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Archive for the ‘Milbloggers’ Category

By Ashley Sistrunk, Guest Blogger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, this started our military journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*All the mommas say AMEN*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Help us fill this map with thanks and gratitude!

As part of our #Mission2Honor campaign, we asked you to share messages of thanks to our military families. This week, it’s Thankful Thursday again, and we challenge our community to represent your state and send your message of support via the link below, or use your own social with #Mission2Honor.

 

Help us fill this map between now and Memorial Day with messages of thanks and gratitude

 

This week, we picked our favorites from one coast to another and few from states in-between:

Shon from Cali:

As a fellow military brat–in a family with several generations of us–I’m proud to be counted among you. You and your non-serving parent provide the strength for your serving parent to serve our country. Bless you all.

Taylor from Wisconsin:

Thank you veterans for all your hard work and support to all of us in America. We continue to live in a free world because of brave men and women like you!

Mindy from Iowa:

Thank you so very much for keeping us safe. Thanks for everything you do so selflessly!

I’m so thankful for each and every one of you!

God Bless and Keep You Safe!

Meg from Ohio:

Thank you for your sacrifice that keeps us free. Keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers. God bless and keep you.

Mari from Maine:

To Veterans and their families… For all that you do, what you have done, and probably will do… to protect us…humans, animals, and our country… the words Thank you don’t seem enough, but they are heartfelt. So Thank You…

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Join us for Military Appreciation Month and send a message of support to honor those who have served and are continuing to serve our communities across the country, using this link or via your social using #Mission2Honor. We will continue to share your messages on our blog throughout the month.

Travelling coast to coast or just down the road this summer? Fuel up and stretch your legs at a Loves Travel Stop. Loves has been a friend and supporter of our mission to build strong, stable and secure military families.

 

 

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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.

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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!

 

 

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Last year’s recipients enjoy their moment in the spotlight. We can’t wait to see who the torch will be passed to in April in Washington, D.C.

Here at Operation Homefront, the New Year doesn’t just bring with it the anticipation of what can be but also the excitement of Military Child of the Year award season.

For the past 8 years, we have been amazed and inspired by the stories of thousand of military children and how they demonstrate resilience and strength of character, and leadership within their families and within their communities. All while facing of the challenges of military life.

In short, we have our work cut out for us.  And it begins in earnest today with the announcing our semifinalists for the 2016 Military Child of the Year® Award. So without further ado, here they are:

 

ARMY

Mary T., 17, Wahiawa, Hawaii

Elissa N., 16, Sparta, Wis.

Hunter H., 14, Lansing, Kan.

Emalee H., 17, Elizabethtown, Ky.

Asia H., 12, West Point, N.Y.

Lorelei M., 10, Duncannon, Pa.

Jaccob H., 15, Saucier, Miss.

Gabrielle L., 17, Shavano Park, Texas

Hannah J., 17, Valrico, Fla.

Olivia D., 18, Hattiesburg, Miss.

Amari M., 15, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Elizabeth O., 17, Aberdeen, N.C.

Jennifer L., 17, Enterprise, Ala.

Paris S., 8, Cameron, N.C.

Antoinette K., 10, Vine Grove, Ky.

 

MARINE CORPS

 Carson B., 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Summer L., 17, Kailua, Hawaii

Christian F., 9, Quantico, Va.

Peter B., 18, Havelock, N.C.

Grace F., 17, Swansboro, N.C.

Haylee M., 12, San Diego, Calif.

Matthew C., 17, Jacksonville, N.C.

Caitlyn T., 14, Quantico, Va.

Cherita W., 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

GaBryella D., 13, Temecula, Calif.

Jewell D., 15, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Madison A., 13, Fredericksburg, Va.

Jenna A., 12, Houston, Texas

Jackson B., 16, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

 

NAVY

Elizabeth E., 15, Mc Donald, Pa.

Mariah W., 17, New Bern, N.C.

Isabelle R., 11, Jamul, Calif.

Evan P. 17, Phoenix, Ariz.

Benedict C., 17, Coronado, Calif.

Victoria B., 17, Gulf Breeze, Fla.

