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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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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.

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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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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

Arlacee and Thien Luu are a power couple, though they might laugh at the description.  But anyone reading their story can see the power of their courage to never give up and have faith.

Arlacee, now an Army reservist, originally enlisted in the Army – and proudly served – to earn the education benefits and for the challenge. “A lot of people … did not think I could accomplish basic training, much less complete my contract,” Arlacee said. “I chose the Army because I wanted to accomplish my dream of joining the military and to prove that I am capable of anything.” In the Army, Arlacee, an E-4 specialist, was a surveyor and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. Her platoon worked on nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicles.

Thien, her husband, served in the Army from 2007-11, including a 2009 Iraq deployment. He was medically retired after sustaining a traumatic brain injury from an IED blast.

Even these challenges did not shake them.  Then came their transition from service.

Arlacee and Thein had no idea how to afford a place of their own and they ended up staying with family when they first left military service. This allowed them to save a little and prioritize their spending to care for their baby’s special needs.

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Arlacee’s and Thien Luu’s 1-year-old son, Derek, was born without ears, and with a heart condition that required surgery to correct. He can hear with hearing aids, but because of his hearing impairment, Arlacee would like to enroll him in a school for the deaf. She acknowledges that caring for Derek, who is “beating the odds,” has been a lot of work for them, not only going to doctors’ appointments but also accepting his limitations.

On top of the childcare needs, they felt financially stymied trying to address their career goals, which required them to further their education. Arlacee’s wants to go to graduate school, and possibly work part time as an intern with the university’s geology department. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2012 from New Mexico State University and will attend University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to pursue advanced degrees in geoscience, using her post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits. She would like to become a geoscientist, perhaps supporting the military or working for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Luckily, Arlacee remembered Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. While they were stationed in Hawaii, an Operation Homefront (OH) employee described how JPMorgan Chase and other partners donated mortgage-free homes across the country to award to eligible military families.  Once families are accepted into Homes on the Homefront (HOTH), they receive financial counseling to assist with saving, paying down debt and improving credit. Homes are deeded to those who successfully complete the program in two to three years.

A home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, caught her eye. Arlacee grew up on and near the Navajo reservation. She and her parents, who still live in New Mexico, are part of the Navajo Nation, and Arlacee missed the “remarkable” desert and mountainous landscapes, colorful scenery and clean air. Though she feared HOTH was too good to be true, she applied and was accepted for an Albuquerque home.

“We never, in a million years, thought we would be matched with a home,” Arlacee said. Using the Navajo word for thank you, she added, “Ahéhee’ for your generous donations.”

“We are extremely grateful, you have made a huge impact on our lives. This house is a true blessing, allowing Thien and I the opportunity to provide for our son and to continue our education. We are determined to make an impact and share our generosity with others, as you have done for us.” Arlacee said she also looks forward to the financial counseling that comes with HOTH because it will reinforce budgeting and the importance of saving, and hold them accountable. “It’s a push in the right direction,” she said.

Living in the HOTH home without the pressure of a mortgage is “such a relief,” Arlacee said. “It’s … a heavy burden off our shoulders …(and) we can focus on our child.”“Veterans go through different trials and different situations” such as injuries that sometimes require them to take things slower, Arlacee continued. “It makes life a little bit harder in different scenarios, compared to my coworkers … we face different challenges. [Operation Homefront] is a good organization to help alleviate some of these issues that we face.”

“I’m so grateful that … it’s not a too-good-to-be-true situation. We’re grateful to the donors.”

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

 

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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs. Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

An oath for life, and to give your life, is one of the most solemn gifts one can offer to their country and to another. Medically retired Army Sergeant Jennifer Gonzalez and her husband have offered theirs, and it has not come without a high cost.

Jennifer was only 17 when she joined the Army. A recruiter contacted her, and Jennifer became interested in the medical field. Although Jennifer knew of her family’s history of military service, she would be the first and only female from her family to serve. “I thought joining the military sounded cool,” said Jennifer. “And I was spontaneous and liked to take risks.”

During her 11 years with the Army Reserves, Jennifer had one deployment to Iraq that forever changed her. Suffering from post-traumatic stress. Jennifer was medically retired.

Because of her disability, her husband is now also her caregiver, while also dealing with his own transition from military service. When the family moved to a smaller town, Jennifer’s husband found it hard to find a job, especially one that was comparable to his previous job at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Without a second income, Jennifer and her husband soon found themselves in financial stress. When Jennifer received a disconnect notice from the electric company, the couple reached out to Operation Homefront for help with their monthly bills.

