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Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

ATC-quote-graphic5Two weeks ago, in a largely unnoticed ceremony, the U.S. and NATO formally brought an end to combat operations in Afghanistan.

This conflict has exacted a heavy toll on our military families. For a generation of brave Americans who fought valiantly for 13 years, more than 5,000 made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and more than 50,000 have sustained injuries. I think we’re all relieved to put that battle behind us, but the fight is just beginning at home.

As an organization born out of 9/11, there’s a very real symbolism for Operation Homefront in the remarks made by U.S. Army General John Campbell, who presided over the ceremony on Dec. 8 in Kabul. General Campbell stated, “As the Afghan National Security Forces have become increasingly capable, we shift our focus from combat operations to building [Afghan] systems and processes to ensure long-term sustainability.”

Long-term sustainability, or the ability to endure, is something all freedom-loving people around the world can easily understand. While we certainly wish the Afghan people well, here at home our focus is on helping our own military families endure, including those who continue to serve, and the veterans leaving the active duty force as our military downsizes.

We’ve seen the needs of these families evolve over 13 years of war. Along the way, we’ve recognized that it isn’t merely good enough to be available in times of crisis. Rather, we also need to help them avoid another crisis in the future. So how do we do it?

In the past two years, thanks to our generous donors, we’ve provided more than $8 million in the form of emergency assistance grants to families in urgent need of help. Well more than 80% of these families have been post 9/11 veterans. We know that periods of financial crisis are rarely solved through one utility payment, rent payment, or providing a week’s worth of groceries.

Managing a tight budget can be a real challenge for any family, let alone military families. So we now require financial counseling – at no cost to the service member or veteran – when they seek assistance from us more than once. It may seem obvious to some, or perhaps an additional burden to a family in a crisis, but the point is to ensure that we’re doing our part to help families move toward a brighter future. And it’s needed now more than ever. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the responsible thing to do.

It’s my hope that while the 13-year war will no longer be something we talk about every day, Americans will never forget the very real physical and emotional scars that these families will battle for decades to come.

At Operation Homefront, we’ll be here, focused on the long-term sustainability of these patriots and their families. I hope you’ll continue to join us as we support them, doing our part to answer the call.

Tim Farrell
COO, Operation Homefront

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kids at play

Steve, Rob and Bobby get some moments to goof off during promotions for Comedy Warriors.

Bobby Henline, Rob Jones, Joe Kashnow, Steve Rice and Darisse Smith share at least two things in common. They are funny…really funny… and they are wounded warriors. And now they are officially stars of a movie that follows their path to become headliners of their own stand-up comedy show.

I got to see the new documentary, called Comedy Warriors, this weekend at a local movie theater as part of the San Antonio Film Festival. The movie follows these five vets as they are mentored by some of comedy’s greatest – Zach Galifianakis, Bob Saget, Lewis Black, DJ Novak, and others. Other than Bobby, they have no experience working a room for laughs but they share the belief that humor helps them heal. I know it’s cliché but I laughed and I cried. Mostly laughed … a lot.

Joe Kashnow, who lost his leg from an IED explosion, said he used humor to handle the amputation. When doctors came for the consultation, he told them, “If you must take my leg, I have two requests. One – I want you to give me my leg back so I can give it a proper burial in keeping with my Orthodox Jewish tradition. Two – I insist that my prosthetic leg have a secret door that can hold cookies.” He said psychiatrists visited the next day to see what was wrong with him. In his stand-up routine, he jokes that his leg is buried next to a tombstone that reads, “More to come.”

But humor doesn’t automatically make life easy. Kashnow endures intense daily pain and was suicidal at one point. He asked himself “I suffer every day. What is there that is worth sticking around for?” His answer: His son … and all the moments he might miss if he left this life. And now, stand-up comedy gives him an outlet, and distraction, to deal with the pain. After his debut show in Los Angeles, Joe came off stage and said, “That was awesome. I’m still aware of the pain in my leg but for this moment, it’s not as bad.”

Follow Comedy Warriors on Facebook to show progress.

This movie is a must-see.

comedy-warriors

Me and Bobby Henline after the screening. It wasn’t my first time to meet Bobby…and he really is hilarious, on stage and off.

The movie follows each warrior as they go through the mentoring process, to their debut on stage and after. It is full of heart-warming moments. For example, Bobby’s teenage daughter tearfully wonders why people stare at her Dad’s scars on his face, “He didn’t ask for this.” Bobby and his daughter were at the screening the day I attended and she joked that she still had more Twitter followers than he did. Help Bobby out and follow him on Twitter.

And there are moments that make you cringe. “I told my wife that if I didn’t come back from Iraq in one piece, that she should go on without me. Thankfully she and her new husband rent me space in the garage.” This piece of fiction (Thank God!) was part of Bobby’s routine, who is still happily married to his wife.