Jeffrey B., 17, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Michael J., 17, Stafford, Va.

Benjamin P., 17, Lakeland, Tenn.

Samantha R., 18, Fleming Island, Fla.

Alexsandra C., 17, Springfield, Va.

Adriel M., 17, O Fallon, Ill.

Gavin M., 18, Virginia Beach, Va.

Ty B., 14, FPO, AE, Rota, Spain

Sydney C., 8, Jacksonville, Fla.

 

AIR FORCE

Madeline G., 18, Springfield, Va.

Grace R., 11, APO, AE, Ramstein, Germany

Bethany S., 18, Beale AFB, Calif.

David Z. , 17, San Antonio, Texas

Lacey L., 17, Milton, Fla.

Bridget R., 17, Burke, Va.

Caroline S., 10, Las Vegas, Nev.

Jordyn M., 9

Makayla J., 9, Ruther Glen, Va.

Jamal B., 17, Hill AFB, Utah

Hailie W., 16, Gulf Breeze, Fla.

Madeleine M., 17, Moorestown, N.J.

Tristan T., 15, Sahuarita, Ariz.

Alyssa O., 16, Panama City, Fla.

Matthew N., 17, Spokane, Wash.

 

COAST GUARD

John M., 17, Annapolis, Md.

Spenser R., 18, Davie, Fla.

Chase M., 17, McLean, Va.

Kievon B., 15, Lodi, N.J.

Jessica P., 17, West Seneca, N.Y.

Gabriel N., 13, Bennington, Vt.

Jackson H., 15, Jacksonville, Fla.

Keegan F., 17, Fairhaven, Mass.

Jessie P., 16, Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Liam C., 13, New Orleans, La.

Olivia K., 18, Grangeville, Idaho

Kylie M., 14, Trenton, N.J.

Ashley F., 17, Warrenton, Ore.

Qur’Annah J., 17, Frankfort, Ill.

Giavanna V., 10, Mystic, Conn.

 

NATIONAL GUARD 

Joshua T., 15, Rolla, Mo.

Michelle G., 18, Green Cove Springs, Fla.,

Tymber L., 18, Lincoln, Neb.

John L., 17, Ellensburg, Wash.

Madeline N., 18, Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Nathan M., 17, Orange Park, Fla.

Mya K., 18, Yorba Linda, Calif.

Lily M., 14, Portland, Ore.

Sarah B., 17, Glen Carbon, Ill.

Molly F., 15, Pickerington, Ohio

Madison O., 9, Pembroke, N.H.

Sydney L., 17, Lincoln, Neb.

Jodi J., 17, Pleasant Grove, Utah

Amelia B., 15, Saint Augustine, Fla.

Jordan G., 8, Virginia Beach, Va.

 

So now that we have our 90 semifinalists, what’s next?

Each semifinalist will be interviewed by a team selected by Operation Homefront staff. Award recipients will be chosen by a panel of judges, to include senior retired service members, senior spouses, members of Operation Homefront’s board of directors, and other leaders in the military support community.

The top 5 finalists from each branch will be announced in February.  Winners will be announced in March and then on to the big gala in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 2016.

This year, the gala will present the inaugural Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award for Military Children. The Booz Allen Innovation Award for Military Children will go to a military child who has designed a bold, creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge. With a new invention, improvement to existing technology, creation of a new nonprofit or community service group or expansion of an existing membership organization, the winner will show the power of innovative thinking. Booz Allen will award a grant to the winner and host the winner at the Booz Allen Innovation Center in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Booz Allen employees will assist the winner in helping to scale or advance the project.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the Military Child of the Year Award and read about our past recipients at www.militarychildoftheyear.org.  Or check our pictures from last year’s festivities here.

Congratulations to all of our Military Child of the Year semi-finalists! Great job!

 

 

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Guest blog, Nate Richards, 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year, age 12

This military kid is not crazy about dealing with the holidays. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and New Year’s! Lots of nice people and “Good Cheer.”

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According to Nate (far right, front), military kids can’t always have the traditional Christmas but with a little ingenuity their families can still be together and celebrate.

