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Posts Tagged ‘Veterans Day 2013’

greenblogveteransEvery marriage has its share of obstacles. Those challenges are magnified when a life-changing traumatic injury occurs. For Michael and Justina Green, their marriage almost didn’t survive Michael’s combat injuries. That is not uncommon between those who bear the scars of war and the ones who love and care for them. But this story, thankfully, has a happy ending.

Michael and Justina Green’s little sisters were friends. That’s how they first met…over 20 years ago. Fate brought them together and now they’ve been married almost three years. It might have been longer but their engagement was delayed because Michael was in the Army for three years.

He was on his first deployment in 2005 and only in Iraq for three months when he was injured. He was riding in a Humvee, facing the back as the gunner. As the vehicle traveled over a bridge, an IED was activated. The Humvee was thrown off to the side. Michael suffered a right arm amputation and deep tissue shrapnel wound to his right thigh.

When Michael first came home from the hospital, Justina did everything for him. He suffered from daily PTSD so she tried to make life as peaceful and calm as possible. Then she met another family in a similar situation. The wife told her to let her husband do things for himself and try to heal.

This was good advice because tending to his every need was very tiring and hard on Justina. There were many times when Justina wanted to give up and walk away. She didn’t think their relationship was going to make it. They were fighting all the time and sometimes they would not talk for days. This went on for almost two years.

Justina turned to Michael’s mother and brother for support. They gave her a break now and then and provided her with the shoulder to cry on. Justina also met a nurse through the VA Caregiver Support program that checked on her all the time. Justina explained that the nurse would allow her to cry and vent. “When I felt all alone and couldn’t understand why the man I loved acted the way he did, it was helpful to reach out and just talk to someone.”

Also, Justina educated herself on PTSD and how that was affecting Michael. “There was so much I didn’t understand,” said Justina. But as she learned about the effects of PTSD, she could respond more appropriately. Over time, they started talking more and communicating their feelings. And Michael became more self-sufficient. Though it was painful and he struggled, he slowly learned to do things on his own.

Earlier this year, Justina attended the Hearts of Valor caregiver retreat in San Diego, CA in March 2013. “It was a very humbling and emotional experience. I was able to connect with others that understood what I’d gone through,” Justina said.

Today, this resilient couple lives in San Diego. Michael is working for a non-profit helping other wounded warriors. Justina is actively pursuing her dream to become a labor and delivery nurse. Michael has been fit for new prosthetics that allow him to play the guitar, surf, paddle board and kayak. “Because we both love the outdoors, this has allowed us to spend more quality time together making memories,” said Justina.

Those who care for wounded warriors don’t need to struggle alone. There are resources to provide support. Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program is designed to support caregivers by providing social connections to other caregivers in similar situations, fostering support groups around the country, and sponsoring annual retreats to provide education on relevant issues.

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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Tara and her husband, Todd.

Tara and her husband, Todd.

As we continue to honor service to country, we wanted to include a story from the families who live with a veteran hero. Today we share the words of Tara Plybon, a wife who is a caregiver for her wounded warrior husband, Todd, and a member of our Hearts of Valor program.

The wives of three men and I stood along with my son, Liam and watched the bus full of our husbands and their duffle bags departing the hotel and heading for Afghanistan. We all hugged, had tears in our eyes, and thought, “Well here goes a year of waiting.” That was February 2009.

On Oct. 15, 2009 I received a phone call that changed our lives forever. My husband, Todd, had been critically wounded with a moderate brain injury and a broken leg. The Humvee he was riding in ran over an IED.  The only thing remaining of the vehicle was the back of it and the roof, which they pulled off my husband. Sadly, his friends, SSGT Christopher Staats and Sgt. Gabriel Green, who were riding in the front seats, were both killed instantly.

The next day, I found out Todd’s injuries were worse than I could imagine. He had bleeding in the brain, his right femur was blown apart in three places, he had two torn femoral arteries, his ribs were blown apart, he lost more blood and received more fresh units than most people hold in their bodies. It was pretty scary. He wasn’t expected to make it back to Texas and they couldn’t get us on a plane fast enough to see him.

Out of the eight men on the mission that day, 5 men came back. Two did not. The eighth man, my husband, has not totally returned home, either.  His heart and mind are still back in Afghanistan. His mind is constantly thinking about that day and what could he have done differently as a gunner. When September and October come around, his nightmares increase, sleep becomes a premium more than usual. The dark cloud of survivor’s guilt lingers.

