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Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Deidrick Caesar, who exited the Air Force in late 2017 after 15 years of service and five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, no longer worries about providing a home for his wife, 12-year-old daughter and new baby due this month.

Deidrick, his wife, Lissette, and daughter, Lianna, were one of the first families to move into a new home constructed under Operation Homefront’s Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration (THCR) program. The new program, made possible by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, was designed as a gateway for stability so veteran families can remain strong, stable and secure after their military service.

During his Air Force career, Deidrick served as a medical technician. He enlisted in 2002, first deployed in 2005, and deployed for the last time in 2014. His experiences range from working in the intense, trying environment of the emergency room or intensive care unit at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to being the noncommissioned officer in charge at the neonatal intensive care unit at San Antonio Military Medical Center.

As Deidrick prepared to leave the Air Force on short notice after narrowly missing promotion requirements to E-6, he and Lissette were concerned about transitioning, particularly affording housing after losing steady income. Due to his experience downrange, Deidrick receives compensation for a 50-percent Veterans Affairs disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But with a baby boy on the way, and Deidrick needing to finish his degree before changing careers, they weren’t sure how to find their way forward. Thanks to THCR, they now feel reassured they won’t lose their footing. “It’s kind of a big deal … that a paycheck won’t be coming in,” he said. “It’s … a struggle just to come to terms with what am I going to do now. How are we going to survive?”

While living in the roughly 2,000-square-foot home in the Helotes area of San Antonio, technically rent-free, they will pay utilities and make an additional monthly payment. OH will refund them the total amount of the additional monthly payments when they graduate in two to three years from the program, which also provides financial counseling to assist families with saving, paying off debt and improving credit. The Caesars can use that refund for a down payment on a home or other needs.

The Caesars are grateful that Operation Homefront and the Clark Foundation are a major part of the solution that will lead to self-sufficiency. “This is probably the biggest blessing so far,” Deidrick said. “It’s a great feeling. That’s what everyone dreams of, being able to … buy a house … having a place we can call home.”

Deidrick acknowledges that working in trauma care took its toll over time. “Most of my deployments were rough,” Deidrick said. “I’ve seen all the soldiers and the coalition forces and even detainees come through with massive injuries.”

He also endured a health scare of his own that led to a major surgery in 2016. While imaging a blood clot found in 2015, doctors discovered a mass that was growing. Fearing it might be cancerous, they removed it, which required a 56-centimeter incision in his back and gluteus and 72 staples. The mass was benign but doctors continue to monitor Deidrick, who was a patient at the same hospital where he used to work. He could not walk for about six weeks and needed six months of physical therapy at Brook Army Medical Center’s Center for the Intrepid.

Deidrick was anxious while waiting to find out if the mass was cancerous because both of his parents died of cancer about 13 years apart in the 2000s.

Through it all, Deidrick has maintained a positive attitude and outlook. He sees a mental health care provider regularly for problems sleeping. He also stays active, working out, running 5K and 10K races, hiking and volunteering when he can.

“Always, I’m that type to look on the bright side. In my eyes, I always feel like I can overcome anything. … My wife, on the other hand, she might not have seen it that way. To be able to ease her mind, especially with a baby on the way, it makes me that much more happy that we have this opportunity to get help and to better ourselves for the future.”

Deidrick could work as an emergency medical technician, but after witnessing so much death and serious injury, he would like to shift focus and become an athletic trainer, working to prevent injuries or rehabilitate those who have been hurt. As a sports fan, particularly for teams from his hometown area of New Orleans, his dream job would be working for a professional sports team, but he is open to helping anywhere he can, including possibly supporting the military.

Using his post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits, Deidrick is taking classes toward his associate degree at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. He would then like to transfer to University of Texas at San Antonio for kinesiology, the science of body movement.

Deidrick, who had hoped to stay in the Air Force until he was eligible to retire, said it “hurt at the time,” when he had to get out, making the adjustment to civilian life difficult. The Air Force was all he had known since he was 19. “It becomes you,” he said. Still, he believes “everything happens for a reason.” “Maybe … it’s time for me to do something different.”

Someday when the family is more settled, Lissette would like to finish her bachelor’s degree, started at University of Miami, where she also worked as a pharmacy technician. She now works as a business analyst for a health care company.

