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Archive for the ‘Army’ Category

 

We are excited to announce  the 95 semifinalists for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® (MCOY) Award!

Drumroll….

 

Air Force

Isabella Mollison, 17, Japan

Jordan Soles, 17, Germany

Tristan Waring, 18, Sahuarita, Ariz.

Braden Westby, 18, Vilonia, Ark.

Jacob Angerman, 16, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Trinity Boles, 17, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.

Madison Williams, 18, Monument, Colo.

Claire Alonzo, 17, Springfield, Va.

Eve Glenn, 16, Tampa, Fla. (Glenn is also one of 11 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

Brian Thompson, 15, Bel Air, Md.

Hannah Cheater, 17, Las Vegas, Nev.

Hannah Browning, 18, Wooster, Ohio

Travis Almand, 18, Southlake, Texas

Benjamin Rawald, 15, Del Rio, Texas

Hannah Bahner, 13, Layton, Utah

 

Army

Laila Donawa, 15, South Korea

Breanna Kendle, 17, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Elizabeth Clinger, 17, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Imani Jessamy, 18, Alexandria, Va.

Rachel Ball, 17, Springfield, Va.

Hunter Hotaling, 16, Lansing, Kan.

Rebekah Paxton, 17, Harrisonville, Mo.

Samantha Blankenship, 17, Elizabethtown, Ky.

Joel Thompson, 17, Lafayette, La.

Samuel Gwinn, 15, Fort Drum, N.Y.

Ryan Krese, 17, Columbia, S.C.

Jason Herlick, 16, Adams, Tenn.

Brooke Errington, 17, Fort Hood, Texas

Bryce Kim, 17, El Paso, Texas

Jazmin Norris, 18, Cibolo, Texas

 

Coast Guard

Mattie Gross, 16, Kodiak, Alaska

Roark Corson, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Danyelle Gardier, 15, Frederick, Md.

Julia Mazel, 17, Richmond Hill, Ga.

John “Jack” Kennedy, 15, Grangeville, Idaho

Liam Cooper, 15, New Orleans, La.

Austin McGuire, 18, Hamilton, N.J.

Garrett Davis, 17, Richlands, N.C.

Cody Watson, 18, Tuttle, Okla.

Allison Brozusky, 17, Middletown, R.I.

Kayleigh Wilson, 14, Munford, Tenn.

Gabriel Niles, 15, Bennington, Vt.

Adam Light, 18, Port Angeles, Wash.

 

Marine Corps

Hunter Brown, 17, Winchester, Calif.

Chance Hughes, 17, San Clemente, Calif.

Angelina Marsella, 16, Quantico, Va.

Isabel Navarro, 16, Stafford, Va.

Sadie Baer, 17, Albany, Ga.

Katelyn Francis, 17, Havelock, N.C.

Joshua Frawley, 14, Jacksonville, N.C.

Erik Hrudka, 16, Jacksonville, N.C.

Victor Ramirez, 17, Jacksonville, N.C.

Kennedy Starkey, 17, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Taylor Pokorney, 17, Albany, Ore.

Robert Boyero, 17, Senatobia, Miss.

William Butler, 16, Virginia Beach, Va.

Caitlyn Hattaway, 17, Oak Harbor, Wash.

Elena Polinski, 17, Moundsville, W.Va. (Polinski is also one of 11 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

 

National Guard

Madisyn Clark, 17, Peoria, Ariz.

Aaron Hall, 16, Coarsegold, Calif.

Amelia Bailey, 17, Saint Augustine, Fla.

Kjersten Inskeep, 15, Eudora, Kan.

Megan McKenna, 15, Bedford, Mass.

Maya Faulds, 14, Barnegat, N.J.

Dawson Gunn, 13, Rio Rancho, N.M. (Gunn is also one of 11 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

Koralys Rodriguez, 17, Statesville, N.C.

Kassidy Marciel, 17, Oregon City, Ore. (Marciel is also one of 11 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

Lindsey Faulkner, 13, Monaca, Pa.

Christian Hall, 16, Gaston, S.C.

Jessica Walker, 17, Blanding, Utah

Mikaela Georgiou, 17, Afton, Va.

Aiden Hunter, 16, Onalaska, Wash.

Mickayla VanNatter, 15, Guernsey, Wyo.

 

Navy

Kathleen Sharman, 17, Vietnam

Kircee Killian, 17, Lemoore, Calif.

