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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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

coinblogpic1Military challenge coins are a time-honored tradition. Leaders at all levels in the military, up to and including the President of the United States as Commander in Chief, bestow coins to select recipients to recognize excellence or commemorate special achievement.

Like many current and former military members, I have lots of coins in my collection– each one serving as a tangible reminder of an important moment or event in my professional life. While each coin is important and meaningful to me, two in particular stand out.

The first is a coin I received from General Wayne Downing, Commander of the US Special Operations Command.

Downing was an innovative and dynamic leader whom I admire greatly and his coin is a daily reminder of his passion to serve his country and his understanding of the challenges military families face while loved ones are deployed. I do my best to reflect that same passion and understanding every day at Operation Homefront.

coinblogpic2The second is a coin I had the honor of presenting when I was the Commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base.

Over the course of my two year tour, I presented the Dover Coin to over 200 people for individual and team excellence.

The etchings on the coin define the 436th Airlift Wing as “America’s Preeminent Expeditionary Airlift Team” and present its’ values of integrity, excellence, and service; values that are shared by the team I now lead at Operation Homefront.

I treasure both of these coins. They represent my commitment to my country, the honor of military tradition, and my dedication to those I have served with and for.

John and Operation Homefront Board of Directors member Angelo Lombardi and friends from Cracker Barrel with Operation Homefront challenge coins.

John and Operation Homefront Board of Directors member Angelo Lombardi and friends from Cracker Barrel Old Country Store with Operation Homefront challenge coins.

Join in the conversation by sharing a picture/description of your favorite military coin. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #militarycoins or click the link to Leave a Comment here.

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Former Marine Sayku Dudley describes his childhood in Atlanta, Georgia, as rough. As a kid, Sayku was motivated to find a better life for himself.

Sayku started going to softball games and barbeques hosted by local military recruiters and became good friends with one of them.

“As things became worse in my environment,” said Sayku, “I decided to … join the military. As I was deciding which branch of service to go into, I thought the Marines looked the toughest and the fittest. I went into the Marines because I wanted to look like that guy who stood out from the rest.”

dudleyAfter basic training at Paris Island, South Carolina, Sayku was stationed at Twenty-nine Palms, the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in California.  He spent time in Japan and Mexico before returning to Atlanta to join the Marine Reserves.

After 9/11, Sayku deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  “I was almost killed,” said Sayku. “But I recovered.” Eventually he came back to Georgia. “My career was cut short at the end,” said Sayku. “I am fighting for medical retirement. I have had multiple personal problems. I have lost stripes. Since 2009, I have been going through the storm of my life.”

Sayku struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress. His financial situation was bleak and he faced having his lights and utilities shut off. He first turned to Wounded Warrior Project for help, and in turn, they referred him to Operation Homefront.  Operation Homefront was able to provide   the financial assistance he needed during a difficult financial time.

Sakyu request was just one of over 1,700 military families we’ve helped so far this year, and one of 11,000 since our inception in 2012.  89.4% of our 2016 clients surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that OH’s Emergency Assistance Program helps build strong, stable, and secure military families.

Sayku is thankful that things are better now than they were last year. “I was in a mental state that I didn’t know I was in or how to get out. After I left the military, I had problems and haven’t been able to do. This is not where I ever thought I would be.”

To those who donate to OH, Sayku said, “There are not a lot of words. I would rather do than say. I am so very thankful. I am glad that you (OH) was able to help me. Asking for help really checks your pride. I am very thankful for the help, and I am on a new path and thanks to you I can do for now. I definitely know what it’s like to not have. It’s very humbling to be where I am.”

Sayku recently began work at Home Depot part-time. “I haven’t been in the work world for a while,” said Sayku. “This is a new start. I have been on a rocky road filled with debts and family problems. But now I am in a different place and keep remembering how far I came. I am starting over new. This time I am going to succeed either by working multiple jobs or going back to school.”

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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