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Our long-time partner, Eckrich, joined us to surprise a veteran family in Corvallis, Oregon with a shopping spree at their local Safeway grocery store. But it didn’t end there. Nichole Hetland, caregiver and wife of medically retired U.S. Army veteran Jeremy, recounts the experience:

I want to share with you all, the amazing day we had yesterday!!!

I am a part of the Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor (program) as the caregiver of my husband during his recovery from injuries sustained in combat and while on active duty. Someone from Operation Homefront contacted me last week and asked if myself and my family could attend an event on behalf of their organization. We were told only to show up at the said location in Corvallis and the rest would be a surprise.

Since I have never been asked to do something like this, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. We showed up to the location we were given (Safeway store in Corvallis) and introduced to a great deal of very important people. Right after that introduction, we were asked if we wanted to go on a shopping spree? Seriously? Ummmmm, YES of course!!!

We were led through the store by the partners of Eckrich, Safeway, Operation Homefront, Oregon State University cheerleaders, their trusty OSU Beaver mascot, former Pro NFL football player Mike Hass, and an array of others. I was still in shock by the whole thing. I felt so shy (which most of you know is not a character trait of mine) but I think it was the overwhelming realization that we were actually on a shopping spree.

We ended up filling 2 carts full of groceries and I even got diapers, which is a huge expense when you have a newborn (yay!). I was grinning ear to ear. The kids were loving it. Shelves full of goodies and they didn’t have to ask mom and dad if it was ok to buy them….they just tossed them in the cart!
It was amazing and that wasn’t even the end of it. We dropped our carts off at checkout and walked out front to an awaiting stage. I thought to myself, “there’s more?”

We were told to stand up on the stage while they read my husband’s military bio. They then proceeded to say, “on behalf of Eckrich and Safeway, for being a hometown hero and fighting on behalf of our country for our freedom… a year of FREE groceries at Safeway!”

What?

Did I hear that correctly?

1 year of groceries….FREE…..!!!!

52 weeks of groceries at Safeway!!!!

“Wow” is all I could think! This was an amazing surprise and an even bigger gift for our family. Groceries is probably one of the biggest expenses we have monthly, so this is going to lighten our load tremendously!

I am so grateful to the people who chose our family to take part in this event. I am so thankful and grateful to Safeway and Eckrich for their generosity! As well as Operation Homefront for what they do for our veterans.

It was also pretty cool to get to hang out with former NFL football player Mike Hass. What a great, down to earth guy. We definitely felt the love and support from everyone that was there with us.

That was my amazing day!!! Can you believe it? I still can’t….so heart-warming….thanks to all!!!”

This surprise is part of the ongoing campaign by Eckrich to honor, thank, and support military families through its partnership with Operation Homefront. Eckrich, now in its sixth year of the partnership, has donated more than $2.5 million to the organization since 2012.

 

 

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Liz, her husband Doug, a wounded Army veteran, and their three children huddled together in the downstairs bathroom as Category 4 Hurricane Harvey passed through the small town of Rockport, Texas.

The ceiling started cracking overhead and one of her children and her husband were starting to panic.

Rockport had mandatory evacuation but her husband refused to leave.

“I prayed,” said Liz, who attended our Hearts of Valor caregiver retreat in San Antonio just one week after Hurricane Harvey hit.  “I had to remain calm, fight my fears, and assure my family that we would be OK. There were times when I wasn’t sure if we would make it, but I had to keep everyone else calm. One of the scariest points was when I heard a noise like a freight train and waited for a tornado to hit.”

They had just moved into the rental home the week before. The family had eagerly planned the move to Rockport and looked forward to being part of the small community. Liz said they thought being near the Gulf would be relaxing for Doug, who battles post-traumatic stress. The threat of a hurricane was the furthest thing from their minds.

Liz and Doug met in 2008 at a Fourth of July barbeque that Doug, a single dad at the time, was attending with his three kids. Doug had been injured during a deployment to the middle East but recovered enough that he chose to continue serving. “I fell in love with the kids first,” said Liz. The two married and the family followed Doug as he continued his Army career.

After 22 years of service, Doug retired on March 1, 2016. The family traveled for a bit after Doug’s retirement looking for a place to call home. On a trip to check out Corpus Christi, the family drove through Rockport. “We fell in love with Rockport,” said Liz.

