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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

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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Vets-Day_SquareU.S. Army Specialist Justin Purifoythompson was in the 11th grade when the terrorist attacks on 9/11 occurred. He was so upset about the innocent children who lost their lives that he worked to graduate early so he could serve his country. Justin enlisted U.S. Marine Corps and then later joined the U.S. Army.

During his 13 years of service, Justin deployed six times to Iraq. He survived three roadside bombs, seven concussions, and being shot three times. But it was a hit more powerful than a bullet that eventually brought his service to an end.

Justin was living in Germany and getting ready for his seventh deployment when he started experiencing some strange health symptoms. He was shocked when he diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The doctors don’t know how or why he got the disease, but it meant he could no longer serve in the military.

Justin moved from Germany to Texas, so he could receive proper medical care at San Antonio Military Medical Center. Around the same time, he went through a divorce which left him in a tough place financially. Others around him said he’d be a good match for rent-free housing at the Operation Homefront Village in San Antonio. He applied and was accepted.

Living at the Operation Homefront Villages gave Justin a secure place from which to start over. After only four months at the Village, he said his bank account had already started filling back up. He was able to save $14,000 and bring his family over from Germany. As time went by, he was able to build a home, find post-military employment, and most importantly, get back to being “Dad” for his children.

“The Villages helped significantly — helped my family become stronger, more stable and more secure while in transition,” said Justin.

“Operation Homefront gave me and my family a new start,” said Purifoythompson. “If we weren’t here, we’d be in a big hole.”

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Operation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

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Vaugh1As a teenager, Phillip Vaughn watched the twin towers fall in New York City and felt compelled to answer a call to serve his country. But at the time, he was still too young to join the service. Shortly after his 18th birthday in 2003, Phillip did answer that call of two years prior, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Ten years passed. During his years in the military, Phillip deployed twice — once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. During his last deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, his forward operating base experienced a rocket attack. Phillip sustained several injuries and was medevaced to Germany. Shortly after, he was sent to Walter Reed Military Medical Center at NSA Bethesda in Maryland.

While in the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed, Phillip learned about Operation Homefront and the rent-free Operation Homefront Village apartments available for transitioning service members and their families. At the time, he and his family were staying in an apartment off base. They were struggling to make ends meet. The apartment was expensive and put a financial burden on the family. He decided to find out more and applied to stay at the Operation Homefront Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland and was accepted.

From there, relief set in and Phillip was able to make progress on the road to recovery. Living at the Operation Homefront Village allowed Phillip and his family to better handle all of the changes, stress and pressure associated with transitioning to civilian life. As part of the support offered at the Operation Homefront Villages, the family was offered free financial counseling. Phillip used what he learned, and paid off more than $9000 in debt, putting his family in a better position for life after the military.

Vaugh2Phillip is currently attending aeronautics school to get a degree in aviation and maintenance management. Financially, they achieved their goal of lowering their debt, which greatly reduced financial stress on the family. Phillip has recently accepted an intern position and hopes to continue his education.

“We are appreciative of the opportunity Operation Homefront gave us,” said Phillip. “This program has relieved so much pressure for us.”

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogTo get relief during a crisis, a place to recover if you needed and recognition for a life of sacrifice.  That’s what we do at Operation Homefront… and with your support, it’s making a difference.

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In his own words, guest blogger, Nathan Snell, veteran, U.S. Army shares his journey to war and back again, and how he finally found his place after feeling lost for so long:

The struggle is real. This is something we hear and read often in today’s culture. On Facebook. Or Twitter. Usually preceded by a hash tag (which kids don’t know is really just the pound sign). I don’t think most kids even know what it means to actually struggle. Still… doesn’t stop them from using it. The struggle is real. SMH (that means shake my head).

Doesn’t matter what rank, branch, occupational specialty. Or which combat theater. Regardless of the type of wound, extent of injury, or nature of illness… the one constant is that NO combat veteran will ever be the same. If, and when, we get home, we learn very quickly; the struggle is real.

I had completed my initial enlistment contract. I served in the Army honorably as an M1A1 Armor Crewman. A tank driver. And YES… I fit inside the tank. I know some of you were thinking it. Anyway…I was OUT. Had a DD214 in my hand for almost 6 weeks, when one day I got a certified letter in the mail.

Congratulations! You’ve been recalled to Active Duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom…for a period of not less than 500 days and change. You have 72 hours to round up your gear and report to your new unit. Crap. THAT just happened. Sadly, I was one of thousands of troops who went off to war that way. For us… the struggle is real.

