Two Marines & Our Military Kids

At the start of this month, Operation Gratitude launched one of the largest — and what we hope will be the most impactful — campaigns in the country celebrating military kids during April, the Month of the Military Child

With the help of thousands of volunteers and the generosity of CSX, a partner whose employees also take great pride in service, OG will tangibly impact more than 5,000 military children whose parents are deployed. Through our actions, we will pay tribute and provide comfort to them during a very challenging time. 

Writing about military kids isn’t easy for me, because it evokes raw emotion and conjures up painful memories. It is difficult to personally convey their courage and selfless sacrifice to anyone outside of my immediate family. This is why I’ve asked our COO, Paul Cucinotta, to help me find the right words.

Reflections from Two Marines about our Military Kids

Written by Paul and Kevin 

We have been close friends for 25 years. Our kids grew up together. As Marines, we served in the same artillery battalion together. As military husbands and fathers, and as retired Veterans with more than 47 years of active duty service between us, we’ve shared similar experiences both on and off duty. 

We hope that in telling our stories, we not only inspire you to say “thank you,” but we also create a better understanding of the strength and resilience of military kids, like ours, and build empathy for the burdens so many of them must endure.  

Between us, we have seven wonderful kids who moved a dozen times, changed schools more than 30 times between them, and parted ways with too many friends to count. Oftentimes in having to “start over,” they were isolated and only had each other, their brothers and sisters, and other military families to lean on. 

Collectively, the two of us spent 2,000 nights apart from them — nights when we didn’t eat dinner with them, hear about their days, or tuck them into bed. We missed their soccer games, teacher conferences, sad and happy moments, proud accomplishments, as well as important milestones and events in their lives.

We were absent for birthdays, special occasions, Mother’s and Father’s Days, Holy Days, and Holidays. Our kids laughed without us and cried without us. Some years they even grew up — physically and emotionally — without us. 

Deployments were the most challenging, more for them than us. We had our mission to keep our focus. Imagining what we were experiencing and the “not knowing” often became a negative distraction for them. They found refuge with each other and the military community surrounding them, but unfortunately, the community outside the gates didn’t really understand what they were going through. On a rare occasion when Paul picked his daughter Marissa up from school, her friends remarked, “we didn’t even think you had a dad. Why is he gone so much anyway?”        

We don’t share this with you to elicit sympathy or pity — quite the contrary. In a lot of ways our children — Marissa, Luke, Karl, Nick, Joey, Jack, and Sam — are better human beings as a result of the challenges they faced as military kids. These experiences have helped them grow into strong, independent, resilient young adults because of their experiences, not in spite of them. 

Instead of sympathy, we hope you will think of your own family’s life experiences and consider what it might be like to walk in the shoes of the thousands of children of deployed troops who are without their father or mother right now. In the same way, think about what it must be like for the service members themselves who just missed Easter and Passover with their children and spouses. Now, think of your own experience and what you might like to share with these military families.  

For many of the military spouses who see their sons and daughters receive Battalion Buddies over the next several weeks, those bears will represent far more than expressions of gratitude. They will serve as tangible reminders that Americans everywhere understand what they are going through and empathize with them.

Make no mistake about it: when those cuddly bears are delivered by our volunteers to the children of service members in active duty and National Guard units across the country, the military families who receive them will feel part of their community and connected to their civilian neighbors. 

Why is this important?

In a recent Blue Star Families survey of nearly 11,000 military family respondents, a majority reported that they feel supported and appreciated. However, only 21% feel that civilians truly understand the sacrifices they make, and just 27% of active-duty families feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community. 

To put it simply, what we do together with you and CSX during the Month of the Military Child will help thousands of military families not only feel appreciated, but understoodconnected, and perhaps for the very first time, a sense of belonging to their communities. 

Going a Step Beyond for Military Families

Paul and I shared our personal stories with you for a reason. We’re asking you: the next time you see a military family in a supermarket, at the mall, or anywhere in the community, go a step beyond saying “thank you” and talk to them about their experiences. Ask them what life is like in the military. We are confident that in getting to know them, you will recognize the sacrifices they make every day in service to our nation. Your interaction will make them feel welcome and a valued member of the community where both of your families live and work.  

During the Month of the Military Child, we are asking you to take action with Operation Gratitude and CSX by helping us quadruple the number of Battalion Buddies we send to children of deployed troops this year and meet our goal of impacting 20,000 military kids.

On behalf of our entire team and thousands of military families like ours across the country, thank YOU for your continued support and extraordinary service with Operation Gratitude.

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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.