Thankfully, Liz and her family survived the storm. They were anxious to get back to normal. As they were surveying the damage, a sheriff stopped by to check on them.

The sheriff told Liz and Doug the schools would be closed indefinitely and power could be out for weeks. The family quickly left for Oklahoma, where they had family, driving over downed power lines and receding water. Liz cried as she saw the extent of the damage to Rockport on their way out of town. There were flipped cars, dead animals and homes completely destroyed.

When Liz tried to cancel her spot at our Hearts of Valor retreat, her husband told her that she should still go.

Although she arrived in tears, Liz was thankful for the opportunity to attend the retreat. “I was stressed and completely overwhelmed by the events and everything that will need to be done in the weeks to come,” said Liz. “I am leaving the retreat very thankful, relaxed, ready to deal with things, and feeling like a giant weight has been lifted. Thank you all! I love you guys so much.”

 

 

WHERE ARE THEY NOW:

The family is still in Oklahoma with relatives, awaiting repairs on their home and anxious to move back. Operation Homefront will be there for the family, and for many families impacted by the most recent storms.  To help, visit our current needs page.

Within one week of Harvey hitting Texas, Hearts of Valor hosted two retreats for 63 caregivers who traveled from all over the country to arrive in San Antonio, Texas. Our sincere thanks to USAA for sponsoring the retreats for caregivers from all over the U.S.

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Diana estimates Back-to-School Brigade™ saved her about $100 in 2013 and again in 2015.

Navy wife Diana Moyer saw information about registering for Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade on Facebook. At the time, she and her husband, Steven, were stationed at Great Lakes Naval Station, Illinois. “In Great Lakes, there were a couple web sites that were really great about getting the information out,” she said. Diana registered her oldest son for the Back-to-School Brigade™ event, held at the community center in the Moyers’ housing complex.

The Back-to-School Brigade™ program saves families money by providing backpacks and school supplies for military children. Since inception in 2008, the program has distributed over 250,000 back packs filled with school supplies to military children nationwide. As any parent of school-aged children can tell you, the cost of school supplies can quickly add up, especially in families with multiple children.

Not knowing what to expect from her first Operation Homefront event, Diana was impressed by how organized everything was. Though the line was long, “they were great with getting us through,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling like the kids were going to get lost.” School supplies were organized by grade. “Each kid was able to pick up the box they needed. They picked out their backpack.”

“It was great,” Diana continued. “We didn’t get everything we needed for school, but it was a huge help.” She estimated Back-to-School Brigade™ saved her about $100 in 2013 and again in 2015. The kids re-used their backpacks in 2014, which added to the savings, she said. Their son, Jaxon, now 5, wasn’t old enough to register, but received a backpack because organizers had extras left over.

Diana is looking forward to coming to our Back-to-School Brigade this year in Norfolk, where the family is now stationed.

Diana saw how helpful Back-to-School Brigade™ was for other Great Lakes families too. Recruit division commanders work such long hours during certain periods, “it’s like they’re almost deployed,” she said. “It’s one less thing, especially when you’re stationed away from family.” Not only does Back-to-School Brigade™ help alleviate some of the financial impact of buying back-to-school supplies, but also cuts down on errands. Minimizing the “runaround,” was a great help because at that time, Jaxon was newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, so going anywhere was “a battle,” Diana said. BTSB enabled her to go shopping with just her older son, Connor, now 10, so he could pick out a few special items. “I only had to stop at one place,” she said. “I didn’t have to run to 900 places.”

Their daughter, Romayne, now 3, wasn’t old enough to participate, though OH provided something for preschoolers too so they wouldn’t feel left out: a little suitcase with coloring books.

Diana has registered for the 2017 BTSB in Norfolk, where they now live, glad for the support while Steven, a petty officer 1st class gas turbine electrician, is deployed.

The impact of Back-to-School Brigade™ goes beyond just the family. “I have a lot of teachers in my family,” Diana said. Knowing that the bulk of her kids’ supplies are covered, Diana would buy a couple extra boxes of tissues or containers of wipes for the class, she said.

Diana appreciates that Operation Homefront recognizes the importance of military service, respects the sacrifices that family members make, and shows that through events like Back-to-School Brigade™.

Registration for Back-to-School Brigade™ 2017 events is now open! This July, join Operation Homefront as we help welcome thousands of military families into communities across the county through our #1Mil1Fam Back-to-School Brigade.