Lissette heard about THCR on the local evening news on channel 4, NBC affiliate WOAI. Deidrick said they hardly ever watch the news, and it was a “stroke of a good luck” that Lissette happened to be home and tuned in at that time. Ordinarily, she would have accompanied Deidrick to the gym at that time of day, he said. When Deidrick returned home, she told him about the program, and they felt it was meant to be. They decided to “go for it.”

The Caesars feel fortunate to be moving into a home that is larger than their apartment, with more space to spread out, which will make everyone more comfortable once the baby arrives.

Operation Homefront “definitely helps … open doors and gives families an opportunity to get on their feet … to set them up for success after the military,” Deidrick said. People may think they don’t have anywhere to turn, “but with organizations like Operation Homefront, you always have help … to stop you from falling too far to where you feel like you’re hopeless.”

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

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Tyler (with family) credits a strong, stable, and secure future to the help of Operation Homefront and our generous supporters.

Former Army Staff Sgt. Tyler Mobra is working to earn a new title — professor.

He originally enlisted in the Army in 2003, deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan as a cavalry scout, and was medically discharged in 2009 for multiple injuries. Tyler was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in action, and the Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious achievement or service. He received the Bronze Star for attempting to save in 2008, along with three others, two allied Afghan soldiers who had been severely wounded in a mortar attack. One survived.

The costs of war are all too high, but Tyler felt the full impact of actual costs of living when he was medically retired.

The Mobras rented a small apartment in Catoosa, OK. Their daughters shared a room, but couldn’t “sleep on bunk beds forever,” he said. He had heard about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program and immediately applied. He hoped a HOTH home would become available in the area because he didn’t want to change schools, and they have family nearby.

Operation Homefront awarded a mortgage-free home in 2015 to Tyler and his wife, Mindy, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and the family is working with a caseworker and financial counselor to build savings, reduce debit and learn the skills to become successful homeowners. Saving on housing also opens room in the budget for school and other costs, such as traveling to present at professional development conferences, Tyler said.

Tyler acknowledges it’s difficult sometimes to juggle all the responsibilities of working, studying and parenting. He values the financial counseling he received through HOTH, continuing to use the EMoney account they set up because it has been a good tool and a timesaver. The couple has saved over $34,000 in two years, as part of financial goals under HOTH. They also paid off about $8,500 in debt.

“It’s amazing,” he said. Receiving a mortgage- free home is “a life changer. There are no words to fully express how grateful I am,” he said. Without assistance, “we’d be living paycheck to paycheck,” Tyler said, adding that he would not be able to afford the opportunity to work towards a strong, stable, and secure future without the help of Operation Homefront and our generous supporters.

Tyler is now focused on his dream to become a professor. Having been a college student almost continuously since 2010, Tyler decided he liked academia enough to stay in it. He has applied to the University of Oklahoma – Tulsa for a Ph.D. program in leadership, curriculum and supervision, and if accepted will be a doctoral candidate with the goal of teaching at the college level. Tyler is already certified to teach grades K-12 in Oklahoma.

In the meantime, he finished his second master’s degree, in math and science education, from University of Tulsa. His first master’s degree is in environmental health and safety management from Northeastern State University, where he also obtained his bachelor’s degree in the same field in 2013.

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

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Willie Simpson, Army Reserves Sergeant, has lived his life serving his country.  His story reflects what we see in so many who see their purpose in service to country.

Willie’s service spans 4 decades, having first joined the Marine Corps in 1979. Tragically, his time with the Marines when Willie was shot and injured while serving as a military policeman. After his recovery, Willie was unable to return to his duties as a military policeman. But that did not stop Willie’s quest to serve.

He approached the Army, and though the Army determined that Willie was not well enough to be in infantry, he was able to cross-train into the supply career field.

But the pain and impact of his injuries lingered, and after a time, Willie was processed out of the military. Undeterred, Willie enjoyed serving his country and working in government jobs that supported the military, and at one point, was working four jobs. All of this took time from his family and was extremely stressful on Willie. But he never lost sight of his desire to serve.

After he was completely recovered from his injuries, Willie reenlisted in the military. In 2008, while getting ready to deploy, Willie received more life altering news: a medical exam discovered an atrioventricular (AV) block. The surgeon general determined that Willie could should not even attempt to do the physical training (PT) test, let alone anything more strenuous, and that, to survive, he needed to lessen the stress in his life. Willie’s mission to serve our country seemed more in jeopardy than ever.

