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by Robert D. Thomas, Chief Operations Officer, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

Today, we remember and honor our service members.

On Memorial Day, our nation remembers and reflects upon the loss of the service members who have had a profound impact on preserving the freedoms we enjoy daily. By honoring the memory of their service, we sustain the spirit of these fallen heroes. And, we also remember their families, who sustained their service.

When I think about the heroes we have lost, I also think of the time lost with their families. I think of the incalculable value of eating an ordinary family dinner together, watching your son or daughter play soccer, or taking a child fishing. For those deployed, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, that time is lost forever; they will never get those moments back and neither will their families.

Reflecting on my 31-year Air Force career, and the friends I have lost in the service, brings Memorial Day into sharp focus for me. My military specialty was air mobility, and when I was not flying transport/tanker aircraft, I was the officer on staff responsible for the air mobility mission.

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During multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, among other duties, I would many times find myself part of the team responsible for transporting our fallen heroes back home one last time. The units would honor their lost comrade in a solemn ceremony, almost always at night to avoid the rocket or mortar fire large groups of soldiers attract, and end with a member of the unit answering “absent sir” as the fallen warrior’s name was called in a final unit roll call.

Often, and especially on Memorial Day, I think of the families of those heroes and what it would be like to get the devastating news that a mother, father, son, or daughter was gone forever, and how many lives were changed permanently at that moment.

All Americans can take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Robert D. Thomas
Operation Homefront Chief Operations Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

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by John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

May is Military Appreciation Month – an important opportunity for Americans to take a moment to reflect on all our military community has done and continues to do for all of us. From celebrating spouses on Military Spouse Appreciation Day and recognizing all service branches on Armed Forces Day, to honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day, May is truly a special month to highlight an exceptional group of our fellow citizens.

While we typically celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of our active duty members and veterans, I think we must also include those who have sustained their service – their families – as they have served alongside their loved ones.

Military service is a noble calling, but it has many demands and many costs. One of those costs is foregoing time with family.

When I look at my family photos, I find I am not in many of them. I wish the reason was I was the one taking them. Sadly, the real reason is I was not there. I was doing something important to serve my country. I understood I was the one who raised my hand and swore an oath to protect our country. I also fully understood my family, because of my service, had their hands raised too.

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John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

That is why I am honored to serve America’s military families as the President and CEO of Operation Homefront. We have 120 employees and over 4,000 volunteers, along with many caring donors and partners, who are dedicated to meeting the needs of military families while they are serving and as they transition back to the civilian communities they have worked so hard to protect. Our relief, resiliency and recurring support programs touch over one hundred thousand family members each year… giving them the support they need to make ends meet and, just as important, letting them know that America is behind them.

This Armed Forces Day, when you thank and honor those who put on the uniform, I would ask you to remember the family members whose sacrifice may be less visible, but just as worthy.

I invite you to join Operation Homefront in our #Mission2Honor military families by sending a message of thanks to those families who serve and help protect the freedoms we enjoy daily. It will mean the world to them: OperationHomefront.org/mission2honor

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Every Mother’s Day, I take a moment to look at my life and reflect on how great it is. It’s been over 15 years since I lost my leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq and I can honestly say my life is better now than it has ever been. I am a proud mother, wife, Veteran, elite athlete and motivational speaker. F46181FD-8D91-491A-B0F6-C34D4B1791CF

Being a mom is my favorite. It’s both the best and the hardest job and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s hard not to tear up a little when I think about the love I have for my kids.

My happiest moments and best days are when I’m with my family; playing, walking, dancing or doing anything as long as we are together. I often think about the sacrifice that military families make due to service to our country. Deployments, relocations, training exercise.  All of these mean missed time with family members.

I would not be where I am today, without the support system I had to get me through the transitions I had in life. From a military spouse, to losing my leg, being medically retired from the Army and a new mom. I was so grateful to have organizations out there to help me when I needed them along with my support team of my family and friends. I’ve learned from experience, that us moms need all the help we can get!

I believe that moms are the heart and soul of the family, (dads are pretty important too!)  from the day we know that little one is in our belly! There is a special bond between moms, as if we can give each other a ‘we’ve got this’ head nod as we walk by with our strollers and sometimes screaming kids. We are, after all, all in this together. We have the strength, resilience, to push through whatever comes our way.