 

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Thank goodness our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence in the summer! The 4th of July is the perfect time to celebrate freedom…freedom from school, freedom from our jobs (for at least a day), and freedom to shoot off fireworks, splash in the water like crazy people, and stay up late at gatherings of friends and family.

But behind all the fun-filled frolicking lies a heart-felt regard for the liberties we enjoy as Americans. That shared love of country draws us together at rodeos, picnics, concerts, parks and services all around the country.

Like one big happy family.

For those of us who serve, have served, or know someone who is serving, we already know that our military is like one big family. We may be next door to each other on base then soon separated by continents, but we share a bond that runs deep, and the support we give each other is often as strong as those from the families of our birth.

At Operation Homefront, we strive every day to honor that bond, and we believe wholeheartedly that strong and stable families help build stronger and better communities. This summer, we invite you to become part of our One Military One Family Back-To-School Brigade initiative.

Throughout the rest of the summer, Operation Homefront will welcome thousands of military families into communities across the county through our Back-to-School Brigade, collecting and distributing backpacks and other school supplies. Now in its 10th year, Back to School Brigade has become one of our favorite events of the year.

It’s like a gathering of one big happy family.

Want to join the fun? Here are some ways:

• If you’re a military family, review our list of events to see if there is event near you.
• Set up a Collection Bin at your office, store, church or school –we’ll provide the signage! Just contact your local field office.
• Help us distribute supplies in your area. Contact your local field office to find out more.
Become a Pick-Up Volunteer and help pick up donated school supplies from a local location
• Make a tax-deductible donation to Operation Homefront which will go to help military families through our Back-to-School Brigade™ and other programs. Or shop at Amazon using this link and Operation Homefront receives a percentage of your overall sales.
• We also love getting pictures from our community. You can send them to socialnet@operationhomefront.org or post to social using #1Mil1Fam.
• Change your Facebook pic to show your support for the military. See more instructions here.
• Follow us on our Facebook page where we will be sharing great moments around the country from our BTSB events and supply drives as well as words of welcome to new families into the community.

We wish you all a Happy Fourth of July and look forward to carrying forward the spirit of America with you in the coming weeks…

One America. One Military. One Family. #1Mil1Fam

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Last year for Mother’s Day, Air Force mom La Toya Wall received four “crazy looking birdhouses” that each of her children made at a Home Depot workshop in Anchorage, Alaska. The workshop was among many La Toya took her kids to on weekends while her husband, Blake Jacob, was deployed to Kuwait during the first half of 2016.

m2h operation homefront mother military WallJacobFam“It actually helped pass the time while he was deployed,” she said. “It put me on a schedule, knowing that they had these events” to occupy Sidney, 11; Khloee, 10; Khodee, 4; and Storee, 3. Blake also has a 9-year-old daughter, Ryleigh, who lives in Arizona with her mother. “It was awesome,” said LaToya, who compared the workshops to Scouting because Home Depot gives the kids aprons, achievement certificates, and patches or pins for their aprons. “It helped out a lot.”

Creative solutions are one of the things La Toya is known for at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, where the family has been stationed since 2013. She also wows her friends as a cook, baker, seamstress, decorator and multi-family game night coordinator.

“We’re a nerdy family,” she said. “We have a lot of game nights,” lip synching karaoke battles and Iron-Chef-style competitions, even sending guests home with to-go boxes because she was tired of all her Tupperware disappearing.

La Toya’s family will celebrate her this Mother’s Day — Blake will cook breakfast and dinner, and take the family hiking — for many of the same qualities that military moms across the world are honored, including self-reliance, resilience and a can-do attitude.

“You don’t necessarily depend on other people,” she said. “Moving here has definitely helped me into allowing other people to help. I’m used to just doing things. You don’t just wait for someone to do it for you.”

For her part, La Toya is thankful that the military exposes her and her family to diversity, “getting to meet people from different nationalities and cultures … I love that.”

m2h operation homefront military mom WallJacobFam2La Toya wouldn’t have known about the Home Depot workshops, where she made friends with other families who introduced her to a hiking group, if she hadn’t attended an Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade event in 2015. Home Depot, an OH donor, and other organizations that serve military families often provide information at OH events. At BTSB, her children and many others received backpacks filled with money-saving school supplies. “I’m always helping other people, so it was nice to be on the receiving side,” La Toya said. OH has distributed more than 250,000 backpacks to military children since the program began in 2008.

