Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Hearts of Valor’ Category

As we entered the eighth year of our Military Child of the Year award, we were reminded that greatness comes in all shapes and sizes. Last week, we welcomed seven amazing military kids, our 2016 Military Child of the Year recipients and our Innovation Award winner, to Washington D.C. They ranged in age from 9 to 17 years old, and as they toured DC, they impressed us with their achievements (and polite manners), wowed their representatives on Capitol Hill, and celebrated with us at our annual Military Child of the Year gala.

If these kids are any indication, the future of our nation is in good hands.

Here is a snapshot of things seen and heard, some highly unexpected and delightful, while these extraordinary young patriots took our nation’s capital by storm.

MCOYplayfulatheart

Playful at heart, but when the need arises, this group is serious about giving back to their communities and the country they love (from left to right, Our 2016 award recipients: Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer (Army MCOY), Christian Fagala (Marine Corps MCOY), Maddy Morlino (Air Force MCOY), Trip Landon (National Guard MCOY), Elizabeth O’Brien (Innovation Award winner), Jeffrey Burds (Navy MCOY) and Keegan Fike (Coast Guard MCOY).

 

MCOYGenDunfordCJOS“The resilience of our families … and our children … is absolutely what has allowed us to do the things that we’ve asked our force to do. The strength of our U.S. Armed Forces, the strength of our nation is in … our military families.”

General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose presence continued a tradition of support for our military kids’ ability to prevail in spite of the challenges of military life (shown here at the pre-gala reception with 2016 Navy Military Child of the Year recipient Jeffrey Burds).

 

 

MCOY2016ChristianGoodDayDC“When I see someone in pain or that’s sad, I have this feeling that I have to help them.”

Christian Fagala, age 9, 2016 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year, appearing on the morning show, Great Day Washington, who won his own battle with cancer by age 4 and tirelessly raises money to help kids who are fighting their own battles with the disease.

 

 

MCOYGenPrayandKids

“Each one represents the spirit of selfless service that defines our great nation. They perform at a very high level, while simultaneously dealing with their own particular turbulence — parental deployments, relocations, and the variety of uncertainties that generally characterize military life.”

Brig. Gen. John I. Pray, Jr. (Ret), President and CEO of Operation Homefront (shown here with our award recipients), who greeted each family at a special welcome dinner at Champps in Pentagon City.

 

MCOYCEOawesomeness“You’re the CEO of awesome!”

Ten-year-old Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer’s response to Senator Bob Casey when he looked at her business card for the nonprofit she started (called Heart Hugs) and said, “Wow you’re the CEO? I haven’t been the CEO of anything!” She immediately responds “That’s not true! You’re the CEO of awesome!” (Shown here, left to right, Pete Stinson, Operation Homefront regional director of our northeastern field offices, Sen. Casey, Lorelei and her mother, Chelle.)

 

 

MCOYJohnHeald“What a thrill to be part of such an extraordinary evening. The children … all amazing and a bright and shining hope for the next generation.”

John Heald, Senior Cruise Director and Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Line and our emcee for the evening (shown here with Trip Landon, 2016 National Guard Military Child of the Year), who joked that he thought his title was impressive until he came to our gala event which hosted the highest ranking military officials in the United States.

 

 

MCOYEOB

These past few days have been out of this world. I never imagined that I would have had such a wonderful opportunity to meet people who love volunteering as much as I do. I am forever grateful to Operation Homefront and the Booz Allen Hamilton group for the outpouring of support they have given to me. I look forward to being a future supporter of both organizations.”

Elizabeth O’Brien, recipient of our first ever 2016 Operation Homefront Innovation Award, sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton (shown here with Laurie Gallo, Executive Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton and Operation Homefront board member, and her parents Shelbi and Army Commander Sgt. Maj. Matthew O’Brien).

MCOYsponsors

Our event would not be possible without the support of many organizations that sponsored our awards program, including our presenting sponsor United Technologies. We are grateful for your investment in recognizing our military kids and their families.

 

 

Learn more about each of our award recipients.

View more photos from the event here.

Visit our #MCOY2016 tag board to see the flurry of attention given to the kids on social media.

 

 

Read Full Post »

monthomilitarychildblog1When we view a photo of a military family, we tend to focus on the service member. That intense gaze. The confident stance. We wonder what obstacles they faced as they guarded our country’s freedom. We want  to know their story.

The photo here isn’t the classic image of the warrior.  This photo is about family. It is the family that stands beside that service member. Their story is love and laughter, joy and fear and, yes, occasional tears.

They serve, too.

April is Month of the Military Child. In honor of them, we present 5 reasons why military kids totally deserve to be recognized for the whole month of April…and really for the whole year!

