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by Robert D. Thomas, Chief Operations Officer, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

Today, we remember and honor our service members.

On Memorial Day, our nation remembers and reflects upon the loss of the service members who have had a profound impact on preserving the freedoms we enjoy daily. By honoring the memory of their service, we sustain the spirit of these fallen heroes. And, we also remember their families, who sustained their service.

When I think about the heroes we have lost, I also think of the time lost with their families. I think of the incalculable value of eating an ordinary family dinner together, watching your son or daughter play soccer, or taking a child fishing. For those deployed, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, that time is lost forever; they will never get those moments back and neither will their families.

Reflecting on my 31-year Air Force career, and the friends I have lost in the service, brings Memorial Day into sharp focus for me. My military specialty was air mobility, and when I was not flying transport/tanker aircraft, I was the officer on staff responsible for the air mobility mission.

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During multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, among other duties, I would many times find myself part of the team responsible for transporting our fallen heroes back home one last time. The units would honor their lost comrade in a solemn ceremony, almost always at night to avoid the rocket or mortar fire large groups of soldiers attract, and end with a member of the unit answering “absent sir” as the fallen warrior’s name was called in a final unit roll call.

Often, and especially on Memorial Day, I think of the families of those heroes and what it would be like to get the devastating news that a mother, father, son, or daughter was gone forever, and how many lives were changed permanently at that moment.

All Americans can take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Robert D. Thomas
Operation Homefront Chief Operations Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

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

May is Military Appreciation Month – an important opportunity for Americans to take a moment to reflect on all our military community has done and continues to do for all of us. From celebrating spouses on Military Spouse Appreciation Day and recognizing all service branches on Armed Forces Day, to honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day, May is truly a special month to highlight an exceptional group of our fellow citizens.

While we typically celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of our active duty members and veterans, I think we must also include those who have sustained their service – their families – as they have served alongside their loved ones.

Military service is a noble calling, but it has many demands and many costs. One of those costs is foregoing time with family.

When I look at my family photos, I find I am not in many of them. I wish the reason was I was the one taking them. Sadly, the real reason is I was not there. I was doing something important to serve my country. I understood I was the one who raised my hand and swore an oath to protect our country. I also fully understood my family, because of my service, had their hands raised too.

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John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

That is why I am honored to serve America’s military families as the President and CEO of Operation Homefront. We have 120 employees and over 4,000 volunteers, along with many caring donors and partners, who are dedicated to meeting the needs of military families while they are serving and as they transition back to the civilian communities they have worked so hard to protect. Our relief, resiliency and recurring support programs touch over one hundred thousand family members each year… giving them the support they need to make ends meet and, just as important, letting them know that America is behind them.

This Armed Forces Day, when you thank and honor those who put on the uniform, I would ask you to remember the family members whose sacrifice may be less visible, but just as worthy.

I invite you to join Operation Homefront in our #Mission2Honor military families by sending a message of thanks to those families who serve and help protect the freedoms we enjoy daily. It will mean the world to them: OperationHomefront.org/mission2honor

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Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices our military families make and the challenges they face throughout their service, which is why every day we seek 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.

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During Military Appreciation Month, you can join Operation Homefront in recognizing our military families and thanking them for their service. Join us and honor those who have served and are continuing to serve our communities across the country.

Support: Help Operation Homefront support military families

The simple act of giving can change the lives of our military families. Your donation could ensure that power is kept on for wounded warriors who need medical equipment for survival or help feed a military family.  Donate today to help us reach our goal of supporting 15 families.

usa_graphicHonor: Send a message of support

Operation Homefront invites Americans who care about military families to publicly recognize, honor, and thank them for their service and support in our communities. Send in your message of thanks and help us turn our map red, white, and blue.

Serve: Get Involved

With the help of our volunteer reserves, Operation Homefront delivers valued programs and services to military families that offer relief through critical financial assistance and rent-free transitional housing, resiliency through mortgage-free homes and caregiver support programs, and recurring family support through holiday meals, school supplies, baby bundles, holiday toys and other resources for military spouses and children.   Visit our website to find out more about how you can become a volunteer with Operation Homefront!

To learn more about the Operation Homefront “Always Serving” campaign and Mission2Honor, visit www.OperationHomefront.org/Mission2Honor.

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When 13-year-old Jaxson Jordan found out that he had been named the 2019 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® he got a coveted prize—his older brother’s favorite Operation Homefront hoodie given to recipients five years earlier when he also won the award.

