vickie at baghdad sign

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr

With 84 percent of our staff either veterans or coming from a military family, the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day resonates at Operation Homefront. 

From our top executives, to our staff working throughout the nation, and from our board members to our volunteer brigade (more than 4,500 strong with 56 percent being service members or military spouses), Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices made by our country’s military families.

We asked one of our own to tell us, in her own words, about serving our country.

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr, veteran, US Air Force November 1978 – August 1987; US Army May 1990 – 1993 

I have several immediate thoughts when I think of Veterans Day. The first is the overwhelming support that the American people showed to military troops during the Gulf War in 1990-1991. As part of the 786th Transportation Company, an Army National Guard unit in Lucedale, Mississippi, we were activated in November 1990. As we made the drive from Lucedale to Fort Stewart, Georgia, we encountered many people waving miniature flags as we passed by. Whenever the convoy stopped, people voiced their support of us, America, and the U.S. military.

When we returned from our deployment to Saudi Arabia in May 1991, I was once again overwhelmed by the support—this time from Vietnam veterans and the local Bangor, Maine community.  We were, by far, not the first troops to return from Desert Storm—the first in country were the first out. Yet, when our plan landed in Bangor for refueling, at 3:00 a.m. (as in early, early pre morning), this Mississippi Army National Guard unit was met by a group of local Vietnam veterans. These Vietnam veterans wanted to make sure that all military troops were welcomed back to the United States. They had also convinced members of the local community that getting up at 2:00 a.m. to welcome soldiers back to the United States at 3:00 a.m. was a great idea. At that point, I really knew that being a member of the military was being a part of brotherhood, and I would always have a connection to this select group of individuals.

A few years after Desert Storm, I got together with a fellow soldier and attended the Laser show at Stone Mountain, Georgia. As the night fell, the show began which was military themed. Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” played across the loudspeaker as the American flag wavered against Stone Mountain. Each branch of the military was recognized, and the veterans in the audience were asked to stand. I had never considered myself to be more patriotic than anyone else, but in that moment I had an overwhelming sense of patriotism, an overwhelming sense of pride, and a few tears. When Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All” played a few minutes later, the tears did not stop. The cost of freedom is never free, and we must always remember those who walked before us, and that “All Gave Some and Some Gave All.”

That same support from the American people, that I witnessed firsthand in 1990, is what allows Operation Homefront to accomplish all of the many things we do for today’s veteran and military families. Our supporters give of their money, time, and goods, which we must always be thankful for – they are our cheerleaders. The other driving force is the “brotherhood of the military” (please note that as a female the brotherhood is meant to be inclusive of all). People associated with the military want to help each other as witnessed by my encounter with the Vietnam veterans in Maine. Operation Homefront helps veteran and military families because many of us have a tie to the military, and we want to give back to our brothers and sisters, who will in turn pay it forward and give back to others. And the pride and patriotism keeps all of us going when the days are long and things seem to go wrong. Patriotism reminds us that some of our veterans, our military, and their families made the ultimate sacrifice, while others are living with their sacrifice daily.

Join Operation Homefront in recognizing the 100th celebration of Veterans Day through our Raise Your Hand campaign. Click here to learn more.


Apps can be a time saver and great addition to your savings approach, but always do your homework.

There may be no quick fix to digging out of debt or saving for that next big purchase, but there can be an overwhelming number of tech options that claim to help you meet your goal. So how do you pick the right one?

Operation Homefront Caseworker Tonya Cooper, an accredited financial counselor, agrees that apps can be a big help. There are just a couple words of caution, however.

First, users must determine for themselves if they are O.K. with the kind of information apps gather and request. For example, store apps like target Cartwheel can give great discounts and coupons at the store but it also logs all that information.

Second, keep to your list when it comes to coupon apps, or even the old-fashioned paper version. “When it comes to coupons, I never advocate buying something just because it has a coupon unless you were going to buy it anyway because you can actually end up spending more money,” she said.

