “My husband apparently was in on this entire thing. How on earth he pulled this off, I will never understand.”

 

After a day of pampering, Hailey was off to the big event. She met her husband there so he could see his beautiful wife after her transformation. “My husband was just so happy and proud of me. I’m so happy he was able to share the entire experience with me.”

afterHFCWA

 

 

Hailey was selected  to receive a $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University,  With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to pursue higher education.

Hailey was selected to receive a $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University, With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to finish her degree.

When the guest speaker spoke, “I cried reflecting on our own experiences of (deployment) and having to tell your children why Dad is leaving. My husband has a scary job and we don’t dwell on the ‘what if.’ This evening was a great reminder that I’m not in this alone, all the wives who attended have been there or could be in that place later down the road,” said Hailey.

She said that she and all of the guests were treated so well at the Homefront Celebration. Even though she had been singled out for a special day and scholarship, she “really wanted all the spouses to feel like Cinderella for the evening.”

Hailey was eager to show appreciation for her day. “I want to extend a special thank you to the United States Army, for providing my family the life we have. In addition, I want to thank my husband. He means the world to me and I wouldn’t be where I am in my life without him by my side. Lastly, I want to share my extreme appreciation towards Southern New Hampshire University and Operation Homefront staff (in Washington). They all put in an extensive amount of behind-the-scene work to ensure my day was extremely special. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend the day with them,” she said.

 

Operation Homefront’s Homefront Celebrations are designed to give military spouses an evening of relaxation and rejuvenation. It’s our way of saying thanks for the sacrifices made by those who hold down the homefront. The evening includes a special dinner, inspiring speaker, raffle drawings and gift bags for everyone to take home. Our events are possible through the support of Southern New Hampshire University, who dreamed up the idea of awarding scholarships and the VIP experience for Hailey, who plans to finish her BA in Human Services. So far this year, we’ve hosted Homefront Celebrations in San Antonio, Texas, and Tacoma, Wash., and we have several other locations we’ll visit, to be announced later this spring. View all pictures from the Tacoma event.

Special thanks to the following for donating time or services to make the event special for Hailey and her family: Excalibur Limousine Service, David’s Bridal (for opening early), Salon Miro, Savi Spa, Hotel Murano and the anonymous donor for covering the cost of the dress and accessories.

 

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mcoy15winnersOperation Homefront is pleased to announce the six recipients of the 2015 Military Child of the Year® Award.  The award is presented annually to an outstanding military child from each branch of service – Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard – and for the first time in 2015, the National Guard.

From a pool of nearly 500 nominees, each award recipient was chosen by a committee including active-duty and retired military personnel, spouses of senior military leaders, veteran service organization leadership, teachers, and community members.  The six awardees will receive $10,000 each, will receive a laptop computer and other donated gifts, and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition gala on April 16, 2015. The awards will be presented by senior leaders of each branch of service.

“We’re thrilled to honor these six outstanding young patriots with our Military Child of the Year Award,” said Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer for Operation Homefront.  “These awardees represent the strength of our military families, who sacrifice so much in service to our country.”

Following are the 2015 Military Child of the Year® Award recipients. Read more details about them here.

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