Friday, September 26, 2014

Gold Star Mother Makes a Mission to Honor Her Son

By Michele McNaughton, the proud mother of SSG James McNaughton, KIA 08/02/05

This Sunday, September 28, is Gold Star Mother's Day. It is a day for people to recognize and honor those who have lost a son or daughter while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is the Department of Defense who declares you a Gold Star Mother. This is a small part of my story on how I became a Gold Star Mother. 

Gold Star Mother, Michele McNaughton
In 1996, my son graduated high school and left two days later for boot camp. Jimmy joined the Army to become a Military Police Officer, which is a five year commitment.  He went overseas in 1999 to Germany, Kosovo, and Bosnia.  In 2001 he was honorably discharged and I was overjoyed to say the least, but he stayed in the Army Reserves.  He then joined the New York City Police Department. His Academy class was known as the 9/11 class, the longest Academy class in the History of the NYPD, instead of six months they did nine. Due to 9/11, they were taken out of the Academy to help with different details.

Ok so now you must be asking why am I telling you all of this. In 2002 my son was activated for his first deployment. At the ceremony the families were asked to tie a yellow ribbon around a tree at the Reserve Center and then we were handed a Blue Star banner. I never knew what a Blue Star Mother was, but I learned then. I was excited and came home and told the rest of my family and then went to look for other banners to buy and give to my family to display proudly. We proudly hung that banner in the window while Jimmy was deployed.

Jimmy came home safe from his deployment and we took our banner out of the window. In 2004, Jimmy was activated again for his second deployment.  We took out our Blue Star banner and again proudly hung it in the front window.  He left on December 26, 2004 for Iraq.  He came home on leave in June of 2005.

Blue Star Banner (L) & Gold Star Banner (R)

On August 2, 2005 Jimmy was killed by a sniper in Bagdad, Iraq. That is when my Blue Star turned to Gold. My son was the first NYC Police Officer killed in Iraq, and his funeral services were huge (I myself being a NYC Police Officer as well as my husband who had just retired from the NYC Police Department). There was a Suffolk County Police Officer that spent nine hours trying to find a Gold Star banner to give to us to hang in the front window.  

One of my missions as a Gold Star Mother is to volunteer. My personal motto is “To never forget a past, present or future Veteran, as I am the voice for those that cannot be heard from and the voice for those that haven’t found theirs yet."  I also believe in education.  Most people don’t understand what a Blue Star or Gold Star Mother is. My car license plates are Gold Star Mother plates and sometimes people will make a remark and I will respond, but I always add, “Now that you know, please pass it along and teach someone else.”

Just because I’m a Gold Star Mother doesn’t mean that my son is the only hero. My belief is that everyone that steps up to the plate to protect our great nation is a hero.  

Most people don’t know what to say to someone who lost a child while in defense of our country.  So when I am given the opportunity I let everyone know that it's okay to ask about our children, how they lived, how they died.  It helps me and most parents to be able to share their stories. It keeps them alive.  

To sum it up, as a Gold Star Mother I feel that it is my duty to stand honorably in my son’s place. I need to finish his mission and help to make sure other Military members are not forgotten.  I also believe that it's not just the mother's responsibility any longer, it's the family.  I believe in Gold Star families as we all had a hand in our children's lives.  

May no more Blue Stars turn to Gold, but if they do I will stand beside them. God bless America!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Golfing Communities Bring in Big Support

Hope For The Warriors is proud of the two very successful golfing events this month: The Inaugural Semper Cool Golf Classic in Central Valley, NY and the Scarlet and Gold Invitational in Wallace, NC. Service members, supporters, and special guests attended these two unique events and we thank everyone for making these occasions memorable and their impact long lasting.

Special mentions for the Semper Cool Golf Classic go out to co-host, author, and veteran Barry Fixler of the Barry Fixler Foundation, as well as actor, veteran, and military advocate Dan Lauria, and the Falkirk Estate and Country Club.

Special mentions for the Scarlet and Gold Invitational go out to River Landing, Food Lion, 1-800-Pack-Rat, as well as athletes and celebrity hosts Johnny Bench and Doug Flynn and magician and comedian Michael Finney

#tbt Tunnel to Towers 2010

This Sunday is the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk, which honors the heroism of fireman Stephen Siller. On 9/11, 34-year-old Stephen Siller had the day off, but when he heard about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, he ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel on foot with 60 pounds of equipment. Stephen ultimately lost his life helping those in need, so his siblings started the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk as a tribute to his selflessness. 

