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Archive for the ‘Deployments’ Category

By Ashley Sistrunk, Guest Blogger.

The viral military Christmas card. Did you happen to see it floating around internet land the past couple of months? Totally cliché, right?

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sistrunkblog2Let me back up and introduce myself. Hey, I’m Ashley! I’m an almost 30 year old (how did THAT happen) wife and mother to four perfectly imperfect children….oh and I’m a military spouse whose husband is only halfway through the journey to retirement.

We’ve had quite an interesting military experience that I’m sure MANY of you can relate to.

When we were 18 & 19, we had this crazy idea to get married and start a family together…but didn’t factor in the expenses. My husband, Brandon, worked at a BBQ restaurant and I worked as a hairstylist in a salon. Not too bad, right? WRONG!

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We were married 4 beautiful weeks before we discovered we were expecting our first child! How did we find out? The fumes from the hair salon started to make me sick, so I did what any logical 19 year old would do….I bought 10 pregnancy tests and sure enough, they all read POSITIVE.

We told our families and within that process, realized we wouldn’t be able to afford a child with a BBQ income alone, since I could no longer tolerate the smell from the salon.

So, this started our military journey.

If you’re lucky enough to know my husband, you know he is one of the most giving, kind-hearted people on the planet. He will do anything for anyone, which can be taken advantage of at times. He knew that joining the military would cover the medical expenses of having a child, even if it meant sacrificing his own life at some point. Who does that?! Only 1% of America, apparently.

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Off to boot camp he went, while I was left behind, 6 1/2 months pregnant. I would write him letters every single day and would pray to receive one from him. Not a single letter came. When I finally saw him at his graduation, he explained that his unit kept getting in trouble, so their punishment was not being able to write letters. I think in a way, that helped prepare me for the rest of our military journey.

My husband missed the births of 3 out of 4 children. One due to tech school and the others due to deployments. The recruiter must have forgotten to mention the chances of that happening. Either that, or we were just young and naïve and assumed we would have a fairytale life.

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When he left for this past deployment, my children were 9, 7, 5 (she turned 6 while he was gone), and 2 months. “They” say deployments get easier each time. I say “they” must not have children or “they” somehow speed up time during deployments. No one prepared us for the emotional strain that this deployment would bring. The kids were now old enough to be downright MAD for him being gone. Not just mad, but incredibly sad too.

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I had to get creative when it came to keeping the kids and myself connected to the person we absolutely ADORE while he was thousands of miles (7,038 miles, to be exact) away, BUT… I’ve never had a creative bone in my 5’1 body.

That’s where Pinterest stepped in. Pinterest SAVED this deployment!

*All the mommas say AMEN*

Here are some things my family and I did to stay connected through this deployment:

1) Deployment wall: We had a family night a week or so before my husband deployed and we decided to spend that time putting our deployment wall together! *See picture*

We showed them on the map where we were and where daddy would be. We had two different clocks, one that showed our time and one that showed his. We had a picture of him in uniform and a picture of him with the kids (added later). We had a space where they could roll out a sheet of paper and draw him pictures or write him letters, or even just write down how they’re feeling that day. We had little baskets for mail received and mail to send out. I would catch them going to the wall and just staring at his picture. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.

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2) Pictures on pillow cases, recording his voice in a stuffed animal, and video recording bedtime stories. If you haven’t visited your Airman & Family Readiness Center, I suggest you do! They have so many different things that can help a deployment along! My husband was able to go and have pictures of him and the kids printed onto pillow cases, have his voice recorded in stuffed animals, AND video record himself reading them each a bedtime story! So they got to see him every night before bed!

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3) Care packages: Pinterest has SO many awesome ideas for care packages! The kids loved putting things in the box and decorating it! They would say “Oh! Daddy will LOVE this!” And their little faces would light up! If you’re OCD, this will really test your patience, but it’s so worth it to see them wanting to get involved!