In 2016, La Toya and Blake participated again in BTSB, and also in Holiday Meals for Military at Thanksgiving and the Holiday Toy Drive at Christmas. La Toya particularly enjoyed the social atmosphere, like a church potluck, at the Holiday Toy Drive event, which included a cookie exchange. Each child receives a gift, and Santa is there to take pictures with families, something La Toya had been having trouble finding time to do, especially since Blake had been working nights.

When La Toya first heard about Operation Homefront from a friend, she wondered if it was only for needy families. “I’m pretty sure there’s someone that needs it more than I do,” she said, adding she didn’t want to take away from another family. But after learning more about who can qualify for some Operation Homefront programs, she realized, “This is for everybody.”

The families at the toy drive also received children’s passes to the local indoor waterpark, which La Toya has been putting off visiting because of the expense.

Under the Holiday Meals program, military families receive groceries or gift cards to buy food. The defrayed grocery costs allowed La Toya to buy ingredients to bake extra treats for her daughter’s birthday, which is on Christmas Day. “The day she came, I just couldn’t imagine not having her or any of them. I like the crazy smiles that I get sometimes.”

La Toya comes from a large family, the oldest with 15 siblings, at least seven of whom lived together in Texas. “My [step] mom would have a full household of all of us kids at any given time,” she said. Stressful babysitting and elder care responsibilities for her siblings and grandparents often fell to La Toya before she was 18. Even after she married the first time, she would sometimes travel home to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

“Cooking is the only way I can get everyone together. Food is like my family’s binder.” Over the last several years, La Toya has come to better understand her family’s dynamics, but has also welcomed the opportunity to shift from caring for her extended family to herself and her nuclear family.

“My kids have never really had traditional grandparents, and I have never had traditional parents,” said La Toya, who has not had a relationship with her biological mother since she was 5. “I don’t ever want to miss a moment with my kids,” she said, adding that she volunteers to chaperone almost every field trip.

Her stepmother, as a Jehovah’s Witness, does not celebrate holidays, so La Toya typically would simply call to tell her “I really appreciate that you stepped up when you didn’t have to.”

La Toya has been further shaped by miscarrying a baby at two months, and twins at 6 months, her three “angel babies.”

La Toya and Blake will move their family soon to Colorado, where Blake, a staff sergeant in logistics, will support the Air Force band. La Toya is considering starting a baking business or some other creative line of work, but is concerned making it a profession might take the fun out of hobbies she enjoys. “It’s very therapeutic,” she said of baking.

Their journey will be another adventure, traveling by ferry for four days to Washington and then driving through Idaho and Wyoming. Blake wanted to surprise La Toya because she loves lighthouses and he knew they would see several at ferry stops. But she’s not a fan of surprises, and was resisting taking the ferry, so he told her.

Remembering the two-week drive to Anchorage from Texas, passing through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Canada including the Yukon Territory with three kids and pregnant, and a couple flat tires along the way, La Toya and Blake happily “found out we like being married to each other,” she joked.

It’s Military Appreciation Month! Consider joining us on our Mission2Honor military and veteran families throughout the month of May. No matter how you choose to honor service members and their families, don’t let this month pass by without doing something to show your appreciation.

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One of the reasons we created the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year® award program is to honor the resilience and strength of the youngest members of a military family who are along for the ride as their parents protect our freedom. It’s not an easy life. But the way most military kids carry themselves shows that they have endured, and survived, some very tough times. Multiple moves. Deployments. Sickness and injury that may affect a family member or themselves.

This year’s award recipients took some time to share how they get through tough times…to let other kids know that they struggle too and to inspire them to persevere.