My children give me the motivation to dream big and I hope that one day they will have big dreams of their own. I will always be their biggest cheerleader.    45774282-7C31-45CE-8AA0-F79B6AB5D1E2

Coming up on May 19th, I have the opportunity to meet some expecting military moms (and new moms as well) at the Operation Homefront Star Spangled Baby Shower event in Colorado Springs. I cannot wait to meet you all.

So, to all the moms and the soon-to-be moms out there – cherish this day and love on those little, or not so little ones, in your life. I hope you all have a wonderful Mother’s Day! #Mission2Honor  #MilitaryMoms.
Melissa Stockwell
1LT, Ret.
Proud mom of 2

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The Start Strong, Stay Strong campaign offers military moms a network of support – online and in commissaries and exchanges around the world – so they may connect with their communities, explore local events and discover motivational stories. Whether they are welcoming a new child into the home, managing day-to-day household needs through relocations, adjusting to family life with a wounded veteran, or settling into new schools and communities, P&G and Operation Homefront are here to help military moms start strong and stay strong throughout their service to our country.
Through the online community, StartStrongPG.com, military moms can access the information they need wherever they live, all year long. They will discover things to do, find local resources in their community, unlock savings, explore an online marketplace, and much more.

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Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices our military families make and the challenges they face throughout their service, which is why every day we seek to build strong, stable, and secure military families so that they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

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During Military Appreciation Month, you can join Operation Homefront in recognizing our military families and thanking them for their service. Join us and honor those who have served and are continuing to serve our communities across the country.

Support: Help Operation Homefront support military families

The simple act of giving can change the lives of our military families. Your donation could ensure that power is kept on for wounded warriors who need medical equipment for survival or help feed a military family.  Donate today to help us reach our goal of supporting 15 families.

usa_graphicHonor: Send a message of support

Operation Homefront invites Americans who care about military families to publicly recognize, honor, and thank them for their service and support in our communities. Send in your message of thanks and help us turn our map red, white, and blue.

Serve: Get Involved

With the help of our volunteer reserves, Operation Homefront delivers valued programs and services to military families that offer relief through critical financial assistance and rent-free transitional housing, resiliency through mortgage-free homes and caregiver support programs, and recurring family support through holiday meals, school supplies, baby bundles, holiday toys and other resources for military spouses and children.   Visit our website to find out more about how you can become a volunteer with Operation Homefront!

To learn more about the Operation Homefront “Always Serving” campaign and Mission2Honor, visit www.OperationHomefront.org/Mission2Honor.

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Last week, Operation Homefront hosted our 2019 Military Child of the Year® recipients, our Magnificent Seven, and their families in Washington, D.C. for a three-day celebration.  Let’s take a look at their activity packed time in our Nation’s capital.

But before we do, it bears repeating how incredible these kids are! This year’s seven honorees have experienced a cumulative 31 moves and 187 months of parental deployments. But they also gave over 1,800 hours of volunteer time just in the year before they were nominated – among their many other accomplishments including stellar academic achievements, overcoming health challenges, becoming Eagle Scouts, being competitive in swimming and other sports. You can read more about each of them here. 

 

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How innovative can we be? The festivities kicked off Tuesday with Brandon Mammano , our Innovation Award recipient, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton, who sponsored the award. After a tour, Brandon and his family brainstormed with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team on how to use technology to create a student sponsor program for military kids to welcome them when they move to a new community. Brandon told us, “It’s touching to me, how my tiny little idea can be turned into something ginormous.”

 

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Welcome to D.C.! On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. John I. Pray, Jr., Air Force (Ret.), President and CEO of Operation Homefront, welcomed all seven recipients at a welcome lunch before the kids, their families, and OH staff departed for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.  The kids enjoyed a behind the scenes tour where they got within feet of some beautiful male lions and seals (top secret – no pics allowed!) Afterwards, recipients, their families, and OH staff shared a delicious dinner before heading back to the hotel.

 

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Headed to the Pentagon! After a delicious breakfast with the staff and our National Board of Directors, the group headed off for a driving tour of the monuments and a tour of the Pentagon.

 

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The Main Event! After a few hours to relax back at the hotel, it was time for the main event.  John Heald, Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Line, served as the emcee, and America’s Beloved Tenor, Daniel Rodriguez, sang the national anthem during the Presentation of Colors by JROTC cadets from T.C. Williams High School from Alexandria, Virginia.