“It’s time for me to welcome you into the MCOY family,” Jaxson said his brother Michael-Logan told him.Jaxson Jordan headshot

The seventh-grader was, for once, speechless when his parents gave him the news. They seemed so serious, his mom Rebecca Jordan setting up a video chat with his father Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Jordan, stationed in Okinawa. Jaxson credits his father with being an example of resiliency he strives to emulate. In 2006, Christopher Jordan was injured, and a fellow Marine killed in Iraq.

The challenge was one of many he and his family have faced. Even so, Jaxson’s approach to life is one with a hefty dose of humor, from dry or sarcastic to what some adults might consider a bit dark for a kid his age. But he realized that laughter, positivity and tackling problems head-on was the best way to cope after being diagnosed with nine overlapping autoimmune/inflammatory diseases at age 7.

More specifically, he has been diagnosed with: Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which attacks his organs; Polyarticular Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which attacks more than five joints; Ankylosing Spondylitis; Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III, a genetic disorder that affects joints and connective tissue; IgA Nephropathy Kidney Disease; Asthma; Interstitial Lung Disease; and Autoimmune Retinopathy and Cancer Associated Retinopathy, two very rare eye diseases. He’s also dyslexic.

“I bet you are googling these medical terms right now, aren’t you?” he wrote in an award application essay. “That’s okay. As many times as you have had to google these terms, I have had to retype this essay due to my dyslexia kicking in and my spellcheck having a field day!”

Along with his knack for making people laugh, Jaxson’s communication skills could rival the most seasoned salesman, as evidenced after his North Carolina neighborhood suffered the back-to-back devastation of hurricanes Michael and Florence. “I’ve got this,” he said when the principal of his sister’s school talked to him and his mother about trying to help victims.


Taking $100 he had saved and another $100 match from his mom, he went to a local Walmart. He walked out with $400 in supplies, food and clothing after the manager matched with his own $200.

Jaxson caught on quickly. He walked business to business, pitching his idea for hurricane donations, mentioning to each manager or owner that Walmart had doubled their amount through its own donation. Turning it into a friendly competition, Jaxson brought back $1,200 worth in donations to his sister’s school to kick off the donation drive.

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Jaxson has used that strength, purpose, hope and a love of advocacy to benefit the Arthritis Foundation as a Junior Ambassador. On behalf of the organization, he works on grassroots campaigns, including going to Washington D.C. to meet his senator and congressman, organizes walks and is a mentor to other children, telling them about his own challenges and helping them through theirs.

Aside from Junior Ambassador Awards, he has received many accolades for his volunteerism and leadership roles including Presidential Volunteer Awards, Logan’s Heroes Honu Award and Lead Award for Outstanding Community Service and Leadership, and multiple volunteer appreciation awards.Jaxson Jordan
In the future he wants to help people with disabilities retain or regain their independence.

“Originally, I wanted to become a surgeon. However, I’m sure most people would prefer not to have a visually impaired person poking around in their insides!” Jaxson said. “Challenges are meant to be overcome. There’s always a way to greatness; always a way to get through challenges. You have to stay positive and spread kindness. When you spread kindness to people, they’ll spread it to others, and so on – like a ripple effect.”

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A champion swimmer, two Eagle Scouts and a Princeton University research assistant are just a few of the outstanding characteristics of the 2019 Military Child of the Year® Award winners recently announced by Operation Homefront.

The winners also include an aspiring actress, a middle school fundraising phenom and an advocate for new-to-school military students. Recipients are selected for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life.

“These seven award recipients are truly exceptional young people who have absolutely shined in terms of academic achievement and service to others – positive representatives of the larger community of extraordinary military kids,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront.  “Each of our over 350 nominees for our 11th annual Military Child of the Year® Awards personified resiliency, leadership, achievement, and strength of character.  Their families and their communities can be justifiably proud of them – and we are too.”

Each year, an independent panel of volunteer judges choose six MCOY® winners to represent each branch of service in which their parents currently serve or have served. A seventh recipient is named in the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, presented by Booz Hamilton.

The award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at the April 18th 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. The innovation award 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.

The 2019 recipients are as follows:

Army: Elisabeth McCallum Polleys, 16, Macomb, Michigan, L’Anse Creuse High School-North

Marine Corps: Jaxson Jordan, 13, Tarawa Terrace, North Carolina, Brewster Middle School

Navy: Elisabeth Lundgren, 18, Chula Vista, California, University of California

Air Force: Benjamin Rawald, 16, Del Rio, Texas, Brackett High School

Coast Guard: Kylie McGuire, 17, Hamilton, New Jersey, Nottingham Hamilton High School North

National Guard: Campbell Miller, 17, Ontario, Ohio, Mansfield Christian School

Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation: Brandon Mammano, 18, Mililani, Hawaii, Hanalani Schools

Check back here in the coming weeks, and on our social media, as we highlight each winner in the days leading up to the gala. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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

To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019. Today we can take a humorous look back at a life of service through the family’s eyes:

As Haily Radnor and her husband Steve, an Air Force first sergeant, near retirement in early 2019 after 24 years of service, she looks back fondly on their time in the military, while also looking forward to having Steve around more often.