Elisabeth Lundgren, 17, Chula Vista, Calif.

Isabelle Richards, 13, Jamul, Calif.

Ethan Vicario, 18, San Diego, Calif.

Nadia Debem, 14, Aurora, Colo.

James Cosman, 13, Quantico, Va.

Jeffery Gill, 17, King George, Va.

Haleigh Dilks, 14, Honolulu, Hawaii

Sidney Brown, 17, Wiggins, Miss.

Rachel Flatt, 18, Middlebury, Vt.

Elise Avila, 17, Norfolk, Va.

Shelby Peck, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Madison Walker, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Gabriella Cardenas, 17, Marysville, Wash. 

 

Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Miracle Olatunji, 17, New Castle, Del., Air Force

Carmie Basnight, 17, Lorton, Va., Army

Carson Freeman, 16, St. Augustine, Fla., Army

Eve Glenn, 16, Tampa, Fla., Air Force

Shelby Barber, 17, Ewa Beach, Hawaii, Air Force

Gabriel Feinn, 17, Louisville, Ky., Navy

Gavin Sylvia, 18, Fort Campbell, Ky., Army

Ashley Beers, 14, Minot AFB, N.D., Air Force

Dawson Gunn, 13, Rio Rancho, N.M., National Guard

Kassidy Marciel, 17, Oregon City, Ore., National Guard

Elena Polinski, 17, Moundsville, W.Va.

 

The Military Child of the Year® Award reflects the positive impact that these special young people have made on their military families, their schools, and their communities. The final seven award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at the April 19 gala, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards. They also will each receive $10,000, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts.

Beyond the ceremony and gifts, the Military Child of the Year® Award is a lifelong source of pride for the recipients and has provided them with amazing opportunities to meet senior military leaders, elected officials, celebrities, and other remarkable military children.

Mark Newberry, the 2013 Air Force Military Child of the Year®, recently wrote:

“One of the greatest honors of my life so far was representing the Air Force in 2013 as an Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year… If you would have told me as a high school senior that I would be chosen to represent military children at the Operation Homefront gala, meet the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, and receive an Air Force ROTC scholarship that would afford me opportunities to study what I love, jump out of planes, and become a pilot, I wouldn’t have believed you. Being a military child has afforded me so many opportunities that not many children get to experience.”

Thirty-five finalists will be selected in February by a panel of judges chosen by Operation Homefront’s senior leadership.

Six Military Child of the Year® Award recipients will represent each branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life.  The seventh award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.  This award goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.

The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation recipient will work directly with a Booz Allen Hamilton team to develop a plan to help scale the recipient’s project — drawing on technology and strategic thinking as a part of the corporation’s competitive Summer Games.

More information about the Military Child of the Year® Awards is available at www.militarychildoftheyear.org.

View pictures from last year’s gala.

 

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About Operation Homefront: Founded in 2002, Operation Homefront is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so that they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. Recognized for superior performance by leading independent charity oversight groups, 92 percent of Operation Homefront expenditures go directly to programs that support tens of thousands of military families each year. Operation Homefront provides critical financial assistance, transitional and permanent housing and family support services to prevent short-term needs from turning into chronic, long-term struggles. Thanks to the generosity of our donors and the support from thousands of volunteers, Operation Homefront proudly serves America’s military families. For more information, visit OperationHomefront.org

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Before we jump into 2018, we’d like to look back at some of the best moments from this past year. It goes without saying that we are able to advance our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families because of those who give – our individual and corporate donors. Thank you! These moments would not happen without you.

1. These women came to our caregiver retreat…in a hurricane! As Hurricane Harvey was skirting San Antonio, we were hosting a group of caregivers along the Riverwalk for a very special retreat, as part of our Hearts of Valor program. They would not be kept away by a hurricane and there’s a good reason. These retreats are designed to uplift those who are closest to wounded veterans. The retreats give caregivers a much-needed break and education about invisible wounds, compassion fatique, healthy living and staying connected. Special thanks to our sponsor, USAA, for making these retreats possible.

