Remember Everyone Deployed and Their Families Here at Home

Across the country this week, families, friends and communities came together to celebrate Independence Day. As I reflected on the meaning of the Fourth of July, I thought back to my 20 years as an active duty Marine and the eight times I was away from my own family during this important national holiday, which commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the freedoms we hold so dear.  

Over the past few days, much attention has been paid to U.S. Service Members at home and abroad. At Operation Gratitude we focused our efforts this week on sharing emails and photos that flooded our inbox from deployed Troops who received the Care Packages from our June 23rd Assembly Day. As the CEO, the best part of my job is reading these emails and seeing the impact that our volunteers and supporters make with every item they donate or create with their own hands, to say “Thank You” to  those who serve.

It is humbling for me to represent so many Americans who want to recognize the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform. With that said, as this week celebrating America’s independence comes to a close, we should also take a moment to acknowledge military families who demonstrate strength and resilience in the face of adversity while their loved ones are deployed.

Two weeks ago we witnessed that strength and resiliency firsthand, when a military spouse named Katie celebrated her 31st birthday with family and friends by driving all the way from San Diego to volunteer with 644 other grateful Americans at Operation Gratitude’s Assembly Day.  Instead of thinking of herself and her two children and what it was like for them to be away from her husband during her birthday, Katie poured all of her energy and passion into making a difference for others.

Katie represents so many of our nation’s military spouses whose holidays throughout the year can be bittersweet.

When we spoke to Katie last week, she asked us to share what participating in the Assembly Day meant to her:  

As a military spouse, I know how hard it is for my husband to be away from us, and I also know that there are Service Members out there who may not have a strong support system back home. The best reward for me from volunteering with Operation Gratitude is knowing that these amazing Care Packages we assembled went to Service Members who may not receive packages or letters frequently or at all, and that they will know there are people back home who recognize the sacrifices they are making.

Not surprisingly, Katie serves as the ombudsman for her husband’s unit, creating support systems for all of the Sailors’ families left behind in San Diego during months of separation.  Her service in this role is indicative of so many military spouses who voluntarily provide such leadership here at home.

I was honored to volunteer alongside Katie, and tears welled up in my eyes as she packed the 12,000th and final Care Package of the day.  I watched our community of volunteers gather around her as Katie placed photos on top of 30 other items, addressed the package to her husband, sealed it with a kiss and added it to the stack of 5,879 Care Packages we shipped to deployed Troops in time for Independence Day.  

Spending the day with Katie impressed upon me that Operation Gratitude’s support of Military Families is just as important as our Care Package programs for deployed U.S. Service Members, New Recruit Graduates, Veterans and First Responders. I further felt that from the words that Katie used to express her gratitude for the two Battalion Buddy packages we gave her for her son and daughter, who were missing their dad this Independence Day… and everyday:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. My kids were absolutely thrilled to receive their package that included the Battalion Buddies. They immediately said that the bear’s outfit looked similar to their dad’s and have decided to call them “Daddy Bears.”  What a great way to help children of deployed service members feel closer to their parents who cannot be with them.

Katie’s story is just one of thousands from military spouses and military families who selflessly sacrifice each and every day, and yet still take time to give back, making our country and our communities stronger through their own service.  As we remember each and every one of our Service Members who are deployed and protecting our freedom this week of Independence Day, let’s also pause and recognize their families here at home.

Kevin M. Schmiegel
Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
Chief Executive Officer, Operation Gratitude



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