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Posts Tagged ‘John. I Pray’

by John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

Memorial Day is a special day for America as we honor those who have died while serving our great nation. It is especially important for me, on a very personal level, because of my father. John I. Pray, my father, joined the Army in 1938 after completing the ROTC program and graduating from Ripon College in Wisconsin. After completing many months of training, he married the love of his life, my mother, LaVerne G. Wilson in June 1940, and the Army immediately sent the newlyweds to their first posting in the Philippines, arriving in September 1940. With tensions mounting in the Pacific and war looming on the horizon, the Army returned many family members, including my mother, back to safety of the “states” in February 1941.

John I. Pray, Sr, pictured here during training in the Philippines just prior to the start of World War 2.

War broke out on December 7, 1941 and after many months of intense fighting, the U.S. forces in the Philippines surrendered on April 9, 1942. Approximately 75,000 American and Filipino troops, who were already suffering from lack of food and disease, were captured and forced to make a 65-mile march to prison camps. This infamous journey became known as the Bataan Death March – my father was among those soldiers. Thousands perished along the way and an estimated 20,000 soldiers, who survived the march, died in the prison camps from disease, malnutrition, and brutal treatment. My father survived – for three and a half years – and was ultimately repatriated in September 1945.

When I asked my father what sustained him through the many challenges he faced as a prisoner of war, he unhesitatingly told me faith…faith in his family, his country, and his comrades.

My father continued to serve his nation until he retired in 1969.

Each Memorial Day, my father would honor those he served with that did not make it home. He would remember them – their dedication and their lasting contributions to protecting our way of life. Not surprisingly, Memorial Day became and has remained a reverent occasion for our family as we look to remember the very profound contributions of many generations of service men and women and the family members who serve alongside them.

Looking back, I clearly see how my parents’ service and sacrifice inspired me to serve and guided every one of my major career decisions. I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve in a variety of capacities – as a member of the U.S. Air Force and as a member of the Bush Administration at the White House and more recently, as a member of the Operation Homefront family where I have the incredible opportunity to continue to serve those that serve.

So as we spend an extended Memorial Day weekend with our families, I would ask that you take a moment during The National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 p.m. (your local time) and remember that more than 1.3 million military members have died while serving our great nation. It is an opportunity to honor those who gave up all their tomorrows for our todays.

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We are pleased to share with you today some words from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.) on this year’s Military Child of the Year Awards recipients and why it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why we want to make this moment as special as possible for our 2020 recipients at this challenging time:

Although we, as a nation, are still struggling with the unprecedented challenges brought on by a global pandemic, it is important for all to look for bright spots to show the promise of a brighter future. At Operation Homefront, I don’t need to look any farther than this year’s honorees for our Military Child of the Year (MCOY) Awards.

These prestigious awards are designed to recognize the amazing achievements of seven of our nation’s military teenagers who have excelled at home, in school, and in their communities through their leadership, volunteerism, scholarship, and extracurricular involvement, all while working with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.

Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, I canceled this year’s celebration.

That said, I knew we couldn’t sit idly by and let an opportunity to showcase some exceptional young people pass so I am proud to say that the show will go on with our virtual celebration of these extraordinary representatives of the millions of military kids who serve our great nation alongside their parents.

All at Operation Homefront firmly believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event. Having grown up in a military family, and after serving for over 27 years in the Air Force, I understand the challenges that our military families experience. Faced with the uncertainty of frequent short- or no-notice moves and deployments, it can be difficult for military kids to focus in school, to feel connected to their community, and to develop close friendships. That is why I believe it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why Operation Homefront wants to make this moment as special as possible for our recipients.

President and CEO, John I. Pray, at our MCOY gala in 2019. Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, we canceled this year’s in-person celebration. However, we believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event.

The accomplishments of our 2020 group, like all our previous winners, is in a word – impressive. Our judges selected the seven honorees from a very competitive field of more than 400 nominees. The seven represent each branch of service and our Innovation Award recipient. I like to refer to them as the “Magnificent Seven.”

Our 2020 MCOY winners are:

Kainath Kamil – Innovation Award
Fionnuala “Finn” Mahoney – Army
Niklas Cooper – Marine Corps
Miryam Smith — Navy
Samantha Grab — Air Force
Pierce Corson — Coast Guard
Kristina Lee — National Guard

 

Kainath, Finn, Niklas, Miryam, Samantha, Pierce, and Kristina all exemplify the spirit of selfless service that that not only improves lives in their communities but also offers hope for our future. They have logged over 2,080 volunteer hours in the past 12 months. Five of them are National Honor Society members, all of them take AP or dual college credit classes in school. Four are competitive athletes (swimming, volleyball, cross country, cheer) and five speak at least one language other than English.

