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Dustin and Bethany at the ceremony.

Surrounded by the flash of cameras and the buzz of journalists requesting an interview, U.S. Army veteran Dustin Perkins received red-carpet treatment as he prepared himself to accept the Veteran’s Education Award at this year’s Vetty Awards.

“It was super exciting, there were a lot of actors and actresses there. John Kelly, Jake Tapper and Nate Boyer…it was overwhelming.”

Coming from a strong military family, Dustin always saw a future of serving. At age 25, he decided to follow his father’s footsteps and enlist in the Army, not far from his hometown of Bensenville, IL. He served four years as a watercraft engineer and rose to the rank of specialist before being honorably discharged in 2010.

After transitioning from military to civilian life, Dustin decided to dedicate himself to helping other service members adjust after the military.

Dustin with Jake Tapper.

“I know it’s been said time and time again, but in the military, you are told where to be, at what time, in uniform. Everything is predetermined,” Dustin said. “Suddenly you don’t have that. It sounds small but suddenly you find yourself thinking, what do I do?”

As Dustin entered civilian life, he wanted to establish roots for him and his family. Dustin heard about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program from his college’s Veterans Club. One of his friends was a recipient and encouraged him to apply.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Dustin was a recipient of a mortgage-free home in 2016.

“I felt really warm and fuzzy and just overwhelmed with excitement when I received that call.” Dustin said. “It’s close to my job and having this home has improved my quality of life, financially and emotionally.”

Dustin with Nate Boyer.

A few years later, he is being recognized for his efforts to help his fellow veterans achieve their educational goals.

Dustin recalls the moment one of his coworkers nominated him for the award.

“He called me into his office and asked me, ‘Tell me what it is you do for that nonprofit?’ As I was telling him I noticed him typing and asked what he was doing,” Dustin said. “He just said, ‘Oh, I’m just nominating you for this award.’”

Dustin had never heard of the Vetty Awards before then, and now stood on the red carpet with people he admired, all there to celebrate him.

“Everybody was very welcoming,” Dustin said. “It was overwhelming and

Dustin with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

nerve-wracking but amazing to be a part of. It felt like we were the stars instead of them. We felt honored and very special to be there.” See a Facebook Live feed of Dustin receiving his award.

Dustin has dedicated 1.5 years as volunteer Director of Marketing for Student Veterans of America, an organization whose mission is to provide programs, mentorship events, motivation and volunteer opportunities for veterans. Before that, he was president of the Veterans Club at his college.

As for what lies ahead, Dustin has received a promotion at his job at ITsavvy. He is currently working to receive his Project Management Certification and hopes to start a family in the near future.

For service members facing transition, Dustin offers some advice.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s a multitude of assets and resources out there for you. Don’t be shy. Use them.”

To learn more about Operation Homefront programs or how you can support the current needs of military families in your community, please visit www.operationhomefront.org/needs/list

-Interview and blog by Cynthia Leyva

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Continuing our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, where we spotlight the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront.  You can find previous stories here:

The day the Army recruiters came to his middle school, U.S. Army veteran Jason Stidham knew that he wanted to join the military. He just needed to be old enough to enlist. So he patiently waited then, one day before he turned 18, Jason joined the Army.

During his enlistment, Jason was stationed at Fort Campbell, Tennessee, and at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He also deployed to Iraq. Ultimately, Jason left the military in 2010, after seven years, when his injuries prevented him from serving any longer.

During his military service, Jason met his wife Tommie. “Jason and I met through a mutual friend who set us up on a blind date,” said Tommie. “We met for breakfast at IHOP and he was the kindest and funniest guy I had ever met. The date wound up lasting for 6 hours! We had breakfast AND lunch there! He proposed on our 6-month anniversary and we were married two years later.” Since then, they have welcomed two children to their family.

A few years after Jason transitioned out of the military, they moved to Alvin, TX to be closer to Jason’s family. “His PTSD became a little too much for me to deal with by myself, (so) we agreed that having his family around would help him cope better with his trauma and, it has,” said Tommie. Finally settled in Texas, Jason and his wife Tommie were focused on living a simple, satisfying life.

While the family remains tight, this year served up three hard hits.

Jason went on medication for pain management, but his dosage was incorrect and had severe repercussions for the veteran. Jason had a seizure, was hospitalized, and was out of work for four months.

The couple gradually recovered from that experience and decided to use their income tax refund to open their own car repair shop since Jason is a certified mechanic. With only word of mouth advertising, the shop did not generate enough income to pay the bills.