And finally, do some research. Read reviews. Look at trusted sources that regularly put out “best of” lists relating to finances, like Forbes.com and Consumer Reports.

To help get you started, here are some finance-related apps that repeatedly make it to the top of the list. Keep in mind, Operation Homefront is not endorsing any particular app, we are just giving some examples. Some other places to look include Forbes, NerdWallet, and Cnet.

MintMint App.png

Mint is one of the most well-known budget apps available. After linking to your bank accounts, credit cards and loans, Mint helps create budgets, track your money, and includes your credit score. The app also suggests budgets and shows what the user can save in various categories like “food and entertainment.”

You Need A Budget(YNAB)YNAB app.jpg

One of the drawbacks of YNAB is it’s only free for a 34-day trial. After that, it costs $84 a year. But that price gets you software that works on all devices, not just your phone. It’s also one of the most robust budgeting apps. The app tells you to give every dollar a job, know your expenses, pick a goal, adjust to stay within budget (just in case you overspend in a category), and “age your money,” which means you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck.

ibottaIB app.jpg

A rebate app, ibotta will give you money back for things you buy. A user can even scan a receipt and see if the app gives anything back on the items listed. The rebates are in the form of a credit in the app. This is one of those apps that Tonya advises needs to be used with caution. Only buy items you planned to buy anyway.

Store Loyalty Programs

Many stores—department stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, etc.—have long tried to lure customers by rewarding loyalty. If you know you regularly go to one store, check out whether the store has a loyalty program.

Please feel free to share your money saving tips in the comments. Have an idea for this blog series?  Send your suggestions to socialnet@operationhomefront.org.

U.S. Bank and Operation Homefront partnered to donate a mortgage-free home to Mark and Cynthia Porter. In a guest blog, U.S. Bank tells us more about the Porters, their new home, and why Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program was a natural fit for a partnership.


U.S. Air Force veteran Mark Porter originally moved with his wife Cynthia to Southern California for an engineering job that he expected to be the last chapter of his civilian career.

Nearly a decade later, though, he was feeling trapped by the ever-increasing cost of living.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to retire,” said Mark.

The couple desired to move to Henderson, Nevada, where Cynthia’s daughter lived with her family. However, all the senior housing communities they found had wait lists of two or three years.

“Then, while just scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post about Operation Homefront,” said Cynthia. “When I clicked and saw that they had a home available in Henderson, I was speechless.”

1568733823246 (1).jpg

The Porters are the latest participants in Operation Homefront’s “Homes on the Homefront” program in which the nonprofit collaborates with partners to donate mortgage-free homes to veterans in need. U.S. Bank was a natural partner as the bank has a similar program, “Housing Opportunities after Military Engagement” (H.O.M.E.), through which it has donated 18 homes to veterans since 2013.

“We are overwhelmed with emotions and thankful beyond words,” said Mark. “You have no idea of the blessing it is for something like this to come along. This is our forever home – this is it.”

“It is a privilege to be able to give back to those who have given so much to our country,” said U.S. Bank Las Vegas Market President Clark Wood. “On behalf of our 550 employees in and around Las Vegas, I would like to welcome Mark and Cynthia to their new home and community.”

In addition to H.O.M.E., U.S. Bank has national home repair and car donation programs for veterans in need as well. In fact, last week the bank donated a vehicle to medically retired U.S. Army veteran Jared Stacey and his family (coincidentally, also in Las Vegas).1568733823680.jpg

Located just several miles away from family, the one-bedroom plus den, two-bathroom home is part of a senior living community. When talking through the home specs, Mark made a special note of the garage and his plans to put in a work bench.

“I’ve always been a tinkerer,” he smiled.
He said he has been taking things apart and putting them back together for as long as he can remember. And other than the family lawn mower when he was a kid, he has always been able to put them back together.

His natural mind for mechanics, interest in airplanes and family legacy of military service led Mark to enlist in the Air Force out of high school in 1975. He went on serve 17 years, primarily in mechanical roles, including an assignment to a NATO base in Germany from 1978 to 1981 to teach technicians how to properly equip airplanes for missions.