They are caregivers to family members and leaders in sports and academia. They are ambassadors for mental health awareness, global issues, and the need for greater understanding of differences. They have used science and innovation to find solutions to world problems. Finn is even working with a team at the National Institutes of Health that is searching for a solution to COVID-19.

As we soak in all their achievements, there is little doubt why we must celebrate this very special and deserving group of military teens who represent that brighter future I noted earlier. Congratulations to all of you and to your families.

I would also like to recognize and extend a heartfelt thanks to our partners and supporters who have made our MCOY program possible:

• Our 2020 presenting sponsor, United Technologies (Pratt & Whitney); our Innovation Award sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton; and our other event sponsors, Procter & Gamble, LaQuinta by Wyndham Hotels, PNC Bank, Veterans United Home Loans, Carnival Cruise Line, and Military Times

• Our MCOY judges, board members, OH staff and volunteers, and our two wonderful leaders the Military Child of the Year Award program, Jenny Valderas and Emily Miller.

The celebration continues as more stories and videos are coming – including congratulatory videos from John Heald of Carnival Cruise Line, and the country music sensation Runaway June, who were scheduled to perform. Also, while you may not meet our great MCOY recipients in person, you will get to hear the Magnificent Seven in their own words. So please stay tuned.

Please remember to share your congratulations and special messages with this year’s recipients at http://www.operationhomefront.org/mcoymessages.

View President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)’s message for the kick-off of virtual Military Child of the Year gala:

 

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We are pleased to be able to share with our community a New Year’s message from Operation Homefront’s President & CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

Happy New Year!  We just finished a very exciting and highly successful 2017 and I am proud to say that due to the exceptional efforts of our entire community … volunteers, partners, donors and staff … we are well postured to continue delivering impactful programs to America’s military families throughout 2018.

As we start our new year, I feel it is important to reflect on who we are and why we do what we do. We at Operation Homefront believe in giving our military families the opportunity to thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

This mission statement drives our team throughout the year.  All work to help our military families in their time of need because of all they have done for us in our nation’s time of need.

Similarly, I believe very strongly in Operation Homefront’s core values and see them as more than grand aspirational concepts and know you do too. They are real guides that shape our decisions and daily behaviors:  Do What’s Right, Respect Others, Perform with Excellence … and of course, Gratitude. We are honored to be recognized as a key conduit by which Americans can show their appreciation for all that our military community does on our behalf, and we are incredibly grateful to all who help us accomplish our mission.

We have many challenges and opportunities ahead in 2018 and it will take a well-coordinated and cohesive effort to bring our vital mission to life. Each member of our community performs a critical role, both individually and as part of a larger team. Our Core Values provide the common framework that allows us to work together and support each other in a culture that emphasizes trust and continuous improvement.

Only by working together will we make a difference, and thereby, make the lives of a very special and deserving group of our fellow citizens better. For example, in just a short while, we will award our 600th mortgage-free home, and our Field Offices and programs team are already working on our year’s first Homefront Celebration for military spouses near Pensacola, a Hearts of Valor retreat for the caregivers of our nation’s wounded, among many other events for 2018. Just last week, we announced the semi-finalists for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award, our 10th year of recognizing outstanding young people from each branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life

I invite you to learn more about Operation Homefront’s programs, and how you can get involved in 2018.

Sharing our noble mission with my fellow Americans is incredibly rewarding. I am grateful to each you who have joined us in serving America’s military families. Let me end by saying thank you, in advance, for your support in what I expect will be an amazing 2018!

-John I. Pray, Jr.
President & Chief Executive Officer, Operation Homefront

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by Christy OFarrell.

Marine Corps Sgt. Ruben Barnett, a single dad, and his 3-year-old son, Ruben Jr. are planning to go to Dave & Buster’s arcade in Columbia, South Carolina, to celebrate Father’s Day. The two often play games, go on outings and take road trips together because Ruben arranged his schedule to allow him to spend more time with his son.

Ruben now works at the Naval Consolidated Brig at Naval Weapons Station, Charleston, South Carolina. He prefers the schedule — working 12-hour shifts, but only 14 or 15 days a month — to his old job before he was divorced, working nights often from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., as an avionics technician on helicopters at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Having enlisted in June 2009, Ruben changed his career field and schedule when he re-enlisted in 2014, the year after Ruben Jr. was born. He became a correctional officer at Camp Pendleton, California, and they moved in 2015 to Charleston.