To supplement their income, Jason became a driver until his shop could make more money. The couple was on the road to financial recovery once again when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. Their home flooded during the hurricane and then Jason was out of work for two weeks because of area flooding.

The third financial blow hit the family hard. With six kids, including one attending college and two months’ worth of rent due, the family was forced to look outward for assistance. They also needed help to pay for repairs to their washer and dryer.

Reluctantly, Jason and Tommie reached out to Operation Homefront for help. “Asking for help is extremely hard and it hits your pride. From the first time we spoke, Kerry (Operation Homefront caseworker) made me feel like she really cared. When Kerry called and said Operation Homefront would help, we never felt ashamed or embarrassed. Kerry was on our team and working with us,” said Tommie.

“Both of us were pretty emotional,” said Tommie. “Your donors have no idea the impact that they had on our family. Without you and your donors, two adults and six kids would be out on the streets. There are no words to express our gratitude.”

“Operation Homefront is amazing,” continued Tommie. “Our caseworker Kerry was wonderful, sympathetic, and compassionate.

“We are very grateful for you and your donors—people who actually care.”

This blog is 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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“I took a leap of faith and joined the Air Force.”

That’s how Dominick Griego describes his decision to serve. He had entered college, trying to balance the demands of a young family, college and a job. But he needed healthcare and a constant paycheck. So he enlisted.

Little did he know that decision would impact his family in ways he never imagined.

“The beauty of joining the Air Force was that I was also afforded the opportunity to see the world.” After training at two locations in Texas, he was stationed in Italy with his wife, Cecilia. “Italy was amazing,” said Dominick. “Both of my girls were born there.”

After Italy, the family was stationed in New Jersey for seven years. Dominick had seven deployments during his thirteen years of service. “I was gone a lot,” said Dominick. “It was a trying factor on my family, especially the girls. But we faced every opportunity and challenge thanks to my wonderful wife.”

dom-griego-9During Dominick’s last deployment to Afghanistan, he was hurt. At first, there was just the close call…Dominick was checking on an infrastructure in an area known as “Rocket City” when an IDF mortar blew up outside the chow hall. But three weeks later in Kabul, Dominick and his operations team were driving to another location when a suicide bomber drove into them. Dominick and his team ended up five feet away from 500-pound bomb.

“We ended up inside an attack and were under heavy fire,” said Dominick. “I passed out and when I came to, we were engaged by an enemy in the city. Fortunately, we were able to fight back and maneuver tactically. There were six of us and all six survived and returned home with minimal injuries. Sometimes you get lucky. I was stubborn and didn’t seek medical treatment. I stumbled around in country before ending up in hospital. They told me to make sure I rested my brain.”

Dominick decided to stay on in Afghanistan for six months. He was assigned to a task force looking for corruption and fraud. Six months turned into 13 months. Finally, in July 2014, he returned to the states. Dominick received a Purple Heart for his bravery and courage in the attacks in Kabul.

Despite his injuries, and the fact that Dominick had recently been diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery, Dominick reenlisted in the Air Force for another term in January 2016. He deals with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and PTSD sleep deprivation.

Dominick was a Portraits in Courage honoree and attended an awards ceremony at the Pentagon. While he was there, he met one of our Operation Homefront staff members. Dominick’s wife took a business card.

When the Griego family’s heat and AC unit stopped working efficiently, the family recalled their chance meeting with Operation Homefront and filled out an application for assistance—Dominick didn’t believe the family would qualify. “I didn’t think that I was a candidate for help because you can’t see my injuries,” said Dominick. “Sometimes I am also in denial about my injuries.”

“The original heating unit was oil and the new unit is natural gas,” said Cecilia. “We all have allergies which was sometimes aggravated by the oil heat and it dried us out. This is different heat. We no longer have stress from worrying about fixing it. There is no way we could have done this without Operation Homefront’s help.”

dom-griego-2“I am at home a lot,” said Dominick. “What you guys did was amazing. Because of my health, I had no motivation to mentally or physically address the AC issue. The lack of efficient heat and AC made the situation more miserable as I was recovering from surgeries and chemo.”

“A lot of people tell me thank you for your service,” said Dominick. “Because my wounds are not visible, people don’t understand. But to say thank you and then do something like your donors do to say thanks—to blindly give. That gesture is beyond words. What you and your donors do justifies and reinstates the reason why I serve and wear the uniform and would do anything to protect.”

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 to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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