 

2. Our annual gala to celebrate military kids has become a must-attend event! Celebrating the youngest heroes of our military families is one of our favorite things to do. This year’s Military Child of the Year® Award, once again, recognized several outstanding young men and women who represent their families, their branches of service and their country very well. Read more about them and you’ll be inspired. Looking forward to meeting next year’s award recipients in April 2018 in Washington D.C. Who will they be? We’ll find out in early March! #GivingStrength

 

3. There’s no place like home! We get to be a part of making dreams come true through our Homes on the Homefront program that awards mortgage-free homes to veterans. To date, we’ve awarded 599 homes since the program began. All of this is possible because of our great partners like Chase, Meritage Homes, Wade Jurney Homes and Sears (who donated and raised money to provide two homes to veteran families in 2017). Stay tuned as we plan a big celebration for our 600th home in 2018.

 

 

4. Special nights for military spouses? Yes, we did! The call to military life is not easy on a service member’s spouse. Being apart from your service member AND trying to hold down the homefront is managed more easily when you have friends nearby. Our Homefront Celebrations give military spouses a night away to relax, make new friends and be pampered just a little. And thanks to our friends at Southern New Hampshire University, these events have bolstered the careers for some very special women who received a full-tuition scholarship at each celebration, like Megan Morris (pictured here at our event in Tampa, FL). Stay tuned as we announce another year of Homefront Celebrations around the country in 2018.

 

5. Awwwwwww! At our Star-Spangled Baby Showers each year, we get all mushy at the sights and sounds of our expecting moms and the young moms who bring along their sweet newborns. In 2017, we hosted 9 events from coast to coast, a few places in between and even Hawaii, providing critical baby supplies and large raffle items to hundreds of military moms. We were also excited to be joined by Procter and Gamble and Paralympic veteran Melissa Stockwell at our baby shower in Chesapeake, VA.

 

6. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without you! It’s been an honor serving military families around the country. Thanks to our generous donors, we served more than 11,000 families with everything they needed for a spectacular holiday meal. Since we began our holiday programs in 2008, we have served nearly 80,000 military families, impacting over 330,000 family members. See our feature blog to celebrate another year of bringing joy to our military families this holiday season!

 

7. When it was time to hit the books, we made it a little easier. Going back to school is expensive. Military kids have enough to deal with and not having the right supplies should not be one of their struggles. We were happy to meet so many smiling faces, like this child in Dayton, OH, and remove the financial burden from their families. This year, we hit a major milestone, as we distributed our 300,000th backpack since the program began which included more than 41,000 backpacks given to military children around the U.S. this summer alone.

 

8. Home Depot Really Is #DoingMore4Vets! From golf tournaments to renovating veterans’ homes to providing support for our Critical Financial Assistance program, The Home Depot Foundation, and its band of Team Depot volunteers, are a long-time partner who support means so much as they join us in giving strength to military families! We were honored to present a Cornerstone Award to Heather Prill, Senior Manager, National Partnerships at The Home Depot Foundation for her contributions to the national nonprofit’s mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families this past September.

 

9. Transition from service can be a challenging time for veterans. Especially if they are coping with injuries and illnesses from their service. Our rent-free transitional housing villages stand ready to help when these families need it the most. Since inception, our villages have welcomed more than 500 families who lived in a rent-free, fully furnished apartment to help them make a smooth transition to civilian life. Our Critical Financial Assistance program helps military and veteran families overcome unexpected crises like a major appliance or car repair or help with rent or mortgage. We’ve been able to help veterans like Petero Taufagu who needed help getting his car repaired. Later, through our partnership with American Airlines, he also received a brand-new Jeep Cherokee. So now he has a reliable way to get to his necessary doctor appointments. Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $22 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests.

 

10. Fact IS Stranger Than Fiction! We can’t make this stuff up!

a. Cracker Barrel created the Flip It Forward Pancake Fundraiser and raised $64,000 for Operation Homefront! It included a media tour with a pancake artist who even created our logo in pancake batter. We thought about framing it…then thought again.

b. Who doesn’t secretly harbor the desire to shatter glass? Our friends at CDW found a way to convince PGA TOUR players Ben Crane, Smylie Kaufman, Ryan Palmer and CDW-sponsored Gary Woodland to compete in a “glass breaking” event between the golf pros. And more was at stake than just bragging rights – winner Gary Woodland presented an additional donation of 10 Lenovo Chromebooks – five to Operation Homefront and five to the charity of Woodland’s choice. The entire event raised support for military families through Operation Homefront.

c. A personalized burger? Carnival Cruise Lines is known for fun but they outdid themselves when they devised a way to laser-burn personal well-wishes from military supporters onto burgers they served to Marines at a special event at MCAS Miramar in California. They even got former Miss USA DeShauna Barber there to serve the burgers and provided a $25,000 donation to Operation Homefront. You have to see the pictures to believe it.

d. We’ll brave a blizzard for you! We were still in the doldrums of summer heat when Chevy first invited us to be a part of their #ChevySalutes event to honor the military at the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia. Let’s just say winter hit with a vengeance that day and provided a very memorable experience to award a brand-new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse to one of the nicest caregivers and her seven-tour combat veteran husband. Don’t worry, we dressed warmly, mom!

