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Archive for the ‘Wounded Warrior Wives’ Category

mason-on-deck

The Masons were one of 750 military families invited to attend “Honor. Family. Fun.” hosted by Carnival Cruise Lines in New York City. The event featured a special concert by Carrie Underwood and a naming ceremony for the newest ship in their fleet, the Carnival Vista. See more pictures here

Shay Mason served in the military as an Army Counterintelligence Agent and as a Russian linguist…and then she completed her active duty service in 1989.

Shay met Gary while at Howard University and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Print Journalism. They fell in love, got married and then Gary decided to join the military.

Gary enlisted in the Army for a number of reasons: a better life, travel, opportunity, future stability for his family, and to serve his country. Shay and Gary agreed that Gary would serve, hoping to make the Army a career. During his years of service, they welcomed four children into their family.

As an infantry officer, Gary was deployed three times to the Middle East. His first deployment was to Iraq in 2008. His second and third were to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. The last two missions were Special Forces and after serving for fifteen years, Gary had to retire in 2015.

He medically retired with an honorable discharge due to injuries he sustained from his last deployment. He suffered from back and ankle injuries and battles the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Shay became his full-time primary caregiver.

While Gary was transitioning out of the military, the condominium they were renting received serious water damage that made it uninhabitable. They had no place to call home and were forced to stay at a local hotel. Their financial situation became dire, causing additional stress for the family of six.

While living at a local hotel, they heard about Operation Homefront Villages and the rent-free transitional housing program in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They applied and were accepted and still currently reside there.

The Village provides them with a furnished apartment with all rent and utilities covered. In addition, families who stay at the Village get financial counseling and attend support groups with other wounded veteran families to help them make a successful transition to civilian life.

“Living at Operation Homefront’s Village is an opportunity – a tremendous blessing and stress relief,” said Gary. “We can save money, repair our credit, and restablize our children and focus on getting healthier as a family.”

So far, as a result of being at the Village, they have saved $14,000, and paid off $6,000 in debt.

The Masons are definitely on their way to a strong, stable future. Two of their kids are attending college and the two younger children are doing well in their respective schools.

“We have had a great time living there, there are other military families living at the Village and we bonded,” said Gary. “We are in communication with them and we hang out. There is a sense of community and it makes it easy for us…there is so much veteran support.”

Gary and Shay have started a family business to create media support kits. They will use these to help other military families navigate the unique challenges of military life, using their past experience to benefit others.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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“I took a leap of faith and joined the Air Force.”

That’s how Dominick Griego describes his decision to serve. He had entered college, trying to balance the demands of a young family, college and a job. But he needed healthcare and a constant paycheck. So he enlisted.

Little did he know that decision would impact his family in ways he never imagined.

“The beauty of joining the Air Force was that I was also afforded the opportunity to see the world.” After training at two locations in Texas, he was stationed in Italy with his wife, Cecilia. “Italy was amazing,” said Dominick. “Both of my girls were born there.”

After Italy, the family was stationed in New Jersey for seven years. Dominick had seven deployments during his thirteen years of service. “I was gone a lot,” said Dominick. “It was a trying factor on my family, especially the girls. But we faced every opportunity and challenge thanks to my wonderful wife.”

dom-griego-9During Dominick’s last deployment to Afghanistan, he was hurt. At first, there was just the close call…Dominick was checking on an infrastructure in an area known as “Rocket City” when an IDF mortar blew up outside the chow hall. But three weeks later in Kabul, Dominick and his operations team were driving to another location when a suicide bomber drove into them. Dominick and his team ended up five feet away from 500-pound bomb.

“We ended up inside an attack and were under heavy fire,” said Dominick. “I passed out and when I came to, we were engaged by an enemy in the city. Fortunately, we were able to fight back and maneuver tactically. There were six of us and all six survived and returned home with minimal injuries. Sometimes you get lucky. I was stubborn and didn’t seek medical treatment. I stumbled around in country before ending up in hospital. They told me to make sure I rested my brain.”

Dominick decided to stay on in Afghanistan for six months. He was assigned to a task force looking for corruption and fraud. Six months turned into 13 months. Finally, in July 2014, he returned to the states. Dominick received a Purple Heart for his bravery and courage in the attacks in Kabul.

Despite his injuries, and the fact that Dominick had recently been diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery, Dominick reenlisted in the Air Force for another term in January 2016. He deals with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and PTSD sleep deprivation.

Dominick was a Portraits in Courage honoree and attended an awards ceremony at the Pentagon. While he was there, he met one of our Operation Homefront staff members. Dominick’s wife took a business card.

