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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

 

From Sergeant to Professor

Tyler (with family) credits a strong, stable, and secure future to the help of Operation Homefront and our generous supporters.

Former Army Staff Sgt. Tyler Mobra is working to earn a new title — professor.

He originally enlisted in the Army in 2003, deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan as a cavalry scout, and was medically discharged in 2009 for multiple injuries. Tyler was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in action, and the Bronze Star for heroic or meritorious achievement or service. He received the Bronze Star for attempting to save in 2008, along with three others, two allied Afghan soldiers who had been severely wounded in a mortar attack. One survived.

The costs of war are all too high, but Tyler felt the full impact of actual costs of living when he was medically retired.

The Mobras rented a small apartment in Catoosa, OK. Their daughters shared a room, but couldn’t “sleep on bunk beds forever,” he said. He had heard about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program and immediately applied. He hoped a HOTH home would become available in the area because he didn’t want to change schools, and they have family nearby.

Operation Homefront awarded a mortgage-free home in 2015 to Tyler and his wife, Mindy, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and the family is working with a caseworker and financial counselor to build savings, reduce debit and learn the skills to become successful homeowners. Saving on housing also opens room in the budget for school and other costs, such as traveling to present at professional development conferences, Tyler said.

Tyler acknowledges it’s difficult sometimes to juggle all the responsibilities of working, studying and parenting. He values the financial counseling he received through HOTH, continuing to use the EMoney account they set up because it has been a good tool and a timesaver. The couple has saved over $34,000 in two years, as part of financial goals under HOTH. They also paid off about $8,500 in debt.

“It’s amazing,” he said. Receiving a mortgage- free home is “a life changer. There are no words to fully express how grateful I am,” he said. Without assistance, “we’d be living paycheck to paycheck,” Tyler said, adding that he would not be able to afford the opportunity to work towards a strong, stable, and secure future without the help of Operation Homefront and our generous supporters.

Tyler is now focused on his dream to become a professor. Having been a college student almost continuously since 2010, Tyler decided he liked academia enough to stay in it. He has applied to the University of Oklahoma – Tulsa for a Ph.D. program in leadership, curriculum and supervision, and if accepted will be a doctoral candidate with the goal of teaching at the college level. Tyler is already certified to teach grades K-12 in Oklahoma.

In the meantime, he finished his second master’s degree, in math and science education, from University of Tulsa. His first master’s degree is in environmental health and safety management from Northeastern State University, where he also obtained his bachelor’s degree in the same field in 2013.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Living the American Dream.

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.

 

 

We had the chance this past summer to ask military veterans from many eras about their thoughts on service to country: why they chose to serve, what they remember the most about their time in service, and what they think Americans should know about military families and how we can join to support them.  It is our honor to share with you their thoughts as we kick off a celebration of veterans leading up to Veterans Day 2018.

 

On why they chose to serve…

“9/11 was one of the reasons, the other was because other members of my family served and it’s something that everyone should do, in my opinion.” –Tim, U.S. Army veteran, 6 years of service.

“I wanted to serve my country and be a part of something bigger then myself.” –Allen, U.S. Navy, 6 years of service.

“I was a country boy raised in northern La. I saw the Marines as a way to see the world!!!”-Charles, U.S.M.C., 8 years of service.

“Drafted in 1966.”-Hector, U.S. Army, 26 years of service.

On what they remember most about their service…

“The fact that our military is so powerful and great, and it is an all-volunteer military. I am very proud to have served besides such great Americans and people.”-Glen, U.S. Army, 34 years of service.

“The comradery, the selfless service.”-Justin, U.S. Army, 4 years of service.

“Evacuating refugees from Vietnam; removing people from a war-torn country.”-Carl, U.S.M.C., 5 years of service.

“Pulling back into (port) after being deployed to the Persian Gulf for almost a year and seeing thousands of people waiting on the piers for several returning ships. Just a great feeling to have that support.” –Chris, U.S. Navy, 10 years of service.

“Being part of a community that helps one another and sees only Red White and Blue.  While on a training mission in Kaiserslautern, Germany, several of my team members and I went on liberty.  We were from every ethnic background and upbringing that you can imagine.  As we walked the streets of that German town, it was very apparent that we were all the same, American!” –Jason, U.S. Navy, 6 years of service.

“When my Dad said, ‘PROUD OF YOU SON!!!!’”-Jim, U.S. Army, 2 years of service.

On what we can do TOGETHER to support military families…

“Life of a military family? It isn’t for everyone. Actually, not for most. It’s hard. Being away and all. Families that have been in for a long time and succeed, need to work with the ones who have been in a short time. Embrace them, help them.” –Ryan, U.S. Navy, 5 years of service.

“I believe the best thing they can so to show support to military families is just be a neighbor. What I mean by that is just be neighborly in any way you can. If it’s just a single older man or woman help them in the smallest ways such as take their trash out or help them fix something without asking for anything in return. Pay it forward as such.” –Nick, U.S.M.C., 6 years of service.

‘Knowing that there are a lot of birthdays, anniversaries, parties, Christmases and other holidays missed, and the little things that most civilians forget about and may not seem all to important are the most important things to a veteran.” –Dustin, U.S. Army, 12 years of service.

“Thank them and make sure that they and their family’s needs are met after their service ends.” –Hector, U.S. Army, 26 years of service.