The Radnors and their five children – Austin, 13; Sierra, 9; Cheyenne, 6; Skyler, 3; and Logan, 5 months – plan to move from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they are stationed now, to Pennsylvania to be closer to Steve’s extended family.  For his second career, Steve may stay in human resources because he has enjoyed his most recent assignment as a first sergeant, caring or the morale and welfare of airmen.

Hailey has a few thoughts on what she will (and won’t miss) about their life of service as a military family.  Thoughts I am sure many of us will nod our head’s in agreement about:

What she will miss:

  • Belonging to the larger military family, and feeling the love, from time to time, from people and organizations who care, and value their service, including Operation Homefront. Haily attended a May 2018 Operation Homefront Star-Spangled Baby shower in Colorado Springs at which she and about 100 other new and expecting military members and spouses enjoyed each other’s company, and received special gifts, including Cracker Barrel rocking chairs, cribs and other necessities.

“Knowing that there are those out there that do appreciate what we do, that life isn’t being taken for granted … makes it that much easier for us to get up and do our thing every day,” Haily said.

  • The strong bonds they have formed with other military families. She and her military spouse friends are flexible, accepting of change and patient because they know that being high-strung and uptight doesn’t work.  “Your children reflect how you behave,” she said.  “It’s not worth getting upset over little things.”
  • Being the friend she would like to have. “Everyone needs someone to be strong for them when they can’t be,” she said.  That requires putting yourself out there, and meeting people without fear of being hurt even though that can be scary.  “It makes us better people and it teaches us.”

At the same time, Haily recommends, “allow yourself to make mistakes because if you don’t, you cannot learn from them to become a better person.”

  • The sense of duty, knowing that there’s a purpose in my husband’s work.”
  • Their newborn won’t know the excitement and rewards of military life. Yet if Steve stayed in, he likely would go remote for a year, missing much of their baby’s first two years of life, so they decided it’s “time to hang up the boots.”
  • Being surrounded by others who don’t take their country or their lives for granted. Having known families who lost loved ones in war, she and Steve always make it a point to teach their children to be appreciative, respectful and accepting and inclusive of everyone, regardless of differences in age, background, appearance or income.  “All they see is a new friend and that’s all that matters.”

“If you ever go on to a military base and “Taps” is playing, the kids at the playground freeze and stand toward that music and put their hands on their heart,” Haily said.  “Life just freezes for those few moments.”

What she won’t miss:

  • Steve’s long, frequent absences. Though all but one of his deployments happened before they married in 2004, he deployed in 2015 to Kuwait for six months.  They had four children at the time.  He also has had assignments that kept him away from home, including his current one, which requires him to be on call 24/7.  When they were relative newlyweds with only one child at the time, Steve performed maintenance for the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s demonstration squadron, and was traveling more than 200 days a year.  Even when he was home, he worked 12- to 15-hour days, she said. Their son, Austin, now 13, didn’t understand why his father was gone, or would only return for short periods.  “The emotions on him were really hard,” she said. “It was hard for him not having his dad, even though we could have our little Skype talks on occasion a couple times a week” at most.  It wasn’t enough to take the place of his daily presence.

Steve’s schedule improved some when they moved to Germany, but he still worked long hours as an NCO instructor.

  • Her kids having to repeatedly adjust to new communities and schools. When the Radnors, who moved seven times over 14 years and four duty stations, relocated to Arizona from Germany, their kids had difficulty “breaking in” to established friend circles, and felt excluded.  There was a stark contrast between their military-friendly neighborhood in Germany and their more civilian-centric community in Arizona, where many neighbors had never traveled outside the state, she said.  It was a “heartbreaking” time, she said, but improved in Colorado.
  • Knowing that more military members will lose their lives serving their country, never to return to their families. And that countless others will spend lengthy periods away from their families.

What do you or will you miss (or not) about YOUR military service?  Tell us in the comments.

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

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As a caregiver for her injured Army veteran husband, Vicki Stasiak knows firsthand the difficulties of the role: handling most of the household responsibilities and child care, managing sometimes overwhelming medical and mental health issues, and worrying about finances.

