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Archive for the ‘Freedom’ Category

by Linda Medler, Board of Directors, Operation Homefront Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

I have been in the military for most of my life. I enlisted in the Marines out of high school, transitioned to civilian life to have children, while still serving in the Marine Corps Reserve. When I was ready to return to active duty, I was accepted to Air Force Officer Training School, and served in the Air Force until I retired with the rank of Brigadier General.

Over that time, I have served with many who gave their lives in defense of our nation, including those lost while I was serving at Hill Air Force Base, where we were always deploying airmen to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, we lost three airmen in one month to an IED attack, and a few months later, we lost another. As a leader, that is something you never get over.

When it hits that close, and you are in a leadership position, you have to look inside and say, ‘How do I help my organization and my unit go forward and recover from this — to lose four airmen on a single installation?’

To ensure that they would never be forgotten, a group of us from Hill Air Force Base entered the Air Force Installation Excellence Award Program, which comes with a cash prize to improve quality of life across the installation. We finished as one of the top award winners, and used a portion of our prize to build a Memorial Park at Hill Air Force Base in Utah as a way to memorialize the four airmen who died while serving our country.

I will never forget that Memorial Day when we dedicated the memorial. Airman and families of the fallen gathered together to grieve, to remember, to unveil the monument.

There is not a Memorial Day when I do not think back to that dedication and the Memorial Park that will forever honor the legacy of these fallen heroes of the 75th Air Base Wing.

I urge all Americans to take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

 

 

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by John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

Memorial Day is a special day for America as we honor those who have died while serving our great nation. It is especially important for me, on a very personal level, because of my father. John I. Pray, my father, joined the Army in 1938 after completing the ROTC program and graduating from Ripon College in Wisconsin. After completing many months of training, he married the love of his life, my mother, LaVerne G. Wilson in June 1940, and the Army immediately sent the newlyweds to their first posting in the Philippines, arriving in September 1940. With tensions mounting in the Pacific and war looming on the horizon, the Army returned many family members, including my mother, back to safety of the “states” in February 1941.

John I. Pray, Sr, pictured here during training in the Philippines just prior to the start of World War 2.

War broke out on December 7, 1941 and after many months of intense fighting, the U.S. forces in the Philippines surrendered on April 9, 1942. Approximately 75,000 American and Filipino troops, who were already suffering from lack of food and disease, were captured and forced to make a 65-mile march to prison camps. This infamous journey became known as the Bataan Death March – my father was among those soldiers. Thousands perished along the way and an estimated 20,000 soldiers, who survived the march, died in the prison camps from disease, malnutrition, and brutal treatment. My father survived – for three and a half years – and was ultimately repatriated in September 1945.

When I asked my father what sustained him through the many challenges he faced as a prisoner of war, he unhesitatingly told me faith…faith in his family, his country, and his comrades.

My father continued to serve his nation until he retired in 1969.

Each Memorial Day, my father would honor those he served with that did not make it home. He would remember them – their dedication and their lasting contributions to protecting our way of life. Not surprisingly, Memorial Day became and has remained a reverent occasion for our family as we look to remember the very profound contributions of many generations of service men and women and the family members who serve alongside them.

Looking back, I clearly see how my parents’ service and sacrifice inspired me to serve and guided every one of my major career decisions. I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve in a variety of capacities – as a member of the U.S. Air Force and as a member of the Bush Administration at the White House and more recently, as a member of the Operation Homefront family where I have the incredible opportunity to continue to serve those that serve.

So as we spend an extended Memorial Day weekend with our families, I would ask that you take a moment during The National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 p.m. (your local time) and remember that more than 1.3 million military members have died while serving our great nation. It is an opportunity to honor those who gave up all their tomorrows for our todays.

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As a military spouse of 20 years, Aileen Boone knows the difficulty of connecting and making new friends with each move. Her most recent was to San Antonio, where she and her husband had been for 18 months before she heard about Operation Homefront’s Homefront Celebration program, which celebrates the service of our military spouses.

Aileen was one of more than 80 military spouses who recently attended the special night of dinner, dancing and making new friends. She met Rita Valdez, a 12-year military spouse, and the two planned on staying in touch.

Rita and Aileen struck up a friendship at Homefront Celebration San Antonio, TX. The two plan to stay in touch.

 

“It’s uplifting and it’s nice to meet people going through the same things,” Aileen said. “We’ve got a common bond.”

Rita agreed, adding that she had already texted her husband who was in training in Dallas that she was having a great time.

“Everything is totally awesome,” she said. “It gives us a moment for ourselves and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Along with door prizes and a very popular S’mores bar, guests also enjoyed speaker Brittany Boccher, a military spouse since 2005 and founder of Discovering Your Spark: Find Your Color in a Camouflage World.

Brittany gave a mini version of her workshop that was created to help military spouses find their passion and balance in life. She now does consulting and speaking engagements to help promote the needs of military spouses both inside and outside the military community.

The Feb. 7 event was made possible through the generous support of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). As part of the celebration, SNHU presented Eliana Cornejo with a four-year scholarship. Married for 10 years to Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Kevin Cornejo and mom to two children, the scholarship comes at a great time for Eliana, who plans to pursue a business administration degree that she will use for a new career and to assist at her church.

“I’m so grateful (to donors) they are opening so many doors and providing so many opportunities,” Eliana said. Hear more about Eliana’s journey as a military spouse here.

Since Operation Homefront began Homefront Celebrations in 2009, the program has served more than 8,600 military spouses.

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vickie at baghdad sign

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr

With 84 percent of our staff either veterans or coming from a military family, the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day resonates at Operation Homefront. 

From our top executives, to our staff working throughout the nation, and from our board members to our volunteer brigade (more than 4,500 strong with 56 percent being service members or military spouses), Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices made by our country’s military families.

We asked one of our own to tell us, in her own words, about serving our country.

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr, veteran, US Air Force November 1978 – August 1987; US Army May 1990 – 1993 

I have several immediate thoughts when I think of Veterans Day. The first is the overwhelming support that the American people showed to military troops during the Gulf War in 1990-1991. As part of the 786th Transportation Company, an Army National Guard unit in Lucedale, Mississippi, we were activated in November 1990. As we made the drive from Lucedale to Fort Stewart, Georgia, we encountered many people waving miniature flags as we passed by. Whenever the convoy stopped, people voiced their support of us, America, and the U.S. military.

When we returned from our deployment to Saudi Arabia in May 1991, I was once again overwhelmed by the support—this time from Vietnam veterans and the local Bangor, Maine community.  We were, by far, not the first troops to return from Desert Storm—the first in country were the first out. Yet, when our plan landed in Bangor for refueling, at 3:00 a.m. (as in early, early pre morning), this Mississippi Army National Guard unit was met by a group of local Vietnam veterans. These Vietnam veterans wanted to make sure that all military troops were welcomed back to the United States. They had also convinced members of the local community that getting up at 2:00 a.m. to welcome soldiers back to the United States at 3:00 a.m. was a great idea. At that point, I really knew that being a member of the military was being a part of brotherhood, and I would always have a connection to this select group of individuals.

A few years after Desert Storm, I got together with a fellow soldier and attended the Laser show at Stone Mountain, Georgia. As the night fell, the show began which was military themed. Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” played across the loudspeaker as the American flag wavered against Stone Mountain. Each branch of the military was recognized, and the veterans in the audience were asked to stand. I had never considered myself to be more patriotic than anyone else, but in that moment I had an overwhelming sense of patriotism, an overwhelming sense of pride, and a few tears. When Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All” played a few minutes later, the tears did not stop. The cost of freedom is never free, and we must always remember those who walked before us, and that “All Gave Some and Some Gave All.”

That same support from the American people, that I witnessed firsthand in 1990, is what allows Operation Homefront to accomplish all of the many things we do for today’s veteran and military families. Our supporters give of their money, time, and goods, which we must always be thankful for – they are our cheerleaders. The other driving force is the “brotherhood of the military” (please note that as a female the brotherhood is meant to be inclusive of all). People associated with the military want to help each other as witnessed by my encounter with the Vietnam veterans in Maine. Operation Homefront helps veteran and military families because many of us have a tie to the military, and we want to give back to our brothers and sisters, who will in turn pay it forward and give back to others. And the pride and patriotism keeps all of us going when the days are long and things seem to go wrong. Patriotism reminds us that some of our veterans, our military, and their families made the ultimate sacrifice, while others are living with their sacrifice daily.

Join Operation Homefront in recognizing the 100th celebration of Veterans Day through our Raise Your Hand campaign. Click here to learn more.

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Response to our 2019 Back-to-School® Brigade program was phenomenal. Read about how we are making a difference in the lives of military families, all thanks to our partners, volunteers and supporters like you:

Nearly 30 minutes before the start of Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School® Brigade (BTSB) event in San Antonio, a line of families started at the gym doors inside a local YMCA and snaked all the way out of the building.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers, Operation Homefront employees and partners like Chobani and H-E-B made the necessary last-minute checks. The face painters were ready, the photo booth filled with props and more than 500 backpacks were stacked and ready to go.

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

 

Volunteers from H-E-B helped make the day special for military families. Operation Homefront is proud to partner with H-E-B for BTSB as well as our Holiday Meal for Military program.

 

We were excited to host the team from Chobani at our San Antonio BTSB event. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families via Operation Homefront, and also matching donations—up to an additional $250,000!

Once the doors opened, the families filed through the gymnasium, gathering information on various resources from all the different booths and of course picking out a purple, pink, or clear backpack before leaving with smiling faces.

Good times!

 

 

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

Sailor Natalie Larenas attended the event for the first time, bringing her two sons, one in fourth grade and the other a freshman in high school.

“I had no idea there would be so much stuff here,” she said. “There was a lot of things the kids could learn about, like PTSD and education resources.”

Having been in the Navy for the past 14 years, Natalie said she appreciates that there are donors who give to Operation Homefront to help military families.

“Thank you!” Natalie said. “The families who serve sacrifice a lot and when there is something like this, we feel appreciated. It’s really nice. I really appreciate this, especially with three kids. I get emotional because I have served so many years and sacrificed time, just being away from my family. That’s why this is so nice. It tells me that we are appreciated too.”

From L-R, clockwise: An OH volunteer and service member at the BTSB event in Colorado Springs, CO; OH CEO John Pray (second from left) volunteers at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN; A soldier fills a backpack at the BTSB event at Camp Murray, Tacoma, WA; A boy gets his face painted at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN.

Since BTSB began in 2008, more than 375,000 military children have been provided with backpacks filled with supplies, helping them have the tools they need to succeed for the school year. You can see photos from our events on our Flickr page.

Operation Homefront Program Coordinator Rebekah Reyes said the Alamo City event could not have happened without the volunteers and partners. “I want to thank all of our donors and our volunteers who came out to support”,” Rebekah said. “(At the event), we had about 150 volunteers help us from the set up to clean up. They really helped make the event run smoothly.”

Team work makes the dream work.

Cathy Toyoda was one of those volunteers. She’s been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years, currently in the donations department but has helped at several BTSB events.

“You know, military families, most of them, are on a tight budget, and buying school supplies is very costly,” she said. “It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event by giving all the school supplies and the back packs and it’s really wonderful to give them away to people who need them.”

Cathy Toyoda has been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years. It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event.”

Talia Farrell was at BTSB for the first time. She and her husband Troy, who is in the Air Force, brought their two kids, Jordan and Jayda, in kindergarten and third grade respectively. She said the kids had a great time and the family was surprised at all the goodies. She hopes to return in the future.

This was Talia’s family’s first time at BTSB. This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.”

“This is a great opportunity for military families,” Talia said. “This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.

Back-to-School Brigade 2019 has concluded, but we have many more opportunities for military families in the coming months. Keep an eye on our events page for when registrations open.  If you would like to get involved as a volunteer, this page has everything you need to get started,

Chobani has been an incredible supporter of Operation Homefront’s mission. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families. And for every dollar you donate, Chobani will match your donation—up to an additional $250,000.

Finally, a special thanks to our national sponsors, Dollar Tree and SAIC, for their ongoing support of Back-to-School Brigade and many other Operation Homefront programs.

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by Robert D. Thomas, Chief Operations Officer, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

Today, we remember and honor our service members.

On Memorial Day, our nation remembers and reflects upon the loss of the service members who have had a profound impact on preserving the freedoms we enjoy daily. By honoring the memory of their service, we sustain the spirit of these fallen heroes. And, we also remember their families, who sustained their service.

When I think about the heroes we have lost, I also think of the time lost with their families. I think of the incalculable value of eating an ordinary family dinner together, watching your son or daughter play soccer, or taking a child fishing. For those deployed, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, that time is lost forever; they will never get those moments back and neither will their families.

Reflecting on my 31-year Air Force career, and the friends I have lost in the service, brings Memorial Day into sharp focus for me. My military specialty was air mobility, and when I was not flying transport/tanker aircraft, I was the officer on staff responsible for the air mobility mission.

bob-thomas-operation-homefront-memorial-day-fallen-heroes

During multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, among other duties, I would many times find myself part of the team responsible for transporting our fallen heroes back home one last time. The units would honor their lost comrade in a solemn ceremony, almost always at night to avoid the rocket or mortar fire large groups of soldiers attract, and end with a member of the unit answering “absent sir” as the fallen warrior’s name was called in a final unit roll call.

Often, and especially on Memorial Day, I think of the families of those heroes and what it would be like to get the devastating news that a mother, father, son, or daughter was gone forever, and how many lives were changed permanently at that moment.

All Americans can take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Robert D. Thomas
Operation Homefront Chief Operations Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

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by John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

May is Military Appreciation Month – an important opportunity for Americans to take a moment to reflect on all our military community has done and continues to do for all of us. From celebrating spouses on Military Spouse Appreciation Day and recognizing all service branches on Armed Forces Day, to honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day, May is truly a special month to highlight an exceptional group of our fellow citizens.

While we typically celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of our active duty members and veterans, I think we must also include those who have sustained their service – their families – as they have served alongside their loved ones.

Military service is a noble calling, but it has many demands and many costs. One of those costs is foregoing time with family.

When I look at my family photos, I find I am not in many of them. I wish the reason was I was the one taking them. Sadly, the real reason is I was not there. I was doing something important to serve my country. I understood I was the one who raised my hand and swore an oath to protect our country. I also fully understood my family, because of my service, had their hands raised too.

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John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

That is why I am honored to serve America’s military families as the President and CEO of Operation Homefront. We have 120 employees and over 4,000 volunteers, along with many caring donors and partners, who are dedicated to meeting the needs of military families while they are serving and as they transition back to the civilian communities they have worked so hard to protect. Our relief, resiliency and recurring support programs touch over one hundred thousand family members each year… giving them the support they need to make ends meet and, just as important, letting them know that America is behind them.

This Armed Forces Day, when you thank and honor those who put on the uniform, I would ask you to remember the family members whose sacrifice may be less visible, but just as worthy.

I invite you to join Operation Homefront in our #Mission2Honor military families by sending a message of thanks to those families who serve and help protect the freedoms we enjoy daily. It will mean the world to them: OperationHomefront.org/mission2honor

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