“Best thing to do is something as small as a simple thanks.” –Christopher, U.S.A.F., 3 years of service.

 

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

 

 

Achieving your degree is a tremendous accomplishment. Many times, military spouses are not able to complete their education due to the inherent challenges of military life – multiple moves, deployments, injuries, children’s needs, etc. Sarah Gaul’s dream of completing a bachelor’s degree will finally come true, thanks to a full-tuition scholarship from Southern New Hampshire University, presented at Operation Homefront’s June 2018 Homefront Celebration in Anchorage, Alaska, a military spouse appreciation event that was a bright spot during a rough period in Sarah’s life.

Sarah shares her story with our Homefront Celebration guests.

Grateful that SNHU’s military-friendly programs are flexible, Sarah will complete her education at her own pace because the former Coast Guard reservist just recently completed breast cancer treatment after an October 2017 diagnosis, works part time, and has three active sons with her husband, Jeramy, who medically retired from the Coast Guard in June 2018.

In fact, all five family members started new schools this fall. Sarah, who has sewn all her life and started working in a quilt shop in May 2018, is majoring in fashion merchandising and management and digital photography. Jeramy is in the geomatics program at University of Alaska Anchorage. Their oldest son, Frank, 14, just started high school. Middle son Sean, 11, entered middle school, and their youngest, Henry, 5, started kindergarten.

Sarah said they will need to support each other through some inevitable school-related stress because she still has “chemo brain” from her cancer treatment which required multiple surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy. Their older two boys are on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. And Jeramy has experienced several traumatic brain injuries leading to his medical retirement. The Veterans Affairs Department rated his disability at 100 percent. Jeramy’s initial TBI happened 21 years ago during a training accident while in the Washington National Guard. A tank hatch slammed shut on his head. “He’s lucky to be alive,” Sarah said, adding that he was wearing a helmet. He suffered a broken jaw. Later on multiple occasions, Jeramy hit his head while on Coast Guard boats, and fell down a ladder well.

Suffice it to say that life since her diagnosis and Jeramy’s retirement, with the whole family in different schools, has been “just crazy,” as Sarah puts it. That’s why she greatly enjoyed a night out to herself at the Homefront Celebration. She sat with SNHU representatives and students who shared their perspectives on balancing school, work and home responsibilities. Operation Homefront (OH) also treated attendees, including many Army and Air Force spouses, to a catered dinner, dancing and prizes.

“Even 20 minutes to myself is a wonderful thing,”-Sarah says, of her journey as survivor, student, mom and military spouse.

“It was so much fun,” said Sarah, who follows OH on Facebook, and had participated previously in OH’s Back-to-School Brigade and Holiday Toy Drive events. “It was an amazing night. They took great care of us. The gift bags were just stuffed full of things.”

Sarah had a good time at the event even though she feels “so self-conscious now” because the chemotherapy caused her to lose her hair. “Even 20 minutes to myself is a wonderful thing,” she said, adding that it was nice to find something to do for herself because she can’t get her hair done, or go for a back massage because she can’t lie on the table until she’s fully recovered from her surgeries.

“I’m excited to get back into school and start learning again.”

Sarah said the scholarship was the “ultimate prize” because without it, she would have had to delay returning to school until after their kids graduated from college. “Financially, there’s no way that we could afford for me to go back to school. I had really just put going back to school out of my mind.”

Now she can work on her classes as she finds time. “We’re teaching our kids how important education is,” Sarah said. “Not having that degree over the years has been tough for me.” She has wished she had a degree because many employers require one even for entry-level work, and it will improve her job prospects after being a stay-at-home mom for 14 years, an experience she “would not trade … for anything.”

It was not for lack of trying that Sarah has been unable to finish her degree. It’s just one of the many challenges and sacrifices that comes with the territory of serving in the military. She had previously taken online courses through American Military University, but could not continue because Jeramy went to a Coast Guard cutter in the Bering Sea, while she took care of the kids.

Sarah enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve in 1998. Jeramy, who had been serving in the Washington National Guard, later switched into the Coast Guard Reserve. They married in 2001, not long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Because of 9/11, they both got called to active duty, and the Coast Guard sent them to different places even though they were in the same unit. They didn’t see each other for three months. Jeramy went to an electronic support unit in Seattle; Sarah went to the marine safety office, conducting vessel safety inspections. Once she got pregnant with their oldest in 2003, she continued some inspections, but had to stop others because of the environmental risk.

Frank was born in 2004, at about the same time her six years of active drilling was ending. She got out because of her concern that as a dual military couple, they would have child care issues. In 2005, Jeramy accepted an active-duty Coast Guard assignment that moved them from Seattle to Anchorage.

Sarah and family in 2017.

“Having transferred and moved as much as we have as a military family, it’s not easy,” Sarah said.

With a degree in fashion merchandising and management and digital photography skills, Sarah can help retailers with buying decisions, staying relevant in the economy, and keeping customers coming back. “I’m excited to get back into school and start learning again. Mentally for me, I think it will help with my chemo brain … to keep my brain engaged.”


Thank you Southern New Hampshire University for supporting our military spouses and helping us host Homefront Celebrations across the USA and for helping our military spouses realize their education goals.

More events are planned in the future so keep an eye out on our events page or follow us on Facebook to see announcements about this and other events.

Get educated about risk factors for Breast Cancer, prevention and early detection and more here.

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