Shouldering multiple burdens, often alone, takes an emotional toll on the caregiver, which impacts the whole family.

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Over the eight years since her husband, Adam, was honorably discharged in 2009 as an E-5 sergeant with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and shoulder and knee injuries that required surgeries, Vicki has learned what helps reduce the strain. Operation Homefront’s caregiver support group, Hearts of Valor; mental health counseling; addiction treatment; and a service dog have helped them get their lives back on track since Adam’s two deployments to Iraq. She also has learned where the military, government agencies and society could do a better job understanding and assisting wounded, injured and ill veterans and their caregivers.

“I was just on my own,” said Vicki, initially unsure where to seek help. “I learned of things just through word of mouth,” through researching on her own, and later by networking.

Vicki became friends with another veteran caregiver in 2013 who told her how much she likes Hearts of Valor, a nationwide network of support groups that also provides retreats and online forums. Hearts of Valor is open to all caregivers of post-9/11 wounded, injured or ill service members. Vicki registered with HOV and has seen the organization help caregivers find themselves again. “There’s a fine line sometimes between being your own person and who you are, and the role that you’re given,” she said. “Nobody expects to be a caregiver or wants to be. It’s something that you’re just kind of thrust into.”

Spouses in their 20s and 30s are particularly caught off guard when their service members’ injuries abruptly end their military careers and change the trajectory of their lives. When their spouses enlist, they think they’re “going to do all these fabulous things, and travel the world, and have all these new experiences,” Vicki said. It’s a shock when they find they’re in their house all the time because their spouses can’t physically leave or don’t want to go outside the security of their home, she said.

Vicki volunteered for training to lead a HOV group, starting in 2014, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she and Adam had met, and where they lived then with their five children. Vicki and Adam married in 2003, and he adopted her two children from a previous relationship, Katie, now 19, and Nick, now 17, when they were 4 and 2. The Stasiaks also have Grace, 14; Emma, 12; and Olivia, 10.

The Stasiaks bought their first home in Windber, Pennsylvania, in summer 2017 to live closer to friends they met while both families received training with their new service dogs, who are litter mates. Vicki is working toward establishing a HOV group in their new town, about three hours from Lancaster.

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While she got involved with HOV, Adam received counseling for his PTSD symptoms. His 10 years of service included two year-long deployments in the mid-2000s. Adam later received a 100-percent disability rating from the Veterans Affairs Department.

While Adam tells his therapist about his worst experiences, he “feels the need to protect me and the kids from some of the details,” Vicki said. “He’s seen things that we can never imagine, and he doesn’t want us to even try.”

Losing what he thought was going to be a long-term career also hurt Adam, Vicki said. He thought he would retire from the Army after 20 years or more, not 10. Instead, he was left facing questions such as, “What am I going to do now?” and “How will I provide for my family?”

The Stasiaks like to advocate for awareness about invisible injuries. “Just looking, you don’t see anything physically disabling with my husband … He’s not an amputee,” yet has some debilitating issues.

Vicki also encourages caregivers to seek support at HOV meetings, even though she knows they have limited time for themselves. Caregivers often have little control over their schedules because of doctor appointments and many other obligations. “That’s something as caregivers, we completely understand,” she said. “We really want those friendships … but [outsiders] just don’t understand the daily life that we have. In our group, there’s no judgement.”

Speaking from experience, Vicki urges caregivers to apply to attend a HOV retreat. When she went to one in 2015 in San Antonio with two of her group members, she found the various presentations helpful. “I felt as a group facilitator, being able to go and learn these things and take them back to my group and pass on the information … was really beneficial.” She also appreciated the down time, as there are opportunities for relaxing, journaling, socializing and sightseeing. For caregivers who would like to attend a retreat but are concerned about leaving because they need respite care for their spouse, child care or transportation, “Operation Homefront and Hearts of Valor will really work with you to make that happen so you can go and take that time for yourself to recharge,” Vicki said.

By many measures, her family is more stable now, Vicki said, though living strictly on disability and Social Security payments is challenging. She had previously worked as a dental assistant. They wish someone had told them Adam must transfer his GI education benefits to a child or spouse before he got out of the Army because now they can’t use them to help pay for Katie’s college.

Since their financial circumstances don’t allow them to donate money, they both volunteer their time as much as possible instead, including with Operation Homefront. “That’s what we try to instill in our children,” she said. “You always get to choose how you spend your time.”

Through it all, Vicki stuck with her marriage because she knew Adam pre-injury, and saw glimpses of his old self as he began the recovery process. “For me, it was worth it,” she said. “I knew what he was like before the war.”

. . .

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

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

 

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