“With NATO, our motto was ‘to guard freedom,’” he said. “It was a no-nonsense job and an experience that really created a sense of responsibility that made us grow up fast.”
Mark grew into leadership roles in the years that followed, spending time as an instructor for new airplane technicians in the Air Force. In that position, he developed a training course for missile launchers that not only earned him an achievement medal but is also still used today.


After retiring from the Air Force in 1992, Mark enrolled at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri, to study computer-aided design. Upon graduation, he went on to work as an engineer at a print manufacturing firm for more than a decade. It was during that time that he met Cynthia.

Now that the couple has moved from California to Nevada and Mark is able to retire, Cynthia said they are excited to revisit an activity that they enjoyed on their first date – bird watching.

This week, however, their new yard was full of much more than birds. The pair was welcomed into their home by dozens of family members, friends, neighbors and leaders from U.S. Bank and Operation Homefront at a key ceremony on Sept. 12. 1568733827391.jpg

Mark is already getting to know fellow veterans in the community through the American Legion. Although having served during three distinct eras in terms of conflict – Vietnam, Cold and Gulf – he speaks most about the brotherhood that bonds together those who have served.

“I love being around these guys, just playing darts at the Legion,” he said. “Once you take the oath, you share a sense of duty and your lives are forever changed.”

Thinking back, Mark described the day he took that oath as one of the most emotional events in his life.

Accepting the keys to his forever home in a forever community, he added, is another one.
Written by Pat Swanson of U.S. Bank. From left to right in the featured photo above, U.S. Bank employees Hans Getty, Len McMorrow, Morris Jackson II, Jenny Palmberg and Clark Wood are pictured with Cynthia and Mark Porter in the middle. Visit proudtoserve.usbank.com to learn more about how the bank supports veterans as employees, customers and in the community.


Response to our 2019 Back-to-School® Brigade program was phenomenal. Read about how we are making a difference in the lives of military families, all thanks to our partners, volunteers and supporters like you:

Nearly 30 minutes before the start of Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School® Brigade (BTSB) event in San Antonio, a line of families started at the gym doors inside a local YMCA and snaked all the way out of the building.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers, Operation Homefront employees and partners like Chobani and H-E-B made the necessary last-minute checks. The face painters were ready, the photo booth filled with props and more than 500 backpacks were stacked and ready to go.

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.


Volunteers from H-E-B helped make the day special for military families. Operation Homefront is proud to partner with H-E-B for BTSB as well as our Holiday Meal for Military program.


We were excited to host the team from Chobani at our San Antonio BTSB event. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families via Operation Homefront, and also matching donations—up to an additional $250,000!

Once the doors opened, the families filed through the gymnasium, gathering information on various resources from all the different booths and of course picking out a purple, pink, or clear backpack before leaving with smiling faces.

Good times!



The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

Sailor Natalie Larenas attended the event for the first time, bringing her two sons, one in fourth grade and the other a freshman in high school.

“I had no idea there would be so much stuff here,” she said. “There was a lot of things the kids could learn about, like PTSD and education resources.”

Having been in the Navy for the past 14 years, Natalie said she appreciates that there are donors who give to Operation Homefront to help military families.

“Thank you!” Natalie said. “The families who serve sacrifice a lot and when there is something like this, we feel appreciated. It’s really nice. I really appreciate this, especially with three kids. I get emotional because I have served so many years and sacrificed time, just being away from my family. That’s why this is so nice. It tells me that we are appreciated too.”

From L-R, clockwise: An OH volunteer and service member at the BTSB event in Colorado Springs, CO; OH CEO John Pray (second from left) volunteers at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN; A soldier fills a backpack at the BTSB event at Camp Murray, Tacoma, WA; A boy gets his face painted at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN.

Since BTSB began in 2008, more than 375,000 military children have been provided with backpacks filled with supplies, helping them have the tools they need to succeed for the school year. You can see photos from our events on our Flickr page.

