Posts Tagged ‘military support’

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by

Sea Fever, By John Masefield

Coming home from war can be the beginning of another journey, one that, at times, takes our wounded warriors into the unknown, the lonely sea and sky.

For Chris, it began in 2008, after a 15 month deployment. Chris came home from that deployment a different person, according to his wife Heidi. Gone was her funny, sweet, loving husband. The jokes had stopped. She said, “He was self-medicating with alcohol and would become angry over the smallest things.” As time passed, Chris’s health worsened and in 2011, Chris was given a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). By that point, the lack of sleep had triggered a dissociative episode. This started the process that would eventually determine that Chris should medically retire from service.

Chris’ health continued to worsen, and in 2013, Chris went missing. Thankfully, he was found unharmed… but would he next time? Chris’ hospitalization after he was found was the turning point. Together, he and Heidi worked hard to find solutions, get treatment, and learn as much about PTSD as they could. Chris sought alcohol dependency treatment as well. Though the years have passed, Chris still has PTSD. It impacts him daily. But he has learned ways to manage his PTSD. He has his tall ship.

Heidi is his star.

Being a caregiver for our wounded warriors is an incredible burden, but one born and sustained by love. Chris and Heidi met in the high school lunch line when Heidi was a freshman. They have been married for 17 years. On the tough days, and there are very tough days, Heidi always remembers to tell Chris that she loves him. “That’s one thing I have learned, he needs to hear I love him, no matter what his mood is.” Still, it is not an easy path. Heidi wakes up every day to all the household chores, gets the children where they need to go, and manages all the household finances. PTSD affects Chris’ short term memory and he can’t drive to the store, or help get their three children to school or lessons or balance the checkbook and manage the bills.


Heidi, Chris and the kids, enjoying time together as a family. Though there are tough days, Heidi knows that sharing her experiences with other caregivers is important. “No one should feel alone and not know what help is out there for them.”


So, how do we keep the star from burning out? That is focus of the mission of our Hearts of Valor program and the Dole Foundation’s Caregiver Fellows program. Heidi has been a member of HOV since shortly after her husband’s diagnosis, and was recently selected as a 2015 Dole Foundation Caregiver Fellow. Of the 32 Fellows selected, 12 of them are participants in Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program.

“When I first found Hearts of Valor, not long after my husband’s PTSD diagnosis, I was able to attend a retreat in Oklahoma City where I was able to learn so much about myself as a wife, caregiver, mother, and friend. The retreat truly taught me to be understanding, dedicated to my veteran but also to myself.” Heidi continues, “… Hearts of Valor has given me the opportunity to meet some of the greatest friends I have ever had and the chance to donate my time to help caregivers and wounded warrior families. No one should feel alone and not know what help is out there for them.”

As a Dole Fellow, Heidi will not only continue to build the network of support and friendship vital to the health and well-being of our wounded warrior caregivers, but to be a guiding force to caregivers nationwide. Senator Elizabeth Dole was inspired to launch the Elizabeth Dole Fellows Program after hearing from hundreds of caregivers across the country that they were not being given an opportunity to voice their challenges and needs. The mission of the program is to engage active military and veteran caregivers directly in the Foundation’s initiatives, allowing them to advise and play a leading role in raising awareness for the needs of caregivers throughout the nation.

When Heidi heard about the Dole Foundation accepting applications to be the voice of caregivers in her state, she was excited to help. As a volunteer with Operation Homefront since 2012, Heidi is perfect a perfect fit for this role, as she is selfless and incredibly kind. She believes that giving back is the most important part of being a caregiver and she is excited to travel with the other fellows to tell her story.

A tall ship and a star to guide her by.

As we continue to face the impact of 13 years of war on a generation, these guiding stars will remain critical to staying on course..

Learn More:

Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor

Hearts of Valor seeks to honor the service and sacrifice of the people who care for our nation’s wounded, ill or injured warriors by providing a community of support based on a foundation of empathy and mutual understanding. Twelve Hearts of Valor community members have been selected as 2015 Dole Fellows, and our Program Coordinator, Cheryl, us a Fellow Emeritus

Caring For Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

(The Foundation believes) that our nation’s military caregivers need and deserve robust, effective support in light of the mental, physical, and financial challenges they face in caring for wounded warriors suffering from physical injuries, invisible wounds of war, or both.


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Nathan Richards, 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year, in D.C.(Welcome guest blogger Nathan Richards, age 9, and recipient of the 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year award.)  My Mom said before we left for D.C. “I hope you behave!”  She also said, “I hope you can act like a young man all the time, there will be a lot of important people there.” I was thinking, “yeah….all the Military kids will be there. Hahah Mom.” She also said, “I hope you have fun! But most of all I hope you can really embrace the opportunity you have and remember, Nate the Great, with great privilege comes great responsibility.” She is pretty smart but I don’t think I got it till we went to D.C. and we were at the Gala (the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year Gala ).

