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mason-on-deck

The Masons were one of 750 military families invited to attend “Honor. Family. Fun.” hosted by Carnival Cruise Lines in New York City. The event featured a special concert by Carrie Underwood and a naming ceremony for the newest ship in their fleet, the Carnival Vista. See more pictures here

Shay Mason served in the military as an Army Counterintelligence Agent and as a Russian linguist…and then she completed her active duty service in 1989.

Shay met Gary while at Howard University and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Print Journalism. They fell in love, got married and then Gary decided to join the military.

Gary enlisted in the Army for a number of reasons: a better life, travel, opportunity, future stability for his family, and to serve his country. Shay and Gary agreed that Gary would serve, hoping to make the Army a career. During his years of service, they welcomed four children into their family.

As an infantry officer, Gary was deployed three times to the Middle East. His first deployment was to Iraq in 2008. His second and third were to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. The last two missions were Special Forces and after serving for fifteen years, Gary had to retire in 2015.

He medically retired with an honorable discharge due to injuries he sustained from his last deployment. He suffered from back and ankle injuries and battles the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Shay became his full-time primary caregiver.

While Gary was transitioning out of the military, the condominium they were renting received serious water damage that made it uninhabitable. They had no place to call home and were forced to stay at a local hotel. Their financial situation became dire, causing additional stress for the family of six.

While living at a local hotel, they heard about Operation Homefront Villages and the rent-free transitional housing program in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They applied and were accepted and still currently reside there.

The Village provides them with a furnished apartment with all rent and utilities covered. In addition, families who stay at the Village get financial counseling and attend support groups with other wounded veteran families to help them make a successful transition to civilian life.

“Living at Operation Homefront’s Village is an opportunity – a tremendous blessing and stress relief,” said Gary. “We can save money, repair our credit, and restablize our children and focus on getting healthier as a family.”

So far, as a result of being at the Village, they have saved $14,000, and paid off $6,000 in debt.

The Masons are definitely on their way to a strong, stable future. Two of their kids are attending college and the two younger children are doing well in their respective schools.

“We have had a great time living there, there are other military families living at the Village and we bonded,” said Gary. “We are in communication with them and we hang out. There is a sense of community and it makes it easy for us…there is so much veteran support.”

Gary and Shay have started a family business to create media support kits. They will use these to help other military families navigate the unique challenges of military life, using their past experience to benefit others.

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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walmartblog1

By Emily Schmid
Director, Walmart Digital Communications
November 11, 2016
(reprinted with permission. Original article can be found here.)

Twelve years ago, Michael del Rosario was a Captain in the U.S. Army looking to make the transition back to civilian life. He loved the military, but wanted to focus on starting a new chapter with his family.

An officer with years of experience, Michael had no shortage of job prospects in the private sector and it wasn’t long before he had a decision to make. But after a series of interviews with Walmart, Michael knew he had found the perfect place.

So in 2004, Michael began his new career as an Operations Manager in Tobyhannah, Pennsylvania. It was a big change at first, but the support from his fellow associates helped.

“There were some prior service veterans that I had the good fortune to be reporting to, and they would sit down with me and make me feel that I had all the time in the world to talk about any of the struggles that we all have,” he said.

Drawing on his military leadership experience, Michael brought a unique perspective to his new role. Today, he is General Transportation Manager at a Walmart distribution center in Woodland, Pennsylvania, where he oversees everything from maintenance of vehicles to the safety department that ensures the well-being of his team.

Once he finally felt established in his new life as a private citizen, Michael started thinking about how to give back.

“I figured it was my turn to reach backwards and pull somebody else up,” he said.

So he volunteered to join the Walmart Foundation State Advisory Council, which is comprised of managers across each state who help support local communities. Once onboard, he noticed that despite the strong veteran presence in Pennsylvania, no veterans’ organizations were applying for grants. That’s when he found Operation Homefront, an organization that provides financial assistance to military families and veterans.

He brought the organization to the council’s attention, and soon Michael was off to deliver a check himself. He and the organization’s regional director instantly connected over their shared passion. So well, in fact, that before he left that day, the director asked Michael to join Operation Homefront’s advisory board.

Ever since, Michael has made it his mission to make a difference in the lives of military families. Last year, Michael received the Walmart Logistics Community Champion Award for his work with Operation Homefront, which under his leadership, coordinated the efforts of more than 170 volunteers, 6,500 volunteer hours, and fundraising efforts that raised more than $350,000 for veterans in 2015.

