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Before the Night Was Over.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30845320545_oBefore the night was over…

They were dropping names like Carrie Underwood and saying they got to be part of a private concert with her.

Before the night was over…

They were talking about Carnival Cruise Lines, well-known for a fun family atmosphere, and proclaiming they got one free night on Carnival’s biggest and best ship, the Carnival Vista, with a skyline view of New York City.

Before the night was over…

They could say they met Miss USA Deshauna Barber, the very first active duty service member to wear the crown.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30544200720_oBefore the night was over…

They were able to be part of a rare event, a naming ceremony to officially christen Carnival’s biggest and best new ship, the Carnival Vista, complete with helicopter delivery of the champagne, Kathie Lee Gifford, confetti cannons, and more.

Is it possible that all that could happen in less than 24 hours? Yes it is. And all of those experiences, and many more, were a reality for some of our military families, who were guests of Carnival’s “Honor.Family.Fun” event in New York City recently.

The experience featured it all before the night was over.

But beyond the bright lights, the gorgeous expansive ship and the entertainment…one message came through loud and clear.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808587226_oPeople care about our military.

Our families heard it over and over again.

They heard it in Carrie’s live performance of her song Keep Us Safe:

“And through the struggles and the trouble I know we don’t walk alone.

Even when we get lost through the valleys we crossed.”

And in Carrie’s words:

“It’s been really amazing to get to be a part of such an incredible organization and the way you’ve…committed to helping military families and giving them special time together. I’m a mother and I know how precious those moments are.”

They heard and recognized themselves in the words of our President and CEO, John I Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.):

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808588626_oI served in the Air Force for 27 1/2 years. When I go back and look at pictures of my family, I am not in any of them…because I wasn’t there. This partnership is important (because) those military families will be able to create the memories that will last a lifetime. The opportunity to go on vacation with your families and capture those photos, is going to be truly spectacular.

They heard it from Carnival CEO Christine Duffy:

Carnival carries more active and retired U.S. military personnel than any other cruise line. So it means a great deal to me to be able to be a part of this amazing event, honoring and celebrating the sacrifices of those who serve in our Armed Forces and protect our freedoms each and every day. I couldn’t think of a more deserving group to honor as we celebrate the launch of our spectacular new ship, Carnival Vista.

They heard from Miss USA Deshauna Barber who understand the military life very well. As she spoke at the Naming Ceremony, she recalled, with barely veiled emotion, the birthdays and holidays that her father always missed because he deployed a lot as part of special forces:

“I do a lot of speeches… but this one touches my heart. I am humbled and proud and honored and inspired all at the same time. …What we do as military is very important. When the days get hard, you have to think about days like this.”

As we approach Veterans Day, we want to remind our military families that we are grateful for the courage and honor of all of you who serve our great nation. We know you must give up so much and you do it willingly. We are grateful and we care about you.

We hope you hear that over and over again.

Check out our album of images from that special day, and 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.

Operation Homefront is accepting 2017 Military Child of the Year nominations through Dec. 5, 2016. There will be a seventh award for a young person age 13-18. This award is the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation® presented by Booz Allen Hamilton. With a new invention, improvement to existing technology, creation of a new nonprofit or community service group, or expansion of an existing membership organization, the winner of this award shows the power of innovative thinking. A child can be nominated and apply for both awards. We encourage it! Nominate here

mcoy2017rerunGoogle “military kids”, and you’ll find there’s no shortage of research and statistics available about the impact of the military life on the children who live it. How many times the average military child can expect to move. How many schools the average military child can expect to attend. How many deployments the average military child can expect to face.

But those statistics don’t tell us who they really are. YOU DO. And they aren’t average. They are extraordinary.

Every year, when we open nominations for our Military Child of the Year Award, we get forms filled with the pride and love of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, teachers, coaches and community members. Yes, they talk of accomplishments; GPAs, leadership positions, obstacles overcome. But they also talk about the little things that matter the most. The smile that lifts up those around them. The jokester that keeps the family on their toes. The one who knows just when a hug is needed. The artist. The musician. The ever energetic powerhouse and the budding philosophers.

Quiet courage and strength that speaks volumes. They aren’t just making the best of what military life handed them….they’re owning it. With zest and joy and determination.

Which is why we always look forward to the opening of the annual nomination period for the Military Child of the Year Award. As part of our mission to raise awareness for the challenges faced by the children of our military families, we are always looking for the right words and message that captures just how terrific these kids are, and why it is so important to recognize them as a force behind the forces. For the past 8 years, we have truly had to look no further than you, our community, for the pride, love, and awe in your words as you share the stories of the youngest heroes in your lives.

mcoyblog2015familyHelp us tell the stories of who our military children really are. Anyone can nominate a military child in their life, so share with your friends, neighbors, schools, and community groups. One child from each branch will be honored in April at a special gala in our nation’s capitol. Recipients will also receive a laptop and a $10000 award.  The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation recipient will receive a $5,000 cash award, will benefit from mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance the winner’s project, and will be flown to Washington along with a parent or guardian to be recognized at the gala. So, fire up those keyboards!