Hope! Now that word carries a lot of weight. Many times military kids can feel like they have no hope. No one hears them, no one cares what they are saying and they have no power in what is going on. Well, this past Thursday I saw a lot of HOPE for all of us!

Operation Homefront, many important members of our military and a lot of sponsors saw the hope we need!  Four girls, Alena, Chelsea, Amelia, Erika, and me, were lucky to represent all the military kids at a Gala. We each represented our own parents’ branch and are all humble and proud to serve you. There was many speeches and they all spoke of the hope we showed other military kids and the HOPE all Military kids need.

Sammy Davis, the Medal of Honor winner said he saw hope in our eyes, and played Shenandoah. It made me sad because it made me think of my brothers and Dad who were deployed. It also made me Happy because it made me think of all the fun we have when we are hiking, wrestling and sitting on Rocks on our mountain talking to each other. It was one of my favorite parts of the whole week.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey said we have profound thoughts! We are the way we are because of all the situations we have to deal with! The CNO (Admiral Jonathan Greenert) was at the table with me all night and said I didn’t fall far from the tree. He was right about that. My Dad and brothers are always setting great examples for me! Everyone there was a huge supporter of the hard times we can have as military kids, and they all are trying to make it a little easier for us.

Award recipients visit the White House.

Award recipients visit the White House. The buck stops with Nathan, sitting in the middle.

The idea of HOPE for military kids came to me when we were touring D.C with our parents, and Operation Homefront. We visited many of the awesome sites that are in our Nation’s Capitol.  During our trip I heard and saw the word Hope 11 times. We went to the Vietnam Memorial, and there is a Nurses Statue there. One of the Nurses was named HOPE, she was looking up to the sky and you could see she had HOPE. That inspired me too , because when our parents are gone we have HOPE , they will be ok and come home soon. Then on the Vietnam Wall was a note written by a little kid that said she missed that person and she HOPEd they knew it. I hope all the time when my brothers are deployed they know I miss them and HOPE they miss me. We went to one of my heroes monuments, Martin Luther King Jr. He had a dream, but my favorite quote of his is “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”

We went to see the White House and there is a lot of HOPE there. Mrs Obama is a huge supporter of military kids, lots of changes are in the works to help military kids. Dr. Jill Biden has a book coming out soon for kids about what her Granddaughter did when her Dad was deployed.

Givanha Penserga, a top 5 finalist for the award, came to support Nathan Richards.

Givanha Penserga, a top 5 finalist for the award, came to the awards banquet to support fellow Navy kid, Nathan Richards.

But I think the biggest HOPE for Military kids I saw this week was the military kid, a girl, named Givahna Penserga, who came all the way from her home to see me. She was one of the top 5 for the Navy and just as awesome as the rest of us. It was one of the biggest honors of my trip to D.C. It gave me HOPE that all military kids can support each other, help each other through the hard times and be there to celebrate in the good times. We are the biggest HOPE any Military kid could ask for, each other.

I  HOPE she keeps inspiring others and puts HOPE in them like she did for me!

The recipients for 2012 Military Child of the Year representing each branch of service.

2012 Military Child of the Year Recipients (left to right): Alena Deveau (Coast Guard), Chelsea Rutherford (Air Force), Amelia McConnell (Army), Erika Booth (Marine Corps), and (in front), Nathan Richards (Navy).

The ceremony was so exciting and the Color Guard gave me goosebumps. I don’t think I have ever stood so still, straight or very proud as I did during the National Anthem. We all heard awesomtacullar (that is for you John) speeches about ourselves and our families. We received a $5000 check from Operation Homefront. And then Veteran’s United gave us a $2000 scholarship. An extra special thanks to Soldiers’ Angels for the laptop. This is my very first blog on my own computer, amazing feeling!

Everyday when I get up, I have an awesome trophy to look at me and give me the inspiration to do the best I can as a “Military Brat.”

It was almost unreal to know that I was there to represent all the Navy kids. Can I live up to the job Operation Homefront gave me ? I HOPE So.

Thank you to Operation Homefront for giving all the military kids,  1.2 million of us,  HOPE!  And thank you to our travel escort, Mr. Jay Anderson. He is the president of Operation Homefront in California, a Major in the Marines and a really cool guy. He has great riddles and loves logic puzzles, so the trip was really fun.


Find out more about Nathan and all our 2012 Military Child of the Year recipients. Follow Nathan’s blog. See pictures from the Awards events in Washingont D.C. View a video highlight of the event.

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