 

11. We still get starstruck! We’ve been excited to work with some pretty inspiring people this year.

a. The Pale Ale Wins the Summer of Yes! Carson Daly who worked with Other Half Brewing to create a craft beer with proceeds to support Operation Homefront as part of his #SummerOfYes on the Today Show.

b. Wonder-Super-Mega-Amazing Melissa Stockwell: Through our partnership with P&G, we got to work with the very inspiring Melissa Stockwell, who is a bronze-medal winning, 2-time Paralympian, triathlete and Purple Heart wounded Army veteran. She attended one of our Star-Spangled Baby Showers in Virginia and has since welcomed her own baby Millie to her sweet family.

c. Tim McGraw Walks the Walk. And where do we start with Tim McGraw? We’ve been working with this country superstar since 2012. From his personal support to joining us to award mortgage-free homes along with Chase, he has been a steadfast champion for military and veteran families. #GivingStrength #startstrongstaystrong

 

12. We have the best volunteers! Our volunteers show up and pitch in whenever they are needed. We host hundreds of events all year long from Alaska to the tip of Florida, from San Diego to Massachusetts. This year, we created a special Volunteer Reserves which recruits our volunteers that want to get involved, but don’t want to volunteer on a daily basis or even a weekly basis, but they’re very interested in staying in the loop and ready to be called on when we need help serving our military families.

There are so many moments to remember in 2017. And each was an honor because we got to be a part of serving our military and veteran families. That makes any year a great year!

If you’d like to be a part of giving strength this holiday season and making our 2018 even better, consider giving to a current need of a military family to give them the best start possible to the New Year!

 

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For military families, home is where your heart is. So….we wrote, or kind of rewrote, a very special song just for you and added a few pictures from our Holiday Meals for Military program. Thank you for letting us be a small part of your holidays this year. We wish you a joyous season!

Ahem…here goes…

Oh….

There’s no place like home for the holidays,
For no matter how far away you roam
(and our military families often roam far)

When you long for the sunshine of a friendly gaze,
For the holidays – you can’t beat home, sweet home
(BUT we try to make it easier with our Holiday Meals for Military events)

Operation Homefront, Beam Suntory, and other generous partners worked together to distribute holiday meals to military families in 2017 through our annual Holiday Meals for Military program. This year, holiday meals were distributed at 45 events beginning in November and running through the week before Christmas.

 

We met some families down in Tennessee… 

Special thanks to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store for sending volunteers from the Corporate Office! Santa and Mrs. Claus were also there to spread a little Holiday cheer to the families.

 

and then we were headin’ for…
Old Dominion with some stops at Dix and Drum…

We were honored to make the holidays a little brighter for military families in on a wintery day in Hampton, VA.

 

Quite a bit of snow feel before Holiday Meals for Military at Fort Drum NY this year, but our Northeast Field Office was still ready and waiting for our military families.

 

From Virginia we went travelin’

Down to Dixie’s sunny shore…

Holiday Meals for Military at Fort Stewart GA (photo by Casey Jones, Photography http://www.caseyjonesphotos.com)

 

From Atlantic to Pacific ….

We were honored to serve a delicious meal to military families around Whiteman AFB and Knob Noster, MO. Thank you to Seaboard Foods and Operation BBQ for sponsoring the Holiday Meals for Military Appreciation Dinner in Knob Noster. MO.

Our Volunteer Reserves across the country were a huge part of the success of our Holiday meals for Military events, such as this one in Bremerton WA.

Mele Kalikimaka is he island greeting that we send to you from Holiday Meals for Military in Honolulu HI.

 

Gee, the traffic was terrific
(…to our Holiday Meals for Military events)

We know there’s no place like home for the holidays,
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays – you can’t beat where you call home.