Through his work with Operation Homefront, Michael also began working with Penn State University’s Military Appreciation Committee. Together they organize events like Seats for Service Members, which donates free Penn State football tickets to military families. Every year at a Military Appreciation Day football game, Michael assembles the volunteer forces of Operation Homefront, Walmart, and Penn State to throw a massive cookout for current and active service members and their families.

Earlier this month, 500 Walmart volunteers converged on State College to serve food to nearly 10,000 military families before the game.

“It’s just great to be able to show them that we have their backs, and that we haven’t forgotten what they’ve been through, and most of all, that we truly appreciate what they’ve done for our country,” he said.

Michael has received multiple honors for his support for veterans, but he’ll be the first to tell you that the recognition is the result of the teamwork from his fellow Walmart volunteers.

“It’s not just me,” he insisted. “It’s the teammates I’ve got around me.”

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yovonnie-wordlow-pic1U. S. Army Specialist Yovonnie Wordlow had one main reason for enlisting in the Army – to get her education paid for. Ironically, after enlisting, she realized there was no time to go to college. Nevertheless, Yovonnie grew to love her job as a chemical specialist in the military and took pride in being in the service as a soldier and as part of a whole battalion.

In 2015, after serving for ten years, she was medically separated with an honorable discharge. As a veteran and single mother, Yovonnie has had to juggle taking care of her own health while attending to the needs of her three children, ages six, five and four. Yovonnie copes with her service-related injuries on a daily basis, which includes a disability stemming from two hip replacements.

Despite her struggles, Yovonnie weathered several financial hardships until the home she was renting was sold and her family was forced to move in with a friend. Yovonnie was no longer sure what her future would be.

Through an active duty friend, she learned about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. With the support of donors and dedicated corporate partners, this program provides mortgage-free homes and supportive services to veterans and their families. Once families are matched with a home, they work with an Operation Homefront caseworker for the next two to three years to help build up their savings, reduce their debts and establish a budget plan so that they are better prepared for home ownership.

Yovonnie saw that there was a home in the Little Rock area, near her family, so she applied and was awarded a mortgage-free home.

“It means everything for me and my family,” said Yovonnie. “It is a fresh start. I have had a lot of obstacles – it’s a new beginning and new start for us.”

yovonnie-wordlow-pic2In September, Yovonnie was one of five veteran families who were recognized at the Military Heroes Keys for Life event at the annual Five Star Conference and Expo, where Operation Homefront joined the Five Star Institute and Chase to officially award the homes to these deserving families.

“It will help me start a savings plan and college fund for my children,” added Yovonnie. “I want to be an asset for nonprofits and start helping locally. I can’t say thank you enough – it’s a blessing. Thank you for a new beginning.”

Yovonnie is now busy getting back on track towards a strong, stable and secure future. She is currently focused on growing her personal business and spending quality time with her children and is returning to school with plans to earn a degree in psychology and social work. Eventually, Yovonnie would like to pursue a career in life coaching and life mentoring, especially work with young teenage girls and women on their self-esteem and provide motivational speaking skills.

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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carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30845320545_oBefore the night was over…

They were dropping names like Carrie Underwood and saying they got to be part of a private concert with her.

Before the night was over…

They were talking about Carnival Cruise Lines, well-known for a fun family atmosphere, and proclaiming they got one free night on Carnival’s biggest and best ship, the Carnival Vista, with a skyline view of New York City.

Before the night was over…

They could say they met Miss USA Deshauna Barber, the very first active duty service member to wear the crown.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30544200720_oBefore the night was over…

They were able to be part of a rare event, a naming ceremony to officially christen Carnival’s biggest and best new ship, the Carnival Vista, complete with helicopter delivery of the champagne, Kathie Lee Gifford, confetti cannons, and more.

Is it possible that all that could happen in less than 24 hours? Yes it is. And all of those experiences, and many more, were a reality for some of our military families, who were guests of Carnival’s “Honor.Family.Fun” event in New York City recently.

The experience featured it all before the night was over.

But beyond the bright lights, the gorgeous expansive ship and the entertainment…one message came through loud and clear.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808587226_oPeople care about our military.

Our families heard it over and over again.

They heard it in Carrie’s live performance of her song Keep Us Safe:

“And through the struggles and the trouble I know we don’t walk alone.

Even when we get lost through the valleys we crossed.”

And in Carrie’s words:

“It’s been really amazing to get to be a part of such an incredible organization and the way you’ve…committed to helping military families and giving them special time together. I’m a mother and I know how precious those moments are.”