This movie helps bridge the gap between civilians and military. Between the able-bodied and the disabled body. Between those who suffer and those who will. And it does it all with laughter.

After the screening, Bobby Henline took questions from people in the nearly full theater. I asked, “How can we help you promote this movie so more people see it?” He said, “Follow Comedy Warriors on Facebook and Twitter and, if you can, donate money so we can purchase entry into more movie festivals.” The film won Audience Choice for the Best Documentary at the San Antonio Film Festival. A much-deserved award. And I wish them many eyes to see this incredible story in the future.

Bobby, who has served on the board of our Texas Field Office, said he was the only one who survived the explosion that hit the Humvee he was riding in. “I owe it to the ones who didn’t make it, to do everything I can so they didn’t die in vain. I hope to bring more joy and good from this experience” to outweigh any bad from those who tried to kill.

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Medal of HonorToday, President Barack Obama  will award the Medal of Honor to former SSGT Clint L. Romesha at the White House.

SSGT  Romesha joins an incredible legacy of heroes, 3400, who have been awarded the MOH since 1861.

“At 6 a.m., Oct. 3, 2009, Combat Outpost Keating in Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, came under complex attack by an enemy force estimated at 400 fighters. The fighters occupied the high ground on all four sides of the combat outpost and initiated the attack with concentrated fire from B10 recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, known as RPGs, DSHKA heavy machine gun fire, mortars, and small-arms fire.

Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha displayed extraordinary heroism through a day-long engagement in which he killed multiple enemy fighters, recovered fallen Soldiers, and led multiple recovery, resupply, and counterattack operations.”

Read full narrative.

For more on that day, and the Medal of Honor:

Senior White House Correspondant Jake Tapper wrote of that day, one of the deadliest attacks in the Afghan War,  in The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor.

History of the Medal of Honor, with full citations.

Better than honor and glory, and History’s iron pen,
Was the thought of duty done and the love of his fellow-men.
~Richard Watson Gilder

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Continuing To Serve Those Who Serve

Colonel J. S. Anderson, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), Chapter President of Operation Homefront Southern California.  

From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean:
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.-USMC hymn 

As the strands of the Marines Hymn rang out over the AAA baseball game he was attending, Jay Anderson, (Col, USMC, Ret.) rose to stand  with another Marine veteran, one who had fought  in World War I.  The crowd responded to their display of pride with a standing ovation. Jay recalls experiencing that same pride, “Every day that I put on the uniform of the United States Marine Corps, particularly when serving overseas.”  His service to our country spanned 30 years with the USMC, and he continues to serve our country’s finest as Chapter President of Operation Homefront of Southern California.

Over the course of his career, seeing the initiative, creativity and ability of Marines in his commands to adapt, innovate, and improve in the face of any challenge convinces him that today’s young veterans are poised to lead our country through these troubling times and build a stronger future for our nation and our children. “Their World War II forefathers returned from war, after seeing the worst that man can do to his fellow man, and worked together to fix the problems of our nation, making it the strongest in the world.  These young vets have also experienced the horrors of war and are doing the same, in politics, business, and society in general.  They are the future leaders in every element of our society.”

“The OIF/OEF veterans are America’s next greatest generation.”

To learn more about the great work that Jay and his staff are doing for our military families and wounded warriors in the Southern California region, please visit them on the web, connect with them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.

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By Jim Knotts, CEO of Operation Homefront

By December, defense officials estimate the number of U.S. troops left in Iraq, if any at all, will amount to less than 5,000. At the height of the war, in 2006 and 2007, the U.S. had between 130,000 to 172,000 men and women fighting there.

By summer 2012, the total number of deployed troops in the Mideast will drop from 150,000 to 70,000.

Cue the ticker tape parades and kissing couples in Times Square, right?

Wrong.

After almost ten years of fighting, America’s soldiers, and their families, are exhausted. The military’s expansive manpower needs have meant that active duty as well as Reserve and National Guard forces have served overseas, often, more than once.

An astonishing 2.3 million servicemembers have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001. Roughly 1 million of those people have deployed twice, three and even four times.

As the battles waged, there was a groundswell of support for the soldiers and their families from local communities. Nonprofits were formed overnight to provide everything from baby showers for Army wives left home alone to summer camps for teenage military kids.

The military too increased its efforts to support families. New programs were created and individuals were hired specifically to organize family support groups within individual units. Money, millions of dollars worth, was spent to help stabilize these families during very rough times.

Now, the troops are headed home. It would be easy for outsiders, especially those who have never endured a wartime deployment, to believe that all is happy and good for those families.

Unfortunately that may not be the case.

During those years of war, many military children grew up seeing their servicemember parent for only a few months each year. Thousands of other children had a parent killed in action. Thousands more now live with a parent who is severely disabled due to their wartime injuries.