 

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Just about 10,000 families came out this year to one of our 45 events across the United States and Hawaii. Thank you to Beam Suntory, Procter&Gamble, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, SAS Shoemakers, Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation, Safeway, Connelly Foundation, Southern Glazer’s, The Lukens Company, NFCU, Saint Germain Catering for partnering with us to bring holiday cheer to thousands of families across the country.

Join Operation Homefront in our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families through our Giving Strength initiative. This holiday season, we want to give strength to our military and veteran families. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can support, honor and serve our military.

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A Marine greets his family at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., Nov. 21, after returning from a seven-month deployment. The Marine is assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, which supported combat operations in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Terry Haynes III

Dare we say it? Thanksgiving is one of the remaining holidays with a clear central purpose. Consider the things you are thankful for … and eat! For years and years, and to this day, our nation has yet to veer from the main goal of Thanksgiving. We gather, we consider our blessings and we partake of a glorious meal. (And Operation Homefront is honored to provide Holiday Meals for Military, like our recent events in Texas).

Retailers may try to invade, starting Black Friday sales earlier every year…but Americans hold fast to this turkey-licious tradition.

And when we consider all that we have to be thankful for, our military is always at the top of our short list! We’re fairly certain that whether your family serves in the military or not, you are likely to take a moment today to be grateful for the men and women who miss many a holiday, including Thanksgiving, to ensure their fellow Americans can rest easy at night. We do.

So, share this with your family today.

Here are 3 reasons to be thankful for our military. These may not be the first time you’ve considered them, but Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to truly appreciate those who serve in our Armed Forces.

Two children excitedly welcome home their father and the crew of the attack submarine USS Norfolk from a six-month deployment during a homecoming ceremony on Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kim Williams

1. What they’ve missed. There is a reason we all love military homecoming videos. Unless you’ve experienced, you can’t completely understand the feeling of leaving those you love behind. Or the joy of returning home to them. Thanksgiving isn’t the only holiday many of our service members have spent on foreign soil in unfamiliar surroundings. Those are moments with sons, daughters, spouses and family that can never be recovered. For every peaceful day Americans get to experience with loved ones nearby, we have our military to thank.

2. Courage in the face of the unknown. Those who serve have a mission. They work as a unit. But the whole point of having a strong military is outmaneuvering those who threaten the freedoms we enjoy. While they are trained for difficult situations, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause a certain amount of trepidation – for the service members and their families who may not sleep from the weight of worry. But our service members persevere through those hard days. And for those who carry the wounds of war, they are on a journey with an unknown conclusion. They have certainly earned our support.

Pfc. Jordan Wagner, an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, greets loved ones during a homecoming ceremony at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

3. They choose to serve. Only about 1 in 4 of those between the ages of 17-23 years qualify for military service. And because we have a volunteer force, of those who qualify, not everyone wants to serve in our military. Thank YOU to the brave men and women who chose a hard but noble way to spend your youth. You did it for your future but mostly, you did it for all of us!

For all you do, thank you!

Join Operation Homefront in our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families through our Giving Strength initiative. This holiday season, we want to give strength to our military and veteran families. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can support, honor and serve our military.

A few easy ways:

1. Send a message of appreciation to our military.

2. Use our new Facebook frame to show that you join us in giving strength to our military.

3. Sign up to be a volunteer.

4. Give a gift in support of our military through one of our current needs.

May you and all our service members, veterans and their families, have a very Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for all you do to keep our country strong.

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An unexpected expense would usually not be an issue for Air Force veteran Martin Scammel and his wife, Alice. But the series of emergencies that hit them this year was not normal and not planned.

Martin Two of usMartin Scammel has over 23 years of service spanning from the Vietnam War to Iraqi Freedom. After high school, Martin joined the Army in July 1972 because he wanted to be a helicopter mechanic. After a ceasefire was declared, Martin left the Army in 1975.

Later, Martin decided to join the Air National Guard, and then he enlisted in the Air Force. “Martin enjoyed what he was doing,” said his wife Alice. “He liked traveling, meeting people, and learning about different cultures.”

His time in the military took Martin to Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Ord, California; Landstuhl, Germany; and Diego Garcia, to name a few. Martin also had deployments to France, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq. It was in Iraq that Martin was wounded and medically retired from the Air Force in March 2007 with a 100% disability rating.