When the Griego family’s heat and AC unit stopped working efficiently, the family recalled their chance meeting with Operation Homefront and filled out an application for assistance—Dominick didn’t believe the family would qualify. “I didn’t think that I was a candidate for help because you can’t see my injuries,” said Dominick. “Sometimes I am also in denial about my injuries.”

“The original heating unit was oil and the new unit is natural gas,” said Cecilia. “We all have allergies which was sometimes aggravated by the oil heat and it dried us out. This is different heat. We no longer have stress from worrying about fixing it. There is no way we could have done this without Operation Homefront’s help.”

dom-griego-2“I am at home a lot,” said Dominick. “What you guys did was amazing. Because of my health, I had no motivation to mentally or physically address the AC issue. The lack of efficient heat and AC made the situation more miserable as I was recovering from surgeries and chemo.”

“A lot of people tell me thank you for your service,” said Dominick. “Because my wounds are not visible, people don’t understand. But to say thank you and then do something like your donors do to say thanks—to blindly give. That gesture is beyond words. What you and your donors do justifies and reinstates the reason why I serve and wear the uniform and would do anything to protect.”

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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Guest blog from Dr. Sara Boz, Senior Director of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program

Suicide is a complex and frightening topic.  In our community, it hits so close to home that our reaction tends to be denial. Suicide is a hard topic to open up about… but we can no longer ignore it. We have to talk about it.

There is a phrase that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We need to take the topic of suicide out of the shadows and talk openly.

When a caregiver or a veteran tells me their story about a failed suicide attempt, it normally goes like this:

“I probably would have succeeded in killing myself, if only…”

  • “If only the phone hadn’t rang.”
  • “If only I had more pills.”
  • “If only the ambulance had arrived a little later.”

When a person plans their suicide they make the very final decision to die before their time on Earth is over.  They no longer fear death and dying.  They are at the point at which they perceive death is better than their current situation.  Those who have tried tell me that they felt there was no other solution to their pain and suffering.  They feel hopeless and in a single, desperate moment… they find the will and the means.

“If only” there was something we could do.

Working with veterans and their caregivers as director of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program, I have talked with many families who face the challenge of healing from both the seen and unseen wounds of war.  There are some ways we can help create more “if only’s:”

  • We can work on being more aware of the people we care about.  KNOW that it’s okay to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal. If I notice that someone is giving up, feeling hopeless, or not themselves, I will ask how I can help.
  • Put yourself in others’ shoes. I’ve tried to imagine the different ways of taking one’s own life. Maybe I can’t fully grasp how someone is willing to accept the pain that will likely accompany suicide but I can try and see the path they took to get to that point. Could it be that veterans do not have a fear of death and dying because they were exposed to so much death during their combat tours?  Maybe they think that the pain they are experiencing, whether emotional or physical, is more than the pain they would feel through death.  Understanding the path may help us steer someone off of it at any point before the end.
  • It’s okay to be persistent. You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks, “I did enough to prevent this.”  I have known a few people who have been successful in their suicide attempts.  I will always wonder if I could have done more and asked more questions. If a caregiver or veteran talks about suicide, I will not leave them alone. A few years ago, a caregiver called me to ask for a housing resource.  During the conversation she mentioned that her husband may be suicidal because of the situation they were in.  She explained that there were signs that he was giving up.  I listened to her story, asked a lot of questions, and told her I could help. In this instance, the caregiver was way ahead of me. She already had a plan to get him to a physician that week and had made the house safe and free of all weapons over the past few weeks.  She planned to drive her husband straight to the emergency room if the situation progressed.  I called her about a year later to see how she was doing and they are all now doing well. Which proves that there is always hope…such an important message to communicate to the person who wants to give up.

I believe that most people don’t want to die. I don’t want anyone to give up on their life.  There is no definite solution to preventing suicide, and the tragic fact is that someone will find a way if they are resolute enough.  But maybe, just maybe, we can take steps that will save one. And then another. And before we know it, we have saved more than we have lost.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you know of someone who may be suicidal, please refer them to the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press “1” or go to https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ for more information including how to identify the warning signs.

 

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“The fear of the unknown is kind of like the fog of war, we just didn’t know what was gonna happen or where we were going to end up,” Hector Perez, current resident at one of Operation Homefront’s rent-free transitional housing villages.

When an injured service member transitions out of military life, the unknown lies before them and it can be overwhelming. Complications from combat-related injuries, including physical wounds, Traumatic Brain Injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can add to the stress of the transition to civilian life. But there is help to be found.

Operation Homefront Villages provide rent-free housing in a supportive environment for transitioning military families that helps relieve financial stress and provide a comprehensive package of individualized family support and financial planning services. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have helped 453 families, which includes 724 military children, make the transition.

Listen to Hector Perez tell his  story about his family’s experience at our Village in San Diego. His own words  may  encourage others , while battling the effects of their injuries, to know that a better life can be found.

Hector has one message for his fellow  veterans: it’s okay to ask for help. “I would say that no matter how lonely you feel, how depressed you are or how bad things are now, to stop and think for a just one second. Remind yourself… that you are still in the fight. You have overcome many battles but now is the time to dig deep and bring out the warrior mentality and continue to fight for you, for your loved ones, for your family. (All) it takes (is) a phone call, a text, an email to reach out and realize you are not alone!”

Operation Homefront has Villages in three locations: Gaithersburg, Maryland; San Diego, California; and San Antonio, Texas. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have transitioned 453 families, which includes 724 military children.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. The National Center for PTSD provides valuable educational resources online for not only the person who battles PTSD but also for those family and friends that want to find more ways to support them. We encourage anyone with questions to use this resource to find more information and get the help you need.

Thank you to our friends at the Genentech Foundation for making this video possible.

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As he turns the key on his new home, Raphael Harris and his wife, Yesica, can see a new beginning and a fresh start. Not too long ago, they were once a family geographically separated and facing many financial and medical challenges. That was before they found out about our Operation Homefront Village.

RaphaelVillagesBlogRaphael is a military brat and grew up in South Carolina before his family moved to Alabama. After graduation, he decided to join the military and he became a Marine at age 17.

Raphael was first stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and then Camp Pendleton in California. During a deployment to Afghanistan, he was injured when an improvised explosive device caused the vehicle he was riding in to roll over. As a result of his injuries and trauma, Raphael was medically retired from the Marines after four years of service.

Transitioning out of the military can be difficult for anyone, and Raphael’s family was no exception. Raphael became friends with a service member who was also transitioning from the Marines. He told Raphael about Operation Homefront and how we offered rent-free transitional housing at our Operation Homefront Village in California. Raphael thought this might be a great solution for his family, so he put in an application, and was accepted into our program.

“Before coming to the Village, I was (away) from my wife, who was back in Alabama,” said Raphael. “We had a lot of debt.”

Our Village program provides rent-free, utilities paid, fully furnished apartments to wounded, injured, and ill veterans leaving the military. It is designed to enable families to heal together, while bridging the gap between military pay and veteran benefits.

While living at the Village, Raphael not only saved $15,000, but he was also able to reduce his debt by $15,000. “This is an amazing program which helped fill in the gaps during my transition and helping me to be more stable,” added Raphael. “I would recommend it to anyone who is qualified to apply.”

Raphael has since graduated from our Village program. Recently, he and his wife were able to realize a dream and bought a home in San Antonio, Texas. He continues his care at the VA and is going back to school where he will pursue a master’s degree that allows him to counsel wounded warriors with severe post-traumatic stress.

As with the Harris family, when veterans graduate from our Village program, they will have VA benefits in place, debt significantly reduced, and emergency savings available.

“In 2015, Operation Homefront served 111 military families through our transitional housing program,” said Senior Director of Transitional Housing Gracie Broll. “Our goal at Operation Homefront is to ensure our military families remain strong, stable, and secure throughout transition from military to civilian life. We do this by walking hand-in-hand with each family while providing them with the tools and resources needed for success.”

While the Harris family has settled into their new home and new beginnings, their story can inspire other families who are still in transition.

HectorVillagesBlogRetired U.S. Marine Sergeant Hector Perez deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan during his term of service. On a deployment to Afghanistan, “A road side bomb detonated and hit my vehicle and I was injured – spinal cord injuries, neural damage to my left leg and left eye, and some TBI and PTSD as well,” he said.

Like many in his situation, Hector was caught off guard and struggled to make ends meet during the transition process. Hector heard about our Operation Homefront Village from his recovery care coordinator and applied. He moved into the new Operation Homefront Village in San Diego, which celebrated its Grand Opening in January. There, he found relief and a way to get back on track with his life.

“It’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s near all the VA (offices) I need,” said Hector. “Being a part of this community will help our family transition from active duty to retired tremendously.”

While at our Village, Hector will receive help to get control over his budget, reduce debt, and stabilize his treatment at the VA. He will also be given the tools and training he needs to establish a savings account and develop a plan for future housing.

“We will be able to focus on stabilizing income, bringing current debt down to a minimum, live in a safe environment with others in same position and continue care for disabilities,” added Hector. With the right supports in place, Hector now has hope for a bright future.