Operation Homefront Program Coordinator Rebekah Reyes said the Alamo City event could not have happened without the volunteers and partners. “I want to thank all of our donors and our volunteers who came out to support”,” Rebekah said. “(At the event), we had about 150 volunteers help us from the set up to clean up. They really helped make the event run smoothly.”

Team work makes the dream work.

Cathy Toyoda was one of those volunteers. She’s been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years, currently in the donations department but has helped at several BTSB events.

“You know, military families, most of them, are on a tight budget, and buying school supplies is very costly,” she said. “It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event by giving all the school supplies and the back packs and it’s really wonderful to give them away to people who need them.”

Cathy Toyoda has been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years. It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event.”

Talia Farrell was at BTSB for the first time. She and her husband Troy, who is in the Air Force, brought their two kids, Jordan and Jayda, in kindergarten and third grade respectively. She said the kids had a great time and the family was surprised at all the goodies. She hopes to return in the future.

This was Talia’s family’s first time at BTSB. This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.”

“This is a great opportunity for military families,” Talia said. “This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.

Back-to-School Brigade 2019 has concluded, but we have many more opportunities for military families in the coming months. Keep an eye on our events page for when registrations open.  If you would like to get involved as a volunteer, this page has everything you need to get started,

Chobani has been an incredible supporter of Operation Homefront’s mission. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families. And for every dollar you donate, Chobani will match your donation—up to an additional $250,000.

Finally, a special thanks to our national sponsors, Dollar Tree and SAIC, for their ongoing support of Back-to-School Brigade and many other Operation Homefront programs.

By: Michelle Mondo

Here at Operation Homefront, financial literacy is a cornerstone of our programs. Recently, at a Hearts of Valor retreat in San Antonio, Texas, caregivers learned about budgeting from Critical Financial Assistance caseworker Tonya Cooper, also an accredited financial counselor. During one retreat session, she went through the steps of creating a budget and setting financial goals.

Because financial literacy is something everyone can use, we are trying something new. Each month, Operation Homefront will write a blog post dedicated to financial literacy. Tonya will be helping to come up with subjects and themes but if it catches on, we hope to hear your suggestions as well. We are going to touch on topics such as buying a car, raising financially literate children and much more.

Our first post is a Q&A with Tonya so readers can get to know her a bit and hear a summarized version of what she taught during the retreat. We’ve included a short bio at the end of the Q&A to learn more about her. And check back next month when we look at apps to save you money.IMG_3595

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do? I am a caseworker and I work in the Critical Financial Assistance department. As a caseworker, I assist wounded service members with their critical bills during a temporary hardship. I’ve always been interested in financial literacy, household budgeting, and personal finance. Having been in military culture for 13 years, I’ve been through PCS’s and deployments. I’ve experienced the unique needs a military family has financially. I realized as I was going through these struggles the families around me were going through the same struggles and no one really taught you how to tackle these challenges. I was helping friends with their budgets, I decided I wanted to do it professionally. I applied for a fellowship available for military spouses that allowed me to become an accredited financial counselor and now it has allowed me to work in this capacity—to be able to help service members with their finances, to promote financial literacy as education and I’ve also had the privilege of working at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston directly with active-duty service members to help them set financial goals.

Why is it so important that the families we serve in our programs get that kind of help? Financial literacy is so important because while we are serving the military community with the amazing programs that we have here at Operation Homefront, we also want to provide them with tools and resources to be successful in the future. For example, for every service member, we assist with critical financial assistance we provide them with a free resource for financial counseling that they can use for up to one year. The counselor will work with them to set financial goals and to create a realistic household budget.

In terms of finances, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen for not only military families, but in general? Specific to the military community, PCSs are always one of the biggest challenges. Service members do receive allowances for relocation but are still paying out of pocket for so much. While uprooting the family, one major challenge is the spouse being unemployed or under-employed while enduring frequent relocations.