The Scammels had been successful financially during their transition to civilian life. But earlier this year, Alice fell and broke her arm; she was out of work for three months with no pay. Between the physical therapy and surgery, the couple’s emergency savings was depleted.

Then a hail storm came through their area. The Scammel’s roof was damaged to the point that it needed to be completely replaced. Their homeowner’s insurance would cover the damage; however, the Scammels had depleted their savings and did not have the money to cover the $5,000 deductible.

Martin and Alice

Martin reached out to Wounded Warrior Project for help. WWP suggested that Martin reach out to Operation Homefront and apply for assistance. “I thought I was filling out an application to get a no,” said Alice. “Before my caseworker called, I was thinking that I would say it’s OK that you couldn’t help, and I was trying to come up with another way.”

“My caseworker Virginia was so very nice,” said Alice. “Virginia spoke to USAA, and then Operation Homefront sent the money to the contractor. Virginia was a godsend.”

“Please tell your donors thank you,” said Alice. “My husband has given so much of (his) life to the  military. We had an emergency fund. Martin was always there for his country and others when needed (and now) Martin has a lot of health issues and had some post traumatic-stress injuries…it was so nice to have someone say ‘we are going to help you now’.”

“Everybody at Operation Homefront has been so nice,” said Alice. “The process was not hard. Virginia was nice, supportive, and helpful. We are not used to asking for money. Virginia made us feel comfortable. This is not a position we like to be in. With Operation Homefront, it did not seem like a handout but rather a hand up.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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As part of our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, we are spotlighting the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront:

 by Christy O’Farrell

As Heidi Woodring’s husband, Christopher, was preparing to swear in to the Army, having enlisted the day before on Sept. 10, 2001, the twin towers were hit in New York City. At home in New Jersey, about two hours away from Christopher, Heidi was pregnant with their middle child, and her brother’s girlfriend called, urging her to turn on her TV. “I knew right then my life was going to change,” Heidi said. “I just didn’t know how.”

Fast forward one year: Christopher deploys, for the first of three times, to Afghanistan. When he returned home to Fort Riley, Kansas, Heidi noticed he seemed distant, and sometimes angry, but she didn’t worry too much because she thought it was to be expected, and she knew others who were the same way. Chris’ second deployment was extended to 15 months. While home on R&R, Heidi became pregnant with their youngest, and Chris returned a month before she was born.

That time, now at Fort Hood, Texas, Heidi noticed Chris’ drinking was increasing, and he still seemed angry at times. Reflecting on her experience, Heidi said she initially was angry too because she had always lived near, and been dependent on her family and her husband, not even learning to drive until later in their marriage. “I was thrust into the middle of Tornado Alley, not knowing how to do anything, with no friends to lean on,” she said. She made friends with other Army families through the family readiness group, knowing that people generally get more out of a situation when they invest time and effort into it.

It was during Chris’ third deployment that he injured his hand using faulty equipment, and had to have his thumb partially amputated, suffering nerve damage. But his main injury is post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis they received in 2010 after Chris went into a “huge downward spiral” and was hospitalized, Heidi said. The Army medically retired Chris in August 2012 as a sergeant with nearly 11 years of service. He had first worked as a petroleum supply specialist, and was reclassified a few times.

That’s when Heidi found herself with a new title — caregiver — one she wasn’t sure fit her, didn’t fully understand, and questioned whether she could live up to. But with help from Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program, a nationwide network of support groups for caregivers to injured service members and veterans, Heidi grew into the role that required her to be more independent and self-reliant. At a May 2011 HOV retreat in Oklahoma City that she describes as “life-changing,” Heidi soon learned she had not only enough strength within herself to handle her own responsibilities, but extra to share with others in the same position.

Now it was Heidi’s turn to serve. After the family moved to Las Vegas, to be closer to Heidi’s grandparents, she went in search of help, she said, because service members often have trouble asking for help themselves. She wasn’t scared, she was determined — to learn everything she could about PTSD and community resources. So she walked into Operation Homefront’s office in Las Vegas, and met Annie Baca, Nevada’s executive director. “That was probably the best decision I’ve ever made,” Heidi said. Annie pointed her in the right direction and eventually became a friend.

“Annie saw something in me,” said Heidi, who over the next several years, as a peer facilitator for OH’s Hearts of Valor program, grew the Nevada chapter from three members to nearly 80.

