By Megan NeunanJune 15, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 15th, 2011) -- Army senior leaders and the president and chief executive officer of Operation Homefront, Jim Knotts, marked the launch of the "Army Homefront Fund" during a ceremony here, June 13, 2011.
"There are all kinds of great organizations out there," said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, "and they do wonderful work for Soldiers. But what this fund is going to do is it's going to fill the gaps -- the gaps that we know exist, but the gaps that we can't fill."
Chiarelli noted one specific and recent gap. He said a Soldier wanted all his siblings -- seven in total -- to meet him at a military medical treatment facility. Army policy allows funds for just two people. The general said he would now expect the Army Homefront Fund to cover such a situation.
Army leaders like Chiarelli will bring these cases to the forefront, but their role is informal and strictly advisory. The fund receives no money from the Army and is not affiliated.
The Army Homefront Fund is, however, linked to other non-profits. Connections with the American Red Cross, Our Military Kids, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, USA Cares and six other organizations were formalized at the ceremony.
Since 2002, Operation Homefront has provided cash grants to assist Soldiers and their families with everyday expenses such as rent, food and health care. The Operation Homefront staff, policies and resources will remain the same and extend to the Army Homefront Fund, but the organization serves all servicemembers from all services.
The fund has the same purpose -- supporting Soldiers -- but with a more narrow focus on Wounded Warriors from the Army. The thought is that targeting this group will expedite help.
"It's something that Soldiers can say 'OK, I get that. That is for the Army,'" Knotts said.
This focused fund is similar to what Marines already have. Knotts presented a common scenario the Army-specific fund will fix: a Soldier and a Marine in the same military hospital with the same story, the Marine receiving direct aid from the Sempre Fi fund and the Soldier having to go through the broader Operation Homefront.
The spouse of someone working for Warrior Transition Command recognized the discrepancy. She recognized emergency assistance could be facilitated differently, and people from Operation Homefront went to Warrior Transition Command in the fall of 2009 with the idea, Knotts said.
The idea became reality just a day before the Army's 236th birthday.
John Smith, a spokesman for Homefront, said the timing could not be better. He said that more servicemen and women are coming home alive at a time when tough economic times mean less money to support them.
Joseph Westphal, the undersecretary of the Army, elaborated.
"We all pick up the newspapers in the morning and hear about the impact of our economy, the negotiations that are taking place right here in this city, in the White House and Congress," Westphal said. "We hear about the deficit. We hear about the national debt and, as these Soldiers come back, they will need support this is a great example of how we, as a community, come together to build the support Soldiers and families will need."
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who often draws parallels between landmark Army events and literature, shared a line by Maya Angelou to commemorate the occasion: "God puts rainbows in the clouds, so that each of us in the dreariest and dreaded moments can see a possibility of hope."
Dempsey said the Operation Homefront Fund is one such rainbow for Wounded Warriors, and was "probably the best thing to happen during this Army birthday week."
Betty Easley, the wife of Spc. Greg Easley, agreed.
"This joining of forces today is awesome," she said. "There are many, many, many, families just like ours who have a need -- who have a great need because it is hard. We suffered a lot, but we're triumphant today."
Betty Easley told their family's story, sharing that her husband was involved in an improvised explosive device blast that knocked him unconscious, and left him with PTSD as well as head, neck, back, wrist, and knee injuries. The event eventually forced him to retire seven years earlier than planned.
Rough times are still burned in Betty Easley's brain.
"I remember getting in his vehicle so many days and there were just empty bottles of Tylenol. He would take them like Tic Tacs, just to ease the pain."
Operation Homefront helped "the Easley eight" make it through a gap period between active duty pay and veteran pay. The specialist got the help he needed, and he, his wife and their six children received a standing ovation on Monday.
Betty Easley remembers Homefront's initial phone call. They said to me 'It's free. It's not going to cost you anything.' And literally, the heavens opened up at that moment for our family. We were classified as homeless."
Now, the specialist can focus on his other title "daddy." Betty Easley said, "All day they pull, 'Daddy, this. Daddy, that.' He can't leave the room -- they want to go. If he goes toward the car, they want to go."
The Army Homefront Fund will help Soldiers identify where they can donate money to help comrades, and will streamline what Operation Homefront has done for years to help families like the Easley's.
To request aid or learn more, visit www.armyhomefrontfund.org or www.operationhomefront.net.