But when you’re a military kid it can be tough. Your parent can be deployed or one or more of your brothers won’t be home because of leave or deployment. It can be really challenging to get in the spirit.

So, my family has come up with some “awesometacullar” ways of still having traditions, not your normal ones but they are Richards’ military family ones. FYI, these are traditions that can usually change from year to year (Haha).

My favorite part about Christmas when I was little, was having everyone home to decorate the tree and have hot chocolate while listening to really old Christmas music. My older brothers are a bunch of comedians. So, it was always loud and lots of laughter. I think being a military kid taught me that you can still celebrate and be jolly even if things aren’t the way you remember or want them to be.

Our family has many new traditions when it comes to Christmas. We get our iPads and phones into the living room and then FaceTime whichever brothers can’t be home. We turn on the Christmas music LOUD so they can hear it.

We still make hot chocolate and then Isabelle and I become the ornament runners. Bubbu says put that one on the top left, Max will say put mine by John’s. Charlie is usually cracking jokes about something and the fact that he is on Santa’s naughty list.

Last year, My Dada got to watch us open our present from Santa via Skype. We made an awesome care package for My Dada. It had a small tree and Isabelle made Christmas ornaments. She also made some cookies for him.

That was how the traditions started for 2013 and 2014. This year, we will figure out how it will roll in the Richards’ house for 2015. We know already one brother is on deployment standby and another is in Navy A school too far away to come home. So it looks like the elf ornament runners will get another shot at decorating the tree via iPad (Hahaha).  Who knows what other new traditions will be started. I am pretty sure some of you have pretty unique ways of celebrating too. I hope you post them and maybe for all the kids that will not be together with their families, they can learn a new idea and start a new holiday tradition in their house.

I am really lucky to be a military kid that has so many brothers that serve as well as my Dada. We can’t always have the traditional Christmas but with a little ingenuity we can still be together and celebrate. No Black Friday shopping for us, or being sad. Just a day to figure out new ways to celebrate together.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Nate the Great

 

Nominations are being accepted for the 2016 Military Child of the Year award through December 11, 2015, 11:45pm CST. Nominations may be made by parents, other family members, teachers, counselors, coaches, community officials, church leaders, neighbors and others. For more information, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org.

 

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KuschBlogImgArmy Sergeant Raymond Kusch has deployed to war zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan on an ambush patrol of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) factory, he knew he would need to move carefully. He didn’t know that danger was imminent.

Raymond began to move across a wall, inching closer to the target with each step. But when he placed his foot on the other side he stepped on a pressure plate IED. The explosion blew him 15 feet from the spot. Raymond was awake and alive, but his foot was gone. Shrapnel peppered his entire body. The sound of the blast punctured his ear drum. He suffered nerve damage in his right hand as well as a Traumatic Brain Injury.

Doctors operated several times, taking more of his leg with each surgery. In the months after he was injured, Raymond and his wife, Alyssa, experienced heartache after heartache. Raymond battled PTSD, the couple was homeless for over a month, and Alyssa suffered a miscarriage when the stress of their situation became too much.

Operation Homefront gave the Kusch family a safe haven. The family was put into one of our Operation Homefront Villages in Maryland and provided a rent-free apartment while they transitioned to civilian life.

Not only did living at the OH Village give the Kusch family a roof over their head, but it also offered access to a debt counselor to help them plan for the future. Raymond and Alyssa began to save money and pay down their debt, putting them in a better position for life after the military. They were able to save thousands of dollars, pay off several credit cards, and only have one car payment.

Raymond and his wife have since completed our program at the OH Village and moved back to their home state of Michigan.

“I really appreciate what you all did for me,” said Raymond. “A lot of stress was lifted from me.”

Raymond is now co-owner of a gaming business. His wife, Alyssa, went back to school to be a medical x-ray technician. Their story is one of many examples of the difference we are able to make in the lives of so many families, thanks to all of our generous donors and corporate partners.

We’d like to thank ESPN who recently gave $100,000 to help families who stay at our Operation Homefront Villages. If you’d like to make a difference for our military and veteran families through Operation Homefront, find out how you can answer the call.

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