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“One of toughest things for a soldier to do is realize they need help. THE toughest is probably asking for it.”

I was a Soldier. Proud. Loyal. Patriotic. I kissed my young son, my spouse, and the baby still in her belly. Not literally but you know what I mean. And I said goodbye. I shipped out to the Diyala River Valley. Next stop; Baqubah, Iraq.

What they don’t prepare you for is how time completely stands still when you’re on deployment. It’s hard to explain exactly what I mean and you can’t really understand unless you’ve been down range before. The harsh reality, however, is that back home the clock NEVER stops ticking. Life goes on.

And for me that meant coming home 18 months later to an empty house, empty bank account, kids abandoned by their mother and living with my family, and the lasting effects that combat can have on a person. I assure you there is no Training Manual for being a full-time single father with sole custody while dealing with PTSD. I looked. Sadly, I was one of thousands of troops who came BACK from war that way. For us… the struggle is real.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was lost. Very quickly I couldn’t find my place in the world. No idea where I fit in anymore. My kids were the ONLY reason I got out of bed most days. One of toughest things for a soldier to do is realize they need help. THE toughest is probably asking for it. We’re programmed to be strong. To suck it up. To drive on. Anything less is considered weakness. But when you’re raising 2 kids on your own, pride is a luxury you often can’t afford. Luckily for the 3 of us, I swallowed mine.

I reached out to Operation Homefront (OH) and asked for help. At the time, we were just days away from being homeless. From going hungry. From living out of a car with 2 children. I had hit rock bottom. For me… the struggle had become VERY real.

It starts with the case worker. It would’ve been easy to just say thank you for your service, we’re gonna cut you a check this month. Buy you some time. Keep the lights on and roof over your head for a little longer. And honestly I would have been both humbled and eternally grateful.

But she cared. Genuinely cared. About me. About us. Stopped and asked WHY? What’s happening in your life that’s got you to this point? More importantly, how can OH prevent this from happening again. Next month. 6 months down the road. Ever again.

A little over a year ago, my kids and I arrived at 1 of 3 OH Villages. This one in Gaithersburg, MD not far from Walter Reed. The thing about OH… I was never just a number. A name. A statistic. A random check or donation. OH made an investment in me. In my life. In my future. On a deeply personal level.

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“(Operation Homefront) made an investment in me. In my life. In my future.”

Knowing that I had their support every step over that last year. Having someone sit me down and say “we believe in you, you got this, we’re PROUD of you…” THAT made all the difference. The changes that have taken place in us these 12 months. The transformation. The growth. The HEALING. I’m at a loss for words.

I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity Operation Homefront has provided. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. I’m no longer lost. Without purpose. I have found my calling once again. I set out on a path. Over the last year I’ve served the county and my community as a firefighter. I worked tirelessly to complete the Fire Academy at the University of Maryland. To become a nationally registered EMT. None of which would have been possible without the support from Operation Homefront.

I’m proud to announce that I was offered a Federal Firefighter position with the Department of Defense. I have been given a second chance in life. Something that is very rare. I want all of you to know what a profound impact you can have on a soldier’s life. Nevermind the struggle… the difference you can make… THAT is real. 

 

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taylor Bass took her love for goats and found a way to support military families and thank Operation Homefront for helping her family through a tough time.

Taylor Bass took her love for goats and found a way to support military families and thank Operation Homefront for helping her family through a tough time.

You could hear the bubbling enthusiasm as she spoke. “Mom! Cookie had babies!” That excited report came from Taylor Bass, the 9-year-old daughter of Army veteran and wounded warrior Benjamin Bass.

“Cookie” is a goat. And Taylor loves goats … and pretty much all animals. But what sets Taylor apart is that she is using her love for the farm and talent for raising animals to give back to people in need.

At Operation Homefront, we are continually touched by the generous nature of those who raise money for us with different kinds of fundraisers, but we have a special place for the kids who give back. And they find unique ways to be generous. Like the young girl who took donations on a back country road during the popular RAGBRAI bike ride across Iowa and raised $1000 for military families.

When we learned of Taylor’s unique story, word spread quickly among our staff.

 

 

Like most military kids, Taylor has experienced the pain of separation from a parent who serves.

Like most military kids, Taylor has experienced the pain of separation from a parent who serves.