 

MCOY 2019-43 (1)The Spotlight is on … the kids! John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “Each one possesses something very special — a driving force – a spirit of service and of serving others.  Individually, they shined as they dealt with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.  Along their journey, they have developed an inner compass that inspires them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate, and to care for others in their communities.”

 

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Multi-national supergroup King Calaway wows the audience! Musical guest, King Calaway, entertained our guests with two of their hit singles and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Daniel J. O’Donohue, director for joint force development for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, inspired guests with his keynote address. “Their parents couldn’t have continued to serve unless these children decided that they would fall in, that honor, courage, and commitment was part of their life,” said O’Donohue.

 

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All Branches Represented. VIP officers from each branch presented the awards to our honorees and paid proper tribute to their achievements and tenacity in spite of challenges of the military lifestyle. For the third consecutive year, Carnival Cruise Line surprised the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

 

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One Last Musical Note. Before the evening ended, there was one more surprise in store for the Magnificent Seven.  CMT, country music artist Brantley Gilbert, and Peavey gave each of our seven honorees a fabulous Peavey guitar autographed by Brantley himself!

 

As we close out another year of celebrating military kids, we hope you will make plans to join us on April 2, 2020, for our 12th MCOY Gala.

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Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2019 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Carnival Cruise Lines, Military Times, La Quinta by Wyndham, PNC, MidAtlanticBroadband, and Nike.

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Achieving your degree is a tremendous accomplishment. Many times, military spouses are not able to complete their education due to the inherent challenges of military life – multiple moves, deployments, injuries, children’s needs, etc. Sarah Gaul’s dream of completing a bachelor’s degree will finally come true, thanks to a full-tuition scholarship from Southern New Hampshire University, presented at Operation Homefront’s June 2018 Homefront Celebration in Anchorage, Alaska, a military spouse appreciation event that was a bright spot during a rough period in Sarah’s life.

Sarah shares her story with our Homefront Celebration guests.

Grateful that SNHU’s military-friendly programs are flexible, Sarah will complete her education at her own pace because the former Coast Guard reservist just recently completed breast cancer treatment after an October 2017 diagnosis, works part time, and has three active sons with her husband, Jeramy, who medically retired from the Coast Guard in June 2018.

In fact, all five family members started new schools this fall. Sarah, who has sewn all her life and started working in a quilt shop in May 2018, is majoring in fashion merchandising and management and digital photography. Jeramy is in the geomatics program at University of Alaska Anchorage. Their oldest son, Frank, 14, just started high school. Middle son Sean, 11, entered middle school, and their youngest, Henry, 5, started kindergarten.

Sarah said they will need to support each other through some inevitable school-related stress because she still has “chemo brain” from her cancer treatment which required multiple surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy. Their older two boys are on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. And Jeramy has experienced several traumatic brain injuries leading to his medical retirement. The Veterans Affairs Department rated his disability at 100 percent. Jeramy’s initial TBI happened 21 years ago during a training accident while in the Washington National Guard. A tank hatch slammed shut on his head. “He’s lucky to be alive,” Sarah said, adding that he was wearing a helmet. He suffered a broken jaw. Later on multiple occasions, Jeramy hit his head while on Coast Guard boats, and fell down a ladder well.

Suffice it to say that life since her diagnosis and Jeramy’s retirement, with the whole family in different schools, has been “just crazy,” as Sarah puts it. That’s why she greatly enjoyed a night out to herself at the Homefront Celebration. She sat with SNHU representatives and students who shared their perspectives on balancing school, work and home responsibilities. Operation Homefront (OH) also treated attendees, including many Army and Air Force spouses, to a catered dinner, dancing and prizes.

“Even 20 minutes to myself is a wonderful thing,”-Sarah says, of her journey as survivor, student, mom and military spouse.

“It was so much fun,” said Sarah, who follows OH on Facebook, and had participated previously in OH’s Back-to-School Brigade and Holiday Toy Drive events. “It was an amazing night. They took great care of us. The gift bags were just stuffed full of things.”

Sarah had a good time at the event even though she feels “so self-conscious now” because the chemotherapy caused her to lose her hair. “Even 20 minutes to myself is a wonderful thing,” she said, adding that it was nice to find something to do for herself because she can’t get her hair done, or go for a back massage because she can’t lie on the table until she’s fully recovered from her surgeries.

“I’m excited to get back into school and start learning again.”

Sarah said the scholarship was the “ultimate prize” because without it, she would have had to delay returning to school until after their kids graduated from college. “Financially, there’s no way that we could afford for me to go back to school. I had really just put going back to school out of my mind.”

