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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

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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Alfredo De los santos is afraid.

The Army staff sergeant survived an RPG attack on his humvee in Iraq two years ago. His right leg was amputated at the hip, and he’s still struggling to get the right fit on his prosthetic. He has severe PTSD and TBI. That means nightmares, crippling headaches, fear of crowds and other physical issues. He undergoes daily treatments at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

He’s braved tragedies and the horrors of war in his past, but it’s the future that fills him with fear.

“I’m very scared right now,” he told me over the phone. “I don’t even have a job. And I have issues with my family. Because of what I’m going through, they don’t understand.”

His family had to move back to New York. His wife and two kids have been through a lot, he told me. It was easier for them to return to familiar surroundings than stay by his side in Washington, D.C. The kids changed schools three times in one year to be with him. It was too much.

He recently moved in to Operation Homefront Village-DC. It’s one of two transitional housing facilities Operation Homefront runs. Wounded warriors and their families live in free, fully furnished apartments convenient to treatment. Residents can take classes on financial management, career guidance, counseling and more.

It’s all free, thanks in part Combined Federal Campaign contributions.

Despite his fears, Alfredo is also hopeful — and grateful.

“Thank you so much for your support and for helping me and my family to make my transition a little bit easier,” he said. “I wish that in the future I can give something back.”

You can give back by designating Operation Homefront (No. 12526) as one of your charities of choice for your CFC contribution. You can also help with your daily votes in the Pepsi Refresh contest. We’ve teamed up with a slate of other military nonprofits to encourage support. Please take a moment to help.

We truly appreciate it.


Alfredo De los santos is one of the residents at Operation Homefront Village-DC.

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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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This is a memorable day for all of us. Even if we didn’t know a single soul lost in the terrorist attacks, the catastrophe touched us all.

Operation Homefront was founded in the wake of those attacks. Once service members started deploying, concerned patriots saw the struggle families faced. They banded together to find ways to help, and their movement quickly grew.

Today we have chapters across the country made up mostly of volunteers. Nothing can make up for the lives lost and the families torn apart on this day nine years ago, but the people who’ve stepped up to serve in the military and in nonprofit organizations are helping our nation heal.

So thank you — to our military members, to our volunteers, our supporters and fellow nonprofit agencies. Today we remember not just the tragedy of the attacks, but the heroism, generosity and compassion that followed the devastation.

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The setup: Guy walks into a bar with heavy scars and a missing hand.

But no joke, wounded warrior Bobby Henline is there to make you laugh. He mocks himself so the rest of us feel less uncomfortable about his obvious injuries, to prove that our wounded warriors can heal and start over.

Henline takes to the stage at a San Antonio comedy club to make some critical points: Don’t be scared. I’m OK. And I’m really funny.

Next week, the injured veteran is doing it to raise money for Operation Homefront. Read more about it in this article from the Express-News.

The lone survivor of a roadside bomb attack in Iraq underwent dozens of painful surgeries to heal his devastating burns and amputated hand. Throughout that ordeal, his family banded together despite the distance that separated them. Mom was in San Antonio to be with Henline. Daughter Brittany, then 15, stayed behind in their North Carolina home to care for her younger brother and sister. Brittany was later selected as Operation Homefront’s first Military Child Award winner for her selfless maturity and the example she sets for the rest of us.

So it’s a family tradition to step up on behalf of military families. They’re living proof that we can each find a way to make a positive difference, no matter our circumstances or challenges.

Brittany with Bobby Henline

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