They heard and recognized themselves in the words of our President and CEO, John I Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.):

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808588626_oI served in the Air Force for 27 1/2 years. When I go back and look at pictures of my family, I am not in any of them…because I wasn’t there. This partnership is important (because) those military families will be able to create the memories that will last a lifetime. The opportunity to go on vacation with your families and capture those photos, is going to be truly spectacular.

They heard it from Carnival CEO Christine Duffy:

Carnival carries more active and retired U.S. military personnel than any other cruise line. So it means a great deal to me to be able to be a part of this amazing event, honoring and celebrating the sacrifices of those who serve in our Armed Forces and protect our freedoms each and every day. I couldn’t think of a more deserving group to honor as we celebrate the launch of our spectacular new ship, Carnival Vista.

They heard from Miss USA Deshauna Barber who understand the military life very well. As she spoke at the Naming Ceremony, she recalled, with barely veiled emotion, the birthdays and holidays that her father always missed because he deployed a lot as part of special forces:

“I do a lot of speeches… but this one touches my heart. I am humbled and proud and honored and inspired all at the same time. …What we do as military is very important. When the days get hard, you have to think about days like this.”

As we approach Veterans Day, we want to remind our military families that we are grateful for the courage and honor of all of you who serve our great nation. We know you must give up so much and you do it willingly. We are grateful and we care about you.

We hope you hear that over and over again.

Check out our album of images from that special day, and 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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Former Marine Sayku Dudley describes his childhood in Atlanta, Georgia, as rough. As a kid, Sayku was motivated to find a better life for himself.

Sayku started going to softball games and barbeques hosted by local military recruiters and became good friends with one of them.

“As things became worse in my environment,” said Sayku, “I decided to … join the military. As I was deciding which branch of service to go into, I thought the Marines looked the toughest and the fittest. I went into the Marines because I wanted to look like that guy who stood out from the rest.”

dudleyAfter basic training at Paris Island, South Carolina, Sayku was stationed at Twenty-nine Palms, the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in California.  He spent time in Japan and Mexico before returning to Atlanta to join the Marine Reserves.

After 9/11, Sayku deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  “I was almost killed,” said Sayku. “But I recovered.” Eventually he came back to Georgia. “My career was cut short at the end,” said Sayku. “I am fighting for medical retirement. I have had multiple personal problems. I have lost stripes. Since 2009, I have been going through the storm of my life.”

Sayku struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress. His financial situation was bleak and he faced having his lights and utilities shut off. He first turned to Wounded Warrior Project for help, and in turn, they referred him to Operation Homefront.  Operation Homefront was able to provide   the financial assistance he needed during a difficult financial time.

Sakyu request was just one of over 1,700 military families we’ve helped so far this year, and one of 11,000 since our inception in 2012.  89.4% of our 2016 clients surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that OH’s Emergency Assistance Program helps build strong, stable, and secure military families.

Sayku is thankful that things are better now than they were last year. “I was in a mental state that I didn’t know I was in or how to get out. After I left the military, I had problems and haven’t been able to do. This is not where I ever thought I would be.”

To those who donate to OH, Sayku said, “There are not a lot of words. I would rather do than say. I am so very thankful. I am glad that you (OH) was able to help me. Asking for help really checks your pride. I am very thankful for the help, and I am on a new path and thanks to you I can do for now. I definitely know what it’s like to not have. It’s very humbling to be where I am.”

Sayku recently began work at Home Depot part-time. “I haven’t been in the work world for a while,” said Sayku. “This is a new start. I have been on a rocky road filled with debts and family problems. But now I am in a different place and keep remembering how far I came. I am starting over new. This time I am going to succeed either by working multiple jobs or going back to school.”

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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hector-perez-alternate-picHector Perez is a California native – growing up just a few miles from Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. Like many young men and women, Hector was compelled to serve after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

With the influence of a high school recruiter, he enlisted in the Marines in 2002.

During his service, Hector deployed to the middle east many times. While in Afganistan, Perez recalls how a road side bomb detonated and hit his vehicle.

Hector was injured severely. “Spinal cord injuries, neural damage to my left leg and left eye, and some TBI and PTSD as well,” were all side effects of his accident. He received a Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for all his years of active duty service and, more specifically, for his outstanding service during his four deployments to Iraq and two deployments to Afghanistan.