For years, Hope For The Warriors has participated in the event, demonstrating our commitment to the sacrifices of so many service men and women who lay their lives down for our safety every day. More information on the Tunnel to Towers 5K can be found on the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation website

Friday, September 19, 2014

Dean & Taryn's Ride Across the USA

We are awe-inspired when supporters decide to creatively advocate for our military, and the story of Dean and Taryn Hatcher is no exception! Starting on September 8, this father-daughter duo has been cycling from Blaine, Washington to Key West, Florida to raise awareness for Hope For The Warriors®. 

Dean and Taryn's Cycling Route

There will be many updates along the way about their journey, so stay up to date and follow Dean and Taryn on their Facebook page

To learn more about how you can support Dean and Taryn's ride, visit their fundraising page here.

Thank you for your amazing support, and best of luck, Dean and Taryn!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

#tbt Harmon Meadow Run For The Warriors 2013

Join Hope For The Warriors® this Sunday, September 21 in Secaucus, NJ for the 4th Annual Harmon Meadow Run For The Warriors, a 5K and 1-Mile Walk/Run in memory of Army SPC. Rafael A. Nieves, Jr. For more information on the run, please visit the race site. See you there!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Motorcycle Clubs--Continued Support

Hope For The Warriors® has the privilege of receiving phenomenal support from many different communities across the country. We are always amazed by the big hearts of people looking to bring attention to and answer the call of giving back to our military families. We cannot even begin to describe how much we appreciate each and every supporter, including those who lead their community to awareness. 

One group that has provided countless support to Hope For The Warriors® over the years is that of the motorcycle community. Like a snowball effect, we find that each motorcycle group we encounter drives another—no pun intended--to our community of supporters. 

The real benefit of these groups is that they actively engage in any activity or project we present them with. Their eagerness to try new activities and get involved in unique ways sets them apart. Their energy and persistence make them invaluable.    

These are several motorcycle communities that have been involved in the Hope For The Warriors® mission over the years. We thank them on behalf of the service members and military families they’re impacting every day.

Rough Riders Motorcycle Club Combat Vets Of America Patriot Guard Rebels MCLeathernecks Motocycle Club
Grand Rapids Wart Hogs

Cold weather is beginning to hit many part of the country and motorcycles will be put away for the winter soon.  However, the impact of their support continues throughout the year. Thank you to all of those who have supported and continue to support our military families.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Turning Pain into Power: A Wife Remembers her Husband

By Denise Olsen
Wife of a fire fighter lost on 9/11 and a member of our staff

It has been 13 years since our country was attacked.  13 long years filled with ups and downs. My husband, Jeff Olsen, was a NYC firefighter.  He was stationed at the firehouse across the street from the World Trade Center and was lost that day. He was 31 years old.  We had 3 children—Vincent: 8 years old, Tori Rose: 3 years old, and Noah: 18 months old. I could barely breathe. The pain of my broken heart was actually physical and I had no idea how I would survive.                                                    
He was and is my “why" and in 13 years, I have learned. I have learned that for every bad person in this world, there is a hero.  I have learned that faith and hope are sometimes all you have. I have learned that you need to allow people to help you and love you--it heals them, too. But most importantly, I have learned that pain is a powerful energy

We don’t always get to choose what happens to us, but we get to choose how we handle it. In honor of my husband’s life and the lives of all those who were lost that day and in the years following 9/11 until now, I have chosen to turn my pain into power.  I choose to celebrate their lives instead of focusing on their death. I encourage you to do the same; be grateful for the love you shared even if it was for just a short time. Find strength in their strength. Never give up hope. Always remember, they live forever through us...

I read this passage today and I am including it because I couldn't have said it better myself:

Grief can destroy you—or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it.  But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill.  It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it.  The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by the gratitude for what preceded the loss.  And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.
--Dean Koontz, Odd Hours

Monday, September 8, 2014

Join Us for the Inaugural Run The Ranch!

Join Hope For The Warriors® and Rescue Ranch in Statesville, NC on October 25 for the Inaugural Run The Ranch 5K Mud Run! Register today!

What is the Rescue Ranch?

NASCAR driver Ryan Newman and his wife, Krissie, founded the Rescue Ranch to promote and provide: humane education to enhance the human-animal bond; compassionate rescue; low-cost spay/neuter; and, responsible adoption in an effort to end pet over-population and its associated suffering. 

You might remember that Ryan Newman is a friend and supporter of Hope For The Warriors® through the Oral-B, Built in the USA campaign.  Watch a great video with Ryan. He shares his love for our country and his respect for the men and women in our military.

Be sure to join us for this fun event! And don't forget the Fall Festival is right after the Run. 

Learn more about Rescue Ranch on their Facebook page.

Congrats to Our Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship Recipients!

Hope For The Warriors® is pleased to announce the recipients of the Fall 2014 Spouse/Caregiver Scholarships.

Holly Cummings was awarded the Shannon Maxwell Honorary Scholarship and attends the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences in Lancaster, PA. She is enrolled in the RN to BSN Program. Her husband is Capt. Robert J. Cummings Jr., USA (Ret.).

Sarah Dale was awarded the Karin Dickerson Honorary Scholarship for her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Studio Art at American University. Her husband is Missouri National Guard Staff Sgt. John Dale, USA.

The Bonnie Amos Honorary Scholarship was awarded to Nicole Jones, a Social Work student at Salsbury University in Salisbury, MD. Her husband is E5 Sgt. Phil Jones, USA (Ret.). 

Biannual scholarships are awarded to both spouses and caregivers recognizing and supporting the new role shouldered within their families. 

Hope For The Warriors® has been giving scholarships to spouses and caregivers twice a year since 2008. Military spouses and caregivers are encouraged to apply for the spring 2015 semester and applications will be available here beginning October 1, 2014.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

#tbt Hope For The Warriors 2014 Staff Development Conference

Six months ago, Hope For The Warriors shared special and unprecedented time together planning for the year ahead. This time allowed us to gain skills, understanding, and work with one another to better provide for our service members and military families.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Caring for the Caregivers: A Letter of Hope

Hope For The Warriors® has had the pleasure of working with caretaker Patti, who was first introduced to our organization last year in Florida at the Turkey Hunt. In this testimonial, Patti discusses how she finds “peace and wholeness” in her life as a caretaker, mother, and individual. Her path is a nice reminder of why we at Hope For The Warriors® continue the work we do every day for our service members and military families, including caretakers. Thank you to Mossy Oak, everyone at the Dee Dot Ranch, and The Turkey Thugs for making this trip possible for Patti and the other caregivers.

My husband, Ken, and I have been together for 19 years.  I met him just after his time of serving in 3rdForce Recon with the United States Marine Corps.  Ken had a ten-year break in service, then served as a police officer. Ken joined the Army after 9/11 because he wanted to again serve his country after we went to war, but was injured while serving in Iraq in May of 2007.  

Over the years, I have been able to get used to being Ken’s caregiver. I love my husband so much, but quite frankly there was a time last year I started to feel a little caregiver burn out.

Not only am I my husband’s caregiver, I am the mother to three beautiful children ages 14, 18, and 20.  I run the kids here and there and do the whole “mom thing.”  In my case, I am my husband’s caregiver, but I am also a mediator and educator between the kids and their dad.  I have to explain the whys and the ways of their dad.  Even though it’s been several years since Ken was injured, the kids still have questions and concerns that need to be addressed when it comes to why dad was injured and why he may do this or that.  We lost several friends in war, so I try to comfort my husband and the kids during anniversaries and special holidays.  I am pretty much the pillar of our family.  If I crumble, we all fall apart – so I cannot let myself crumble.

Before the war, I loved taking photographs, walks on the beach, the outdoors, hunting, fishing and participating in these activities with my best friend--my husband.  After Ken was injured, did my life die? No. I was not one to want to bury it completely and walk away from it because of some trials and bad circumstances. We have lost friends in the war, Ken has suffered physically and emotionally, and there are times I have cried and even questioned God.  It’s been hard to say the least and sometimes confusing if I try to figure it all out – but I am still here, and so is Ken.  The friends we lost in war would never want us to sit back and mourn so much that we forget to enjoy life, that we forget we have the gift of life, and that it is very precious. I know this and try to remember it on a daily basis.  
Last winter before I became involved with Hope For The Warriors®, I started to allow my thoughts to drag me down a little bit.  Ken was having a lot of nightmares and survivor’s guilt, our youngest daughter was having health issues and I had been given news my mom had about a year to live. The weather was horrid in Michigan and it had been quite a long time since I made time to do something for myself that I really enjoyed.  You heard that right: made time.  Everyone can make an excuse on why they cannot make time for themselves, but we need to make ourselves priority sometimes so we can lead happier, healthier lives which will enable us to better take care of our veterans and families. I really needed some time with another caregiver, or someone who understood my situation.

Caregiver and military friends are pretty much like family, but even closer.  They know your feelings, because they too have had those feelings.  They can sit and have coffee with you and never question the impact war has had on your family because they know it all too well. They are closer than blood and there’s a bond that cannot be broken.