But by 2009, Willie felt better, so he took a PT test and scored the minimum score to get into combat medic training. At 52, Willie was the oldest in his class. “It was a rough course,” said Willie. “I had a cold and back issues, then I started having chest pains. I got sicker and sicker and weaker.” The school sent Willie home to get better, but he never returned.

“I never went back to the combat medic school,” said Willie. Willie’s health continued to decline and he found himself stuck in Georgia having to use crutches or a wheelchair to get around. He suffered from stress, post-traumatic stress, and sleep apnea. Then his wife got sick and was diagnosed with pre-dementia.

Because Willie had transferred to several different guard units and service branches during his 31 years of service, some of his paperwork got lost—including paperwork documenting his injuries. For eight months, Willie did not receive a paycheck. Then he would be paid for a period of time. Then he went into another no pay-status. During this time Willie’s car was repossessed.

Willie has been trying to medically process out of the military since 2010. In 2015, he received a medical board evaluation, but now he must wait for the Veterans Affairs to evaluate his case and begin his disability pay. He has been living off his savings, his wife’s disability pay, and using his 401K plan. When his landlord threatened to evict him, Willie reached out to Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance program for help. Operation Homefront paid Willie’s rent and utility bills.

Willie has a special message for Operation Homefront’s donors. “This was stressing me out. I am so thankful to OH. I had no one to turn to. My landlord was pushing me, but I can’t move because of my credit scores. I really needed Operation Homefront, and I have seen others that OH has helped.”

“Organizations like Operation Homefront really help … soldiers,” said Willie.

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

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As part of our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, we are spotlighting the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront:

 by Christy O’Farrell

As Heidi Woodring’s husband, Christopher, was preparing to swear in to the Army, having enlisted the day before on Sept. 10, 2001, the twin towers were hit in New York City. At home in New Jersey, about two hours away from Christopher, Heidi was pregnant with their middle child, and her brother’s girlfriend called, urging her to turn on her TV. “I knew right then my life was going to change,” Heidi said. “I just didn’t know how.”

Fast forward one year: Christopher deploys, for the first of three times, to Afghanistan. When he returned home to Fort Riley, Kansas, Heidi noticed he seemed distant, and sometimes angry, but she didn’t worry too much because she thought it was to be expected, and she knew others who were the same way. Chris’ second deployment was extended to 15 months. While home on R&R, Heidi became pregnant with their youngest, and Chris returned a month before she was born.

That time, now at Fort Hood, Texas, Heidi noticed Chris’ drinking was increasing, and he still seemed angry at times. Reflecting on her experience, Heidi said she initially was angry too because she had always lived near, and been dependent on her family and her husband, not even learning to drive until later in their marriage. “I was thrust into the middle of Tornado Alley, not knowing how to do anything, with no friends to lean on,” she said. She made friends with other Army families through the family readiness group, knowing that people generally get more out of a situation when they invest time and effort into it.

It was during Chris’ third deployment that he injured his hand using faulty equipment, and had to have his thumb partially amputated, suffering nerve damage. But his main injury is post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis they received in 2010 after Chris went into a “huge downward spiral” and was hospitalized, Heidi said. The Army medically retired Chris in August 2012 as a sergeant with nearly 11 years of service. He had first worked as a petroleum supply specialist, and was reclassified a few times.

That’s when Heidi found herself with a new title — caregiver — one she wasn’t sure fit her, didn’t fully understand, and questioned whether she could live up to. But with help from Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program, a nationwide network of support groups for caregivers to injured service members and veterans, Heidi grew into the role that required her to be more independent and self-reliant. At a May 2011 HOV retreat in Oklahoma City that she describes as “life-changing,” Heidi soon learned she had not only enough strength within herself to handle her own responsibilities, but extra to share with others in the same position.

Now it was Heidi’s turn to serve. After the family moved to Las Vegas, to be closer to Heidi’s grandparents, she went in search of help, she said, because service members often have trouble asking for help themselves. She wasn’t scared, she was determined — to learn everything she could about PTSD and community resources. So she walked into Operation Homefront’s office in Las Vegas, and met Annie Baca, Nevada’s executive director. “That was probably the best decision I’ve ever made,” Heidi said. Annie pointed her in the right direction and eventually became a friend.

