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Michael Vitacca: Reflections from a Military Teen

GI Celebrates the Month of the Military Child

When I was little, moving was an adventure. It was cool to go to a new town and a new house. There were new yards to explore and new friends to make. I remember one of our early PCS moves to Alabama. I was happy about the opportunity to see new things. As I got older, moving was still a pretty exciting experience. I made lots of friends all over the country, and saw places most people just read about. When we moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, I found the place that I really loved. I made tons of friends, did well academically and athletically, and just fit in. Eventually the thought of moving did creep up though. I didn’t want to leave my friends and home. Luckily I was able to finish my four years at Loyola College Prep and graduate with my friends. That was the first time I felt such a connection to a place, and leaving all I had worked so hard to accomplish would have been terrible.

I would say that military teens have so many more advantages than normal teens. We’ve had the opportunity to visit various places around the country and meet many people with different backgrounds and views. Those experiences give military teens the ability to get along with very diverse groups of people and handle a wide variety of situations. Also, we tend to be very resilient and adept at handling changes. Our lives are constantly subjected to deployments, moves, and other stressors that take a lot of time to learn how to deal with. However, our experience helps later in life.

There are disadvantages though. One of the biggest is that we never get to completely establish ourselves anywhere. Over and over, I would be doing great and making lots of friends, just to be torn away after a year or two. There were so many times I wished that I could’ve been on the same soccer team for more than a couple years, or that I had grown up with the same group of friends. So many of my friends met each other when they were very little. They grew up together and formed special bonds. I always had to work my way into those friend groups. It would have been nice to grow up in the same place.

Deployment was always a scary thing. I lived with the possibility of something happening to my dad and there was nothing I could do to stop it or help. When my dad deployed to Afghanistan, whenever something came up in the news regarding the war, I would always wonder if he was close to the event, or if it had the potential to hurt him. It’s extremely hard to deal with thoughts like those regularly.

I wish people knew just how hard it is to move around our whole lives. A lot of people are very supportive of us when we come into a new place, but there are still a lot of challenges that come with the territory. Even filling out college applications was extremely hard because of all the moves. There isn’t a box to explain why I was never in a club or on a team for more than a couple years at a time. We military kids are tough and we do well in new situations, but I wish people knew just how much of a toll those moves took on us.
Right now I’m studying Biomedical Science at Texas A&M. It’s an extremely interesting topic and has the potential to be a very good career. I’d like to pursue the medical field a little bit further and join the Air Force as a doctor. There are a whole lot of opportunities for doctors in the military, and it would allow me to give back to my country.

Editors Note: Special thanks to Michael Vitacca for sharing his personal reflections so that people can come to better understand the service and sacrifice of our military families and kids in particular.

Gratitude Initiative (GI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that helps build awareness of the great service of military families while providing educational support and college scholarships to the children and families of military service members, veterans, disabled veterans, and those killed in defense of our country.

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Gratitude Initiative Named 2015 Carry the Load Non-Profit Partner

On April 8th Carry the Load announced Gratitude Initiative as one of the organization’s 2015 non-profit partners for their Dallas Memorial March. Carry the Load is a 501c3 non-profit that is working to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day by connecting Americans to the sacrifices of our military, law enforcement, firefighters and rescue personnel.

Carry The Load’s events provide an interactive way for Americans to remember, honor and celebrate Memorial Day while raising funds for programs that honor and serve family members left behind. The events are free to attend, but funds raised during Memorial Day allow Carry The Load to grow its vision as well as provide their non-profit partners with valuable resources to assist heroes and their families.

The goal for this year’s Dallas Memorial March is to raise $1.75 million dollars with 100% of the proceeds going to Carry The Load’s non-profit partners. The Dallas March begins at 4pm on May 24th and ends at 12:15pm on May 25th.

Carry the Load’s National Relay starts at the cemetery at West Point, NY on April 28th and will end at the Dallas March on May 24th. The National Relay will cover over 2,000 miles and take part in Carry The Load Rallies along the route.

For more information on Carry The Load and their 2015 events, please visit www.carrytheload.org or for information on the Dallas Memorial March visit http://ctl.convio.net/site/TR/2015/General?fr_id=1220&pg=entry

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Meet Skyler: Learning Fortitude from a Service Family

GI Celebrates the Month of the Military Child

On the day she was born, Skyler’s dad left Fort Bragg for drill sergeant school. A few years later, she has a faint recollection of putting all her toys in a big cardboard box as her family moved to Fort Hood. Her father, a career NCO, decided to keep his family tucked away in a suburb not far from the flagpole where they could be safe and sound in central Texas.

After twenty-six years of soldiering in garrison and four combat deployments, Skyler’s dad recently retired but the memories of war-time service remain.

Her mom remembers the tears and tummy aches each of her children experienced, fear gripping them as the war took their dad away time and time again. She remembers the frantic phone calls from Fort Hood when a gunman took the lives of thirteen innocent people in a mass shooting. Such scenarios aren’t supposed to be a part of childhood, but like most military children, Skyler has had to come to grips with the realities of military service.

The youngest of four children, Skyler has an older brother and sisters to look up to, and they’ve shown her the ropes of resiliency and fortitude. These young Americans are examples of the more than one million children left behind since 2001, as their parents deployed in service of our country. As is the case in many military homes, Skyler’s mom held down the fort through her dad’s numerous combat tours, relying heavily on friends and neighbors to sustain them. It’s not an uncommon scenario. Today, more than 2 million American kids have a parent serving on active duty.