Taylor’s dad, who served one tour in Iraq, was hit by a car while on active duty. As a result of complications from combat PTSD and those injuries, he was medically retired. In the midst of transitioning from military service to civilian life in Texas, the family struggled as they waited for their benefits to be sorted out. As their options began to run out, Operation Homefront stepped in to help. “Operation Homefront saved us because we didn’t get paid for three months and I didn’t have the money to pay (the car payment) and utilities … and (you) gave us money for food to feed our kids and diapers for my baby boy. (You) also helped us find other assistance in our area to cover our phone and school supplies for Taylor,” said Taylor’s mom, Krista.

Taylor sums it up neatly. “You guys helped us,” she said. And so, when family life became more stable, she wanted to say thanks by giving back. And she found a unique way to do that.

Taylor joined 4-H and started raising two goats – Elsa and Olaf. She did so well taking care of them that when she went to show them at the local county fair, one of her goats was selected for the premium auction at the livestock sale that followed the event.

Erica Howe, Community Liaison for Operation Homefront, met Taylor at the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service Office to receive Taylor’s gift to Operation Homefront.

Erica Howe, Community Liaison for Operation Homefront, met Taylor at the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service Office to receive Taylor’s gift to Operation Homefront.

At the auction, the bidding reached $1700 for her goat. Then, the word got out that she was giving the proceeds of the sale to support military families. People began to contribute money to the auction and to Taylor, to help her continue in 4-H.

The next day, her second goat was to be sold at another nearby auction and the news of Taylor’s intentions followed her there. The goat was sold, returned to Taylor, and resold several times, raising $1800.

 

When it was all over, Taylor had raised more than $3000 for Operation Homefront and she also made a donation to Wounded Warrior Project. “I’m super proud of her,” said Taylor’s mom.

Not one to sit back and be idle, Taylor is raising goats for 4-H again. This year, she wants the proceeds to go to children who are battling cancer. In fact, her goat Elsa was sold to a local farmer and Taylor may end up getting one of Elsa’s babies to continue her ongoing tradition of “kids” giving back.

Thank you for your service! Army veteran and wounded warrior Benjamin Bass and his family, Jaiden, Taylor and Krista have weathered a difficult transition from military to civilian life and are enjoying life on their acreage in Texas.

Thank you for your service! Army veteran and wounded warrior Benjamin Bass and his family, Jaiden, Taylor and Krista have weathered a difficult transition from military to civilian life and are enjoying life on their acreage in Texas.

 

Taylor gives us the perfect example to follow. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re up to…you can make a difference. Thanks Taylor!

 

 

 

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(Reflections from Operation Homefront staff members who saw the movie this weekend.)

Art. It can inspire. Or disturb. It is meant to generate strong feelings in the viewer. And the movie American Sniper has definitely generated plenty of those.

american_sniper_ver2The movie, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, America’s most well-known sniper, is still seeing record attendance at the box office since it opened two weekends ago.

Some have wept. Some have been stunned into silence. Others have cheered and felt inspired. And still others were angered, disgusted. Some pundits in the public eye have taken shots to discredit the man, the movie and by extension the military. That is difficult to stomach, if you carry a strong pride for the military, like many of us do.

THE DISCONNECT

One thing is clear from the numerous voices chiming in on the movie: there is still a difference in processing what has occurred through 13 years of war. One line in the movie aptly illustrates the disconnect between most Americans and the war “over there.”

In one scene, Kyle has come back from his first tour and he and his wife have just left the doctor’s office for her pregnancy check-up. Kyle says, “There are people dying over there and I look around and it’s like it’s not even happening. It’s barely on the news, no one talks about it. They’re all on their cell phones. No one cares. And if I stay too long, I’ll forget about it too…We’re at war and I’m headed to the mall.”

THE SACRIFICE

Before his death in 2013, Kyle found out the movie was going to be made. He said, “I hope…that the movie will give people a small understanding of the massive sacrifice these guys make in going to war. It’s hard to comprehend the journey and hardship these servicemen and their families go through…If this movie can offer a small window into that world, I’ll be very happy.*”

Unless you’ve lived the military life, you can’t comprehend the sacrifice of service members and their families. Months apart. Sleepless nights. Wondering if this good-bye will be the last. Knowing too many for whom it was. And then, once home, battling the wounds and scars that continue inside the mind.

This movie conveys that sacrifice in a way most Americans can understand. That’s critical for our service members who continue to deploy, if even on a smaller scale, and for those who bear the seen and unseen wounds of making that sacrifice. 