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4) Technology: This is huge for military families! We didn’t have Skype or video messenger until my husband’s 2nd or 3rd deployment. Before that, you heard from your spouse whenever they could find an open phone, which was never guaranteed. For this deployment, we were so blessed with technology! The kids were able to talk to their daddy *almost* every morning before school! Of course the connection was sketchy or would fail, but most of the time they could at least say hello!

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5) Holidays: Holidays are tough with your loved one halfway across the world. As the parent, you have to put your feelings on the back burner and focus on the physical/emotional needs of your children, ESPECIALLY around the holidays! For holidays, we would remove his picture from the deployment wall and tape it on a chair at the head of the table. This way, the kids could see he’s not been forgotten and that he is still a part of our special day, even though he’s not actually home.

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For Christmas, we made our first ever Christmas card! Yes, the viral military Christmas card! Honestly, the card ALMOST didn’t happen. I had my husband take his pictures from his deployment location, but the timing never seemed right for us to take ours.

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As each day got closer and closer to Christmas, I would see more and more pictures of all the happy families together on their beautifully crafted cards. At first I was sad. So terribly sad. I wanted nothing more than for my husband to be home for Christmas, but I knew that wasn’t an option. So, I decided TODAY IS THE DAY! We went out and got each shot on the first try, thanks momma!

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I pieced them together that night and decided to post them on FaceBook. The response was unbelievable! Within a few days, it was EVERYWHERE! So many spouses reached out saying “We’re apart for the holidays too! Thank you for showing us your togetherness through it all!”.

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Deployments are hard, especially if you actually love spending time with your spouse and consider him/her your best friend. The days can be so long and it can be so tempting to let that cause division in your marriage or family, but if you can focus on the good, you WILL get through it! Give yourself some grace. You will have days where you just want to bury yourself under the covers and cry and that’s ok! Try not to take that frustration out on the deployed member, but at the same time, be honest with them if they ask what’s troubling you. They will feel helpless at times, but that’s where you have to rise up and show them that you are strong TOGETHER, even if you’re not physically together. Your hearts are bonded, for better and for worse.

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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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“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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NEW YORK, New York (Sept. 11)--Smoke rises in lower Manhattan after the World Trade Centers fall Sept. 11, 2001. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto

NEW YORK, New York (Sept. 11)–Smoke rises in lower Manhattan after the World Trade Centers fall Sept. 11, 2001. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto

When we reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, the horror and pain of that day is often mingled with the hope and comfort of the many images and stories of heroism. Our generation had never seen such outpouring of concern and support from Americans, coast to coast.  From those who opened their homes to the stranded, to those who passed out water bottles to first responders near the scenes of tragedy, we were buoyed in our darkest hours by the values and spirit that has defined this country since its founding.

Today, 15 years later, as we pause to reflect this Sunday on Patriot Day, many of us may wonder, “Where has that spirit gone?”  You may hear others wonder aloud whether the America reflected in those days of fellowship and unity is gone, never to be recovered.

But there is one group that still believes.

Our men and women in uniform. And they have arguably carried the biggest burden and paid a heavy cost since that fall of 2001.

We have talked with men and women who joined specifically because of the attacks of September 11.  Some were mere children at the time, but they carried that calling with them until they were old enough to volunteer.  Still others talk about an opportunity given to them, or to their immigrant parents, and of a need to give back.  In the 15 years that Operation Homefront has worked with military and wounded warrior families, we have been amazed time and again at the love and reverence that generations of Americans have for this country.

And when reflecting on their service, the vast majority talk about bonds tighter than family, in some cases, and the privilege of serving with the finest men and women that America has to offer.

It is in these conversations that we see the core values of who we are as a nation, and the resiliency and strength that allows us to weather the darker times.

The men and women of our armed forces come from our communities.  The honor, courage, commitment and call to service comes from the communities they were raised in.  In short, they are America.

And they are not alone.

Support for military families comes from all walks of life. We see it at the events we host around the country. We often partner with other organizations serving other needs in their community, such as mental health and food insecurity. We see the young and the old all doing something to make their little part of the world a better place.