Their words of advice are remarkable…read on:

 

Moving to a different place can be exciting, but with that comes the challenge of being the new kid in school and having to make new friends. Not knowing where you fit in within the social arena of school life (is hard). The thing that gets me through those tough times is running, or walking outside. Doing any activity outside helps me relieve stress and relax.
Jamal Braxton, 18, Air Force Military Child of the Year

 

 

I always would pack my schedule full during any tough time I would face. I would try new activities that would take up my free time, so that I had no time to think about what was causing that tough time, such as deployment.- Molly Frey, 16, National Guard Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

In times of trial, I find comfort in the fact that I’ve already faced and overcome some of life’s greatest challenges, and doing so is not abnormal, but my continual reality. –Henderson Heussner, 18, Army Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

My family (is) very close because of all the moves we have done. No matter how I am feeling I can always count on my family to be there and cheer me up. -Mary Kate Cooper, 17, Coast Guard Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like to exercise when I am frustrated or irritated.- Sophie Bernstein, 17, Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several things keep me together during hard times. Two of them are my dogs. They sit with me and love me no matter what I do. It is relaxing to sit there and pet them. Another factor is my family; they discuss my options with me and keep me on track.- Jackson Beatty, 18, Marine Corps Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

The support of my family, especially my mother, who has served as the anchor of my family while we have moved from place to place. My mom is a huge inspiration to me, and the soul of our family. It is because of her support that we have been so successful. I also had great personal consistency through my participation in the Boy Scouts of America. While there were many different things in the places I lived, the Scouting program always allowed me to have a home where I could easily participate in familiar activities and have an instant group of friends in a new location. – Alexander McGrath, 17, Navy Military Child of the Year

 

Find out more about this year’s recipients, take a look at more pictures from this year’s event or watch the 2017 Facebook Live presentation of our awards ceremony

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By John Pray, President & Chief Executive Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

It’s exciting to be able to see into the future. I had this rare opportunity when I had the privilege of spending time with seven exceptional military teens this week as we honored our Military Child of the Year ® recipients at our special gala in Washington DC.

Sophie, Henderson, Jamal, Jackson, Alexander, Mary and Molly – each one of these amazing young adults possesses a remarkable spirit: the spirit of selfless service that defines our great nation.

Their spirit shined as they dealt with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other uncertainties and challenges that often characterize military family life.

They have developed an inner compass that points them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate, and to serve others in their own communities.

They are extraordinary representatives of the nearly two million military children who serve all of us alongside their parents.

Our special guest for the evening, Ellyn Dunford, wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford, expressed her admiration so well when she described our seven honorees:

“When you look at this year’s recipients, you’ll find an impressive example of what these kids have to offer. They volunteer extensively both in military and civilian communities, scouting and church groups, a variety of school programs and academic excellence clubs. They overcome adversity and then helped others through the same problems. They excel in sports and music. They mentor other kids. They advocate for military families and veterans’ groups. They feed their community. They provide clothing and comfort to others. Especially comfort to the parent (who remains behind). They have taken the phrase, ‘it’s in our power’ and they are living it out. They (might) just be the next greatest generation.”

I couldn’t agree more. When you are fortunate enough to interact with a special group of young people like this, you are confident that the future of our country is in good hands.

Our honorees this year are all in their late teens – they may have just been learning to walk or talk in 2002 when an informal network of military spouses first got together to support one another during post 9/11 deployments to create the organization we now know as Operation Homefront.

We’ve grown tremendously over the past 15 years, and while the world has changed significantly our mission, our promise – 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 – still drives us all.
I am proud to tell you that thanks to your support, we are making a real difference. You help us honor our military children, those who don’t have a voice in where their family will be transferred, but who certainly seize each new opportunity to focus on making a meaningful difference in whatever community they call “home.”

At Operation Homefront, one of our core values is gratitude so I need to thank those who made this year’s Military Child of the Year® celebration a huge success:

• Ellyn Dunford, our keynote speaker, who clearly articulated our collective admiration for the resiliency of our military families and the key role military children play as they serve all of us alongside their parents;
• Andre’ McMillian, representing our presenting sponsor United Technologies Corporation and all of our other sponsors who made this evening’s celebration possible;
• The one and only John Heald, Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Lines, who cleverly orchestrated the night’s program as our emcee;
• The USO Show Troupe who provided an entertaining military salute;
• America’s Tenor, and my friend, Danny Rodriguez;
• And special thanks to the entire Operation Homefront family for all they have done and continue to do to build strong, stable and secure military families.

To all our 2017 honorees – I know your parents, families, AND communities are so proud of you — WE are proud of you too.

We look forward to next year and our 10th annual Military Child of the Year® Awards ceremony!

Find out more about this year’s recipients, take a look at more pictures from this year’s event or watch the 2017 Facebook Live presentation of our awards ceremony!

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