America Supports You: Network Provides Aid to Deployed Troops' Families

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2006  - In four years, "Operation Homefront" has grown from a local San Diego effort to a national presence, continually increasing its ability to help military families.

Back in early 2002, amidst a flurry of troop deployments after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. a group of military wives saw a need.

"We realized how many families were left behind by these deployed servicemembers, and everybody at that point wanted to do something to help," said Meredith Leyva, chairman of Operation Homefront, a network providing support for the nation's military families. "A lot of what we do is connect an individual civilian who has a particular thing, product or service ... with the family that in particular needs that product or service."

Leyva said the project began in partnership with local San Diego media, veterans groups and other service organizations, giving area civilians the chance to help military families one on one. However, once the new group realized that many military families needed more specific help, Operation Homefront expanded its scope to provide that help.

The effort is primarily geared toward younger, enlisted families who often don't have the experience or financial resources to handle the more difficult problems that come during deployment.

A program called CinCHouse, which stands for "commander in chief of the house," provides counseling and community support for military wives. "We view CinCHouse as helping the 96 percent of military families who just need some questions answered about military life," Leyva said.

While that counseling effort covers most cases, the more severe situations need a program all their own, and emergency assistance has become an important role for Operation Homefront, she said.

"These are problems that we as active-duty military spouses ourselves regularly face," Leyva said. "We joke about it as the Murphy's Law of the military, that the moment your servicemember deploys, your roof is going to break, your plumbing is going to burst, and your car is going to break down. It happens to all of us."

This assistance normally comes in the form of grants paid directly to the company or institution providing the assistance.

Applications go through one of 26 local chapters around the country, or through the operations office in Schertz, Texas, said Amy Palmer, the group's executive vice president for operations.

Every effort is made to keep costs down and invite the community to participate in the family's support.

"We do the best that we can to get it donated, to get it reduced," Palmer said, using a broken-down car as an example of a typical military family emergency. "We get the car into the shop, we negotiate with the repair company to get a good price, or to donate part of the services, and then we actually make the payments to the repair shops directly."

Palmer said sometimes the network gets help for families for the cost of only a few phone calls. A call to the local radio station often gets a message on the air, which generates a response from citizens willing to donate their services.

With each passing year, the group's network has offered a wider variety of services. They facilitate donations of computers, furniture, baby items, and even moving assistance to families of deployed servicemembers.

In the coming months, Operation Homefront hopes to introduce "Military Mondays," a program of weekly discounts for military families at stores across the U.S. The group also expects to convert property at Naval Training Center San Diego into a family resource center, temporary lodging for families in need, and a military family museum.

As the war on terror continues, Operation Homefront expects to continue offering more and better services to military families.

"One of the goals is to have chapters in every state," Palmer said. "We really want chapters in those areas because they can provide more direct services directly to their families."