1. They are patriotic. These kids know what the flag, the anthem and the pledge represent. As they grow, they understand that while they may not have their parent around, it’s for a very important reason that impacts the lives of all of America’s kids. As a result, they learn and live a love for their country. And it extends to their community service. Read how Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, our 2015 Army Military Child of the Year, tirelessly finds ways to bring some comfort to our nation’s veterans.

2. They are strong and resilient. How many sleepless nights have they endured, wondering if daddy is okay or just missing him? How many times have they had to take that scary walk into yet another new classroom? How many birthdays (or school events, or holidays) has their mom or dad missed? monthofmilitarychildblog2And how many military kids have had to grow up very quickly and fill the gap a parent may have left, whether they are wounded or gone from the home because they are deployed? They face extraordinary circumstances with quiet resolve. Read how Caleb Parsons, our 2015 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year, stepped in to help when his parents, both service members, were deployed at the same time.

3. They are citizens of the world. Talk to any typical military kid. They have likely seen and lived in multiple states. They may have lived in one or more countries in Europe, or Asia, or both. As a result, their knowledge of other cultures, languages and empathy for those who may look or act differently is highly developed. A fine example is our 2015 Air Force Military Child of the Year, Sarah Hesterman, who seeks to empower girls on a global scale through her work with the United Nations.

4. They support each other. The best person that can understand the life of a military child is someone who has lived it. Military kids stand together…connected by similar struggles, mixed with amazing experiences and overwhelming pride. Our 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year, Nate Richards, even started his own blog to encourage other military kids.

5. They don’t ask for recognition. People often forget that military kids serve our country too. They didn’t choose a life that offers moments that are exciting and gut-wrenching, sometimes within the same week or month. They humbly serve behind the scenes. And we’re happy to point the spotlight squarely in their direction. By honoring a few, we recognize them all.

As we honor our youngest patriots this month, we invite you to learn more about, and be impressed by, our 2016 Military Child of the Year recipients. Check back here as we share more stories and articles about them. And mark your calendars to follow us on social media on April 14 as we celebrate them with a special gala in Washington D.C. We’re also excited to announce our Mission2Honor initiative to recognize military kids and families during April and May. We hope you’ll join us and a part of this effort!

Together, we will continue our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive – not simply get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

* We dedicate this blog in memory of 2015 National Guard Military Child of the Year Recipient Zachary Parsons who tragically lost his life in February in a car accident. Zachary strived every day to live a life of integrity and serves as the finest example by which all military kids can be inspired.

Read Full Post »

It is always a special day when we get to announce the recipients of our annual Military Child of the Year ® Award. Every year, we are awed by the accomplishments of all our nominees, and it never gets easier choosing just six to represent the virtues of resiliency, leadership and achievement that we know are exhibited every day by military children around the world. But choose we must, and so without further ado, it is our great honor to present this year’s recipients for the Military Child of the Year award for each branch of service:

MCOY Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer army website image 225 x 281ARMY

Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer

 

 

 

 

MCOY christian fagala marines website image 225 x 281MARINE CORPS

Christian Fagala

 

 

 

 

MCOY jeffrey burds navy website image 225 x 281NAVY

Jeffrey Burds

 

 

 

 

MCOY Madeleine Morlino2 AF website image 225 x 281AIR FORCE                                                                          

Madeleine Morlino

 

 

 

 

MCOY aaron fike CG website image 225 x 281COAST GUARD

Keegan Fike

 

 

 

 

MCOY john trip landon NG website image 225 x 281NATIONAL GUARD

John “Trip” Landon III

 

 

 

 

“The children in our military families demonstrate the best in our society and our Military Child of the Year® Award recipients are extraordinary representatives of this spirit of selfless service,” said Brig Gen (ret) John I. Pray, Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront. “They perform at a very high level both in and out of school while simultaneously dealing with parental deployments, recurring relocations, and other challenges associated with military life. I can’t wait to meet these outstanding young people and present them with their well-deserved awards.”

Each award recipient will receive $10,000 and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition gala on April 14. United Technologies Corp. is the presenting sponsor for the Military Child of the Year® Awards Gala. Other sponsors are Wounded, Warrior Project, Southern New Hampshire University, Murphy-Goode Winery, MidAtlanticBroadband, La Quinta Inns & Suites, and Aflac. Operation Homefront will also present the inaugural Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award for Military Children at the gala, the recipient of which will be announced next week.

Check back soon as we spotlight each recipient heading up to our awards gala in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 2016.

Congratulations to all of our recipients!