For many other families just like Hector and Raphael’s, our Villages provide a supportive environment, relieve the financial stress and provide a comprehensive package of individualized family support and financial planning services. Operation Homefront has Villages in three locations: Gaithersburg, Maryland; San Diego, California; and San Antonio, Texas. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have transitioned 453 families, which includes 724 military children.

View more pictures from the San Diego open house. Learn more about the Operation Homefront Villages.

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Carrie Underwood took time to meet Antwon Speller and his family, giving him and his family, helping to lift them out of the challenges of dealing with the wounds of war.

Carrie Underwood took time to meet Antwon Speller and his family, giving him and his family a much needed break, and helping to lift them out of the challenges of dealing with the wounds of war.

“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” – Elton John

For a few hours one Saturday night, music brought peace to one very deserving military family.

As part of our partnership with Carnival Cruise Line and country superstar Carrie Underwood, select military families get a personal meet-and-greet with Underwood before her concerts. One such moment occurred at Underwood’s sold-out concert in Hampton, Virginia. The email we received from the Speller family afterwards validates the quote above, and why partnerships like this truly make a difference.

being around someone that has taken out their time to just get to know about you, and appreciate what you do for your country is so meaningful to me.”

We hear from many of our nations’ wounded and their families about feelings of isolation they experience trying to cope with both the seen and unseen wounds of war day in and day out. As simple as it may seem, a night out, especially one where these amazing families can connect and feel appreciated can be life-changing.

“However, I was in extreme pain but I wasn’t going to allow anything to ruin this moment, we all enjoyed an electrified experience that only comes once in a life time.” 

Anyone who has been in pain can tell you, its constant presence in your life can wear down even the strongest among us. Routine functions that many of us take for granted become monumental tasks. As time goes on, feelings of hopelessness can seep in as one begins to question whether there will ever be an end to the pain. Anything that takes the focus off the pain, even for a brief period of time, allows for a refocus and much-needed breather that can remind one that there is more to life and that it can and will get better.

Honestly, I just want to cry, for real, it has been a very rough couple of weeks for me, but as Ashley (Operation Homefront representative) said to me, ‘this is what makes all things worth all the while’… and she was absolutely right.”

Perhaps the time to spend together as a family, making memories, with a few hours of no worries, no pain… just joy… are what will be the catalyst to help someone through dark times. Give them something beautiful to hold onto when it is all too easy and understandable that one may want to give up.

“..all I can say is thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you guys.”

We suspect that when asked, most artists would answer that they just want to touch someone through their craft, to have an impact. That happened this Saturday night in Virginia, and we know it will happen again throughout Carrie’s “Storyteller” tour. In fact, check out this heartwarming interview with another of our families after their concert experience in D.C.


We appreciate the support of Carnival Cruise Line and Carrie Underwood as we continue to focus on building strong, stable and secure military families and the needs of our nation’s wounded veterans.

Learn more about our partnership with Carrie Underwood and Carnival Cruises

Check out Carrie on tour at a city near you.

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“From the second we got here, it reduced my symptoms…it’s a safer environment”

Our men and women in uniform accept that their call to duty can mean deploying to dangerous areas of the world. They look forward to the day when they can come home and be safe and secure among their communities and loved ones.

U.S. Marine Sophea Tan was no different. During his time in service, Sophea deployed twice – once for 14 months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, then for eight months in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As a result of injuries sustained during those deployments, he was assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Sam Houston while he received care at San Antonio Military Medical center. He, his wife, and three children lived in a home off base.

The family’s security was shattered when their home was broken into. The intruders broke in through the back door and stole everything. The violation rocked the family and triggered a worsening of Sophea’s post-traumatic stress. He began to show signs of worsening PTSD and he was losing sleep. His wife, Pitou, became significantly concerned that continuing to reside in the home would contribute to more of a decline in Sophea’s health, something they had been working so very hard to improve. After hearing about our Operation Homefront Village in San Antonio from other families on base, she suggested it as a solution to help address the crisis the found themselves in. Sophea applied and was accepted into the transitional housing program.

Living at the OH Village allowed Sophea to focus more on healing without worrying about the safety of his family. “From the second we got here, it reduced my symptoms…it’s a safer environment. I didn’t see shadows at night as often. When I was at the hospital, I didn’t have to worry about my wife being safe.” But it wasn’t just emotional and physically healing he found. Living in the rent-free apartments helped Sophea pay off debt and save for a down payment on a new home for his family.

Their future plans for their transition include pursuing their educations. Sophea wants to finish his master’s degree in criminal justice. His wife, Pitou, wants to study English as a second language and earn a certificate in cosmetology.

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

 

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