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Response to our 2019 Back-to-School® Brigade program was phenomenal. Read about how we are making a difference in the lives of military families, all thanks to our partners, volunteers and supporters like you:

Nearly 30 minutes before the start of Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School® Brigade (BTSB) event in San Antonio, a line of families started at the gym doors inside a local YMCA and snaked all the way out of the building.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers, Operation Homefront employees and partners like Chobani and H-E-B made the necessary last-minute checks. The face painters were ready, the photo booth filled with props and more than 500 backpacks were stacked and ready to go.

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

 

Volunteers from H-E-B helped make the day special for military families. Operation Homefront is proud to partner with H-E-B for BTSB as well as our Holiday Meal for Military program.

 

We were excited to host the team from Chobani at our San Antonio BTSB event. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families via Operation Homefront, and also matching donations—up to an additional $250,000!

Once the doors opened, the families filed through the gymnasium, gathering information on various resources from all the different booths and of course picking out a purple, pink, or clear backpack before leaving with smiling faces.

Good times!

 

 

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

Sailor Natalie Larenas attended the event for the first time, bringing her two sons, one in fourth grade and the other a freshman in high school.

“I had no idea there would be so much stuff here,” she said. “There was a lot of things the kids could learn about, like PTSD and education resources.”

Having been in the Navy for the past 14 years, Natalie said she appreciates that there are donors who give to Operation Homefront to help military families.

“Thank you!” Natalie said. “The families who serve sacrifice a lot and when there is something like this, we feel appreciated. It’s really nice. I really appreciate this, especially with three kids. I get emotional because I have served so many years and sacrificed time, just being away from my family. That’s why this is so nice. It tells me that we are appreciated too.”

From L-R, clockwise: An OH volunteer and service member at the BTSB event in Colorado Springs, CO; OH CEO John Pray (second from left) volunteers at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN; A soldier fills a backpack at the BTSB event at Camp Murray, Tacoma, WA; A boy gets his face painted at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN.

Since BTSB began in 2008, more than 375,000 military children have been provided with backpacks filled with supplies, helping them have the tools they need to succeed for the school year. You can see photos from our events on our Flickr page.

Operation Homefront Program Coordinator Rebekah Reyes said the Alamo City event could not have happened without the volunteers and partners. “I want to thank all of our donors and our volunteers who came out to support”,” Rebekah said. “(At the event), we had about 150 volunteers help us from the set up to clean up. They really helped make the event run smoothly.”

Team work makes the dream work.

Cathy Toyoda was one of those volunteers. She’s been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years, currently in the donations department but has helped at several BTSB events.

“You know, military families, most of them, are on a tight budget, and buying school supplies is very costly,” she said. “It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event by giving all the school supplies and the back packs and it’s really wonderful to give them away to people who need them.”

Cathy Toyoda has been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years. It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event.”

Talia Farrell was at BTSB for the first time. She and her husband Troy, who is in the Air Force, brought their two kids, Jordan and Jayda, in kindergarten and third grade respectively. She said the kids had a great time and the family was surprised at all the goodies. She hopes to return in the future.

This was Talia’s family’s first time at BTSB. This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.”

“This is a great opportunity for military families,” Talia said. “This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.

Back-to-School Brigade 2019 has concluded, but we have many more opportunities for military families in the coming months. Keep an eye on our events page for when registrations open.  If you would like to get involved as a volunteer, this page has everything you need to get started,

Chobani has been an incredible supporter of Operation Homefront’s mission. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families. And for every dollar you donate, Chobani will match your donation—up to an additional $250,000.

Finally, a special thanks to our national sponsors, Dollar Tree and SAIC, for their ongoing support of Back-to-School Brigade and many other Operation Homefront programs.

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So used to putting others first, here wounded warrior caregivers learn it’s okay to take care of yourself, too.

Almost anyone can be brave for five minutes or an hour. The bravery no one talks about is the hardest bravery of all. When you get up in the morning, every morning, even though you’d rather shut out the world for a while longer….or maybe forever. That’s the bravery that doesn’t make headlines and no one notices.

I met some women this weekend at Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor retreat who exhibit that kind of bravery. They are young, beautiful, and energetic. Many women their age are pursuing careers and going out with friends. The reality these women live…day in, day out…most of us cannot comprehend.

These women have answered a different call…it’s a call they didn’t choose but couldn’t ignore. That is the calling of a wounded warrior caregiver.

They fell in love and married a service member. Or their son chose the military life. Through no fault of his own, their man was injured…badly. His injuries may be invisible – PTSD or TBI or both. Or they may be excruciatingly obvious…burns or amputations. And now their sole focus is to care for that man.

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Connecting with others who understand their unique journey can have a huge impact on the spirit of a caregiver.

Take the time to read about PTSD and TBI. According to this resource, “home is no longer the safe haven but an unfamiliar front with unpredictable and sometimes frightening currents and events.”

I spoke with one caregiver who said, “I am 28. I am young and I love to have fun and be loud. But I can’t be that way at home because I don’t know how he (her husband) is going to respond. I feel like he doesn’t see the real me anymore.” And many of these women say the man they live with is different from the man they married.

It can be frustrating, confusing and demoralizing when your husband doesn’t know how to show emotions of love and affection anymore…and it’s not his fault. It’s a result of his brain injury. Or maybe it’s the opposite…he’s overly needy, overly dependent and needs his spouse to be by his side to the point of suffocation.

But the real crisis occurs with flashbacks and unpredictable bouts of rage. As one participant said, “we are living with trained weapons…in his dreams, he’s running missions every night in his head.” So they sleep very lightly, very cautiously, just in case they need to get away quickly.

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Operation Homefront treated the caregivers to a special dinner cruise on San Antonio’s River Walk, giving them a much-needed chance to relax, have fun and bond with new friends.

In spite of all that…they stay. Love keeps them from choosing the easy way out. As part of a session on using writing or art to relieve stress, one caregiver wrote a poem that speaks to the inner strength of these women:

The battle is within. Me. Him. Us.
It is never ending. Worthy.

And that, my friends, is bravery.

It was Operation Homefront’s honor to host more than 30 of these amazing caregivers at a special Hearts of Valor retreat this weekend in San Antonio. The retreat provided extensive education about brain injuries, sessions to help women cope with stress, and time for them to just relax, take care of themselves and make connections with other caregivers who understand the life they live. Find out more about our Hearts of Valor program. Thank you to the following organizations that provided services to make the retreat a memorable experience for our caregivers: La Quinta River Walk, Seasons of Care, San Diego Sexual Medicine, San Antonio Military Medical Center, Mia Mariu, Azuca, Huskin Photography, Casa Rio, Sight-Seeing San Antonio, Zenergy Wellness and Rio San Antonio Cruises.

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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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