Budget discipline is also one of the biggest challenges that military families face but is certainly not unique to military culture. Formulating that discipline doesn’t come naturally to most people. Also, within any relationship, having one person as a saver and one person as a spender can make it difficult to find middle ground. Finances are one of the leading causes of divorce in the United States.

For those who want to get started how do they do that? There are only two concepts to utilize to improve your financial situation: you can either increase your income or reduce your expenses. Once mentally ready to take action, there are some simple steps to take.

So, once you have that mindset and you are ready, then what? Step one is setting goals and brainstorming. The exercises I designed for the Hearts of Valor caregiver retreat are designed to take you through that process step by step. It starts with brainstorming about how to increase income or reduce expenses.

Once you’ve refined your brainstormed goals, it’s time for step two—set SMART goals. SMART means your goals are Specific (what is the purpose?), Measurable (set criteria that define when goal is met), Achievable (is the goal realistic?), Relevant (the goal aligns with long-term vision), Timely (set a deadline to meet a goal).

Once you’ve set SMART goals, step three is assessing your expenses. Track your expenses for 30 days so you know what your budget looks like right now. You can’t identify ways to improve your budget unless you know exactly where it needs improving. One common budget leak is with food. It’s very likely that unless you closely track your expenses you are spending more on food than what you think you are. There is no way to commit to reducing food expenses if you don’t currently know what you are spending.

Step four is to take action to increase income or reduce expenses using the goals you set after you tracked your expenses. It is nearly always easier to reduce expenses than it is to increase income but be prepared to make some tweaks to your lifestyle to meet these goals.

During your Hearts of Valor session, you mentioned periodic expenses. Can you talk a little bit about that? So, in addition to tracking expenses for 30 days, I told the caregivers to pull out a physical calendar. I want you to go through month by month and write down those expenses that pop up every year but aren’t monthly. Examples are birthdays, holidays, vehicle tax, oil changes, professional dues, etc. These are all things you may not think about because they aren’t being accounted for when you tracked for 30 days. In creating this list, keep that calendar handy because there will always be something that will come up that you didn’t think about. The idea is that within a year you have a full description of those expenses and then you are going to work to fit those into your monthly budget in a separate fund. If your periodic expenses over a year add up to say $1,200. Divide that by 12 months and you want to set aside about $100 a month with the idea being that you don’t have to pull from your regular monthly expenses because you already have a fund set aside.HoV retreat 2019 financial literacy session

This can all feel like a lot coming at you at once. What do you tell people if they are feeling overwhelmed by money matters? When it comes to these steps, break them down into small pieces, step by step. When it comes to identifying what you want to do different financially, revert to this process. Start small, with one to two goals. The process itself tells you where to go. Find whatever worksheets work for you, download an app, there’s so many apps out there.

How do you boost people’s spirits or how do they stay positive if they can’t get over certain hurdles? I remind them that they don’t have to get this done overnight. It’s a process. I give them access to tools and resources they can utilize depending on the needs they have. It’s also worth trying to identify any underlying issues whether physical, emotional or mental. These are issues that will need to be identified and addressed so they can take positive control of their finances.


Tonya Cooper, AFC®, is a caseworker in Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance program. Since joining the Operation Homefront family, she has successfully advocated for over $300,000 in critical financial assistance for 200 veterans and their families, assisting with rent, utilities, auto payments and more during their times of temporary hardship. Having been a military spouse herself for 13 years and seeing the need for better financial education within the military community, she was inspired to become an Accredited Financial Counselor through FINRA’s AFCPE®Military Spouse Fellowship Program. She has also previously worked directly with military families at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston’s Military & Family Readiness center providing financial literacy education and one-on-one

Set Up For Success

Four-year-old Jaxon Crouse ran from room to room of his family’s new home pointing out his favorite features.

“Look, the refrigerator has a water thingy!”

“There’s another closet!”

Jaxon, everyone would come to learn, really likes closets.

Jaxon, really likes closets.

Jaxon really likes closets.

He and his family were seeing the house for the first time during Operation Homefront’s “Welcome to the Community” ceremony in Helotes, Texas held on Thursday, May 30, as part of the organization’s Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration program.