 

 

Read Full Post »

nathan-11-days-11-stories-400pixHe had planned to be a Marine for 20 years, and then retire. His wife was beside him all the way and supported his goal. And all family decisions, including financial ones, were based on being a military family for the next 20 years.

But then everything changed.

He deployed to Afghanistan, was injured, and then told that he would be discharged. As the shock set in, the couple had no idea where they would live, when VA benefits would start, or how they would pay their bills. They had no “plan B” for what they would do if 20 years ended early.

Their story is more common than one might think. And it’s the reason why Operation Homefront established our transitional housing program, and set up rent-free Operation Homefront Villages for families like this one. Operation Homefront Villages are currently operated in three locations across the country:

  • San Diego, CA – serves those primarily at Balboa Hospital and Camp Pendleton
  • Gaithersburg, MD – serves those primarily at Walter Reed Military Medical Center at NSA Bethesda
  • San Antonio, TX – serves those primarily at San Antonio Military Medical Center and Audie Murphy VA Hospital

The Operation Homefront Villages, which consist of approximately around 15 apartments within a complex, allow wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families to live rent-free while they transition from military to civilian life. The apartments are fully furnished, with utility services, internet access, cable TV, telephone service, and all of the comforts of home provided. And these families have support from other military families who are residents for the same reason. They can connect and encourage each other while they all undergo a similar transition to a new life. Our mission at Operation Homefront is to build strong, stable, and secure military families and the Operation Homefront Villages help bridge the gap at an important turning point in these families’ lives.

When a service member becomes a resident at one of our villages, Operation Homefront counselors set up a plan for the family to follow. They attend support groups, and workshops that help them review their benefits or write their resumes. Residents also receive one-on-one financial counseling to reduce debt and build savings. For many of the residents, they need time to adjust to the idea of life outside the military. They need to build up their savings and decide where they really want to live. They also need time to decide on a career path and sometimes make plans to attend school. The Operation Homefront Villages give them the freedom and space to do that.

“Operation Homefront counselors meet with each military family every 30 days to review where they are in the transition process and determine their ability to live on their own,” said Gracie Broll, senior director of transitional housing. “Once they have become self-sufficient, our counselors 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,” added Broll.

This year alone, Operation Homefront Villages have provided 504 months of rent-free, fully furnished housing to 87 military families who, combined, are raising 155 military kids.

“A little over a year ago my kids and I arrived at one of the Operation Homefront Villages. The thing about Operation Homefront… I was never just a number. A name. A statistic. A random check or donation. (They) made an investment in me. In my life. In my future. On a deeply personal level,” said Nathan, a resident at our Village in Maryland.

Vets-Day_SquareIn our upcoming blog series, “11 days. 11 stories,” we’ll share with you the stories of some of our families and their journey through service, injury, recovery and transition. You will hear about how supporters like you have changed lives. The series begins Wednesday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day, and features a different family every day and shows how Operation Homefront Villages improve the course of the future for these families.

 

If you would like more information about Operation Homefront Villages, please email our Transitional Housing Program. If you would like to help families like these, give a gift here. We are grateful to so many partners that provide resources like educational benefits, employment readiness, family and individual counseling, peer to peer support, financial management, benefits assistance and morale building.

 

Read Full Post »

When they met, he was young, energetic and ready to defend his country. She was drawn to his courage and his sense of purpose and honor. They fell in love. They got married. And together, they brought beautiful children into the family.

But then, the unexpected happened…

retreatblog1This is the way the story begins for most women who are caregivers of wounded warriors. Each one understands the risks of loving someone who may deploy to a combat zone. But no one is prepared for what can happen as a result of injury.

“Being in the military gives a service member a strong sense of purpose,” said Sara Boz, Director of our Hearts of Valor program. “If they are injured and ultimately transition out of the military, they can be deeply impacted, by the loss of identity, as well as the injuries.” Some effects of PTSD and TBI take time to surface and even longer for the service member to acknowledge they need help.

The wounded warrior may display anger, depression, or isolation which affects the entire family. The caregiver, usually the wife, often bears the burden. They feel the pressure of having to hold the family together through painful procedures, flashbacks, paperwork, therapy, and the normal tasks of taking care of kids, homework, dinner, household chores, etc.

retreatblog2So what do these women need? Support and encouragement, and time to focus on themselves.  Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor retreats are designed to provide much-needed respite. This week, 27 caregivers attended one such retreat in San Antonio, Texas.

The retreat connects caregivers with each other, provides education on complex topics, and offers time to relax and regroup.

The stories are difficult to comprehend. “These women are young – in their late 20s and early 30s – and they have absolutely no time for themselves,” said Sara. “I had a couple women, who have young children, tell me that they don’t do Christmas because they are so exhausted they don’t have the energy to put up a tree.”