Now she can work on her classes as she finds time. “We’re teaching our kids how important education is,” Sarah said. “Not having that degree over the years has been tough for me.” She has wished she had a degree because many employers require one even for entry-level work, and it will improve her job prospects after being a stay-at-home mom for 14 years, an experience she “would not trade … for anything.”

It was not for lack of trying that Sarah has been unable to finish her degree. It’s just one of the many challenges and sacrifices that comes with the territory of serving in the military. She had previously taken online courses through American Military University, but could not continue because Jeramy went to a Coast Guard cutter in the Bering Sea, while she took care of the kids.

Sarah enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve in 1998. Jeramy, who had been serving in the Washington National Guard, later switched into the Coast Guard Reserve. They married in 2001, not long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Because of 9/11, they both got called to active duty, and the Coast Guard sent them to different places even though they were in the same unit. They didn’t see each other for three months. Jeramy went to an electronic support unit in Seattle; Sarah went to the marine safety office, conducting vessel safety inspections. Once she got pregnant with their oldest in 2003, she continued some inspections, but had to stop others because of the environmental risk.

Frank was born in 2004, at about the same time her six years of active drilling was ending. She got out because of her concern that as a dual military couple, they would have child care issues. In 2005, Jeramy accepted an active-duty Coast Guard assignment that moved them from Seattle to Anchorage.

Sarah and family in 2017.

“Having transferred and moved as much as we have as a military family, it’s not easy,” Sarah said.

With a degree in fashion merchandising and management and digital photography skills, Sarah can help retailers with buying decisions, staying relevant in the economy, and keeping customers coming back. “I’m excited to get back into school and start learning again. Mentally for me, I think it will help with my chemo brain … to keep my brain engaged.”


Thank you Southern New Hampshire University for supporting our military spouses and helping us host Homefront Celebrations across the USA and for helping our military spouses realize their education goals.

More events are planned in the future so keep an eye out on our events page or follow us on Facebook to see announcements about this and other events.

Get educated about risk factors for Breast Cancer, prevention and early detection and more here.

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We asked YOU, our community, to join us in our #Mission2Honor and send messages of thanks to our military this Military Appreciation Month..and, boy, did you ever!

Messages poured in from all over the USA and even overseas. Today, we would like to share some of those messages so that our men and women in uniform, their families, and all who love our military can see how much our country appreciates their courage and commitment to protecting our country and our freedoms.

-As we all know FREEDOM ISNT FREE and we SO appreciate all the duty to our great nation that you give and your sacrifice of time away from your families and all the mental and physical sacrifices you are experiencing. Thank you with all of our heart!! You are always in our prayers!!Rita, Utah

-Mahalo to all our military members and their families for their dedication and sacrifice. As a military brat, spouse and mom, I know how difficult military life can be; yet, it can also be rewarding and gives you a special kind of pride that only military families share. I honor you all with aloha.-Lahela, Hawaii

-Thank you so much for your service! My name is Hannah, I am 8 years old, I am a member of American Heritage Girls in which I am currently learning about the military and I want to thank you for all you have done. Thank you for going away from your family and risking your life just to keep me safe. Thank you for helping make it possible to live in a country I can do anything in.Hannah, Delaware

-I would like to thank all members of our armed forces for caring for the greater good of our country with your dedication, sacrifice, and time away from loved ones. I truly appreciate each and every one of you and your families. Thank you for all you did, are doing and will do. You are the awesomeness of America.-Cathy, Wyoming

-I would like to give thanks to all of our service men and women, whose work effort has given a lot of support and gratitude to many nations! God bless our families and give honor and respect to those who serve!-Eric, Florida

-Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. The time away from loved ones and the effort put towards your job does not go unnoticed and we appreciate all you do. Stay strong and know you are thought about. God Bless you!!-Amber, Virginia

-Thank you so much for the sacrifice you have made for your country. I am sure there have been missed birthdays, holidays, and special events. I cannot thank you enough for your service! Please know you are appreciated.-Wilson Family, USN, Arizona

-Words will never be enough to truly convey the gratitude my family and I have for servicemen and women. Thank you and God bless!-Natasha, Ohio

There is still plenty of time to join in #Mission2Honor and send your words of thanks and encouragement to our military families. You can submit your message here.

Operation Homefront has many events planned this summer to give back to our military families. Click here to learn more about how you can get involved.

Thank you for your support!

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