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Archive for the ‘PTSD/TBI’ Category

We are pleased to share with you today some words from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.) on this year’s Military Child of the Year Awards recipients and why it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why we want to make this moment as special as possible for our 2020 recipients at this challenging time:

Although we, as a nation, are still struggling with the unprecedented challenges brought on by a global pandemic, it is important for all to look for bright spots to show the promise of a brighter future. At Operation Homefront, I don’t need to look any farther than this year’s honorees for our Military Child of the Year (MCOY) Awards.

These prestigious awards are designed to recognize the amazing achievements of seven of our nation’s military teenagers who have excelled at home, in school, and in their communities through their leadership, volunteerism, scholarship, and extracurricular involvement, all while working with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.

Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, I canceled this year’s celebration.

That said, I knew we couldn’t sit idly by and let an opportunity to showcase some exceptional young people pass so I am proud to say that the show will go on with our virtual celebration of these extraordinary representatives of the millions of military kids who serve our great nation alongside their parents.

All at Operation Homefront firmly believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event. Having grown up in a military family, and after serving for over 27 years in the Air Force, I understand the challenges that our military families experience. Faced with the uncertainty of frequent short- or no-notice moves and deployments, it can be difficult for military kids to focus in school, to feel connected to their community, and to develop close friendships. That is why I believe it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why Operation Homefront wants to make this moment as special as possible for our recipients.

President and CEO, John I. Pray, at our MCOY gala in 2019. Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, we canceled this year’s in-person celebration. However, we believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event.

The accomplishments of our 2020 group, like all our previous winners, is in a word – impressive. Our judges selected the seven honorees from a very competitive field of more than 400 nominees. The seven represent each branch of service and our Innovation Award recipient. I like to refer to them as the “Magnificent Seven.”

Our 2020 MCOY winners are:

Kainath Kamil – Innovation Award
Fionnuala “Finn” Mahoney – Army
Niklas Cooper – Marine Corps
Miryam Smith — Navy
Samantha Grab — Air Force
Pierce Corson — Coast Guard
Kristina Lee — National Guard

 

Kainath, Finn, Niklas, Miryam, Samantha, Pierce, and Kristina all exemplify the spirit of selfless service that that not only improves lives in their communities but also offers hope for our future. They have logged over 2,080 volunteer hours in the past 12 months. Five of them are National Honor Society members, all of them take AP or dual college credit classes in school. Four are competitive athletes (swimming, volleyball, cross country, cheer) and five speak at least one language other than English.

They are caregivers to family members and leaders in sports and academia. They are ambassadors for mental health awareness, global issues, and the need for greater understanding of differences. They have used science and innovation to find solutions to world problems. Finn is even working with a team at the National Institutes of Health that is searching for a solution to COVID-19.

As we soak in all their achievements, there is little doubt why we must celebrate this very special and deserving group of military teens who represent that brighter future I noted earlier. Congratulations to all of you and to your families.

I would also like to recognize and extend a heartfelt thanks to our partners and supporters who have made our MCOY program possible:

• Our 2020 presenting sponsor, United Technologies (Pratt & Whitney); our Innovation Award sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton; and our other event sponsors, Procter & Gamble, LaQuinta by Wyndham Hotels, PNC Bank, Veterans United Home Loans, Carnival Cruise Line, and Military Times

• Our MCOY judges, board members, OH staff and volunteers, and our two wonderful leaders the Military Child of the Year Award program, Jenny Valderas and Emily Miller.

The celebration continues as more stories and videos are coming – including congratulatory videos from John Heald of Carnival Cruise Line, and the country music sensation Runaway June, who were scheduled to perform. Also, while you may not meet our great MCOY recipients in person, you will get to hear the Magnificent Seven in their own words. So please stay tuned.

Please remember to share your congratulations and special messages with this year’s recipients at http://www.operationhomefront.org/mcoymessages.

View President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)’s message for the kick-off of virtual Military Child of the Year gala:

 

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Miryam Smith, our 2020 Military Child of the Year for the Navy, remembers her father telling her that hard work pays off and that she could achieve anything she put her mind to. Those words have been Miryam’s motivation since her father, retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Eduardo Smith, took his own life in 2016.