Annie remembers how sincere Heidi was when they met, wanting to share what she was learning with others who also needed help. “Her confidence and knowledge has inspired many across the nation,” Annie said. “I’ve seen Heidi personally assist many individuals in attaining benefits they needed. It has been an honor to have her on our Operation Homefront team as a core volunteer. She’s been one of the most reliable, dedicated volunteers throughout my tenure. She has definitely raised the bar …”

Operation Homefront gave Heidi its President’s Volunteer Service Award for her countless hours with HOV and at every Las Vegas event OH organized since 2012. It’s something of a mutual admiration club because Heidi says she may be Operation Homefront’s biggest fan, crediting the organization with helping turn her life around after Chris’ diagnosis. “I just absolutely adore the organization,” she said. “You’re not going to find a bigger supporter.”

Volunteering for military and veterans’ organizations is both empowering and rewarding, she said, when she sees how they can lift up people who need it.

Her own experience as a military spouse and mom influences her approach to volunteering. Mother to Alyssa, 19; Christopher, 15; and Kaylee, 9; Heidi allows that military life was hard, especially on her oldest. “It gets a little crazy,” she said. And they all have had to make big adjustments during the transition to civilian life, she said. For example, they don’t often visit the closest military base, Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, because it “doesn’t feel right,” and they have had to get used to getting paid once a month instead of twice. “We had to start our life all over again, [and] establish relationships,” she said. “It was a struggle.”

Heidi has been such a dependable helper at various OH functions including Back to School Brigade and holiday events that Annie recently turned the tables on her, insisting that Heidi attend the March 2017 Homefront Celebration, a military spouse appreciation dinner, as one of the 180 guests. That didn’t stop Heidi from helping in the morning, setting up tables and gift bags. But then she went home to do her hair and don her dress.

“That was amazing,” she said of the evening. She sat with women from her Hearts of Valor group, and all were touched by the speaker, a military wife and veteran. “There wasn’t a dry eye at our table,” she said. “She was very inspiring.”

The Homefront Celebration provides a rare opportunity for military spouses to dress up and be catered to, while socializing with others who can relate to their lives. Part of the fun is the glamour. In this case, Heidi said, that meant a beautiful venue, Red Rock Country Club, and a red carpet for taking selfies. “We don’t go to military balls anymore,” she said.

“I just noticed women who I’ve seen, and have been kind of down, were smiling and laughing and having fun,” Heidi said. “For me, it made it worth it.”

A few months ago, Heidi had to take a step back from some volunteering because she also cares for her grandparents, and as a proponent of self-care, she knew she shouldn’t take on too much. A friend became the Hearts of Valor group facilitator. The support group meets once or twice a month, and attendance varies, with a dozen people coming sometimes and fewer on other occasions. Often, caregivers’ schedules are not entirely under their own control, so it can be difficult to know when they are available for meetings. The main goal is to give members a chance to talk about their issues, she said, and to share friendship and resources.

Though she sometimes misses her old, pre-caregiver life, Heidi said an upside has been personal growth, which was inevitable as she got the hang of managing the household, operating as a single mom at times. “I’m not the same person I was.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own.

Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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As part of our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, we are spotlighting the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront:

by Christy O’Farrell

Chris Rasmussen, an Army veteran who served five tours of duty over 16 years, has been adjusting to civilian life since 2014. At times, he still feels out of his element as a full-time student deciding on a new career, and a single father of two daughters.

“It takes a while to transition into the civilian world after doing something for so long,” said Chris, 38, dad to Savannah, 12; and Brielle, 8. “It’s hard to change. It’s like making a huge, major career change in mid-life.”

But he’s optimistic about the path he’s on, despite feeling like a fish out of water compared to other students and parents. Chris expects to graduate in December 2017 from Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with an associate degree in science, and transfer to University of Colorado, Western State Colorado University or University of Denver.

“It’s just deciding what I want to do and where I want to go,” he said, noting that he desires a career he’s passionate about, and is considering geography, or fields that would involve fighting erosion, wildfires or invasive species.

As tough as that is, pursuing the right occupation can be less daunting than raising two preteen girls. Their mother lives in Seattle, and visits usually every two to three months, Chris said. His two sisters and a long-time babysitter help him with the girls sometimes. “It’s hard for them,” he said. “I mean they’re being raised by a man.”