“Annie saw something in me,” said Heidi, who over the next several years, as a peer facilitator for OH’s Hearts of Valor program, grew the Nevada chapter from three members to nearly 80.

Annie remembers how sincere Heidi was when they met, wanting to share what she was learning with others who also needed help. “Her confidence and knowledge has inspired many across the nation,” Annie said. “I’ve seen Heidi personally assist many individuals in attaining benefits they needed. It has been an honor to have her on our Operation Homefront team as a core volunteer. She’s been one of the most reliable, dedicated volunteers throughout my tenure. She has definitely raised the bar …”

Operation Homefront gave Heidi its President’s Volunteer Service Award for her countless hours with HOV and at every Las Vegas event OH organized since 2012. It’s something of a mutual admiration club because Heidi says she may be Operation Homefront’s biggest fan, crediting the organization with helping turn her life around after Chris’ diagnosis. “I just absolutely adore the organization,” she said. “You’re not going to find a bigger supporter.”

Volunteering for military and veterans’ organizations is both empowering and rewarding, she said, when she sees how they can lift up people who need it.

Her own experience as a military spouse and mom influences her approach to volunteering. Mother to Alyssa, 19; Christopher, 15; and Kaylee, 9; Heidi allows that military life was hard, especially on her oldest. “It gets a little crazy,” she said. And they all have had to make big adjustments during the transition to civilian life, she said. For example, they don’t often visit the closest military base, Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, because it “doesn’t feel right,” and they have had to get used to getting paid once a month instead of twice. “We had to start our life all over again, [and] establish relationships,” she said. “It was a struggle.”

Heidi has been such a dependable helper at various OH functions including Back to School Brigade and holiday events that Annie recently turned the tables on her, insisting that Heidi attend the March 2017 Homefront Celebration, a military spouse appreciation dinner, as one of the 180 guests. That didn’t stop Heidi from helping in the morning, setting up tables and gift bags. But then she went home to do her hair and don her dress.

“That was amazing,” she said of the evening. She sat with women from her Hearts of Valor group, and all were touched by the speaker, a military wife and veteran. “There wasn’t a dry eye at our table,” she said. “She was very inspiring.”

The Homefront Celebration provides a rare opportunity for military spouses to dress up and be catered to, while socializing with others who can relate to their lives. Part of the fun is the glamour. In this case, Heidi said, that meant a beautiful venue, Red Rock Country Club, and a red carpet for taking selfies. “We don’t go to military balls anymore,” she said.

“I just noticed women who I’ve seen, and have been kind of down, were smiling and laughing and having fun,” Heidi said. “For me, it made it worth it.”

A few months ago, Heidi had to take a step back from some volunteering because she also cares for her grandparents, and as a proponent of self-care, she knew she shouldn’t take on too much. A friend became the Hearts of Valor group facilitator. The support group meets once or twice a month, and attendance varies, with a dozen people coming sometimes and fewer on other occasions. Often, caregivers’ schedules are not entirely under their own control, so it can be difficult to know when they are available for meetings. The main goal is to give members a chance to talk about their issues, she said, and to share friendship and resources.

Though she sometimes misses her old, pre-caregiver life, Heidi said an upside has been personal growth, which was inevitable as she got the hang of managing the household, operating as a single mom at times. “I’m not the same person I was.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own.

Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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As part of our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, we are spotlighting the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront:

by Christy O’Farrell

Chris Rasmussen, an Army veteran who served five tours of duty over 16 years, has been adjusting to civilian life since 2014. At times, he still feels out of his element as a full-time student deciding on a new career, and a single father of two daughters.

“It takes a while to transition into the civilian world after doing something for so long,” said Chris, 38, dad to Savannah, 12; and Brielle, 8. “It’s hard to change. It’s like making a huge, major career change in mid-life.”

But he’s optimistic about the path he’s on, despite feeling like a fish out of water compared to other students and parents. Chris expects to graduate in December 2017 from Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with an associate degree in science, and transfer to University of Colorado, Western State Colorado University or University of Denver.

“It’s just deciding what I want to do and where I want to go,” he said, noting that he desires a career he’s passionate about, and is considering geography, or fields that would involve fighting erosion, wildfires or invasive species.

