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Archive for the ‘Freedom’ Category

By Ashley Sistrunk, Guest Blogger.

The viral military Christmas card. Did you happen to see it floating around internet land the past couple of months? Totally cliché, right?

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sistrunkblog2Let me back up and introduce myself. Hey, I’m Ashley! I’m an almost 30 year old (how did THAT happen) wife and mother to four perfectly imperfect children….oh and I’m a military spouse whose husband is only halfway through the journey to retirement.

We’ve had quite an interesting military experience that I’m sure MANY of you can relate to.

When we were 18 & 19, we had this crazy idea to get married and start a family together…but didn’t factor in the expenses. My husband, Brandon, worked at a BBQ restaurant and I worked as a hairstylist in a salon. Not too bad, right? WRONG!

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We were married 4 beautiful weeks before we discovered we were expecting our first child! How did we find out? The fumes from the hair salon started to make me sick, so I did what any logical 19 year old would do….I bought 10 pregnancy tests and sure enough, they all read POSITIVE.

We told our families and within that process, realized we wouldn’t be able to afford a child with a BBQ income alone, since I could no longer tolerate the smell from the salon.

So, this started our military journey.

If you’re lucky enough to know my husband, you know he is one of the most giving, kind-hearted people on the planet. He will do anything for anyone, which can be taken advantage of at times. He knew that joining the military would cover the medical expenses of having a child, even if it meant sacrificing his own life at some point. Who does that?! Only 1% of America, apparently.

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Off to boot camp he went, while I was left behind, 6 1/2 months pregnant. I would write him letters every single day and would pray to receive one from him. Not a single letter came. When I finally saw him at his graduation, he explained that his unit kept getting in trouble, so their punishment was not being able to write letters. I think in a way, that helped prepare me for the rest of our military journey.

My husband missed the births of 3 out of 4 children. One due to tech school and the others due to deployments. The recruiter must have forgotten to mention the chances of that happening. Either that, or we were just young and naïve and assumed we would have a fairytale life.

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When he left for this past deployment, my children were 9, 7, 5 (she turned 6 while he was gone), and 2 months. “They” say deployments get easier each time. I say “they” must not have children or “they” somehow speed up time during deployments. No one prepared us for the emotional strain that this deployment would bring. The kids were now old enough to be downright MAD for him being gone. Not just mad, but incredibly sad too.

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I had to get creative when it came to keeping the kids and myself connected to the person we absolutely ADORE while he was thousands of miles (7,038 miles, to be exact) away, BUT… I’ve never had a creative bone in my 5’1 body.

That’s where Pinterest stepped in. Pinterest SAVED this deployment!

*All the mommas say AMEN*

Here are some things my family and I did to stay connected through this deployment:

1) Deployment wall: We had a family night a week or so before my husband deployed and we decided to spend that time putting our deployment wall together! *See picture*

We showed them on the map where we were and where daddy would be. We had two different clocks, one that showed our time and one that showed his. We had a picture of him in uniform and a picture of him with the kids (added later). We had a space where they could roll out a sheet of paper and draw him pictures or write him letters, or even just write down how they’re feeling that day. We had little baskets for mail received and mail to send out. I would catch them going to the wall and just staring at his picture. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.

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2) Pictures on pillow cases, recording his voice in a stuffed animal, and video recording bedtime stories. If you haven’t visited your Airman & Family Readiness Center, I suggest you do! They have so many different things that can help a deployment along! My husband was able to go and have pictures of him and the kids printed onto pillow cases, have his voice recorded in stuffed animals, AND video record himself reading them each a bedtime story! So they got to see him every night before bed!

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3) Care packages: Pinterest has SO many awesome ideas for care packages! The kids loved putting things in the box and decorating it! They would say “Oh! Daddy will LOVE this!” And their little faces would light up! If you’re OCD, this will really test your patience, but it’s so worth it to see them wanting to get involved!

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4) Technology: This is huge for military families! We didn’t have Skype or video messenger until my husband’s 2nd or 3rd deployment. Before that, you heard from your spouse whenever they could find an open phone, which was never guaranteed. For this deployment, we were so blessed with technology! The kids were able to talk to their daddy *almost* every morning before school! Of course the connection was sketchy or would fail, but most of the time they could at least say hello!