To learn more about the Military Child of the Year and Innovation Awards, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. You can also find the nomination form here and FAQ here.

Former Marine Sayku Dudley describes his childhood in Atlanta, Georgia, as rough. As a kid, Sayku was motivated to find a better life for himself.

Sayku started going to softball games and barbeques hosted by local military recruiters and became good friends with one of them.

“As things became worse in my environment,” said Sayku, “I decided to … join the military. As I was deciding which branch of service to go into, I thought the Marines looked the toughest and the fittest. I went into the Marines because I wanted to look like that guy who stood out from the rest.”

dudleyAfter basic training at Paris Island, South Carolina, Sayku was stationed at Twenty-nine Palms, the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in California.  He spent time in Japan and Mexico before returning to Atlanta to join the Marine Reserves.

After 9/11, Sayku deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  “I was almost killed,” said Sayku. “But I recovered.” Eventually he came back to Georgia. “My career was cut short at the end,” said Sayku. “I am fighting for medical retirement. I have had multiple personal problems. I have lost stripes. Since 2009, I have been going through the storm of my life.”

Sayku struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress. His financial situation was bleak and he faced having his lights and utilities shut off. He first turned to Wounded Warrior Project for help, and in turn, they referred him to Operation Homefront.  Operation Homefront was able to provide   the financial assistance he needed during a difficult financial time.

Sakyu request was just one of over 1,700 military families we’ve helped so far this year, and one of 11,000 since our inception in 2012.  89.4% of our 2016 clients surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that OH’s Emergency Assistance Program helps build strong, stable, and secure military families.

Sayku is thankful that things are better now than they were last year. “I was in a mental state that I didn’t know I was in or how to get out. After I left the military, I had problems and haven’t been able to do. This is not where I ever thought I would be.”

To those who donate to OH, Sayku said, “There are not a lot of words. I would rather do than say. I am so very thankful. I am glad that you (OH) was able to help me. Asking for help really checks your pride. I am very thankful for the help, and I am on a new path and thanks to you I can do for now. I definitely know what it’s like to not have. It’s very humbling to be where I am.”

Sayku recently began work at Home Depot part-time. “I haven’t been in the work world for a while,” said Sayku. “This is a new start. I have been on a rocky road filled with debts and family problems. But now I am in a different place and keep remembering how far I came. I am starting over new. This time I am going to succeed either by working multiple jobs or going back to school.”

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.

hector-perez-alternate-picHector Perez is a California native – growing up just a few miles from Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. Like many young men and women, Hector was compelled to serve after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

With the influence of a high school recruiter, he enlisted in the Marines in 2002.

During his service, Hector deployed to the middle east many times. While in Afganistan, Perez recalls how a road side bomb detonated and hit his vehicle.

Hector was injured severely. “Spinal cord injuries, neural damage to my left leg and left eye, and some TBI and PTSD as well,” were all side effects of his accident. He received a Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for all his years of active duty service and, more specifically, for his outstanding service during his four deployments to Iraq and two deployments to Afghanistan.

No one is prepared for the effects of war, and, like too many of his comrades, these injuries caused Perez to medically retire in 2015.

Soon he was back in California but, this time, things were a little different.

Like many in his situation, Hector was caught off guard and struggled to make ends meet during his transition out of the military. “I had to realize wasn’t going to be able to spend 20 years, a full career, in the Marine Corps,” he said.

Hector heard about the Operation Homefront Villages, that provide rent-free transitional housing, from his recovery care coordinator and applied. He was accepted into the program and moved into the new Operation Homefront Village in San Diego. There, he found relief and a way to get back on track with his life.

“We were able to focus on stabilizing our income,” added Hector. “In addition, we brought our current debt down to a minimum and live in a safe environment with others in the same position and continue care for disabilities.”

While at Village, Hector and his family were able to reduce their total debt by more than $5,000. His wife graduated from college and they were able to establish stability. In addition, the family has been able to put over $15,000 into their savings and on average are able to contribute an additional $2,000 into their savings each month.

“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.”

We’re glad he’s safe and back home where he belongs.

Meet the Perez family

 

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.

 

“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

devin-peterson-pic-2Yvette Peterson was nervous when she and her husband, Devin, decided to move. They had been living in her hometown of El Paso, Texas, and she had never lived far from her family. However, she and Devin both felt that it was time to move to Devin’s hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“I was excited to be near his family and near my sister in Raleigh, but I was scared to live so far away from Texas,” Yvette said. “We were all scared. My kids didn’t want to leave their friends.”

On top of the emotional anxieties surrounding the move, Devin and Yvette were really worried about finding a place in Fayetteville once they got there. They were also struggling to meet their hefty car payments, all the while caring for their three children.