As tough as that is, pursuing the right occupation can be less daunting than raising two preteen girls. Their mother lives in Seattle, and visits usually every two to three months, Chris said. His two sisters and a long-time babysitter help him with the girls sometimes. “It’s hard for them,” he said. “I mean they’re being raised by a man.”

Chris also has received support along the way from groups such as Operation Homefront and the Wounded Warrior Project.

He received about $100 worth of groceries and a grocery gift card at Operation Homefront’s Holiday Meals for Military event in Fountain, Colorado, in December 2016. “It was really smooth,” he said about the food distribution. “You were there for under a minute. That’s how fast it was.” OH staff and volunteers were “real cordial and polite,” he said.

OH also gave him a $50 gift card to buy Christmas gifts. Chris had planned to retire from the Army after serving 20 years, but had to retire early, as a sergeant first class, for medical reasons. He receives payments from the Veterans Affairs Department, but when they are delayed, “it starts to spiral from there when you’re on a fixed income,” he said. “OH came in and helped me out of a tough spot.” He doesn’t want his daughters to worry about finances. “They shouldn’t stress about any of that stuff. That’s adult stuff.”

Having been a mechanic in the Army, Chris had worked at a car dealership in the parts department. He had to resign because it required him to lift and move heavy motors and transmissions, activities outside his limitations with two fractured vertebrae and other injuries. But it wasn’t just the physical demands that made the job a poor fit. Chris felt the work didn’t measure up, compared to what he had been used to. “It’s not worth it,” he said. In the Army, he felt he had “a bigger cause and a bigger reason than yourself” to put up with hardships that were lacking in the job at the car dealership. “I’m not going to hurt myself more for some guy who’s just making an extra buck off me,” he said.

“Civilians are different than Army people,” Chris continued. “I liked the service and I liked working together to solve problems with other like-minded people. When you have a problem in the Army, you all come together no matter what you look like or where you came from, you’re all the same.

“Your work has meaning. It’s purposeful. You’re driven. It’s different in the civilian side trying to find that same thing.”

Until he finds the right job, Chris says it makes more sense, financially, for him to care for his daughters, rather than getting a part-time job and paying $1,200 a month for before- and after-school care. “Daycare is ridiculous,” he said. “I can’t afford that. I’d be going to work just to pay for daycare.”

Not the type to sit on a bench looking at his phone when he takes his daughters to the park, Chris plays on the swings with them and chases them around. “I interact with my kids,” who play soccer, softball and volleyball, and love to fish, he said. They all like to take advantage of their beautiful surroundings. Last summer, they went white-water rafting, zip lining and rappelling. In the winter, they’ve gone skiing and snowboarding.

Since it has been difficult to find the right job, Chris focuses on his education instead. Most of the other students in his classes are 18 or 19 years old, and complain about homework. They “don’t know what hard is,” he said, adding: “Writing a paper is not that big of a deal,” compared to other challenges he has faced.

Chris enlisted in 1999, was based in Germany for four years, served a year in Korea, and also was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Polk, Louisiana. His first deployment was in 2003-04 to Iraq, followed by two more tours to Iraq and two tours to Afghanistan, the last in 2011-12, for a total of more than five years deployed. Only about 1.5 percent of the 403,171 soldiers who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan between September 2001 and December 2011 served cumulative totals of five or more years, according to a 2013 Rand Corp. report, “Measuring Army Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Chris sustained multiple injuries over the course of his deployments. He had his right kidney removed after his ureter collapsed, causing blockage and a bad infection. Though he noticed difficulty urinating, he “didn’t think much of it and kept going.” At one point, his fever spiked to 105 degrees. “I almost died because I was stupid and kept working.”

Having “been around a lot of explosions,” he also has endured a bad concussion, broke his foot, and required reconstructive knee surgery. “I messed up my back, messed up my neck. I beat up my body pretty good.”

He can’t run marathons anymore, but he likes to hike, and he goes to the gym to “keep the weight off,” and because he knows mental health is linked to physical fitness. “I feel bad when I don’t” exercise, he said.

He hopes he can factor his love of the outdoors into his new career, while also steering clear of vocations that often attract other veterans — law enforcement and border patrol.

“I did all these things in the Army. I rappelled out of helicopters and stuff. I can’t go to sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer. I’ll probably go insane. I have to interact with people, and I like being outside.