Americans answered the call then, and they continue to answer the call today.

Many say there seems to be a lot of anger in the air these days, whether it’s  talk shows, the web, or social media.  They wonder how to make it better. But we ask you to take a moment and really look around and see that your fellow Americans are still phenomenally friendly, caring, generous, and quick to help when help is needed. Sometimes the opportunity to keep the spirit alive comes to you, other times you need to seek it out.  But it is there.

This September 11 anniversary, we encourage everyone to find a way to keep the spirit alive in their community. It does not always have to be a donation of money or goods, it can be your time, an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on. A smile to a stranger or stopping to take a moment to talk to someone.

doing so, we can, as in the words of President Bush in his address to the nation, “None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

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Our country’s service members, veterans, and their families have all Answered The Call to serve our nation, sacrificing much in the process. Service comes with many challenges – being apart as a reslt of deployment, the loss of a family member, adjusting to a new community and career, hitting a financial obstacle. Putting the needs of our country before their own, our military personnel and their families have always been committed to protecting us all.

If you are looking for a way to get involved in supporting our military families, we invite you to join our Answer The Call campaign.

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In a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families.

Today, we host guest blogger, Clifford Cho, Bank of America Senior Vice President /Business Banking Market Executive.

San Diego is home to nearly 100,000 active service members and more than 240,000 veterans living and working right here – one of the highest such populations anywhere in the United States. While we owe a debt of gratitude for the service of veterans and their families, we also owe it to ourselves to recognize how integral they are—and will be—to our lives every day. Here in San Diego, for example, these men and women are inextricably linked to the $45 billion that the military generates for our local economy.

The need for greater financial education among veterans and military families is as great as it’s ever been. A 2015 study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that service members carry higher credit card debt and unsecured debt balances than their civilian counterparts. And in a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that financial readiness training should be more tailored to fit specific family needs.

Statistics aside, many simply struggle navigating the complex system of benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, and figuring out credit, lending, savings and mortgage options can be daunting for those who are facing them for the first time.

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It was our honor to participate for the 6th straight year in Operation Homefront’s Back-To-Brigade.

Recently, I joined other Bank of America employees at a volunteer event for Operation Homefront called “Back-To-School Brigade” in San Diego. During the event, over 1,000 deserving military children were each given a new backpack filled with school supplies. Nationwide, the Back-To-School Brigade served over 20,000 military children, ensuring they had all of the tools they need to be successful in school. It was our 6th straight year of participating in this event and we all witnessed first-hand how appreciative the military members were of our support. Our team has also supported Operation Homefront holiday programs with drives and volunteers.

In addition to Operation Homefront, Bank of America also works with many other military organizations. One of those groups, REBOOT San Diego and its veteran’s transition program that provides job skills and career education to returning service men and women. To date, REBOOT has helped over 1,450 transitioning service members and veterans maintain a steady 97% success rate in completion of their various workshops, attainment of a stated goal of education or employment and retention in the REBOOT program after their initial year. We’ve also been able to fund additional monthly workshops in North San Diego County to help Marines from Camp Pendleton and area veterans.

Proper financial education can make a massive difference for all of us and for military families in particular. It can help to relieve financial stress—one of the major causes of tension in service members’ relationships—and it can improve the lives of entire families. For some, it can even be the difference between homelessness and gainful employment in a fulfilling career.

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It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed.

In addition, through BetterMoneyHabits.com —a financial education resource that Bank of America developed with education innovator Sal Khan and Khan Academy—we recently launched new content specifically geared toward veterans and military families. The new content offers transitioning service members guidance on issues like navigating the complexities of the GI Bill, a tutorial on how VA home loans work and a primer on buying a car.  The publication Military Times partnered with us to discuss these topics along with financial readiness as part of a free webinar available online.