Thanks to generous donors, Jennifer and her family will not have their power disconnected. Not only was Operation Homefront able to pay Jennifer’s utility bill, but also paid her auto insurance payment and provided food assistance.
Jennifer is not alone. In 2017, Operation Homefront received 1,900 requests from veterans across the nation that needed help with their utilities. Additionally, over 1,300 veterans needed help providing food for their families, and over 1,300 service members requested help with their auto payment and insurance. With two more months left in 2018, we are on track to see the same, if not more, especially with the recent natural disasters hitting heavily populated military areas, such as the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

“I am so appreciative and grateful to Operation Homefront’s donors who help military families without another place to turn to,” said Jennifer. “We had no family to turn to for help. It is very humbling to ask for help, but we are so grateful. Your donors think of others after the fact (completion of service).”

“Operation Homefront is a great organization,” continued Jennifer. “My caseworker Erik was great to work with. There are a lot of emotions a veteran feels when they are transitioning; it can be shameful to ask for help and very hard to do, especially for veterans who are very independent. I never felt like I was treated differently.”

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at http://www.operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is 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. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

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Tyler (with family) credits a strong, stable, and secure future to the help of Operation Homefront and our generous supporters.

Former Army Staff Sgt. Tyler Mobra is working to earn a new title — professor.

He originally enlisted in the Army in 2003, deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan as a cavalry scout, and was medically discharged in 2009 for multiple injuries. Tyler was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in action, and the Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious achievement or service. He received the Bronze Star for attempting to save in 2008, along with three others, two allied Afghan soldiers who had been severely wounded in a mortar attack. One survived.

The costs of war are all too high, but Tyler felt the full impact of actual costs of living when he was medically retired.

The Mobras rented a small apartment in Catoosa, OK. Their daughters shared a room, but couldn’t “sleep on bunk beds forever,” he said. He had heard about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program and immediately applied. He hoped a HOTH home would become available in the area because he didn’t want to change schools, and they have family nearby.

Operation Homefront awarded a mortgage-free home in 2015 to Tyler and his wife, Mindy, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and the family is working with a caseworker and financial counselor to build savings, reduce debit and learn the skills to become successful homeowners. Saving on housing also opens room in the budget for school and other costs, such as traveling to present at professional development conferences, Tyler said.

Tyler acknowledges it’s difficult sometimes to juggle all the responsibilities of working, studying and parenting. He values the financial counseling he received through HOTH, continuing to use the EMoney account they set up because it has been a good tool and a timesaver. The couple has saved over $34,000 in two years, as part of financial goals under HOTH. They also paid off about $8,500 in debt.

“It’s amazing,” he said. Receiving a mortgage- free home is “a life changer. There are no words to fully express how grateful I am,” he said. Without assistance, “we’d be living paycheck to paycheck,” Tyler said, adding that he would not be able to afford the opportunity to work towards a strong, stable, and secure future without the help of Operation Homefront and our generous supporters.

Tyler is now focused on his dream to become a professor. Having been a college student almost continuously since 2010, Tyler decided he liked academia enough to stay in it. He has applied to the University of Oklahoma – Tulsa for a Ph.D. program in leadership, curriculum and supervision, and if accepted will be a doctoral candidate with the goal of teaching at the college level. Tyler is already certified to teach grades K-12 in Oklahoma.

In the meantime, he finished his second master’s degree, in math and science education, from University of Tulsa. His first master’s degree is in environmental health and safety management from Northeastern State University, where he also obtained his bachelor’s degree in the same field in 2013.

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is 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. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

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After getting a much-needed boost from Operation Homefront, Tamarra now studies social work and has a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She’s already been accepted into two schools to work on her master’s degree.

To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs. Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.  You can catch up here with Day 1 and Day 2.

U.S. Army Sergeant Tamarra Stewart joined the Army in October 2008 because she wanted to serve her country. Over the course of her nine years of service, she rose to the rank of sergeant and served as a paralegal specialist. Her work ranged from criminal law, administrative law and legal assistance for other servicemen and women.

Tamarra deployed to Afghanistan for one year from 2009 to 2010. In May 2018, she medically retired with an honorable discharge. She struggles with some of the unseen wounds of war – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, bilateral shoulder impingement syndrome, and a lower back strain.

As many veterans know, the road to transition can be unexpectedly rough. Tamarra’s journey out of the military unfortunately included a separation from her husband, making her a single mother with two girls to care for on a limited income.

As a single mother, Tamarra’s injuries have not only impacted her life, but also the lives of her daughters. As her options for support were diminishing fast, she had a lucky turn of events. She discovered Operation Homefront’s rent-free transitional housing apartments, decided to apply and was accepted into the program.

Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing Program allows service members, like Tamarra,to live rent free while they go through the transition process. Upon placement, Operation Homefront onsite caseworkers set up a mandatory schedule that these service members, veterans and their families must follow. They are required to attend support groups, workshops, benefits briefings, and resume writing classes, as determined by their counselor. They also undergo one-on-one financial counseling to reduce debt and build savings. Financial counselors also meet with each military family every 30 days to review their financial situation, determine where they are in the transition process, review their attendance in the required workshops and classes, and determine their ability to live on their own. Once they have become self-sufficient, OH will help them find suitable housing in the area they intend to live on a permanent basis. Upon completion of the program, veterans and their families should have VA benefits in place, debt significantly reduced and emergency savings in place.

Tamarra and her daughters have been living at Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing Village program in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They have thrived ever since moving in and she has saved over $11,000. While living at the Village in Gaithersburg, she applied for a home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program. She was blessed to hear that she was accepted into the program and is thankful for the opportunity she has before her – a chance to have a home of her own.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and JPMorgan Chase, Tamarra will soon move into a mortgage-free home in Belcamp, Maryland. She was accepted into the HOTH program so that she can continue to attend school at Montgomery County College, save money monthly, and live her life with her daughters near family and friends. The HOTH program offers military families like Tamarra the foundation for long-term stability and resiliency in order to enjoy the American dream of home ownership.

Tamarra had always wanted to go back to school, but the stress surrounding her separation and lack of income left her struggling with her classes. After getting a much-needed boost from Operation Homefront, she has a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She’s studying social work and has already been accepted into two schools to work on her master’s degree. She said that she doesn’t quite know what specifically she wants to do in the social work field yet, but more than anything she just wants to help people as much as she can because helping people makes her happy.
There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is 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. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

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We had the chance this past summer to ask military veterans from many eras about their thoughts on service to country: why they chose to serve, what they remember the most about their time in service, and what they think Americans should know about military families and how we can join to support them.  It is our honor to share with you their thoughts as we kick off a celebration of veterans leading up to Veterans Day 2018.

 

On why they chose to serve…

“9/11 was one of the reasons, the other was because other members of my family served and it’s something that everyone should do, in my opinion.” –Tim, U.S. Army veteran, 6 years of service.

“I wanted to serve my country and be a part of something bigger then myself.” –Allen, U.S. Navy, 6 years of service.

“I was a country boy raised in northern La. I saw the Marines as a way to see the world!!!”-Charles, U.S.M.C., 8 years of service.

“Drafted in 1966.”-Hector, U.S. Army, 26 years of service.

On what they remember most about their service…

“The fact that our military is so powerful and great, and it is an all-volunteer military. I am very proud to have served besides such great Americans and people.”-Glen, U.S. Army, 34 years of service.

“The comradery, the selfless service.”-Justin, U.S. Army, 4 years of service.

“Evacuating refugees from Vietnam; removing people from a war-torn country.”-Carl, U.S.M.C., 5 years of service.

“Pulling back into (port) after being deployed to the Persian Gulf for almost a year and seeing thousands of people waiting on the piers for several returning ships. Just a great feeling to have that support.” –Chris, U.S. Navy, 10 years of service.

“Being part of a community that helps one another and sees only Red White and Blue.  While on a training mission in Kaiserslautern, Germany, several of my team members and I went on liberty.  We were from every ethnic background and upbringing that you can imagine.  As we walked the streets of that German town, it was very apparent that we were all the same, American!” –Jason, U.S. Navy, 6 years of service.

“When my Dad said, ‘PROUD OF YOU SON!!!!’”-Jim, U.S. Army, 2 years of service.

On what we can do TOGETHER to support military families…

“Life of a military family? It isn’t for everyone. Actually, not for most. It’s hard. Being away and all. Families that have been in for a long time and succeed, need to work with the ones who have been in a short time. Embrace them, help them.” –Ryan, U.S. Navy, 5 years of service.

“I believe the best thing they can so to show support to military families is just be a neighbor. What I mean by that is just be neighborly in any way you can. If it’s just a single older man or woman help them in the smallest ways such as take their trash out or help them fix something without asking for anything in return. Pay it forward as such.” –Nick, U.S.M.C., 6 years of service.

‘Knowing that there are a lot of birthdays, anniversaries, parties, Christmases and other holidays missed, and the little things that most civilians forget about and may not seem all to important are the most important things to a veteran.” –Dustin, U.S. Army, 12 years of service.

“Thank them and make sure that they and their family’s needs are met after their service ends.” –Hector, U.S. Army, 26 years of service.

“Best thing to do is something as small as a simple thanks.” –Christopher, U.S.A.F., 3 years of service.

 

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at http://www.operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

 

 

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