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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.

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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

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So used to putting others first, here wounded warrior caregivers learn it’s okay to take care of yourself, too.

Almost anyone can be brave for five minutes or an hour. The bravery no one talks about is the hardest bravery of all. When you get up in the morning, every morning, even though you’d rather shut out the world for a while longer….or maybe forever. That’s the bravery that doesn’t make headlines and no one notices.

I met some women this weekend at Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor retreat who exhibit that kind of bravery. They are young, beautiful, and energetic. Many women their age are pursuing careers and going out with friends. The reality these women live…day in, day out…most of us cannot comprehend.

These women have answered a different call…it’s a call they didn’t choose but couldn’t ignore. That is the calling of a wounded warrior caregiver.

They fell in love and married a service member. Or their son chose the military life. Through no fault of his own, their man was injured…badly. His injuries may be invisible – PTSD or TBI or both. Or they may be excruciatingly obvious…burns or amputations. And now their sole focus is to care for that man.

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Connecting with others who understand their unique journey can have a huge impact on the spirit of a caregiver.

Take the time to read about PTSD and TBI. According to this resource, “home is no longer the safe haven but an unfamiliar front with unpredictable and sometimes frightening currents and events.”

I spoke with one caregiver who said, “I am 28. I am young and I love to have fun and be loud. But I can’t be that way at home because I don’t know how he (her husband) is going to respond. I feel like he doesn’t see the real me anymore.” And many of these women say the man they live with is different from the man they married.

It can be frustrating, confusing and demoralizing when your husband doesn’t know how to show emotions of love and affection anymore…and it’s not his fault. It’s a result of his brain injury. Or maybe it’s the opposite…he’s overly needy, overly dependent and needs his spouse to be by his side to the point of suffocation.

But the real crisis occurs with flashbacks and unpredictable bouts of rage. As one participant said, “we are living with trained weapons…in his dreams, he’s running missions every night in his head.” So they sleep very lightly, very cautiously, just in case they need to get away quickly.

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Operation Homefront treated the caregivers to a special dinner cruise on San Antonio’s River Walk, giving them a much-needed chance to relax, have fun and bond with new friends.

In spite of all that…they stay. Love keeps them from choosing the easy way out. As part of a session on using writing or art to relieve stress, one caregiver wrote a poem that speaks to the inner strength of these women:

The battle is within. Me. Him. Us.
It is never ending. Worthy.

And that, my friends, is bravery.

It was Operation Homefront’s honor to host more than 30 of these amazing caregivers at a special Hearts of Valor retreat this weekend in San Antonio. The retreat provided extensive education about brain injuries, sessions to help women cope with stress, and time for them to just relax, take care of themselves and make connections with other caregivers who understand the life they live. Find out more about our Hearts of Valor program. Thank you to the following organizations that provided services to make the retreat a memorable experience for our caregivers: La Quinta River Walk, Seasons of Care, San Diego Sexual Medicine, San Antonio Military Medical Center, Mia Mariu, Azuca, Huskin Photography, Casa Rio, Sight-Seeing San Antonio, Zenergy Wellness and Rio San Antonio Cruises.

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