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Posts Tagged ‘Operation Homefront Villages’

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Facing an uncertain future, the Woodley family found hope and a new start at Operation Homefront Villages.

After coming home from his deployment to Iraq in 2008, U.S. Army Sergeant Eric Woodley felt fine, but as time went on, he started to notice he wasn’t the same. Eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and suddenly, his service to his country, something he held dear, was coming to an end.

Service is in Eric’s blood. He hails from a family of veterans. After the terrible events of September 11, 2001, Eric knew what he had to do. He enlisted in the United States Marines, and deployed with two Marine Expeditionary units. After his term with the Marines was up, Eric joined the Army and deployed on that fateful tour.

Now facing an uncertain future, Eric met with his first and platoon sergeants to discuss his next steps. Transition from service is difficult under the best of circumstances, but when the transition comes quickly and without much notice, the financial and emotional impacts can be devastating on a family. Concerned for Eric and his family’s immediate stability and security, the sergeants suggested he reach out to Operation Homefront and inquire about our programs that address the needs of soldiers like him. It turned out to be the best advice they could have given him.

Eric and his family moved into the Operation Homefront Village in San Antonio. While at Operation Homefront Villages, veterans live rent-free while they go through the transition process. They also undergo one-on-one financial counseling to reduce debt and build savings. Eric was able to save $26,000 to pay off his vehicle note and place enough money in savings to build a brand new home.

On more solid ground, Eric was able to go back to school at ITT Tech University to study cyber-security. He plans to transfer to St. Phillips College shortly to complete his studies. All made possible by his time at the Operation Homefront Village.

Knowing this is made possible by the generous support of concerned Americans touches Eric deeply. He wants our community to know that he is incredibly grateful. He shares, “Thank you. I know so many people out there support our troops, but it’s so different when you can see that someone actually cares enough to help us out.”

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

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Vaugh1As a teenager, Phillip Vaughn watched the twin towers fall in New York City and felt compelled to answer a call to serve his country. But at the time, he was still too young to join the service. Shortly after his 18th birthday in 2003, Phillip did answer that call of two years prior, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Ten years passed. During his years in the military, Phillip deployed twice — once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. During his last deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, his forward operating base experienced a rocket attack. Phillip sustained several injuries and was medevaced to Germany. Shortly after, he was sent to Walter Reed Military Medical Center at NSA Bethesda in Maryland.

While in the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed, Phillip learned about Operation Homefront and the rent-free Operation Homefront Village apartments available for transitioning service members and their families. At the time, he and his family were staying in an apartment off base. They were struggling to make ends meet. The apartment was expensive and put a financial burden on the family. He decided to find out more and applied to stay at the Operation Homefront Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland and was accepted.

From there, relief set in and Phillip was able to make progress on the road to recovery. Living at the Operation Homefront Village allowed Phillip and his family to better handle all of the changes, stress and pressure associated with transitioning to civilian life. As part of the support offered at the Operation Homefront Villages, the family was offered free financial counseling. Phillip used what he learned, and paid off more than $9000 in debt, putting his family in a better position for life after the military.

Vaugh2Phillip is currently attending aeronautics school to get a degree in aviation and maintenance management. Financially, they achieved their goal of lowering their debt, which greatly reduced financial stress on the family. Phillip has recently accepted an intern position and hopes to continue his education.

“We are appreciative of the opportunity Operation Homefront gave us,” said Phillip. “This program has relieved so much pressure for us.”

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogTo get relief during a crisis, a place to recover if you needed and recognition for a life of sacrifice.  That’s what we do at Operation Homefront… and with your support, it’s making a difference.

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In his own words, guest blogger, Nathan Snell, veteran, U.S. Army shares his journey to war and back again, and how he finally found his place after feeling lost for so long:

The struggle is real. This is something we hear and read often in today’s culture. On Facebook. Or Twitter. Usually preceded by a hash tag (which kids don’t know is really just the pound sign). I don’t think most kids even know what it means to actually struggle. Still… doesn’t stop them from using it. The struggle is real. SMH (that means shake my head).

Doesn’t matter what rank, branch, occupational specialty. Or which combat theater. Regardless of the type of wound, extent of injury, or nature of illness… the one constant is that NO combat veteran will ever be the same. If, and when, we get home, we learn very quickly; the struggle is real.