Mental health experts are still grappling with the long-term effects of deployment on military children. From 2003 to 2008 the number of outpatient mental health visits for children of active duty parents doubled from one million to two million. During the same time period, the number of days military children spent in psychiatric care centers increased as well.

Reports of child abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse among troops also grew with each passing year. Military couples continue to post increasing divorce rates as the strain of repeated deployments grows heavier.

The war may almost be over, but the battle at home has just begun.

America’s warriors are now facing an uncertain future. Their bodies are broken. Their families have suffered. By year’s end, their jobs may be gone as well.

Federal budget cuts have already lopped $465 billion from the defense budget.

Additional cuts, which members of the House Armed Services Committee estimate could be as much as $500 billion, would mean 200,000 Marines and soldiers would lose their jobs.

In an economy already struggling to employ every American searching for a job, these men and women may have an even tougher search. The current unemployment rate for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 22 percent. For veterans combined, young and old, it’s 11 percent. Compare this to the national rate of 9 percent.

Wounded veterans face an unemployment rate of 41 percent.

Ships would not be built. Fighters would not fly. Troops would be asked to perform more missions with less people and more time away from home.

In military homes, the cuts could cause significant hardships as well. Lawmakers opposing the budget slashes suggest that military families living overseas could be asked to pay tuition for their children to attend on-post schools, as much as $2,850 per child.

Commissary savings would be reduced if not decimated completely. Spouses would receive less tuition assistance. Over $300 million in morale, welfare and recreation programs at bases around the world will disappear.

The changes ahead for our nation and its military leave Operation Homefront left to consider how our mission will change as well.

Historically, our role has been to assist the families of deployed service members. As those missions come to a close, we must re-evaluate the needs of these families now and how we can best serve them.

Part of this decision means evaluating not just our resources, but those of the nation.

As communities see more of their warriors returning, and staying home, will they lose their drive to rally around military families? It is easy to assume that military homecomings mean a happy ending. As the statistics above suggest, that is not always the case.

As budgets are slashed, and on-base resources are eliminated, will military families increasingly begin searching for help off base? Will those resources be gone as well?

After almost ten years of great personal sacrifice, America’s warriors, and their families, are being asked to give even more.

Americans everywhere need to consider not just the cost of the military in dollars. They need to weigh the years of hardship, separation and dedication given by the families who served and how sweeping budget cuts will leave many of them not just jobless but broken and destitute.

The war may almost be over but the fight has just begun. Continue to step up America. Your defenders need you now, possibly more than ever.

(Photo, left to right: Jim Knotts, CEO of Operation Homefront and Carlos Evans, a resident at one of our Operation Homefront Villages for wounded warriors, meet up at our Annual Reception.)

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-puts-iraq-withdrawal-plans-under-wraps-to-discourage-attacks/2011/10/13/gIQAGw4LiL_story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/24/AR2010052403842.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/sep/29/report-budget-cuts-would-leave-military-hollow/?page=all

http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_938.html

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/28/divorce-rate-in-military-continues-upward-trend/

http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=052aad71-19cb-4fbe-a1b5-389689d542d7

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/10/military-gop-lawmakers-dig-in-against-defense-cuts-101011w/

http://forbes.house.gov/StrongAmerica/

http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2011/08/01/more-young-veterans-jobless/

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I grew up in a part of the world where every brown carbonated beverage was called a “coke. ” But today and every day this month, I am acutely aware of Pepsi not so much as a brand, but as an opportunity.

The Pepsi Refresh contest this October is a chance for Operation Homefront, our friends at Operation Gratitude and a slew of other worthy charities to win some desperately-needed holiday funds. We’ve teamed up with Operation Gratitude to compete in two grant categories: $250,000 and $50,000. Winners are determined solely by the number of votes. You can vote three different ways every day. We’ve got detailed voting instructions that spell everything out.

It won’t cost you a dime, and you’ll be helping us make the holidays better and brighter for our deployed troops and their families.

Please help. We deeply appreciate it.

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Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. I’m embarrassed to admit, I don’t have this day marked on my calendar.

This despite the fact that a member of my family was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and spent the next six years being tortured at the Hanoi Hilton. Uncle Byron has never been able to pick up my kids for fear that his permanently damaged shoulders would give out, and he’d drop them. His is the face I see over the black and white flag that commemorates POWs.

We seem to associate prisoners of war and service members missing in action with previous wars. The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office does not list the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in their statistics. As of March of this year, two service members were officially listed as missing/captured.

Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue made headlines at the beginning of the war in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin was missing for four years before his remains were finally recovered.

But the others haven’t seemed to find a place in our popular conscience.

So I’m making a note on my calendar today. I’m giving thanks for the men and women whose faces fit the stark profile above.

You are not forgotten.

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