As part of the program, the Crouse family—retired Army Sgt. Michael, his wife Michelle, and their three children, Jaxon, daughter Penelope, 6, and newborn son Greyson River—will live in the newly built, rent-free house for two to three years as they work with financial counselors and caseworkers to build savings, reduce debt, and develop a strong transition plan so when they leave the program they can buy their own home.

Operation Homefront launched THCR in August 2018. Made possible by a generous investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and support from The Home Depot Foundation and others, the program was designed as a gateway for stability to help veteran families remain strong, stable and secure as they transition from military service. The program will soon have eight properties in five states.

The THCR program is made possible by a generous investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and support from The Home Depot Foundation and others.

Operation Homefront Chief Operation Officer and retired Brig. Gen. Bob Thomas thanked donors like Centex Homes, Inc. a division of PulteGroup, and spoke of the importance of stable housing for families leaving the military. “Housing is a center of gravity,” he said. “It is an enabler. We want [the families] to get involved in their community and help ease their transition.”

“Housing is a center of gravity”-Bob Thomas, Operation Homefront Chief Operating Officer, Brig. Gen., USAF (Ret.)

Having grown up in a military family, this is Michael’s first house that has not been a rental. He is looking forward to learning more about maintaining the property, paying off debt and adding to their savings. He also will be closer to his job at Wells Fargo, although he does hope to switch careers after getting his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from UTSA. Michelle wants to enroll at UTSA after she gets her associate degree in early childhood education. She has been home-schooling Penelope and Jaxon, but they are now signed up in Northside Independent School District.

Last year, the family found themselves scrambling when an unexpected medical diagnosis forced Michael to retire from the Army after nearly 15 years of service. They were told the separation process from the military would take six to eight months and were shocked when after only four months they received notice around the Christmas holiday in 2018 that Michael would no longer be in the military.

Michelle was pregnant with Greyson and the family was worried and anxious. They did not have savings and had not had the opportunity to line up housing. They found relief through Operation Homefront’s transitional housing programs—first moving into the San Antonio Village and then being accepted into the longer-term THCR.

“It’s really life changing,” Michelle said about the programs Operation Homefront’s donors support. “It’s not just about writing a check. You are really changing our family’s lives for the better. And even setting up our children for success because if we’re successful we pass that on to them. And it’s not just debt. It’s very exciting and very touching to us.”

“You are really changing our family’s lives for the better”-Michelle Crouse

They knew they wanted to come back to the San Antonio area because that is where Michelle was born and raised. Her family attended the ceremony and in true San Antonio fashion, Michelle’s sister Emily brought homemade cookies and their mom, Janie, brought tres leches cake.

Janie and Michelle’s dad Daniel both said they were eager to have their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren closer to them. They live about 15 minutes away from the Helotes house.

“We get to see Greyson as a little baby,” Janie said. “We didn’t see Jaxon or Penelope as newborn babies. I think Penelope was six months and Jaxon maybe three or four months. Now they can have our help and we can babysit.”

“And they can do grandparents day at school,” she added.

Little Greyson and his brother and sister will be able to visit with their grandparents more, which is priceless.

As everyone filtered through the house, Penelope caught her brother’s closet-fever and invited her aunts and uncles into the upstairs room she declared as hers. “Look at this closet it’s so big,” she could be heard telling her family. Both Janie and Michelle’s sister Emily joked that with the spacious kitchen and big backyard, it was now Michelle and Michael’s turn to host the family get-togethers and holiday meals. Michelle and Michael were all on board.

“We’re extremely grateful and happy,” Michael added. “We want to thank Operation Homefront and the Clark Foundation. This is an amazing opportunity for us.”

“We can’t wait for everyone to see us in three years; in two to three years and see everything we accomplished,” Michelle added. “We won’t let you all down.”

Learn more about our Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration programApplications are currently being accepted for a THCR home in Weeki Watchee FL.

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.


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

%d bloggers like this: