Support, See, and Stand with Them

Last week our COO, Paul Cucinotta, and I shared stories about our seven military kids and announced Operation Gratitude’s goal to tangibly impact 5,000 military children whose parents are deployed around the world. 

Currently, there are thousands of service members who are far away from their families in dozens of countries and aboard U.S. Navy ships on all seven seas. In the coming days and weeks, they will be absent from their children’s birthdays, soccer games, high school proms, and graduation ceremonies.

As you read these words, there are moms and dads saying goodbye to their kids at airports just like I did on January 25, 2008, when my oldest son Luke turned 13. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was on my way to Israel where I would spend the better part of my final year as a United States Marine. My youngest son, Jack, who was 7, cried inconsolably, clutching the back of my neck and refusing to let go.  

When I look back at that moment, it warms my heart to know that kids like mine at more than 20 different active-duty military installations nationwide will be comforted by our Battalion Buddies at the time of their greatest need.

Photos taken April 11, 2019, at a delivery of Battalion Buddies to 60 military children from 32nd Refueler Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

The same thing can be said about the children of National Guardsmen deployed both globally and domestically. With the support of our #PrideInService partner, CSX, and their employees, military children will receive our cuddly bears in places like Thomasville, GA, Nashville, TN, Colorado Springs, CO, Saint Albans, Vermont, and Somerset, NJ. 

Many Americans don’t realize how many Soldiers and Airmen in the National Guard are also in harm’s way in places like Iraq and Afghanistan along with helping to fight COVID-19 at vaccination sites across the country. Literally, tens of thousands of them have been activated and separated from their kids for months on end since the pandemic started. 

Operation Gratitude’s efforts to lift the spirits of National Guardsmen were featured on Fox News when Paul reported what we are doing with your help to support them and their loved ones.

There are other Moms and Dads, like me, whose hearts have been touched by Operation Gratitude’s continued actions in support of military families. Like this military mom and grandmother who responded to my Weekly Briefing last week:

Thank you for caring about the children. It’s hard to not have your mom or dad when you need them the most. They are told to stand straight and to be brave. Sometimes it’s hard to be brave, especially when your new friends don’t understand. My grandchildren have said goodbye to their dad more times than any children should. My daughter-in-law has had to put a lot on her shoulders. Becoming a single parent and without crying in front of her children. Military families need to know they exist and that we see them. They need to know we care and that we stand with them.

I hope, I’ve impressed upon everyone who took the time to read it, the critical importance of not only saying “thank you” to our nation’s military families but also going a step beyond to make them feel understood and connected to their communities. 

After 20 years of war, marked by countless deployments, lengthy separations, and frequent moves, we must recognize their selfless service and sacrifice, too.

Here are three ways you can get involved:

  1. Sponsor a Battalion Buddy.
  2. Have a conversation with a military family the next time you see one in your neighborhood.
  3. Write a handwritten letter of appreciation to a military family.

I can’t wait to share emails and photos that show our Battalion Buddies putting smiles on the faces of military children. I hope you know how much I appreciate your kindness and generosity. Even when I reflect on some of the most painful memories in an effort to help build understanding and empathy for military families like mine, I, myself, am comforted knowing there are so many caring and loving people like you who support, see, and stand with them.

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Channeling the Holiday Spirit this Summer

Amidst the heat of the summer, an image of logs crackling in the fireplace and casting a glow on stockings hung above is probably the last thing to come to mind for most people. But for Operation Gratitude and our growing army of volunteers nationwide, the holiday spirit is always in our thoughts.

More Than Just a Hug

When I look back at my journey over the past 3 years and 8 months as the CEO of Operation Gratitude, the one thing that sticks out the most are the hugs.

They are etched in my memory forever — literally thousands of hugs at hundreds of service projects and community-building events — on too many trips, and in too many cities to count, from sea to shining sea.