After one small group discussion, a caregiver walked back to the meeting room with tears in her eyes. “I’m so glad I came. No one else understands what I go through every day.”

retreatblog3The lives they live are illustrated in the sessions provided to help them: trauma and relationships, compassion fatigue, PTSD, TBI, caregiving and financial readiness. “The staff and presenters were phenomenal and so kind,” said Tania, one of the attendees. Small group discussions, led by topic experts, were spaced throughout each day so caregivers could fully discuss each topic, share their concerns and learn ways to apply the knowledge to their daily lives.

As the retreat wrapped up, each caregiver got to “chart” their emotions before and after a few days of time on their own. When they arrived at the retreat, the caregivers said they felt “worried,” “tired” and “overwhelmed.” By the time they headed home, their words changed to “relaxed,” “motivated,” “refreshed” and “excited.”

retreatblog4While their journeys are far from over, the news is hopeful. With therapy and time, many service members see significant improvement in the ways they deal with their visible and invisible wounds. So the pain of the past, can become the lesson of the present and the hope for a remarkable future with their families.

View more pictures of the retreat.

Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program helps caregivers navigate their journey of caring for their injured service member. The program offers support groups around the country and a network for those who are struggling. Generous donors make programs like this possible – give a gift today and help us make a difference for families like those represented at our retreat.

For the retreat, special thanks goes to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, who sponsored five caregivers to attend the retreat, and Fisher House who provided Hero Miles to fly several caregivers to the retreat. In addition, the following businesses offered donations or discounted services: Menger Hotel, Ava’s Flowers, Hard Rock Café, Mobile Om yoga, and Geronimo Trevino III and the Geronimo Band.

The presentations were led by staff from the University of Texas Health Science Center’s Strong Star program, Operation Family Caregiver (a program of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving), the Military Child Education Coalition, the Child Mind Institute and classes from Shelly McCulloch Whitehair, CPA, CIA, CGMA, a financial coach for Operation Homefront.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Taylor Bass took her love for goats and found a way to support military families and thank Operation Homefront for helping her family through a tough time.

Taylor Bass took her love for goats and found a way to support military families and thank Operation Homefront for helping her family through a tough time.

You could hear the bubbling enthusiasm as she spoke. “Mom! Cookie had babies!” That excited report came from Taylor Bass, the 9-year-old daughter of Army veteran and wounded warrior Benjamin Bass.

“Cookie” is a goat. And Taylor loves goats … and pretty much all animals. But what sets Taylor apart is that she is using her love for the farm and talent for raising animals to give back to people in need.

At Operation Homefront, we are continually touched by the generous nature of those who raise money for us with different kinds of fundraisers, but we have a special place for the kids who give back. And they find unique ways to be generous. Like the young girl who took donations on a back country road during the popular RAGBRAI bike ride across Iowa and raised $1000 for military families.

When we learned of Taylor’s unique story, word spread quickly among our staff.

 

 

Like most military kids, Taylor has experienced the pain of separation from a parent who serves.

Like most military kids, Taylor has experienced the pain of separation from a parent who serves.

Taylor’s dad, who served one tour in Iraq, was hit by a car while on active duty. As a result of complications from combat PTSD and those injuries, he was medically retired. In the midst of transitioning from military service to civilian life in Texas, the family struggled as they waited for their benefits to be sorted out. As their options began to run out, Operation Homefront stepped in to help. “Operation Homefront saved us because we didn’t get paid for three months and I didn’t have the money to pay (the car payment) and utilities … and (you) gave us money for food to feed our kids and diapers for my baby boy. (You) also helped us find other assistance in our area to cover our phone and school supplies for Taylor,” said Taylor’s mom, Krista.

Taylor sums it up neatly. “You guys helped us,” she said. And so, when family life became more stable, she wanted to say thanks by giving back. And she found a unique way to do that.

Taylor joined 4-H and started raising two goats – Elsa and Olaf. She did so well taking care of them that when she went to show them at the local county fair, one of her goats was selected for the premium auction at the livestock sale that followed the event.

Erica Howe, Community Liaison for Operation Homefront, met Taylor at the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service Office to receive Taylor’s gift to Operation Homefront.

Erica Howe, Community Liaison for Operation Homefront, met Taylor at the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service Office to receive Taylor’s gift to Operation Homefront.

At the auction, the bidding reached $1700 for her goat. Then, the word got out that she was giving the proceeds of the sale to support military families. People began to contribute money to the auction and to Taylor, to help her continue in 4-H.

