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Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at http://www.operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019. Today we can take a humorous look back at a life of service through the family’s eyes:

As Haily Radnor and her husband Steve, an Air Force first sergeant, near retirement in early 2019 after 24 years of service, she looks back fondly on their time in the military, while also looking forward to having Steve around more often.

The Radnors and their five children – Austin, 13; Sierra, 9; Cheyenne, 6; Skyler, 3; and Logan, 5 months – plan to move from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they are stationed now, to Pennsylvania to be closer to Steve’s extended family.  For his second career, Steve may stay in human resources because he has enjoyed his most recent assignment as a first sergeant, caring or the morale and welfare of airmen.

Hailey has a few thoughts on what she will (and won’t miss) about their life of service as a military family.  Thoughts I am sure many of us will nod our head’s in agreement about:

What she will miss:

  • Belonging to the larger military family, and feeling the love, from time to time, from people and organizations who care, and value their service, including Operation Homefront. Haily attended a May 2018 Operation Homefront Star-Spangled Baby shower in Colorado Springs at which she and about 100 other new and expecting military members and spouses enjoyed each other’s company, and received special gifts, including Cracker Barrel rocking chairs, cribs and other necessities.

“Knowing that there are those out there that do appreciate what we do, that life isn’t being taken for granted … makes it that much easier for us to get up and do our thing every day,” Haily said.

  • The strong bonds they have formed with other military families. She and her military spouse friends are flexible, accepting of change and patient because they know that being high-strung and uptight doesn’t work.  “Your children reflect how you behave,” she said.  “It’s not worth getting upset over little things.”
  • Being the friend she would like to have. “Everyone needs someone to be strong for them when they can’t be,” she said.  That requires putting yourself out there, and meeting people without fear of being hurt even though that can be scary.  “It makes us better people and it teaches us.”

At the same time, Haily recommends, “allow yourself to make mistakes because if you don’t, you cannot learn from them to become a better person.”

  • The sense of duty, knowing that there’s a purpose in my husband’s work.”
  • Their newborn won’t know the excitement and rewards of military life. Yet if Steve stayed in, he likely would go remote for a year, missing much of their baby’s first two years of life, so they decided it’s “time to hang up the boots.”
  • Being surrounded by others who don’t take their country or their lives for granted. Having known families who lost loved ones in war, she and Steve always make it a point to teach their children to be appreciative, respectful and accepting and inclusive of everyone, regardless of differences in age, background, appearance or income.  “All they see is a new friend and that’s all that matters.”

“If you ever go on to a military base and “Taps” is playing, the kids at the playground freeze and stand toward that music and put their hands on their heart,” Haily said.  “Life just freezes for those few moments.”

What she won’t miss:

  • Steve’s long, frequent absences. Though all but one of his deployments happened before they married in 2004, he deployed in 2015 to Kuwait for six months.  They had four children at the time.  He also has had assignments that kept him away from home, including his current one, which requires him to be on call 24/7.  When they were relative newlyweds with only one child at the time, Steve performed maintenance for the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s demonstration squadron, and was traveling more than 200 days a year.  Even when he was home, he worked 12- to 15-hour days, she said. Their son, Austin, now 13, didn’t understand why his father was gone, or would only return for short periods.  “The emotions on him were really hard,” she said. “It was hard for him not having his dad, even though we could have our little Skype talks on occasion a couple times a week” at most.  It wasn’t enough to take the place of his daily presence.

Steve’s schedule improved some when they moved to Germany, but he still worked long hours as an NCO instructor.

  • Her kids having to repeatedly adjust to new communities and schools. When the Radnors, who moved seven times over 14 years and four duty stations, relocated to Arizona from Germany, their kids had difficulty “breaking in” to established friend circles, and felt excluded.  There was a stark contrast between their military-friendly neighborhood in Germany and their more civilian-centric community in Arizona, where many neighbors had never traveled outside the state, she said.  It was a “heartbreaking” time, she said, but improved in Colorado.
  • Knowing that more military members will lose their lives serving their country, never to return to their families. And that countless others will spend lengthy periods away from their families.

What do you or will you miss (or not) about YOUR military service?  Tell us in the comments.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

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Rita is on her way to receiving the deed to her home early. “I have never been in such a financially stable position in my life”

To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019. 

Rita looks back proudly on her Navy service from 1998 through 2003, working as an electronics technician, testing portable communication equipment on land and on ships. She was twice named junior sailor of the year at her command. “The military is a part of me. … It always has been and it always will be.”

After five eventful years of active-duty Navy service, and another 10 years as a Navy spouse, Rita Starks found herself at a low point.  She and her husband had divorced, and she couldn’t afford a place of her own.

So she and her two kids moved back in with her parents in Wisconsin. She thought they would live in her parents’ basement for only a few months. It turned into 4½ years.

The opportunity to move her family in October 2016 into a donated, three-bedroom, mortgage-free house in Cambridge, Wisconsin, was more than she could have hoped for. The home, donated by JPMorgan Chase through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program, was about a half hour from her parents, and just the boost Rita needed to improve the lives of her children.

Rita’s low-cost lifestyle and participation in our Homes on the Homefront program has enabled her to focus on saving money. She was disciplined about paying off debt before entering HOTH, and says the program’s goals motivate her to follow the old adage to pay yourself first. “I see … savings money as a bill that I have to pay every month. This is an expectation of the program, and that’s why I’m going to do it the best I can.”

In one year, Rita saved over $18,000, and is on her way to receiving the deed to her home early. “I have never been in such a financially stable position in my life,” she said. “I was always financially dependent on someone else, but now here we are all on our own. What an amazing feeling!”

Being in their own home had other benefits the whole family could enjoy. Her 15-year-old daughter, Caylin, craved her own room. “She had zero privacy,” Rita said. And Rita needed a way to keep a close eye on her son, 11-year-old Jaydin, who has muscular and neurological disabilities, and requires constant supervision. Jaydin is nonverbal, only weighs 41 pounds, must wear a diaper, and didn’t walk until he was 4½.

In the main open concept living area, Rita can see Jaydin even if she’s washing dishes. He spends time on the deck outside without her worrying he’s too close to the street. “It’s perfect,” she said, “The open concept allows me to give Jaydin a little more freedom yet still know that he is safe.”

Rita and her kids have come to love the community, schools, and citizens of Cambridge over the last 15 months. Rita, who works as a special education paraprofessional at the local middle school, brings Jaydin to work with her in the mornings, where he catches a bus to the elementary school one mile away. In the afternoons, he rides the bus back to the middle school to go home with his mom.

“Everybody has welcomed him with open arms,” Rita said. “They’re so accommodating here.”

Jaydin can continue as a student in the school district until he’s 21. “We plan to stay right here for a long time.”

Caylin is on the high school’s varsity spirit squad, a cheerleading and competitive dance team, and performs with the show choir. She and her mother often volunteer to help with various events and fundraisers, either through the school district or Cambridge’s Community Activities Program, which provides recreational and educational services. “It’s really been good [for] getting to know everybody in the community,” Rita said.

She’s excited she can pay for Caylin’s college. HOTH “not only changed our lives in the present, but this is going to continue to change our lives,” Rita said. “When I’m gone, it will continue to pass on to my kids. It’s an accomplishment I would not have been able to do on my own. For that I am forever grateful.”

Rita has an associate degree and plans to look into taking classes at University of Wisconsin –Whitewater toward a special education teaching degree.

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

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As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

At Operation Homefront, over 80 percent of our staff have served, had a significant other who served or have been part of a military family. As Veterans Day approaches, we asked our staff to share insights into what made their military service meaningful, and what kind of recognition means the most to them, if any.

Here are their reasons, realities and rewards about serving our country:

What keepsakes from your time in the service have the most meaning for you?

• A gold watch from a commander with a short note that was the most heart touching.
• My flying helmet.
• My plankowner plaque and the tri-corner-folded flag that draped the coffin of my World War II veteran father when he died in 1996. He was a great father and a great American.
• I don’t have too many keepsakes left as my household shipment sank in the ocean on the return from overseas. (Of those that I still have), my most meaningful is the baby blanket my Commander and his wife gave to me when my oldest son was born at my last duty station (Beale AFB, CA).
How did your military service shape or define who you are today?
• It allowed me to strengthen my belief in service to others.
• I learned more about how to write news stories and how to handle media relations from Defense Information School (DINFOS) than I learned at the University where I earned my (degree).
• I worked in a field that was unfamiliar to me and one that was primarily all men, so I was the minority and usually at a disadvantage. But, this allowed me to learn a lot of new skills such as construction, maintenance, etc. and taught me to be confident in myself, my knowledge, and my ability to learn.
• Most folks would say I tailored the Air Force to meet my needs and desires. (I was ) always the rebel on top of the pack and the leader of whatever I was tasked to do.

What is one way you have seen veterans honored that touched you the most? Or has someone honored your service in a way that was especially meaningful?

• The annual placement of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, Va., is special. I’ve actually done that for the American Legion National Headquarters a few times when I was on the K Street staff of the nation’s largest veterans-service organization. I once gave a wreath to the sentry along with my wife, who is a U.S. Army veteran even though she is from Poland.
• Standing for the flag.
• A co-worker in Milwaukee went to Harley Davidson and I received the first flag flown for my retirement over H-D headquarters.
• I attended an evening event at Mt Rushmore. Veterans were asked to come to the front of the audience and say their name and branch of service, and when everyone had been acknowledged the monument was lit up. It was simple, but beautiful.

What is something meaningful that Americans can do today to honor or support those who have served in the military?

• Be interested, ask questions, and listen to their stories.
• I’m sure many adults tell veterans and troops, “Thank you for your service.” And, (sadly), most of those adults also encourage young family members to avoid the military. Be realistic about the risks, but don’t be discouraging with a young family member who has his/her mind made up to serve. They just need to know what they’re getting into.
• For myself, no thanks are needed, I chose to serve my country because I believe our freedoms come with a cost and I gladly served so others could enjoy their freedoms set by the founders of this nation. However, it doesn’t hurt when someone takes a moment to thank you for your service and sacrifice.
• Take time to understand what it means to military members to serve and why they choose to do so.

If you’ve served, thank you. Your willingness to place your life at risk, give up precious moments with family and friends (too many to count), and put others before self does not go unnoticed by all of us at Operation Homefront. Our mission is to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities you have worked so hard to protect. That’s how we say thanks. Those who support us, echo our gratitude, with their gifts.

As we draw close to Veterans Day, we wish for you to feel the full force of the honor you are worthy of as a veteran of the United States Armed Forces. Thank you for your service!

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This blog is the first part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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