I had completed my initial enlistment contract. I served in the Army honorably as an M1A1 Armor Crewman. A tank driver. And YES… I fit inside the tank. I know some of you were thinking it. Anyway…I was OUT. Had a DD214 in my hand for almost 6 weeks, when one day I got a certified letter in the mail.

Congratulations! You’ve been recalled to Active Duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom…for a period of not less than 500 days and change. You have 72 hours to round up your gear and report to your new unit. Crap. THAT just happened. Sadly, I was one of thousands of troops who went off to war that way. For us… the struggle is real.

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“One of toughest things for a soldier to do is realize they need help. THE toughest is probably asking for it.”

I was a Soldier. Proud. Loyal. Patriotic. I kissed my young son, my spouse, and the baby still in her belly. Not literally but you know what I mean. And I said goodbye. I shipped out to the Diyala River Valley. Next stop; Baqubah, Iraq.

What they don’t prepare you for is how time completely stands still when you’re on deployment. It’s hard to explain exactly what I mean and you can’t really understand unless you’ve been down range before. The harsh reality, however, is that back home the clock NEVER stops ticking. Life goes on.

And for me that meant coming home 18 months later to an empty house, empty bank account, kids abandoned by their mother and living with my family, and the lasting effects that combat can have on a person. I assure you there is no Training Manual for being a full-time single father with sole custody while dealing with PTSD. I looked. Sadly, I was one of thousands of troops who came BACK from war that way. For us… the struggle is real.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was lost. Very quickly I couldn’t find my place in the world. No idea where I fit in anymore. My kids were the ONLY reason I got out of bed most days. One of toughest things for a soldier to do is realize they need help. THE toughest is probably asking for it. We’re programmed to be strong. To suck it up. To drive on. Anything less is considered weakness. But when you’re raising 2 kids on your own, pride is a luxury you often can’t afford. Luckily for the 3 of us, I swallowed mine.

I reached out to Operation Homefront (OH) and asked for help. At the time, we were just days away from being homeless. From going hungry. From living out of a car with 2 children. I had hit rock bottom. For me… the struggle had become VERY real.

It starts with the case worker. It would’ve been easy to just say thank you for your service, we’re gonna cut you a check this month. Buy you some time. Keep the lights on and roof over your head for a little longer. And honestly I would have been both humbled and eternally grateful.

But she cared. Genuinely cared. About me. About us. Stopped and asked WHY? What’s happening in your life that’s got you to this point? More importantly, how can OH prevent this from happening again. Next month. 6 months down the road. Ever again.

A little over a year ago, my kids and I arrived at 1 of 3 OH Villages. This one in Gaithersburg, MD not far from Walter Reed. The thing about OH… I was never just a number. A name. A statistic. A random check or donation. OH made an investment in me. In my life. In my future. On a deeply personal level.

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“(Operation Homefront) made an investment in me. In my life. In my future.”

Knowing that I had their support every step over that last year. Having someone sit me down and say “we believe in you, you got this, we’re PROUD of you…” THAT made all the difference. The changes that have taken place in us these 12 months. The transformation. The growth. The HEALING. I’m at a loss for words.

I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity Operation Homefront has provided. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. I’m no longer lost. Without purpose. I have found my calling once again. I set out on a path. Over the last year I’ve served the county and my community as a firefighter. I worked tirelessly to complete the Fire Academy at the University of Maryland. To become a nationally registered EMT. None of which would have been possible without the support from Operation Homefront.

I’m proud to announce that I was offered a Federal Firefighter position with the Department of Defense. I have been given a second chance in life. Something that is very rare. I want all of you to know what a profound impact you can have on a soldier’s life. Nevermind the struggle… the difference you can make… THAT is real. 

 

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the spirit and history of Veterans Day, we think there is no better way to honor service to country than to highlight some of the veterans we’ve been so very fortunate to help, each with their own unique and compelling story of commitment and sacrifice. We lead off the series with the story of our friend and teammate at Operation Homefront, Felicia McGrue:

Operation Homefront Village Director Felicia McGrue knows firsthand the challenges and opportunities faced by the wounded warrior families she helps every day. Just a few years ago she was a resident at the Operation Homefront Village in San Antonio herself.