Devin served in the Army for nine years and was deployed to Iraq twice. Because of injuries he sustained while he was serving, he was medically retired from the military and no longer works.

With all of this looming over their heads and Devin unable to get a job, Yvette started to do some research. She happened to stumble across Operation Homefront (OH) and the Emergency Assistance Program, which she realized could provide them with some financial help for their move.

While she was going through the process of applying for the financial assistance, she found out about the Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program. HOTH provides mortgage-free housing to military veterans and their families. She applied for a home in North Carolina. “I was just thinking that there was no way we were going to get this house. There was no way,” he said, laughing.

Much to Devin’s surprise, though, the Peterson’s were awarded the house before they even moved to North Carolina. Knowing that they were going to have a safe and comfortable home to live in once they got to North Carolina helped ease a lot of the stress of moving.

“The move was exciting but it was nerve-wracking at the same time,” Yvette said. “We were really excited that we would be receiving the HOTH home.”

The Peterson’s moved into their HOTH home on October 10, 2013, and have been deeply involved in Operation Homefront ever since. For the past two years, their kids have participated in the Back-to-School Brigade and received school supplies and new backpacks, giving Devin and Yvette a welcome break from the stress of provided for three young children.

Perhaps even more important than the financial relief OH has provided the Peterson’s is the emotional support that Yvette has found among the other military spouses. Last year, Yvette got to attend the Homefront Celebration, which gives military spouses an elegant night out, complete with a nice dinner and a guest speaker. Mainly, though, it gives military spouses the opportunity to get to know one another and to realize that they are not alone. Being a military spouse comes with a wide range of issues and difficulties, so attending this event gave Yvette the chance to make new friends who understand what it means to be married to a veteran.

Yvette has also found a more intimate support system among the women involved in her local Hearts of Valor group, which provides support for the family of injured veterans.

“The ladies in my group are amazing,” she said. “We’re really good friends. We’ll get together outside of the program and go get lunch or just spend time together. We had a couponing trip a couple of weeks ago!”

Just recently, Yvette actually became a peer group facilitator to help give other people the support they need to be a caregiver to an injured veteran.

Both Devin and Yvette know that without the help of Operation Homefront—between the mortgage-free home, the school supplies, and the emotional support—their lives would be very different. Because of that, they always want to give back.

“For me, personally, it’s important to show how grateful I am for receiving our HOTH home, and it’s a lot of fun,” Yvette said.

Yvette and her family volunteer for as many programs and events as they can get involved in. She also brings her oldest child, Amory, along to volunteer with her to instill in her the importance of being grateful and giving back.

“[Volunteering] also shows my kids, especially my oldest, that I give back, you know, not to be selfish, to volunteer your time and energy,” Yvette said.

Amory helps out with picking up school supplies from the local Dollar Trees and stuffing backpacks with the other volunteers for the Back-to-School Brigade.

“[Operation Homefront] is a really good organization that does great things for vets,” Devin said. “We help out with as much as we can. Everything we have we owe to Operation Homefront, so we try our best to give back as much as we can.”

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.

 

michael-figueroa-picIt was a day that shook our country to its core. It also motivated thousands of young American men and women to step forward to serve in the military.

Michael Figueroa is no exception.

Born in Miami, Florida, Michael wanted to make a difference after witnessing the attacks of September 11. He enlisted in the Marines a few years later and served for almost 11 years before his medical retirement.

During his time in the Marine Corps, Figueroa was deployed on two separate occasions to Fallujah, Iraq.  As with many of his fellow veterans, the wounds were not visible and took time to surface. Once back in the United States, Figueroa began to suffer from the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a Traumatic Brain Injury.

It hasn’t been an easy transition for Figueroa and his family. Figueroa’s illness has caused him to be placed in a military medical treatment facility for three separate occasions causing separation from his wife, Melissa, and daughter, Olivia.

“Due to my illness, I was being medically retired prematurely,” said Figueroa. “Also because of my illness, I have cognitive problems and have to rely strongly on my wife.”

Thanks to Operation Homefront, Figueroa and his family were able to be placed in one of our rent-free transitional apartments at the Operation Homefront Village in San Diego. The villages provide a furnished apartment, financial counseling and a network of resident military families to connect with. Being at the Village served to alleviate some of the family’s transitional and financial stress.

“Receiving an apartment helped us relieve the burden of possible homelessness which in turn helps our mental and financial well-being,” said Figueroa. “In periods of extreme stress, my mind cannot handle it at times, so this has helped me and my family keep our mental stability through this transition.”

Michael was able to save $16,000 and reduce his overall debt by $5,000. He and Melissa were able to accomplish several of their financial goals and educational benefits. Their future plans are to move to Oceanside and stay actively involved in the military community. Michael is studying computer science and hopes to finish his degree at Mira Costa College.

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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