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5) Holidays: Holidays are tough with your loved one halfway across the world. As the parent, you have to put your feelings on the back burner and focus on the physical/emotional needs of your children, ESPECIALLY around the holidays! For holidays, we would remove his picture from the deployment wall and tape it on a chair at the head of the table. This way, the kids could see he’s not been forgotten and that he is still a part of our special day, even though he’s not actually home.

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For Christmas, we made our first ever Christmas card! Yes, the viral military Christmas card! Honestly, the card ALMOST didn’t happen. I had my husband take his pictures from his deployment location, but the timing never seemed right for us to take ours.

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As each day got closer and closer to Christmas, I would see more and more pictures of all the happy families together on their beautifully crafted cards. At first I was sad. So terribly sad. I wanted nothing more than for my husband to be home for Christmas, but I knew that wasn’t an option. So, I decided TODAY IS THE DAY! We went out and got each shot on the first try, thanks momma!

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I pieced them together that night and decided to post them on FaceBook. The response was unbelievable! Within a few days, it was EVERYWHERE! So many spouses reached out saying “We’re apart for the holidays too! Thank you for showing us your togetherness through it all!”.

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Deployments are hard, especially if you actually love spending time with your spouse and consider him/her your best friend. The days can be so long and it can be so tempting to let that cause division in your marriage or family, but if you can focus on the good, you WILL get through it! Give yourself some grace. You will have days where you just want to bury yourself under the covers and cry and that’s ok! Try not to take that frustration out on the deployed member, but at the same time, be honest with them if they ask what’s troubling you. They will feel helpless at times, but that’s where you have to rise up and show them that you are strong TOGETHER, even if you’re not physically together. Your hearts are bonded, for better and for worse.

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ertIn the weeks before Christmas, throughout this great land.

Our elves on the homefront were lending a hand…

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Holiday Meals were bagged up and stuffed

To give to the families we can’t thank enough…

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Wishes were granted and moments were shared

Letting military families know that all of us cared…

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The smiles of the families and joy that abounded

Reminded us all of the mission we founded…

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To remember the many who serve so we remain free

Who won’t be home this year to decorate their tree…

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The East Garden Room of the White House features an American flag display formed from images of brave military members and their families, and Gold Star ornaments adorn the evergreen that honors the men and women who have laid down their lives for our country.

We hope you are home soon and with loved ones so dear,

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!

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Thank you for helping Operation Homefront build strong, stable, and secure military families – all year long.

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Special thanks this year to…

Walmart, Dollar Tree, Beam Suntory, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, HEB, SAS Shoemakers, Thirty-One, Procter & Gamble, Ocean Spray, Navy Federal Credit Union, Samuel Adams , Veterans United and many more local supporters who helps us serve over 11000 military families with meals and toys this holiday season.

Our volunteers who gave us the priceless gift of time.

And finally, to our military far away from home… our most heartfelt thanks for keeping us safe. We miss you and pray for your safe return. 

Find these and many more terrific pictures from our Holiday Events on our Flickr page. If you would like to know more about #GivingStrength to military families, visit www.operationhomefront.net/givingstrength

 

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pearlharborblog1Today is the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

One could argue that every generation has its defining moment. But there are a few events that so fundamentally change the world, in ways so profound, that they echo in our consciousness and our hearts…even seven decades later.

The attack on December 7, 1941 is one of them.

Though not ignorant of what was happening in the world at the time, Americans at the time felt secure, convinced to a large degree that the country was untouchable.

We weren’t.

The vast majority of us were not born when the nation was attacked in such a shocking manner. For many Americans, even their parents weren’t born. It can be easy, as the years go on and our World War II veterans pass on, to let the day pass unnoticed. There may be some who wonder why it is brought up at all.
But though we may not have witnessed the events of that day nor experienced directly the three years of global war and unfathomable loss of life that would follow, make no mistake. We have all been shaped by it.

As the Scottish philosopher and historian, Thomas Carlyle wrote “The Present is the living sum-total of the whole Past.”

pearlharboremembrancedaySo, we acknowledge the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor because we must remember that the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance. That cost was born by our WWII veterans then, and by millions more before and after. We can see the cost under the waves in Hawaii, in rows at Arlington, at our VA hospitals, and in the eyes of our loved ones who have seen war. Here at Operation Homefront, we see it mirrored in the experiences of the families we serve. The events of September 11th were their Pearl Harbor, and like the generations that went to war before them, these military and veteran families have paid a high cost. Our mission was born from the knowledge of the cost that would be paid because we remembered the lessons of history.

We acknowledge the anniversary because we must remember that our country is strong, and though we may be brought to our knees or reel from a blow, we get back up. We are reminded of one of America’s most dear ideals: that no matter what your circumstances of birth, or what destiny has in store, there always remains the opportunity to overcome them and forge your own path.

We acknowledge the anniversary because we must remember, every day, to endeavor to deserve the gift given to us by our military veterans. Our country may not be perfect, but we should never stop trying to be better. Never stop trying to earn the sacrifice made on that day and in days that followed.

Please join us today in sharing a message of honor or remembrance. You can post here in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter. We’d also like to share some online resources where you can learn more about Pearl Harbor and the 75th commemoration.

pearlharborblog2The official website commemorating National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and the 75th Anniversary.

National WWII Museum and their dedicated page for the 75th anniversary.

Smithsonian Learning Lab Pearl Harbor page.

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carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30845320545_oBefore the night was over…

They were dropping names like Carrie Underwood and saying they got to be part of a private concert with her.

Before the night was over…

They were talking about Carnival Cruise Lines, well-known for a fun family atmosphere, and proclaiming they got one free night on Carnival’s biggest and best ship, the Carnival Vista, with a skyline view of New York City.

Before the night was over…

They could say they met Miss USA Deshauna Barber, the very first active duty service member to wear the crown.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30544200720_oBefore the night was over…

They were able to be part of a rare event, a naming ceremony to officially christen Carnival’s biggest and best new ship, the Carnival Vista, complete with helicopter delivery of the champagne, Kathie Lee Gifford, confetti cannons, and more.

Is it possible that all that could happen in less than 24 hours? Yes it is. And all of those experiences, and many more, were a reality for some of our military families, who were guests of Carnival’s “Honor.Family.Fun” event in New York City recently.

The experience featured it all before the night was over.

But beyond the bright lights, the gorgeous expansive ship and the entertainment…one message came through loud and clear.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808587226_oPeople care about our military.

Our families heard it over and over again.

They heard it in Carrie’s live performance of her song Keep Us Safe:

“And through the struggles and the trouble I know we don’t walk alone.

Even when we get lost through the valleys we crossed.”

And in Carrie’s words:

“It’s been really amazing to get to be a part of such an incredible organization and the way you’ve…committed to helping military families and giving them special time together. I’m a mother and I know how precious those moments are.”

They heard and recognized themselves in the words of our President and CEO, John I Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.):

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808588626_oI served in the Air Force for 27 1/2 years. When I go back and look at pictures of my family, I am not in any of them…because I wasn’t there. This partnership is important (because) those military families will be able to create the memories that will last a lifetime. The opportunity to go on vacation with your families and capture those photos, is going to be truly spectacular.

They heard it from Carnival CEO Christine Duffy:

Carnival carries more active and retired U.S. military personnel than any other cruise line. So it means a great deal to me to be able to be a part of this amazing event, honoring and celebrating the sacrifices of those who serve in our Armed Forces and protect our freedoms each and every day. I couldn’t think of a more deserving group to honor as we celebrate the launch of our spectacular new ship, Carnival Vista.

They heard from Miss USA Deshauna Barber who understand the military life very well. As she spoke at the Naming Ceremony, she recalled, with barely veiled emotion, the birthdays and holidays that her father always missed because he deployed a lot as part of special forces:

“I do a lot of speeches… but this one touches my heart. I am humbled and proud and honored and inspired all at the same time. …What we do as military is very important. When the days get hard, you have to think about days like this.”

As we approach Veterans Day, we want to remind our military families that we are grateful for the courage and honor of all of you who serve our great nation. We know you must give up so much and you do it willingly. We are grateful and we care about you.

We hope you hear that over and over again.

Check out our album of images from that special day, and join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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NEW YORK, New York (Sept. 11)--Smoke rises in lower Manhattan after the World Trade Centers fall Sept. 11, 2001. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto

NEW YORK, New York (Sept. 11)–Smoke rises in lower Manhattan after the World Trade Centers fall Sept. 11, 2001. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto

When we reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, the horror and pain of that day is often mingled with the hope and comfort of the many images and stories of heroism. Our generation had never seen such outpouring of concern and support from Americans, coast to coast.  From those who opened their homes to the stranded, to those who passed out water bottles to first responders near the scenes of tragedy, we were buoyed in our darkest hours by the values and spirit that has defined this country since its founding.