In 2010, Felicia found herself facing a medical evaluation board. She truly believed she would be found fit for duty. “I was in denial,” stated Felicia.

Felicia was medically retired and began her transition to civilian life, which started at one of our Operation Homefront Villages in a rent-free apartment.

Felicia, far right, embraced her time as a resident at the Operation Homefront Village to work on a stable and secure future for herself and her young sons.

Transitioning from military to civilian life didn’t come easy. Reflecting on that time, Felicia shares, “For anyone who has served in the military, there is a grieving process you go through, whether you separated from the military voluntarily or involuntarily. We grieve over that persona we identified with; that strong, confident warrior that is ingrained in us from the beginning of our career.”

Felicia found that the confident warrior was still there, and she embraced the opportunity the Operation Homefront Village provided to work on a stable and secure future for herself and her young sons. While at the OH Village, she was able to obtain a master’s degree, significantly reduce her debt and complete a six month fellowship to assist other transitioning veterans.

Senior Director of Transitional Housing, Gracie Broll, recalls, “She put all her focus into her transition and our financial program and, before leaving the OH Village, she was able to put enough money down to buy a home. However, her heart remained at the Operation Homefront Village, and she was a frequent volunteer.” When the position of OH Village Director came open, it was as if her journey had come full circle.

felicia with check

Felicia, far right, has found another mission helping guide and support other veterans transition from service as the Operation Homefront Village Director in San Antonio.

 

Felicia believes staying connected and finding new ways to serve can help the emotional and mental aspects of transitioning from service. She also believes it is important that transitioned service members provide peer support and mentorship to other service men and women who will follow in their footsteps.

 

“Many of life stressors can be overwhelming but to compound that with physical and mental disabilities as a result of service to your country…it can sometimes prove to be unbearable. It can be difficult for veterans to navigate the VA system for medical treatment, establish permanent housing for their family, or find suitable employment to help them to sustain their household. They often still need that guidance and direction. Other, more seasoned veterans, have a difficult time letting go of that military standard and structure. They sometimes feel they have lost their sense of purpose. They can both be helpful in keeping each other motivated and provide encouragement for their family members as well.”

Thinking back to those early days, Felicia credits Operation Homefront for making a difference. “I am eternally grateful for Operation Homefront for my time at the OH Village, and I want to pass that help and assistance on to others.” Adds Gracie, “She has the passion to serve transitioning veterans and the dedication to do whatever it takes to ensure their successes.”

 

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

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We continue to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans through stories of people who seem ordinary at a glance. But they are extraordinary in their service to country and their will to keep moving forward.

Ryan Rodriguez describes himself as a combat wounded veteran who proudly served the United States Marine Corps from 2006 to 2012. During his service, he deployed twice to Iraq. “Over my two deployments, I had multiple brain injuries and some spine injuries,” Rodriguez said. The Marine also needed a corneal transplant.

rodriguezveteransblogRodriguez said this was the beginning of a difficult journey that included divorce, bankruptcy, having his daughter call someone else dad, and finally an eviction notice from the “worst apartment complex in Southern California.” Rodriguez said he had no place to go and was already dealing with a DUI and Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP). He said, as a Marine, he was held to a higher standard both in and out of uniform.

It was while he was at Wounded Warrior Battalion West in Camp Pendleton for rehabilitation that he crossed paths with Kristal Cardenas, Executive Director of the Operation Homefront Village in Oceanside, CA.  “I had no idea [she] would play such a vital role in my life. Kristal Cardenas was a guiding light that reached out to me when I thought I had dealt with enough in this lifetime,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez ended up moving into the Village where he could live rent-free, focus on recovery and start building his life again. He went back to school, eventually graduating with a degree in Organizational Management, a minor in Entrepreneurship and a GPA of 4.0 as he pursues his MBA in Public Administration.

“Second chances don’t always happen. With that said, I moved forward with my life and even found love during this period of reflection and rehabilitation,” said Rodriguez. But Rodriquez’ good fortune continued when he was chosen to receive a mortgage-free home in Kingwood, TX through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. The move brought him closer to his daughter, who lived with her mother in Texas.