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The tragedy, she said, taught her resilience. Two days after her father’s devastating death, Miryam returned to school to finish up final exams, committed to living a happy, fulfilling life and maintaining the excellent grades her dad appreciated.

Now a 17-year-old senior at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she is seeing dividends from her hard work.

Miryam excels in her school’s Global Studies and World Languages Academy, and she looks forward to fall, when she will attend American University’s School of Foreign Service. She plans to study International Relations and possibly minor in Environmental Science.

Miryam, an only child, is the daughter of Macarena Smith, who works for the U.S. Marine Corps as a protocol officer.

Miryam’s three military moves with her family cultivated her fascination with other cultures and world travel.

“My favorite part of being a military child was the opportunities to travel to many places at a very young age,” she said. When stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, the family traveled throughout Europe. “One holiday weekend we decided to take a road trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, and I remember it as being one of my favorite ones.”

In all, Miryam has visited 23 countries, four of them on her own. On a trip to the Normandy region of France with her school, Miryam felt particular pride in being a military child.

As her group left a World War II museum close to one of the Normandy beaches, Miryam saw a cemetery filled with hundreds of perfectly aligned white tombstones that were decorated with American flags.

“I was overwhelmed with pride, for I had never seen so many American flags in my life. At that moment I realized how many brave soldiers had sacrificed their lives to help liberate France in the war,” she said. “Although my dad did not serve in World War II, I know he made several sacrifices for his country throughout his military career, and knowing that made me very proud to be his daughter.”

Miryam understands that military children might dread moving, with changing schools, making new friends, and adjusting to a new home in a new location. She urges them to keep an open mind. “It gives you the chance to meet new people, create new memories, and possibly learn more about other cultures.” Navy_Miryam Smith 1

Miryam invests time in her community, volunteering with the Be a Reader program to read to elementary school children and mentoring children at a shelter for the homeless.

She enjoys sailing small vessels and catamarans and finds stress relief in playing piano, frequently duplicating tunes she hears on the radio.

Favorite quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, and catch the trade winds in your sails.” – Mark Twain

Service/Leadership Highlights:

  • Events organizer, Global Studies and World Languages Academy International Cafes
  • Volunteer, Be a Reader program for elementary school children
  • Mentor, Care by Community
  • President Spanish Honor Society
  • Vice President Global Studies Honor Society
  • Varsity Swim Team
  • Student Athlete Leadership Training
  • Academic letter, Global Studies and World Languages Academy, 9th-12th grades

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

Read previous 2020 recipient profiles:

Niklas Cooper, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Marine Corps

Fionnuala Mahoney, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Army

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

Today, we remember and honor our service members.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With heartfelt gratitude,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

AdamVickiSTasiak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Willie Simpson, Army Reserves Sergeant, has lived his life serving his country.  His story reflects what we see in so many who see their purpose in service to country.

Willie’s service spans 4 decades, having first joined the Marine Corps in 1979. Tragically, his time with the Marines when Willie was shot and injured while serving as a military policeman. After his recovery, Willie was unable to return to his duties as a military policeman. But that did not stop Willie’s quest to serve.

He approached the Army, and though the Army determined that Willie was not well enough to be in infantry, he was able to cross-train into the supply career field.

But the pain and impact of his injuries lingered, and after a time, Willie was processed out of the military. Undeterred, Willie enjoyed serving his country and working in government jobs that supported the military, and at one point, was working four jobs. All of this took time from his family and was extremely stressful on Willie. But he never lost sight of his desire to serve.

After he was completely recovered from his injuries, Willie reenlisted in the military. In 2008, while getting ready to deploy, Willie received more life altering news: a medical exam discovered an atrioventricular (AV) block. The surgeon general determined that Willie could should not even attempt to do the physical training (PT) test, let alone anything more strenuous, and that, to survive, he needed to lessen the stress in his life. Willie’s mission to serve our country seemed more in jeopardy than ever.

But by 2009, Willie felt better, so he took a PT test and scored the minimum score to get into combat medic training. At 52, Willie was the oldest in his class. “It was a rough course,” said Willie. “I had a cold and back issues, then I started having chest pains. I got sicker and sicker and weaker.” The school sent Willie home to get better, but he never returned.

“I never went back to the combat medic school,” said Willie. Willie’s health continued to decline and he found himself stuck in Georgia having to use crutches or a wheelchair to get around. He suffered from stress, post-traumatic stress, and sleep apnea. Then his wife got sick and was diagnosed with pre-dementia.

Because Willie had transferred to several different guard units and service branches during his 31 years of service, some of his paperwork got lost—including paperwork documenting his injuries. For eight months, Willie did not receive a paycheck. Then he would be paid for a period of time. Then he went into another no pay-status. During this time Willie’s car was repossessed.

Willie has been trying to medically process out of the military since 2010. In 2015, he received a medical board evaluation, but now he must wait for the Veterans Affairs to evaluate his case and begin his disability pay. He has been living off his savings, his wife’s disability pay, and using his 401K plan. When his landlord threatened to evict him, Willie reached out to Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance program for help. Operation Homefront paid Willie’s rent and utility bills.

Willie has a special message for Operation Homefront’s donors. “This was stressing me out. I am so thankful to OH. I had no one to turn to. My landlord was pushing me, but I can’t move because of my credit scores. I really needed Operation Homefront, and I have seen others that OH has helped.”

“Organizations like Operation Homefront really help … soldiers,” said Willie.

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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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.

Navy veteran Joshua, his wife Sharon, and their beautiful daughter Lily are well on their way to a strong, stable and secure future after service thanks to our partners and our Homes on the Homefront program.

 Joshua Maggi, a Navy Reserve veteran who worked construction as a Seabee in Afghanistan, and his wife, Sharon, were thinking about starting a family a few years ago, but knew their home at the time didn’t provide the best environment for children.

They were living in a 900-square-foot, 1950s home in Pompano Beach Highlands, Florida, where crime rates are higher than the national average. As Joshua described it in a letter to Operation Homefront, the neighborhood was filled with “addicts, drug dealers and prostitutes.”

“It was pretty crazy living there,” said Joshua, who had moved to the property in 2010 and the couple continued living there after marrying in 2014.

Joshua joined the Navy Reserve in 2009, thinking it would help him get hired as a police officer. He was deployed to Afghanistan for 11 months in 2013, where his unit was tasked with building special forces compounds. After returning, he entered the Individual Ready Reserve in 2014, getting out in 2016 as an E-4. He has a 60-percent disability rating from the Veterans Affairs Department for post-traumatic stress disorder and a back injury.

In his desire to keep his family safe, Joshua considered re-deploying, but decided it wasn’t a good idea for him or his family. “I don’t know if I could put my parents through that again,” he said.

Joshua found Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program and submitted an application. He and Sharon found out in late 2015 they had been matched with a mortgage-free home in West Palm Beach, Florida. One year later, they found out they were pregnant with their first child. Lily was born in September 2017.

The home and the move not only gave Joshua and his wife the peace of mind of living in a safer area, but just as importantly, it allowed them to build a stronger financial footing for parenting. In their first year in the program, they far exceeded the goals set with their Homes on the Homefront financial counseling team, paying off nearly $19,000 in debt, and saving about $40,000. To date, Joshua estimates they have about $100,000 in assets, including a 401(k)-retirement savings plan, college savings fund for their daughter and some investments. Joshua credits his mom and dad, a plumber, with instilling in him a strong work ethic and frugality.

The Maggi family received their deed to the home, free and clear, in summer 2017, sooner than many in the program. The Maggis feel fortunate that their financial situation, made possible by living in a mortgage-free home, enables Sharon to stay home with the baby.

“To pay off that debt, … to be able to save so much was a real big blessing,” he said. “(Operation Homefront) has given us such a tremendous push forward in life, in marriage and well-being that is absolutely unmeasurable.”

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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Last week, Operation Homefront hosted an activity-packed three-day celebration to honor our stellar Military Child of the Year Award® recipients.  And what an amazing three days it was!

The 10th annual Military Child of the Year festivities kicked off Tuesday with our BAH Innovation Award recipient, Shelby Barber from Hawaii, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton. Her visit included a tour, a sampling of their state-of-the-art virtual reality experiences, and a brainstorming meeting with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team who will help Shelby bring to life her concept for a portable medical device for children with severe allergies.

On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. John I Pray, Jr., Air Force (Ret.), President and CEO of Operation Homefront, welcomed all seven recipients at a welcome lunch before the kids, their families, and OH staff departed for Capitol Hill to meet and greet their state congressional representatives.

Afterwards, the MCOY recipients came back to the hotel for dinner, where they received laptops from Booz Allen Hamilton and Microsoft, along with cash awards and some very special surprises from Kendra Scott and Cracker Barrel.

Thursday, our awardees had the opportunity to meet and mingle with OH staff, our National Board of Directors, and Region 1 Advisory Board member Danny Chung, from Microsoft, our breakfast sponsor, who presented each recipient with a brand new Surface laptop.

 

Then, it was off to the National Museum of American History. For the fifth year, OH worked with the Archives Center to give the MCOY recipients a behind-the-scene tour. When the MCOY recipients weren’t weaving through a maze of stacked artifacts, they were able to explore the exhibits, including the First Ladies display as well as the Star-Spangled Banner — the original stars and stripes that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 — providing the inspiration for the Star-Spangled Banner lyrics from Francis Scott Key.

Then, it was time for the main event — the gala! ESPN analyst and former MLB player Chris Singleton served as the emcee, and appropriately kicked off the evening with a rousing “play ball!” America’s Beloved Tenor, Daniel Rodriguez, sang the national anthem during the Presentation of Colors by JROTC cadets from T.C. Williams High School from Alexandria, Virginia.


 

John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “We recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of these seven recipients, who represent the collective excellence of military children everywhere. They personify resiliency, leadership, and strength of character. Their families and communities, as well as our corporate partners and the staff and volunteers at Operation Homefront, are very proud of them as individuals and all the other young people in the military families they represent.”

 

Two wonderful guests helped OH salute the MCOY recipients: Brennley Brown and Melissa Stockwell.

Brennley, an emerging country artist (you might recognize her from Season 12 of The Voice) spoke about how inspired she was that she was here with kids who were her own age and had already accomplished so much. She treated the crowd to a beautiful musical performance.

Melissa Stockwell, Army veteran, two-time Paralympian, and proud mom, spoke about her journey after losing her leg. In her remarks, Melissa spoke about resilience and her inspiration, telling the MCOY recipients, “your voices are so strong … stand up for what you believe in.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lyons, Director for Logistics, representing General Joseph Dunford and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered remarks that underscored the importance of the military family, particularly the children, in ensuring our nation has a ready force. “The decision of our service members to remain serving in our nation’s military is most often made at the dinner table,” said Gen. Lyons. “The way organizations like Operation Homefront care for our families and support children like these helps us keep our forces engaged and strong.”

 

Lt. Gen. Lyons then was joined by John Pray and Lieutenant General Brian Arnold, USAF, Ret., Chairman of the Operation Homefront Board of Directors, for the award presentations. Each presenter took a few moments to celebrate the military family behind the recipients, then they highlighted the amazing awardee accomplishments.

Several of our previous Military Child of the Year Award recipients were on hand to help present the awards to the new generation.

Military Child of the Year Alumni: (left to right) Alena Deveau (2012 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year), Nicole Goetz (2011 Air Force Military Child of the Year), Alex McGrath (2017 Navy Military Child of the Year), Christian Fagala (2016 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year), Henderson Heussner (2017 Army Military Child of the Year), Maggie Rochon (2011 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year)

But it was not over yet! For the second year, Carnival Cruise Line and Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Richard Morse shocked, literally, the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

“This has been a remarkable evening,” said John as he closed out the evening. “To all our honorees tonight, I know your parents, families, and communities are so proud of you. We are proud of you too. You inspire every one of us.”

 

With the 10th annual Military Child of the Year in the books, we turn our focus to wrapping up the logistics and towards planning for the 11th MCOY Gala to be held on April 11, 2019.

Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2018 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Military Times, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, Veterans United Home Loans, and Under Armour. #MCOY2018

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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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