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Fighting the war on the home front

Clayton was set to deploy on Nov. 17, busy with last-minute preparations to be away from his wife and child. On Nov.16, the plumbing in his home backed up, and instead of spending quality time with his family on his last day at home, Clayton lamented that he would have to deal with the unexpected crisis. Where would he find a plumber he could trust? How would he cover the expense? With a second child on the way, money was tight. Fortunately, Clayton remembered H.E.R.O.E.S. Care and Operation Homefront. He made one phone call and a reputable plumber arrived quickly to take care of the problem. Thanks to a caring donor, the cost was covered.

Clayton`s situation illustrates an element of war not seen on TV newscasts: the battle that military families face when left alone after fathers and mothers are deployed overseas. Operation Homefront, a national organization founded after 9/11, comes to their aid with emergency financial assistance and help with everyday challenges. Upon their return home, traumatized and wounded soldiers are cared for as well. Acting as a liaison coordinating other volunteer organizations` efforts, the nonprofit Operation Homefront has coordinated more than 4,500 volunteers in 27 chapters nationwide and provided critical assistance to more than 100,000 military families in need.

Now, the Missouri/Southwest Illinois chapter of Operation Homefront is spearheading a program called H.E.R.O.E.S. Care. Standing for Homefront Enabling Relationships, Opportunities, and Empowerment through Support Care, H.E.R.O.E.S. Care is an affiliation of non-governmental organizations working together to provide support for military families in the communities where they live.

"It`s often too difficult to get help to a service person if he (or) she doesn`t live close to a military base. That`s where H.E.R.O.E.S. Care comes in," said Huck Oberlin, of Chesterfield, chairman of the board for Operation Homefront locally.

Jon Jerome, Operation Homefront`s local chapter president, said that the H.E.R.O.E.S. Care program took two years to develop, was launched locally this year and has not yet gone nationwide.

More help from skilled volunteers and business owners is urgently needed.

"We need more boots on the ground," Jerome said. "We are gradually building an army to take care of an army. We`re currently serving approximately 51,000 Guard and Reserve in Missouri and 23,000 in Southern Illinois."

The program is free to military members. The service member designates a family member or significant other as their primary care receiver to receive support during deployment, and a volunteer from the local community trained in care giving and the deployment cycle is assigned to the individual. The Hometown Support Volunteer (HSV) stays in regular contact with the primary care receiver to coordinate local support efforts.

"Lay volunteers are given 58 hours of training," Jerome said. "They are the one on one link - listening and observing."

The HSV listens to concerns, provides guidance and refers the family to an appropriate agency. Families are given financial help before the need turns into a problem that can cause mental worries.

"Ours is a proactive approach," Jerome said. "We help before a problem gets any bigger. People would ordinarily have to go to their home base for help, and that`s too far for many. It`s logistically impossible for the military to bring support directly into their homes, so H.E.R.O.E.S. Care steps in. ... It`s important to note that we act as an augmentation, and not as a replacement for any existing federal or military program. It`s really an unprecedented level of military family support."

To learn more about becoming a Hometown Support Volunteer, call Jon Jerome at (314) 799-1475. More information can be found at operationhomefront.net.

St. Louis, MO
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