Today, 15 years later, as we pause to reflect this Sunday on Patriot Day, many of us may wonder, “Where has that spirit gone?”  You may hear others wonder aloud whether the America reflected in those days of fellowship and unity is gone, never to be recovered.

But there is one group that still believes.

Our men and women in uniform. And they have arguably carried the biggest burden and paid a heavy cost since that fall of 2001.

We have talked with men and women who joined specifically because of the attacks of September 11.  Some were mere children at the time, but they carried that calling with them until they were old enough to volunteer.  Still others talk about an opportunity given to them, or to their immigrant parents, and of a need to give back.  In the 15 years that Operation Homefront has worked with military and wounded warrior families, we have been amazed time and again at the love and reverence that generations of Americans have for this country.

And when reflecting on their service, the vast majority talk about bonds tighter than family, in some cases, and the privilege of serving with the finest men and women that America has to offer.

It is in these conversations that we see the core values of who we are as a nation, and the resiliency and strength that allows us to weather the darker times.

The men and women of our armed forces come from our communities.  The honor, courage, commitment and call to service comes from the communities they were raised in.  In short, they are America.

And they are not alone.

Support for military families comes from all walks of life. We see it at the events we host around the country. We often partner with other organizations serving other needs in their community, such as mental health and food insecurity. We see the young and the old all doing something to make their little part of the world a better place.

Americans answered the call then, and they continue to answer the call today.

Many say there seems to be a lot of anger in the air these days, whether it’s  talk shows, the web, or social media.  They wonder how to make it better. But we ask you to take a moment and really look around and see that your fellow Americans are still phenomenally friendly, caring, generous, and quick to help when help is needed. Sometimes the opportunity to keep the spirit alive comes to you, other times you need to seek it out.  But it is there.

This September 11 anniversary, we encourage everyone to find a way to keep the spirit alive in their community. It does not always have to be a donation of money or goods, it can be your time, an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on. A smile to a stranger or stopping to take a moment to talk to someone.

doing so, we can, as in the words of President Bush in his address to the nation, “None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

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Our country’s service members, veterans, and their families have all Answered The Call to serve our nation, sacrificing much in the process. Service comes with many challenges – being apart as a reslt of deployment, the loss of a family member, adjusting to a new community and career, hitting a financial obstacle. Putting the needs of our country before their own, our military personnel and their families have always been committed to protecting us all.

If you are looking for a way to get involved in supporting our military families, we invite you to join our Answer The Call campaign.

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Fourth of July IS America’s family reunion. From our largest metropolis to our smallest hamlet, Americans gather to share meals, talk with neighbors, play games, and enjoy a day of unity and carefree fun that is too often in short supply these days. For one day, we are one family.

For those of us who serve, have served, or know someone who is serving, we know that our military is like one big family.  We call ourselves brothers and sisters, and the support we give each other is often as strong as those from the families of our birth.

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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.

Over the next 6 weeks, 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 ninth year, Back to School Brigade has become one of our favorite events of the year.

It’s our family reunion.

Want to join the fun? Here are some ways:

  • Follow us on Facebook 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.

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Taking part in the Memorial Day tradition known as a “flags in” is a profound experience.

The second you step through the gates at Hampton National Cemetery in Virginia, you know you are on hallowed ground. You understand the quote “They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this Nation.”

And if you listen, you can hear them.

In the sound of the flag, waving in the breeze. The very present sentry standing solemn watch…

 You hear their souls.

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In the rows upon rows of more than 26,000 gravestones including 638 unknowns and 7 Medal of Honor recipients …

You hear their souls.

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In the silence of soldiers filing in to honor those who have come before them….

You hear their souls.

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In the voice of the mother patiently walking beside her toddler, perhaps too young to know the full meaning of Memorial Day, but who understands they’re here for something important…

You hear their souls.

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In the unity of community coming together to honor…

You hear their souls.

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And upon leaving when the task was done, you hear…

“Thank you for remembering.”

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At 3PM Monday, wherever you are, stop in silence and listen to the souls of those who gave the last full measure of devotion.

Answer with gratitude.

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