In spite of that, physically, I got my husband back. Why was I so lucky? How was I more deserving? In fact, the more I thought “Why me?” the less deserving I felt. Guilt was super heavy upon my chest. How and why did my husband survive losing all of that blood? Why did he return to me? Why him instead of Gabe and Chris? It has taken four years of counseling for me to graciously accept the gift of Todd’s life being continued. Each of the men willingly joined up to serve their countries and each of them were happy to put their lives on the line for their friends.

My heart hurts for the loss of these wonderful men. But I know that my husband and his friends went on their deployment knowing that at any moment, an RPG could come in and get one of them or they could run over an IED while in a vehicle, or any sort of combination of possible horror. What can we do now to honor them and their loss? We can celebrate our love and live the life Todd has left in the best way we can.

The day of the blast was our fifteen year wedding anniversary. I have been blessed with a man that loves me more than life itself. And he is raising a wonderful son. I have love.

Tara Plybon is an active member of our Hearts of Valor program. The program has more than 1,000 members . Through Hearts of Valor, Operation Homefront seeks to support these caregivers in their own journey of healing by facilitating an online community that provides social connections to other caregivers in similar situations, fostering support groups by geographic area to encourage resource sharing and friendships, and sponsoring annual retreats to provide education on relevant issues.

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 #11stories11days to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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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 Marine Corps Sgt. Carlos Evans.

carlosevansMarine Corps Sgt. Carlos Evans was looking for IEDs.

As the squad leader of a foot patrol, he and his unit were good at pinpointing and exterminating the deadly weapons. Evans was on his fourth deployment to the war zone, and he knew his job well.

But the enemy became increasingly cunning.

Insurgents planted bombs built with wooden parts instead of the easily detected metal versions. Evans stepped on one. He lost both his legs and his left hand in the blast.

Back in the United States, doctors worked to repair the damage. Evans lost track of the number of surgeries he underwent.

His wife, Rosemarie, hurried to his side at the hospital and left the couples’ two young daughters in North Carolina with friends. It was clear that Evans had months of recovery ahead. The family did not want to live apart.

Evans, his wife and young daughters, Nairoby and Genesis, moved into a hotel room near Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Evans was in a wheelchair. The space quickly became crowded and stressful.

Evans also worried about his family’s safety. It wasn’t right for his family to spend so much time alone, in a hotel, in a city they didn’t know, he said.

Operation Homefront provided the family with a safe home in which they could be comfortable. The Evans family lived in a free, fully furnished apartment at Operation Homefront Village in Bethesda while he underwent medical treatment. While there, Evans practiced walking on his prosthetics, along with his youngest daughter who was learning to walk, too. It also gave them enough space for family to visit and help out.

“We had that family environment back that we had at home,” Evans said. “We’re very, very, very grateful for Operation Homefront.”  Watch a video of Carlos speaking about his experience in his own words.

Where is the Evans family now? The Evans family moved to North Carolina to a newly built modified house that was provided by a local non-profit organization. Carlos has been able to meet President Obama and is involved in mono-skiing and cycling. The family is doing great and we are honored to have provided some relief to this very special family during their transition!

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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vetransdaykickoffblogVeteran’s Day is almost here, and for so many of us, the day holds a special meaning. Whether you’ve served your country in uniform, supported or cared for someone who served, had a father or mother, brother or sister, or any loved one at all who donned the uniform of their country, the day undoubtedly holds a personal sense of fulfillment and commitment for you.

However, there are many more of us who have a friend, a work colleague, or perhaps employ a veteran, who are equally vested in honoring and supporting service to country. For those of us at Operation Homefront, serving veterans is core to our mission and our values.

First proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919 to honor World War I veterans, the holiday was later expanded to include all veterans and all wars. The choice of Nov. 11 stems from the Armistice with Germany, with the cessation of hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

In the spirit and history of the day, this year we thought there’d be 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.

With the connection to the number 11, beginning on Veteran’s Day and over the course of 11 days, we’ll highlight a veteran who we’ve come to know through our various programs of support. Getting to know these individuals and families is what we cherish, thanks to the generous support we receive from those like you who also seek to honor service and sacrifice to country.

I’m hoping that you will 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.

jimknottssiggie

Jim Knotts, President and CEO
Operation Homefront

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