“I don’t ever want to be put in a position where I have to take a life, or see anything like that,” he said. “I’ve already done that and I’ve already seen it, the worst of it. I couldn’t imagine having to clean up a car accident after teenage kids. I’ve seen enough in my time, and I don’t want to see anymore.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own.

Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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There is a scene early in the movie Thank You for Your Service where one of the main characters, Sgt. Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett), and two children are sitting in a café after Sgt. Schumann’s homecoming from his tour in Iraq. Saskia is upset because she wanted the homecoming to be “perfect” and felt that the presence of the widow of Schumann’s squad member, James Doster, may have put an emotional strain on him. Sgt. Schumann assures her that his day was perfect, as he is home with “all of his pieces” and enjoying being with her and their two children.

The calm before the storm.

What one sees for the next hour or more is what happens to many military families after the bands stop playing and the flags stop waving. The reality is that homecoming and re-integration for too many of our veterans is far from perfect. That despite having all of their limbs, they return in emotional and spiritual pieces and spend years try to put them all back together.
If they survive long enough.

Statistically, 20 veterans a day are taking their own lives. Thank You for You Service is an attempt to reveal why from the eyes of a trio of squad members who return from Iraq during the surge years and is based on the bestselling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author David Finkel.

Throughout the film, we are shown, often in a blunt, in-your-face manner, the path that leads many of our combat veterans to that dark place where it becomes a matter of “choosing time and place” to make it all stop.

One of the three, Billy Waller (Joe Cole) reaches that dark place quickly. He returns not to open arms of his fiancée, but to an empty home. All of his belongings are gone, his fiancée won’t respond to his repeated and increasingly desperate phone calls. After a night at the bar with his friends, Sgt. Schumann and Specialist Tausolo “Solo” Aieti (Beulah Koale), Billy wakes up and goes to confront his fiancée at her job. Rebuffed by her, he pulls out a handgun and takes his life in front of her.

It takes more time for Adam and Solo to get to their dark place, but they do. The film shows the slow, relentless wearing down of their spirit as they combat survivor’s guilt, isolation, loss of purpose, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear and desperation. The two face insurmountable obstacles when they do try to reach out for help. A packed waiting room at the VA, the counter on the wall slowing and interminably ticking up into the 200s, the bored manner in which the clerk at the counters hands Sgt. Schumann his “welcome packet” and the shock of the 6-9 month wait for mental health care, the resigned way a counselor informs an incredulous and angry Saskia that there are too few beds and thousands needing help. In one heartbreaking scene, Specialist Aieti, literally vibrating on the edge of breakdown, is told he needs to prove his presence in the more than half dozen events where he sustained concussive injuries before the VA will approve service connection.

When one hears “Thank You for Your Service”, we understand it to mean that one’s sacrifices are acknowledged and appreciated. In this film, it means something entirely different. It seems to mean, “We got what we needed from you…so… Best of luck to you. You’re on your own.”

Towards the end of the film, the two men, Schumann and Aieti, seem to recognize they have hit rock bottom and begin to take the steps they need to truly return home. Aieti is last seen on his way to long-term treatment, in a bed waiting for Schumann, but who in one more act of looking out for his men, gives it up because Aieti needs it more. Schumman himself finds a sort of absolution in finally visiting another severely injured member of their squad who he felt he had failed, and in confessing his guilt to the widow of SFC Doster.

It’s not a textbook happy ending, but it ends with hope. Perhaps that hope is that by seeing Thank You for You Service , civilians will begin to truly understand what is meant by the high cost of freedom, and will help relieve the moral burden carried by our nation’s veterans.

No longer should they carry that alone.

We were able to connect with David Finkel, Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post editor, whose book inspired the movie, “Thank You for Your Service.” When asked whether “thank you for your service” is the best thing to say to a veteran, he responded: “I guess the better thing to do is to ask a question, like you would of anyone you’re interested in having a conversation with. The problem a lot of service members have with someone who says thank you for your service is that it seems an easy thing to say and doesn’t convey actual interest in the person. Not everyone feels that way, but a lot do.”

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We’re honored to be included as a list of resources for military and veteran families as part of the film’s outreach. See more at www.thankyouforyourservicemovie.com/civilians and find a list of resources that can help us help each other

The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or 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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