No one is prepared for the effects of war, and, like too many of his comrades, these injuries caused Perez to medically retire in 2015.

Soon he was back in California but, this time, things were a little different.

Like many in his situation, Hector was caught off guard and struggled to make ends meet during his transition out of the military. “I had to realize wasn’t going to be able to spend 20 years, a full career, in the Marine Corps,” he said.

Hector heard about the Operation Homefront Villages, that provide rent-free transitional housing, from his recovery care coordinator and applied. He was accepted into the program and moved into the new Operation Homefront Village in San Diego. There, he found relief and a way to get back on track with his life.

“We were able to focus on stabilizing our income,” added Hector. “In addition, we brought our current debt down to a minimum and live in a safe environment with others in the same position and continue care for disabilities.”

While at Village, Hector and his family were able to reduce their total debt by more than $5,000. His wife graduated from college and they were able to establish stability. In addition, the family has been able to put over $15,000 into their savings and on average are able to contribute an additional $2,000 into their savings each month.

“It’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s near all the VA (offices) I need,” said Hector. “Being a part of this community will help our family transition from active duty to retired tremendously.”

We’re glad he’s safe and back home where he belongs.

Meet the Perez family

 

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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“I took a leap of faith and joined the Air Force.”

That’s how Dominick Griego describes his decision to serve. He had entered college, trying to balance the demands of a young family, college and a job. But he needed healthcare and a constant paycheck. So he enlisted.

Little did he know that decision would impact his family in ways he never imagined.

“The beauty of joining the Air Force was that I was also afforded the opportunity to see the world.” After training at two locations in Texas, he was stationed in Italy with his wife, Cecilia. “Italy was amazing,” said Dominick. “Both of my girls were born there.”

After Italy, the family was stationed in New Jersey for seven years. Dominick had seven deployments during his thirteen years of service. “I was gone a lot,” said Dominick. “It was a trying factor on my family, especially the girls. But we faced every opportunity and challenge thanks to my wonderful wife.”

dom-griego-9During Dominick’s last deployment to Afghanistan, he was hurt. At first, there was just the close call…Dominick was checking on an infrastructure in an area known as “Rocket City” when an IDF mortar blew up outside the chow hall. But three weeks later in Kabul, Dominick and his operations team were driving to another location when a suicide bomber drove into them. Dominick and his team ended up five feet away from 500-pound bomb.

“We ended up inside an attack and were under heavy fire,” said Dominick. “I passed out and when I came to, we were engaged by an enemy in the city. Fortunately, we were able to fight back and maneuver tactically. There were six of us and all six survived and returned home with minimal injuries. Sometimes you get lucky. I was stubborn and didn’t seek medical treatment. I stumbled around in country before ending up in hospital. They told me to make sure I rested my brain.”

Dominick decided to stay on in Afghanistan for six months. He was assigned to a task force looking for corruption and fraud. Six months turned into 13 months. Finally, in July 2014, he returned to the states. Dominick received a Purple Heart for his bravery and courage in the attacks in Kabul.

Despite his injuries, and the fact that Dominick had recently been diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery, Dominick reenlisted in the Air Force for another term in January 2016. He deals with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and PTSD sleep deprivation.

Dominick was a Portraits in Courage honoree and attended an awards ceremony at the Pentagon. While he was there, he met one of our Operation Homefront staff members. Dominick’s wife took a business card.

When the Griego family’s heat and AC unit stopped working efficiently, the family recalled their chance meeting with Operation Homefront and filled out an application for assistance—Dominick didn’t believe the family would qualify. “I didn’t think that I was a candidate for help because you can’t see my injuries,” said Dominick. “Sometimes I am also in denial about my injuries.”

“The original heating unit was oil and the new unit is natural gas,” said Cecilia. “We all have allergies which was sometimes aggravated by the oil heat and it dried us out. This is different heat. We no longer have stress from worrying about fixing it. There is no way we could have done this without Operation Homefront’s help.”

dom-griego-2“I am at home a lot,” said Dominick. “What you guys did was amazing. Because of my health, I had no motivation to mentally or physically address the AC issue. The lack of efficient heat and AC made the situation more miserable as I was recovering from surgeries and chemo.”

“A lot of people tell me thank you for your service,” said Dominick. “Because my wounds are not visible, people don’t understand. But to say thank you and then do something like your donors do to say thanks—to blindly give. That gesture is beyond words. What you and your donors do justifies and reinstates the reason why I serve and wear the uniform and would do anything to protect.”

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 to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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