It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed. More importantly, as citizens and members of the community, we each have a responsibility to use our unique skills and gifts to help unlock the potential of the veterans and military families we encounter every day. We do this through financial literacy. How can your company help grow the skills and strengths of our nation’s veterans?

Bank of America has been a steadfast supporter of Operation Homefront programs and events across the country, such as our Back-to-School Brigade and the Holiday Toy Drive programs.   We look forward to continuing to work with them to build strong, stable and secure military families.

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madelinemorlinomcoy2016Through three military permanent change of station relocations and 32 months of her father’s deployments, Madeleine Morlino has lived a life of giving back to the country and to the community, consistent with the foundational values and love of country upon which she was raised. Madeleine was adopted from China when she was 11 months old. Believing fervently that her family made her life better than it would have been had she remained in China, Madeleine has devoted her life to keeping America and her community strong.

Just about every day, Madeleine accomplishes something for America — one veteran, indeed one citizen, at a time.

Motivated by the challenges her family faced as her father transitioned from the Air Force to civilian life, Madeleine set out to ease the transition for other service members. She conceived, organized and led a job expo for veterans in her hometown. She and her colleagues on the committee that planned the event successfully attracted national and local businesses that were poised to offer veterans meaningful employment.

Driven to share her love of country and inspire others, Madeleine joined with her 18-year-old sister, Eleanor, in creating a Young Americans for Freedom group at her high school. Under Madeleine’s leadership, membership in the organization increased 300 percent from the year before, attracting a diverse group of young people to join the effort to spread the word about the uniqueness of the U.S. Constitution and the greatness of our nation as a whole.

Despite also being involved with student body government, Model UN, and a host of other volunteer activities, Madeleine still finds time for orchestra and cross country running. Perhaps we see a clue to the fuel that fires her in her favorite quote, by Og Mandino: “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.”

Madeleine’s love of country and call to serve will continue after she graduates, as she is now a member of the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2020 cadets.

Madeleine is the daughter of Kerry Ann Morlino and retired Air Force Master Sgt. Leonard Morlino of Moorestown, N.J.

 

This week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

Our heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor United Technologies, and all of our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award sponsors, for making this annual award one of the highlights of our year.  Your support allows us to bring the stories of our military families to the forefront, making a difference in raising awareness of the challenges they face in protecting our nation.

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christianfagalaChristian Fagala was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 2. He would beat cancer – knocking out the disease with a combination of faith and a determination to see the bright side of things.

Chemotherapy didn’t just present physical challenges to Christian, but also cognitive ones. Despite having a harder time learning due to the effects of chemotherapy, Christian, now 9 years old, persevered and exceeded all academic expectations.

Christian felt the need to make a difference for others facing the same battle he had. At age 4, he began doing speaking engagements on behalf of childhood cancer programs. He has spent countless hours making videos and using social media to elevate awareness of childhood cancer. Christian has raised more than $20,000 in the last few years for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and CureSearch, a non-profit whose mission is to end children’s cancer by driving targeted and innovative research.

His faith has sustained him through hard times. “God hears our prayers and helps us as much as he can,” Christian said. “It reminds me that God can do very big things.”

Christian has also devoted more than 100 hours to homeless outreach. He also finds time to play youth soccer and enjoy a little dodgeball while participating in Scouting.

As a military child, Christian has relocated four times already and has endured 16 months of his father’s deployment. Christian sees a bright side to being a member of a military family, adding “Military kids get to travel a lot and live in a lot of places civilian kids may just travel to. We get to make so many friends from different places and experience different cultures.”

Christian aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps and to become a Marine. If medical issues become an impediment, then he wants to follow in his mother’s footsteps and work for the Department of Defense.

Christian is the son of Diana Fagala and Marine Capt. Justin Fagala of Quantico, VA.

This week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

Our heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor United Technologies, and all of our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award sponsors, for making this annual award one of the highlights of our year.  Your support allows us to bring the stories of our military families to the forefront, making a difference in raising awareness of the challenges they face in protecting our nation.

 

 

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