THE WAIT

In the movie, Kyle, like many service members, is torn between his family needing him at home and the desire to watch over Marines as they patrol and clear the streets of Fallujah and Ramadi. Kyle felt a strong urge to protect his country and by extension, his family, though they struggled as a result.

“God, country, family – isn’t that what you guys always say? Let me know when that order changes.” Kyle’s wife Taya was forced to manage on the homefront without her husband and, at times, detested taking a back seat to the military. The sense of duty service members feel stirs up both pride and frustration in the ones who wait for their return. The loneliness can be excruciating and there is no easy solution.

THE AFTERMATH

Bobby Henline, wounded warrior, friend of Operation Homefront and star of the film Comedy Warriors had this comment about the movie, “…how real the home life with his family was and how real it was for him to deal with his PTSD triggers, that’s what really hit home with me… It reminded me that I haven’t come home yet. Don’t know if I totally ever will. It’s harder for me when I’m around my family then when I’m alone or with military friends…I left my family three more times after I was wounded to go overseas to the troops. It was easy and it’s sad that it’s easy to do that.”

Hundreds of thousands of military families feel the effects of war:  Post-Traumatic Stress; Traumatic Brain Injury; bodily injuries and death; and financial and emotional struggles. That’s where Operation Homefront is able to help with programs for caregivers, free transitional housing, and emergency financial assistance.

THE REALITY OF A DANGEROUS WORLD

The shootings in France, the periodic beheadings, the ongoing threats are all reminders that evil is always brewing just below the surface. And we need brave men and women who are willing to lay down their lives to combat the dark forces that plague our world. Our way of life, the freedoms we enjoy, have been earned through sacrifice that few will experience for themselves. And that’s ok.

And for the ones who choose to serve, we should always stand and applaud them. By coming out in record numbers, Americans are bearing witness. They are connecting. And we hope they continue.

The story is about Chris Kyle, but we all should be able to agree on one thing. This movie is rekindling a pride in our service members, a small understanding of the sacrifices our military makes and the reminder that they need our support beyond packing the theater and posting Internet missives.

Rest in peace, Chris. Thank you.

*Quote from the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, by C

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LuntFamily

“I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Stephen

Ashley and Stephen Lunt met on an airplane when Stephen was flying back to Japan for a deployment and Ashley was heading back to college. They made an instant connection on that flight and have been together ever since.

Stephen was born and raised in Charleston, S.C. and answered the call to serve in the Marine Corps in 2004. During his time in the service, he was stationed in Japan and at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and deployed three times, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

During his deployment to Afghanistan, he was forced to fight an insurgent in hand-to-hand combat. During the fight, the insurgent took a pickaxe to Stephen’s head which caused a great amount of internal damage, and resulted in multiple surgeries and a long and painful recovery. The injuries forced him to medically retire from service.

Ashley stood by him when he returned stateside. She encouraged and helped him through some of the hardest parts of his life. “I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Stephen said.

But Ashley has had her share of heartbreak as well. When they received word that they would likely never have a baby on their own, they were crushed. They resigned themselves to the idea of a childless future.

But something unexpected changed their future forever.

Operation Homefront provided them with a mortgage-free home in South Carolina. Because they no longer had to worry about paying for a roof over their heads, the Lunts were able to set aside the funds needed to undergo in-vitro fertilization and allowed Ashley to conceive her first child. In late 2013, they gave birth to a beautiful, healthy son.

“It really was a blessing for us. If it wasn’t for us getting this house and having that help, we would have never been able to have children,” Ashley said.

In addition to having a new child, Stephen has thrived in his new house. Not only is he closer to his family in South Carolina, but he has also been able to work hard through his recovery to channel his interests into a new career in hydroponic agriculture.

The Lunts were recently chosen to appear on a special military edition of the home makeover show, Designing Spaces. The opportunity was perfect for Ashley. “I majored in construction management in college, and I love to redesign and decorate,” Ashley said. They were excited not only by the improvement to their home but also by being involved in the remodeling process.

Hosted by R. Lee Ermey “The Gunny,” TV and screen actor, and former U.S. Marine Drill Instructor, “Designing Spaces of Hope – Military Makeover” will chronicle Stephen and Ashley’s story and the generous contributors who came together for their home renovation. Airing over three consecutive Fridays beginning this week (Nov. 21), the show appears on the Lifetime channel at 7:30 a.m. ET/PT.

Clearly, Ashley and Stephen have faced and overcome some large obstacles in their life. They may have met thousands of feet in the air, but their future clearly has a strong foundation on solid ground.

vets-day_blog_thumbOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

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