“I stand here as a recipient of a home. I am married to a wonderful woman. And I have two amazing dogs and I am able to be there for my daughter who now understands who her dad really is. I am forever in debt to Operation Homefront for providing second chances to severely injured military members. I say that I’m lucky. My family reminds me that it’s not luck, that I sacrificed [a lot to get here]. I don’t see it that way, I see it as something that I wanted to do,” Rodriguez said.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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nicelyblogIt is impossible not to ask Cpl. Todd Nicely what happened when you first meet him. The 26-year-old Marine uses prosthetic limbs on both arms and legs.

But Todd doesn’t revisit the day in March 2010, when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan as an infantry squad leader on his way back from a security patrol.

He says he lost both his hands and his lower legs in the blast and then stops. He will, “spare you the gory details,” he says.

Now, he is one of only three men – a soldier and two Marines – from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive an attack as a quadruple amputee.

But he doesn’t talk about that either. Instead, he will tell you how determined he was to get up out of bed, and get on with his life.

“My plan was to get up and get out of the hospital as soon as possible,” Todd said. “I knew the quicker I learned to use these [prosthetics], the quicker I could make that happen.”

Todd has undergone several surgeries and has more to face. But he was up and walking less than three months after the attack.

Still, he and his wife Crystal, were stuck. Todd had more therapy and surgeries to face and the couple was living in a single room at a hotel near Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Todd beat the odds and walked again. And now he was limited to a few feet of space between his bed and the bathroom. The couple tried to rent a nearby apartment, but the cost of living was more than they could afford.

Operation Homefront gave Todd a place to continue to heal, and a home for the couple to finally relax in.

Todd says living in the Operation Homefront Village gave him a chance to really learn to care for himself again.

“The apartment was great,” he said. “It gave me a chance to experience living on my own again.”

Time in the village also gave the couple an opportunity to relax and plan for their future.

“In my situation, the financial future doesn’t always look so great, if you know what I mean,” Todd said. “It’s a big thing we’re worried about. Living here makes us a little less stressed.”

Since their time living in the Operation Homefront Villages, the Nicely family has moved to Missouri where they are working with the Gary Sinese Foundation, which played a part in giving them a brand new home. Todd is rightfully honored for his service on many occasions, including a meeting with Prince Charles in 2011 who said, “We owe them [service members], I think, an immense debt… for what they do on our behalf.”

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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As we continue our 11 days, 11 stories series, we zero in on a brave Marine whose love to serve is unending. Even as a wounded warrior, he wanted to continue to remain on duty. The turns of life took him in some unexpected directions but we’re happy to report, he’s doing well.

marinovetblogDuring his first deployment to Iraq in 2004, Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant David Marino was part of an effort to evacuate wounded Marines when an improvised explosive device detonated. The weapon’s secondary blast threw him to the ground, causing multiple injuries.

During his second deployment to the battlefield in 2005, he fell into a ravine aggravating wounds he had previously sustained. Despite his injuries, he wanted to continue to serve. He was granted Expanded Permanent Limited Duty status for Combat Wounded Marines. The new assignment allowed David to remain on duty not just as a Marine, but as an integral part of the team that helped wounded Marines and their families recover from wartime injuries.

His dreams of continuing to serve, however, were cut short in 2012 when he was medically retired due to his multiple injuries and illnesses.

Hour-long trips to San Diego for his medical treatments drained family finances as the price of gas skyrocketed. He and his wife, Laura, made plans to move back to his home in Maine, but were quickly sinking under the financial and emotional strains of his illness. The national mortgage crisis made it impossible to sell their California home.  No longer able to afford the mortgage payments, the couple resorted to finding renters to occupy the property. The couple also coped with the added stress of caring for David’s father, a World War II veteran. The newlyweds struggled to build a healthy marriage.

David and Laura would eventually move into Operation Homefront’s Southern California Village, a rent-free apartment complex that would allow the family to focus on their future. After their stay at the village, the family was awarded a home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program.

“We are so blessed and thankful,” David said. “Operation Homefront and Chase have helped tremendously to ease the financial burden of rent or a mortgage and have made things a lot less stressful.”

To date, our Homes on the Homefront program has matched more than 200 homes with very deserving veteran families. And there are nearly 100 more homes in process. We are grateful to have partners like Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and recently, Meritage Homes, who join us in awarding mortgage-free homes to veterans.

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