Last winter, I received an email from my friend, Renee, who is also a caregiver.  Renee was a part of Hope For The Warriors®.  She told me there may be an opportunity for me to attend a turkey hunt in Jacksonville, Florida at the Dee Dot Ranch.  At first, I was a little unsure if I should go and I began thinking about all of the obligations I had at home.  She proceeded to tell me it was just a short trip, and I would only be gone a couple nights.  I decided to apply to go and found out my application was accepted.  I was excited because I knew in my heart that I needed this trip, this short getaway.  In all honesty, my kids are old enough to hold the fort down when I am gone.  They are responsible and two of the kids are adults now.  I made chore charts and a, “things to do” list before I left for the trip (I’m sure they loved that). 

Renee and I had never met in person, but we talked on Facebook in a caregiver support group.  I liked the way she thought; she was positive and encouraging to other caregivers, which is needed in the caregiver community.  I was excited that she was attending the trip and that I would be meeting her in person. 

Hope For The Warriors® arranged the entire turkey hunt.  They paid for transportation, food, and lodging which was a huge blessing because, as many of you can imagine, living on disability pay and caregiver pay, you can pay your bills but after you pay your bills there’s not a lot left over.  I was incredibly thankful this trip was entirely paid for by Hope For The Warriors®.  I wouldn’t have been able to attend if the trip had not been paid for.

The planning and itinerary of the trip was amazing.  Normally, I’m used to doing all of the work to make things run smoothly if I want to go on a trip and it really is not an easy task if you have to do it by yourself.  The great thing is, I did not have to do any of this--it was done for me! Hope For The Warriors® lined up the plane tickets, picked out my seat, provided transportation to/from the hotel from the airport and they even had a great itinerary sent to my email so I could print it off and give it to my family so that they would have all of the emergency contact numbers and would know where I was the entire time.  Hope For The Warriors® was on the ball and I really felt from the planning stages of the event to the event were stress free for me, and that in itself was a nice breath of fresh air!

I was so excited to finally meet Renee in person.  Upon our arrival to the Dee Dot Ranch, where we would be staying in Jacksonville, everyone was extremely friendly and greeted us with huge smiles and hugs. They were very sweet and it was such a privilege to meet all in attendance.  Robin, the President of Hope For The Warriors® was also in attendance.  Robin is a gem!  She made me feel so comfortable and I felt like she truly cared about me as a person and an individual. 

All meals at the lodge were homemade by an amazing staff at the Dee Dot Ranch.  I didn’t have to cook once.  My job while I was there was to relax, and hunt turkey! I felt like I was on an amazing adventure, being pampered yet out away from it all.  The lodge sat on thousands of acres and was simply gorgeous.  I was very surprised to see The Turkey Thugs from The Outdoor Channel were also there, along with their sponsor, the owner of Mossy Oak and his daughter, Lauren. The Turkey Thugs each took a guest out hunting until each of us shot a turkey.  Yes, you heard that right – each of us shot a turkey.

To make it more exciting, The Outdoor Channel videoed the hunt and aired it on their station.  My husband was able to watch the episode (more than once) and he loved it! He has a love for the outdoors I have never seen before.  He loves hunting and fishing, so he was very proud of me and told all of his friends about the show so they could tune in.

I personally find peace in the outdoors.  The warm sun kissing my cheeks, the breeze blowing on my face reminding me of the beautiful life we have; the ocean water splashing on my face and the hint taste of salt on my lips after a day at the beach; a swim with the manatees, reminding me I’m not so big after all; a hunting adventure where I know if I am patient enough, something will eventually come my way. I am a caregiver, but I am also an individual. Hope For The Warriors® reminded me that I can still be a caregiver and an individual.  Hope For The Warriors® has given me the opportunity to participate in something I once enjoyed before war, things that I can still participate in but just may take a little more planning or little more effort on my part…but I am worth it.  If it were not for organizations like Hope For The Warriors®, many caregivers and military veterans would feel alone and lost.  Participating in events with others who have, “been there” and “done that” is priceless. 

There are 22 military veteran suicides per day. This does not include numbers from military caregiver suicides or military spouse suicides.  Thankfully, I have not walked down a dark path of hopelessness because of terrific organizations like Hope For The Warriors®.  I have felt like there’s someone there for me, and thankful that I can be there for my fellow caregivers.  I encourage you to donate to Hope For The Warriors® so they can continue to reach out to give our veterans and their families HOPE.  A little hope goes a long way and can save a marriage, save a family, save a life. 


A clip from Patti's experience with the Women's Turkey Hunt can be seen here.