Chris also has received support along the way from groups such as Operation Homefront and the Wounded Warrior Project.

He received about $100 worth of groceries and a grocery gift card at Operation Homefront’s Holiday Meals for Military event in Fountain, Colorado, in December 2016. “It was really smooth,” he said about the food distribution. “You were there for under a minute. That’s how fast it was.” OH staff and volunteers were “real cordial and polite,” he said.

OH also gave him a $50 gift card to buy Christmas gifts. Chris had planned to retire from the Army after serving 20 years, but had to retire early, as a sergeant first class, for medical reasons. He receives payments from the Veterans Affairs Department, but when they are delayed, “it starts to spiral from there when you’re on a fixed income,” he said. “OH came in and helped me out of a tough spot.” He doesn’t want his daughters to worry about finances. “They shouldn’t stress about any of that stuff. That’s adult stuff.”

Having been a mechanic in the Army, Chris had worked at a car dealership in the parts department. He had to resign because it required him to lift and move heavy motors and transmissions, activities outside his limitations with two fractured vertebrae and other injuries. But it wasn’t just the physical demands that made the job a poor fit. Chris felt the work didn’t measure up, compared to what he had been used to. “It’s not worth it,” he said. In the Army, he felt he had “a bigger cause and a bigger reason than yourself” to put up with hardships that were lacking in the job at the car dealership. “I’m not going to hurt myself more for some guy who’s just making an extra buck off me,” he said.

“Civilians are different than Army people,” Chris continued. “I liked the service and I liked working together to solve problems with other like-minded people. When you have a problem in the Army, you all come together no matter what you look like or where you came from, you’re all the same.

“Your work has meaning. It’s purposeful. You’re driven. It’s different in the civilian side trying to find that same thing.”

Until he finds the right job, Chris says it makes more sense, financially, for him to care for his daughters, rather than getting a part-time job and paying $1,200 a month for before- and after-school care. “Daycare is ridiculous,” he said. “I can’t afford that. I’d be going to work just to pay for daycare.”

Not the type to sit on a bench looking at his phone when he takes his daughters to the park, Chris plays on the swings with them and chases them around. “I interact with my kids,” who play soccer, softball and volleyball, and love to fish, he said. They all like to take advantage of their beautiful surroundings. Last summer, they went white-water rafting, zip lining and rappelling. In the winter, they’ve gone skiing and snowboarding.

Since it has been difficult to find the right job, Chris focuses on his education instead. Most of the other students in his classes are 18 or 19 years old, and complain about homework. They “don’t know what hard is,” he said, adding: “Writing a paper is not that big of a deal,” compared to other challenges he has faced.

Chris enlisted in 1999, was based in Germany for four years, served a year in Korea, and also was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Polk, Louisiana. His first deployment was in 2003-04 to Iraq, followed by two more tours to Iraq and two tours to Afghanistan, the last in 2011-12, for a total of more than five years deployed. Only about 1.5 percent of the 403,171 soldiers who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan between September 2001 and December 2011 served cumulative totals of five or more years, according to a 2013 Rand Corp. report, “Measuring Army Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Chris sustained multiple injuries over the course of his deployments. He had his right kidney removed after his ureter collapsed, causing blockage and a bad infection. Though he noticed difficulty urinating, he “didn’t think much of it and kept going.” At one point, his fever spiked to 105 degrees. “I almost died because I was stupid and kept working.”

Having “been around a lot of explosions,” he also has endured a bad concussion, broke his foot, and required reconstructive knee surgery. “I messed up my back, messed up my neck. I beat up my body pretty good.”

He can’t run marathons anymore, but he likes to hike, and he goes to the gym to “keep the weight off,” and because he knows mental health is linked to physical fitness. “I feel bad when I don’t” exercise, he said.

He hopes he can factor his love of the outdoors into his new career, while also steering clear of vocations that often attract other veterans — law enforcement and border patrol.

“I did all these things in the Army. I rappelled out of helicopters and stuff. I can’t go to sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer. I’ll probably go insane. I have to interact with people, and I like being outside.

“I don’t ever want to be put in a position where I have to take a life, or see anything like that,” he said. “I’ve already done that and I’ve already seen it, the worst of it. I couldn’t imagine having to clean up a car accident after teenage kids. I’ve seen enough in my time, and I don’t want to see anymore.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own.

Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

Read Full Post »

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