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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

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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Together we answer the call. Together, we are stronger – and our military families are stronger.

Our military is the best model of teamwork, without exception.

It starts on day one of basic training. What is the most important thing new recruits need to learn? How to work together as a team. It’s important to their success and their survival. And getting there takes work. But once they function as a cohesive unit, enemies fall, lives are saved and battles are won.

Together, they answer the call. For better or for worse, they are in it, side by side. But it goes beyond that.

With a common goal and shared sacrifice, bonds form that last a lifetime. Veterans who we have spoken to in our mission often mention that one of the toughest parts of trading military life to become a civilian is the loss of the comradery, the bonds, and the mission. That kind of connection is tough to find outside the military.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” At Operation Homefront, we are one of many dedicated organizations supporting our military, veteran and wounded warrior families. Each has a unique mission and varying programs: addressing suicide prevention, advocating to our elected leaders, raising awareness of the challenges of a life in service. We are on the same path to a common goal…to honor and serve those who sacrifice so much for our country.

Operation Homefront can’t serve every need that military and veteran families have. Their challenges and situations are as unique and varied as they are. That’s why it is important to work together with other military and veteran service organizations so that the safety net of support extends as deep as it does wide.

While we work with MANY organizations and government agencies, we have some level of formalized collaborative relationships with the following:

100K Homes

American Legion

Auxiliary

American Red Cross

Armed Services YMCA

BBB Military Line

Code of Support

Clearpoint (Credit Counseling Services)

Feed The Children

Give-An-Hour

Goodwill Industries International

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Kids In Distressed Situations

National Military Family Association

Military Child Education Coalition

Mission Continues

MOAA

Operation Gratitude

Our Military Kids

Semper Fi Fund

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)

USA Cares

Wounded Warrior Project

Yellow Ribbon Fund

We can’t say enough how proud we are to work together with others to help military families. Take some time to learn more about their work, and you will find powerful stories of families that were helped, crises that were avoided, or lives that were pulled back from the brink of going hungry or homeless, or both.

Together we answer the call. Together, we are stronger – and our military families are stronger.

vets-day_blog_thumbWhile we have formalized partnerships with the organizations listed above, it is certainly not an all-inclusive list of organizations who do great things for military families. That list would be much longer. There are many amazing small and large non-profits who step up in many ways to answer the call to help military families.

 

 

Find out more about how you too can answer the call to help military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

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“I was blessed with a gift on my birthday” with Tim McGraw at his Chicago area stop, where Donna received a mortgage free home thanks to our partners at Chase.

When U.S. Army Sergeant and wounded warrior Donna Pratt won her first gold medal in the 2011 Valor Games Midwest, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. She had become part of another kind of team.

Donna originally joined the military because she wanted to explore the world and needed a way to pay for college. She also wanted to answer the call to be a part of a team that was greater than herself. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Donna joined the U.S. Army in 1991 and again in 2007.

Her first tour was in the Gulf War. After serving for eight years, she reenlisted in 2007 and pursued a different mission fueled by a passion to do something after the events of Sept.11, 2001. She was assigned as a unit armorer responsible for fixing, distributing, and maintaining all weapons.

In 2008, she toured in Iraq. Because of injuries she incurred there, she began to suffer swelling and pain in her legs, which led to surgeries to repair damaged tendons, ligaments, and fractured bones in her feet and ankles. While she was in treatment, several soldiers in her unit were injured by an improvised explosive device and the guilt was difficult to deal with and she also battled PTSD.

Donna medically retired in 2012 and moved back to her hometown. She battled depression and felt like there wasn’t much she could do in her condition. During this time, she met her partner Tinisha and her five-year old son, which became her family. Tinisha took on the role of primary caregiver for Donna, but they struggled and Donna didn’t know how she was going to provide a secure and stable environment for her family.

Around this time, she heard about the Valor Games Midwest and decided to compete. And she did well, winning a gold medal in archery. And then she won some more, competing in sports like archery, cycling, shot put and discus. Over time with three gold medals under her belt, Donna regained confidence and found a new focus for her life. She hoped to attend a local university and continue to compete and become part of the U.S. Paralympics Team.

Operation Homefront first met Donna when she applied for and received a mortgage-free home in O’Fallon, Illinois, on her birthday. As part of the celebration, Donna got to meet Tim McGraw and go to his concert in the area, thanks to our friends at Chase who donated the home.

Between her new home and her sports, Donna is “racing” toward great things. She no longer has to worry about a mortgage payment so she is free to pursue her academic and athletic dreams.

“I want to truly thank Operation Homefront and Chase for looking down at a little person like me that decided to go and fight for our country’s freedom,” said Donna. “I was blessed with a gift on my birthday.”

vets-day_blog_thumbDonna is one of many veterans served by Operation Homefront’s various programs and services. To find out how Operation Homefront wants to help even more wounded heroes like Donna, visit www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

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Strobach-operation-homefrontThere are many reasons Adam Strobach was motivated to leave his small-town home in Wisconsin and answer the call to join the Army —no jobs in his small hometown, a desire to see the world, and a feeling of gratitude to his country.

His journey began when the Army sent Adam to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he met his wife Katey—a self-professed military brat. The two married and had a son. Life was good. Like any military family, they endured time apart as Adam completed two deployments to Iraq.

During his last deployment in 2013, Adam was injured. The couple’s second son was born in January 2013, and Adam was medically discharged from the Army a month later. As Adam sought to recover from his injuries, the family learned to adjust to their new existence.

During his transition, Adam was told that the wait time for his benefits to arrive would be about 60 days. The wait time stretched from 60 days to three, four, five, and then six months. Because the family did not have enough savings and no income, they were unable to live on their own. Sadly, Adam, Katey, and their two sons had to move into the basement of Adam’s brother.

The couple gave the American Legion power of attorney to help them navigate the VA benefits process, and an Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) advocate was assigned to Adam and Katey. In the meantime, the family fell farther behind on their monthly bills.

Katey and Adam’s AW2 told them to submit an application to Operation Homefront for financial assistance. While the couple initially requested help to pay their car loans and insurance they ended up getting money to help with buying groceries, critical baby needs, and money for travel. This freed up money to help cover their other bills.

Katey states, “I could not believe how quickly the cards came. The gift cards arrived the next day after we were approved. It was super fast.” This was really helpful and came when it was really needed.”

The VA benefits have started; and while the family is still playing catchup, they hope to be on track by tax season.

Katey and Adam are optimistic about the future. Katey shared some good news: “We are able to pay our current bills and are paying on past due balances. Adam has a job offer and reference from one of his former military sergeants…which will help the family finances even more.”

vets-day_blog_thumbOperation Homefront is honored to help military families, like the Strobach family, get through unexpected tough times. Learn more about how anyone can answer the call and help Operation Homefront serve our veteran and military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

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