The next day, her second goat was to be sold at another nearby auction and the news of Taylor’s intentions followed her there. The goat was sold, returned to Taylor, and resold several times, raising $1800.

 

When it was all over, Taylor had raised more than $3000 for Operation Homefront and she also made a donation to Wounded Warrior Project. “I’m super proud of her,” said Taylor’s mom.

Not one to sit back and be idle, Taylor is raising goats for 4-H again. This year, she wants the proceeds to go to children who are battling cancer. In fact, her goat Elsa was sold to a local farmer and Taylor may end up getting one of Elsa’s babies to continue her ongoing tradition of “kids” giving back.

Thank you for your service! Army veteran and wounded warrior Benjamin Bass and his family, Jaiden, Taylor and Krista have weathered a difficult transition from military to civilian life and are enjoying life on their acreage in Texas.

Thank you for your service! Army veteran and wounded warrior Benjamin Bass and his family, Jaiden, Taylor and Krista have weathered a difficult transition from military to civilian life and are enjoying life on their acreage in Texas.

 

Taylor gives us the perfect example to follow. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re up to…you can make a difference. Thanks Taylor!

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

“This didn’t just change his life, but the whole family.” Cheryl Gansner, Dole Fellow and Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor Program Coordinator. Gansner joins us as a guest blogger for PTSD Awareness Month.

cherylblog1

In July of 2006, Cheryl’s husband, Bryan, was severely injured by an IED in Iraq six weeks before coming home

 In July of 2006, my husband, Bryan, was severely injured by an IED in Iraq six weeks before coming home. As a social worker I knew that he might experience some form of PTSD. Once he arrived at Walter Reed, I kept my eyes open for any signs. Initially, he didn’t seem to have nightmares or jump at loud noises and he seemed in good spirits (the morphine may have helped).

 

A few weeks later, with daily surgeries, I was providing non-stop care and he was receiving a constant stream of meds. I noticed that he wasn’t sleeping in spite of heavy doses of narcotics. He said he was re-living the trauma every time he closed his eyes. Apparently his brain was trying to process what his body had experienced.

He finally fell asleep one night for a few hours and the nurse came in to take vitals. It was dark in the room. He started screaming at the nurse saying she was an Iraqi that had come to kill him. She quickly left the room. He looked absolutely traumatized when I turned on the light. His skin was gray and his pupils were hugely dilated.

That night started a long process of counseling and recovery. We spent years trying to adjust his medication combination. He spent his nights down in the basement in the recliner trying to sleep and I was alone in our bedroom. He shut out family, friends…everyone. This went on for about three years.

I was at the end of my rope. I was burnt out from my job as a social worker and caregiver. I finally got some direction when Bryan became sick with a terrible double ear infection that threw off his balance. When I took him to the doctor, he was asked what medications he was taking. Bryan said “none.” My jaw nearly hit the floor. I knew things had taken a turn for the worse, but I didn’t know he had taken himself off his meds.

When we talked more, he said he was having the urge to jump out of the car or drive off bridges and overpasses. I got him to see his psychiatrist at the VA right away and he started on a different combination of meds.

Unfortunately, things got worse. He wanted to divorce, quit his job and live in his parents’ basement. I was a complete wreck and felt like I was watching him slip away. I decided to talk to a friend/mentor about what was going on. She told me about a clinical trial using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for TBI and PTSD. Bryan felt it was worth a shot since it wasn’t another medication and was minimally invasive.

cherylblog2

The treatment helped and he was on half the medication. I noticed that he was laughing again, engaging in conversation and doing well in his job. Since then, he has had two more rounds of HBOT which have also helped.

 

 

 

Does he still struggle? Yes, PTSD hasn’t gone away and he isn’t cured. But we have learned to work together as a team. It has taken years, more than nine years to be exact, and lots of patience but now he tells me when he needs to leave the room, or leave a location altogether. And I don’t get upset about it anymore. I connect with friends to vent and get ideas on what I can do to help him. Having a support system is vital in a post-injury life.

Cheryl, Bryan and Emory at their recent vow renewal ceremony in Hawaii.

Cheryl, Bryan and Emory at their recent vow renewal ceremony in Hawaii.

 

We’ve been through a lot together. Today WE are stronger. I say ‘we’ because this didn’t just change his life, but the whole family. Recently, we renewed our vows on the exact beach we got married on. I am so thankful that we didn’t give up and that my hero chose to carry on instead of letting it defeat him!

 

If you are struggling with the challenges from PTSD, reach out for help. Don’t try to face this alone. If you are a caregiver, join Hearts of Valor and reach out to friends. Together, you can educate yourself on PTSD.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: