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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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sean grimes photo 3For Sean Grimes, life started in a way that was similar to most American kids. He grew up in the heartland of Bloomingdale, Ill. After high school, he got a job, and moved out into his own apartment.

Then Sept 11, 2001 happened. Sean was so deeply affected by this tragedy that he joined the Marines in November and by December, Sean was in boot camp. Sean wanted to be a Marine because he believed the Marines were “the best and the hardest of the military branches.” His family was not thrilled with his decision even though two uncles and a grandfather were former Marines. But Sean persevered.

After boot camp, Sean went to Japan for three and a half years and then returned to Camp Pendleton before getting out in 2005. In 2007, Sean was recalled to active duty and sent to Camp Lejeune. He then deployed to Iraq for almost a year. Sean was discharged in March 2008.

For almost a year, Sean tried to adjust to civilian life, but he struggled. In early 2009, he admitted himself into a nearby PTSD clinic. That same year he thought he had a heart attack. Although the symptoms were close, in reality Sean was diagnosed with pericarditis. He spent seven days in the hospital.

A few months later, Sean entered college, working full time as he attended classes and studied. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in October 2011. He began working towards his Master’s degree, but Sean was hit by something unexpected.

sean grimes photo 1Headaches began to plague Sean daily. He went to the doctor and discovered that he had a tumor on his brain and stage one cancer. A series of intricate surgeries removed forty percent of the tumor.

In his usual style, Sean continued to persevere through the disease and continued working but he couldn’t keep up. By May of 2014, Sean found himself in a financial dilemma. Although he received VA disability and worked, monthly bills plus the extra gas needed to drive to his medical appointments for cancer and PTSD treatments left him without any extra money. While he was making it, he had no room for anything to go wrong.

Because of the extra wear and tear on his vehicle, the tires on Sean’s vehicle wore out and needed to be replaced…soon. He was advised by a mechanic that the car was unsafe to drive. Sean didn’t have the money.

“Normally I would not ask for help, but I really needed some assistance,” Sean said. He decided to apply for assistance from Operation Homefront. Soon, his tires were replaced and he was able to safely drive to work, school, and medical appointments.

“Being a Marine, I don’t like to ask for help, but I am glad that there are programs like Operation Homefront out there for veterans. It is heartwarming to know that (Operation Homefront) was there for me. I am very grateful.”

Sean is back on track to completing his Master’s degree. Unfortunately, one month after Operation Homefront assisted Sean, he was laid off from his job. But in his typical style, he will not give up. Sean continues to look for a job and is receiving treatment for his PTSD and brain cancer.

He is optimistic about his future: “I have a good head on my shoulders, my fiancé has moved in with me, I am attending school, and I am looking for a job.”

We wish Sean all the best.

vets-day_blog_thumbOur supporters are the reason we are able to help veterans like Sean, who persevere through difficult circumstances. Find out more how Operation Homefront is increasing their efforts to help military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall.

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Stephen Comeau isn’t afraid of a challenge. When he felt the call to service, he chose the Marines because, in his view, they were “the hardest”.

operation-homefront-veteran-comeauHis time with the Marines would call on all of his courage and determination. As part of the First Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., Stephen deployed three times. One of those deployments was defined by the Battle of Fallujah, which the U.S. Military called “some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968.”

Stephen would return stateside and become an instructor of mountain warfare training in California.  After three years as an instructor, he joined another battalion at Twentynine Palms, Calif. and was deployed to Afghanistan and Jordan.

Jordan would be Stephen’s fifth and last deployment.

One day while at work, Stephen was showing someone how to do knots when he could not remember what he was doing. Stephen had been involved in several blast incidents and a Humvee accident over his five deployments. It was determined that he battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In June 2013, Stephen was medically retired from the Marine Corps.

Stephen wanted to move somewhere quiet with trees and warm weather. They found what seemed like the “perfect house”, located in a quiet cul de sac in a town in Arizona, and purchased the home. Excited, Melissa and Stephen and their son moved, looking forward to healing and moving forward with life after the military. However, shortly after moving in, they realized the previous owner had remodeled and the downstairs areas had four different types of flooring. Some of the seams in the floor were a hazard for Stephen, who had gait issues as a result of his TBI.

Not long after moving in, Melissa attended a caregiver event in Washington, D.C., and in a conversation with one of our Operation Homefront representatives, learned about programs that help wounded warriors—one of which assisted with home repairs. That meeting was a turning point, as soon after Melissa returned home, Stephen fell and landed on his hip while walking in the downstairs area of their home. Melissa knew something had to be done. They could not afford to fix the floors, and they did not want to move. But Stephen needed to be safe in their home, and something had to be done. She remembered the conversation she had at the caregiver event about our home repair program. Melissa filed an application for assistance with us, which was approved.Vets-Day_blog_icontact

Thanks to the generous support of our partner, Home Depot, we were able to remodel the floors in the Comeau home and make it safe for Stephen. Just as Stephen answered the call to serve his country, Home Depot and Operation Homefront answered the call when he needed help.

Melissa and Stephen now have one less worry as they begin moving forward. Melissa expressed the couple’s thoughts: “Thank you for thinking of the home life and making it safer. I appreciate that someone is out there making the home better for veterans with challenges; people want to stay in their own homes which you recognize. Our home now feels brand new, and it is our dream home.”

Melissa wrote about her experience with Operation Homefront on an Elizabeth Dole blog http://elizabethdolefoundation.org/hiddenheroes-blog/#sthash.WNxqJPRC.i8f0d3iA.dpbs

Learn more about Operation Homefront’s effort to increase support for veterans by visiting www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall.

 

 

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So used to putting others first, here wounded warrior caregivers learn it’s okay to take care of yourself, too.

Almost anyone can be brave for five minutes or an hour. The bravery no one talks about is the hardest bravery of all. When you get up in the morning, every morning, even though you’d rather shut out the world for a while longer….or maybe forever. That’s the bravery that doesn’t make headlines and no one notices.

I met some women this weekend at Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor retreat who exhibit that kind of bravery. They are young, beautiful, and energetic. Many women their age are pursuing careers and going out with friends. The reality these women live…day in, day out…most of us cannot comprehend.

These women have answered a different call…it’s a call they didn’t choose but couldn’t ignore. That is the calling of a wounded warrior caregiver.

They fell in love and married a service member. Or their son chose the military life. Through no fault of his own, their man was injured…badly. His injuries may be invisible – PTSD or TBI or both. Or they may be excruciatingly obvious…burns or amputations. And now their sole focus is to care for that man.

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Connecting with others who understand their unique journey can have a huge impact on the spirit of a caregiver.

Take the time to read about PTSD and TBI. According to this resource, “home is no longer the safe haven but an unfamiliar front with unpredictable and sometimes frightening currents and events.”

I spoke with one caregiver who said, “I am 28. I am young and I love to have fun and be loud. But I can’t be that way at home because I don’t know how he (her husband) is going to respond. I feel like he doesn’t see the real me anymore.” And many of these women say the man they live with is different from the man they married.

It can be frustrating, confusing and demoralizing when your husband doesn’t know how to show emotions of love and affection anymore…and it’s not his fault. It’s a result of his brain injury. Or maybe it’s the opposite…he’s overly needy, overly dependent and needs his spouse to be by his side to the point of suffocation.

But the real crisis occurs with flashbacks and unpredictable bouts of rage. As one participant said, “we are living with trained weapons…in his dreams, he’s running missions every night in his head.” So they sleep very lightly, very cautiously, just in case they need to get away quickly.

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Operation Homefront treated the caregivers to a special dinner cruise on San Antonio’s River Walk, giving them a much-needed chance to relax, have fun and bond with new friends.