Ruben said it can be a rough job sometimes. “Every once in a while, you’ll have one prisoner that’s not having a good day, and kind of just wants to make everybody else’s day miserable too,” he said. But serving in the military has “definitely more ups than downs,” he said. “I love the Marine Corps,” including the structure and the fraternity. “I’m proud to represent it and be a part of it.”

Ruben Jr. is proud too. His dad said he used to have a children’s Marine Corps uniform that matched his own. Ruben Jr. “always says, ‘that’s cool dad,’” Ruben said. “He likes the badge and belt.”

But things changed the day before Thanksgiving 2016. When Ruben and his son left for work and daycare early that morning, all seemed normal. About 90 minutes later, the fire department called to notify Ruben at his workplace. “When I got there, I could see [the fire] from way down the street and it was terrible,” he said. “I was crushed at first but there were a lot of people there to help me. … Everyone just had words of encouragement and helped me through it.”

The fire is still under investigation, but apparently started with a faulty Bluetooth speaker, Ruben said. Right afterward, he and his son visited his hometown in Indiana to see his dad and stepmom. Then they moved into temporary housing, not far from the burned unit, and after about a month, into a more permanent location.

Photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin West.

The base housing office immediately secured a new place for the pair to live. But their new digs would have been empty since they also lost all their belongings, including furniture, clothing, household goods and food. “It was all just gone,” he said.

Operation Homefront arranged for BAE Systems in Summerville, South Carolina, to provide Ruben and his son $750 in gift cards to Lowe’s, Sears, Target and other stores, plus an additional $1,500 worth of goods, including a bed and mattress for Ruben Jr., a washer and dryer, many household items, and Christmas gifts and toys. “It was really nice,” Ruben recalls. “It was crazy like over time you build up so much stuff,” he said. “You buy stuff here; you buy stuff there. You don’t really think about how much you have or how much you’ve spent, or what you have until something like that happens.”

“I’d never heard of Operation Homefront until this fire,” Ruben said. “It was a huge relief. I was excited, I guess kind of at a loss for words.” Ruben said he was thankful that people who didn’t even know him would help. “I was grateful to be where I’m at and to receive the blessings. It’s not something that happens for everybody.”

“Hearing Ruben describe his ‘huge relief’ as a result of Operation Homefront’s support is precisely the impact we seek to deliver,” reflects John Pray, CEO and President of Operation Homefront. “We know that if we can help military families’ overcome their short-term financial challenges, we are able to ensure they stand a better chance for a brighter future — one where they thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

“Thank you to Operation Homefront and BAE Systems,” Air Force Col. Robert Lyman, Joint Base Charleston commander, said in a base publication about the fire. “This was a nice and gracious touch from our community.”

Ruben Jr. never saw the burned house, his dad said. If there was a bright side, it is that Ruben Jr. has enjoyed the places they moved to after the fire. The temporary house they stayed in initially for about a month had something his old house didn’t: stairs. “He just wanted to play on the stairs the whole time,” Ruben said. And at the one-level home they’re in now, the park and playground are practically in their backyard. “He just wants to go out the back door, right to the park,” Ruben said. “It worked out perfectly.”

Now, life is getting back to normal. On Ruben’s work days, Ruben Jr. goes to daycare from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The facility is only about 15 minutes away from their home, but not on base because there was a wait list for the on-base center. On his days off, father and son have fun. “We go get haircuts every week,” Ruben said. “In the military, obviously, I have to have a haircut. I don’t feel like it would be right for me to have a haircut and he doesn’t.

“I’ll pick him up early from daycare,” he continued. “We’ll go to the park,” indoor trampolines at Velocity Air Sports or Chuck E. Cheese pizza, where they eat one of his son’s favorite foods, a list that also includes pasta and chicken nuggets. “When I’m going out, he goes with me.”

Ruben expects to be in Charleston for at least another four to five months. “Hopefully, I get selected for promotion,” he said. “I’d like to stay in for the full 20 years.”

Ruben Jr. regularly sees his mother, who also lives in Charleston, but his father is his primary caretaker.

Ruben’s father was in the Marines before Ruben was born, so he did not experience military life when he was young. But he believes it will benefit his son, maybe even giving him a chance to learn another language, if for example, they move to Japan.

“You get to experience different cultures and different walks of life,” he said. “You meet different people and see how they live. It should be a positive thing versus just growing up and you only know one thing or one way of living. It’s a huge world out there. You’ve got to get out and see it.”

 

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