In spite of all that…they stay. Love keeps them from choosing the easy way out. As part of a session on using writing or art to relieve stress, one caregiver wrote a poem that speaks to the inner strength of these women:

The battle is within. Me. Him. Us.
It is never ending. Worthy.

And that, my friends, is bravery.

It was Operation Homefront’s honor to host more than 30 of these amazing caregivers at a special Hearts of Valor retreat this weekend in San Antonio. The retreat provided extensive education about brain injuries, sessions to help women cope with stress, and time for them to just relax, take care of themselves and make connections with other caregivers who understand the life they live. Find out more about our Hearts of Valor program. Thank you to the following organizations that provided services to make the retreat a memorable experience for our caregivers: La Quinta River Walk, Seasons of Care, San Diego Sexual Medicine, San Antonio Military Medical Center, Mia Mariu, Azuca, Huskin Photography, Casa Rio, Sight-Seeing San Antonio, Zenergy Wellness and Rio San Antonio Cruises.

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As Americans, we can’t help but feel mixed emotions as the anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 approaches once again. 13 years have passed, and yet we still feel the pain over the senseless loss of life that occurred that day, the fear of a world that can and does change in the blink of an eye. Yet, at that same time, we remember the unity, the courage and heroism exhibited, and the voice of a people who would not be bowed by the actions of those who exist to break the spirit of a nation.

For some, the pain is still fresh even these many years later. And for some, it is just another day. For others, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 was the catalyst for change, a call to action. For millions, it was a call to serve and protect as a member of the United States military.

At Operation Homefront, we have had the privilege and honor to support these men and women for more than 12 years. Each one is an example of what makes this country deserving of the gifts of liberty and freedom and why it continues to be a beacon of hope for so many around the world. The cost to our military and their families has been high:

  • More than 5,000 have given their lives to the cause of freedom.
  • More than 50,000 have been wounded or injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • More than 1,700 required amputations.
  • Among service members deployed in these conflicts, 103,792 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the period 2002 to December 2012. Over that same period, 253,330 service members have been diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) of some kind.

          (From the February 2013 Congressional Research Service report)

I remember meeting Jane Horton, widow of Army Specialist Chris Horton, who was killed in action. She wore a black bracelet with Chris’ name as a visible reminder to others that Chris’ sacrifice will not be forgotten. I was moved when she took it from her own wrist and gave it to me, and I’m wearing that bracelet as I write this. I will help to insure Chris will be remembered and the freedom secured by his sacrifice will go on.

As we reflect on the sacrifices made and endured on this anniversary, we must never forget that freedom really isn’t free, but requires constant vigilance. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with vivid images of regional conflicts threatening national boundaries; demands from radical extremists who resort to horrific acts of barbarism to intimidate and inspire fear; and international figures who seek to destabilize their neighbors in hopes of advancing their own self interests.

sept-11-blog-operation-homefront-jim-knottsYet on this anniversary, we should reflect as well on the spirit of a united country that still holds fast. Of neighbors helping neighbors, every day. Those that spread the light to banish the darkness. And that young men and women still answer the call to protect and defend in the face of the unknown and unseen, no matter how far from home it may take them.

Please join me today in honoring the service, sacrifice, courage and commitment of an entire nation, with a special thanks to our active duty military, our veterans, our wounded warriors and their families.

Jim Knotts, President and CEO
Operation Homefront

If you would like to know more about our mission, please visit us at www.operationhomefront.net . At Operation Homefront, we support both active duty families as well as those wounded warriors who are in varying stages of their transition and recovery. Programs like our transitional housing, and permanent mortgage-free housing, serve critical needs for this community. Our emergency financial assistance program remains a lifeline for these families in their times of need. And you can help. We maintain a list of these current needs on our website where, thanks to your support, we are able to make a difference for these families every day. Or you could give a general donation to be used for any one of our programs.

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