Skyler’s brother Zach, now a PFC in the Army stationed in Cuba, was anxious to follow in his father’s footsteps, working on his college degree concurrent with military service.

While Skyler stays busy in middle school, she can’t wait for her big brother to return home so they can play ball. Skyler says, “We stick together.” This Army family attaches a premium to the time they can spend with one another, taking nothing for granted.

The Gratitude Initiative (GI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that helps build awareness of the great service of military families while providing educational support and college scholarships to the children and families of military service members, veterans, disabled veterans, and those killed in defense of our country.

About the Author: Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members. A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve.

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Meet Becca: Displaying Gratitude in the Face of Adversity

GI Celebrates the Month of the Military Child 

Home is where the Army sends her, which for this Virginia high school senior has included more than a dozen hometowns around the country. Yet this young lady with her vibrant blue eyes and sparkling smile will tell you flat out: Being a military kid is a blessing.

Becca’s in her third high school, and it’s her senior year. She’s had to take and retake some of the same courses just to meet the varied diploma requirements of three different states. That’s been the hard part. Becca explains.

“It came to a point when I didn’t even want to unpack the boxes of my belongings because I knew we would be moving again.”

In the same breath she’ll tell you in excited detail that the easy part has been the travel, which has exposed her to many fascinating cultures and customs in locations all over the map.

Fingers crossed, she thinks her family is going to stay put in Virginia. Her father, an Army staff sergeant with four overseas combat deployments, has medically retired near his hometown. While under treatment for severe PTSD, he plans to keep his family in one spot so that he receives the level of care he needs to overcome the wounds of war.

Becca is thankful that her parents are putting down roots, but is filled with gratitude for the life that gave her wings.

“There was always a new adventure to try,” she explained. “From snow boarding and ice sculptures, to indoor rock climbing and day trips to watch sunsets at the beach.”

Becca’s cognizant of the lessons she’s learned along the way. “No matter how bad my days had become, I knew I was never alone. I lived in a community full of children just like me. It astonishes me how quickly military kids become best friends. There was always someone who had been exactly where I was and they would have advice filled with knowledge beyond their years.”

Like most teens, friendship is paramount. “I have traveled and made amazing friends from all over the world. And the families of my military friends are awesome. They are quick to open their doors to the newest new kid. There is a lot of love in the military community.”

The future is bright for this courageous military teen who hopes to be a teacher some day. “I don’t really have distant future goals in store just yet. I have applied to a few schools around the country but I’m enjoying living in the moment and settling in to my newest home.”

After a childhood spent in remote outposts as well as turbulent Army installations, Becca is thankful.

“I am one of the lucky kids who has their dad as their hero and for that I’m forever grateful,” she says. “I’ve gotten to see the entire country and meet some of the most caring people along the way. My life may be confusing and challenging but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Gratitude Initiative (GI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that helps build awareness of the great service of military families while providing educational support and college scholarships to the children and families of military service members, veterans, disabled veterans, and those killed in defense of our country.

About the Author: Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members. A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve.

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Meet Jordan – A Model of Resilience in the Face of Constant Change

GI Celebrates the Month of the Military Child

If there is one thread that runs through the tapestry of Jordan’s life as a military kid, it is friendship. His earliest memory from childhood involves making friends in Baumholder, Germany when he didn’t know the difference between good morning and guten Tag. He was raised with older sisters who were his best friends when he was the new kid on the block again and again.

Jordan’s dad spent two tours of duty overseas, in Bosnia as well as Afghanistan. Jordan feels lucky that his dad came home safe and sound, despite living in harm’s way. He remembers how heavily his mom and siblings relied on one another.

After five recent moves, his dad’s assignment at Fort Hood has been good for him. He likes the people he’s met in central Texas.

“If you’re nice and friendly, they’re nice in return.” When he’s not in school, Jordan likes to hang out around the lake near his home, and spends a lot of time playing video games with his friends.

Transitioning to the Republic of the Marshall Islands in just a few days, Jordan will have to say goodbye to all of his stateside buddies at Belton High School, and therein lies the rub.

I ask him how he feels about his father’s new duty assignment to Kwajalein Atoll.

“You make a lot of friends as a military kid, but you lose a lot of friends, too.”

He tells me that he wants to stay connected, and is apprehensive about going to his second high school as a freshman.

Will his credits transfer? How different will it be? Will he find someone to eat lunch with? These are common questions among today’s more than 2 million kids with parents on active duty. On average, they will attend 6-9 different schools before graduating high school.

Moving from the largest military installation in the world to one of the smallest, Jordan knows there will be many adjustments to make. West of the International Date Line, Kwajalein Junior/Senior High School holds classes from Tuesday-Saturday. Because there are no privately-owned vehicles on the island, Jordan will have to walk or bike to school.

A 21st Century learner in every sense of the word, much of Jordan’s academic work will be digital yet his field experiences will place him amidst a hundred islands and islets surrounded by one of the largest lagoons and coral reefs in the world.

Life on an island that occupies less than one square mile is going to be very different for sure. But lucky for this military teen, there’s one thing he’s learned about his new home already: Kwaj is known as one of the friendliest places on the planet.

The Gratitude Initiative (GI) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit that helps build awareness of the great service of military families while providing educational support and college scholarships to the children and families of military service members, veterans, disabled veterans, and those killed in defense of our country.

About the Author: Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members. A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve.

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A Service for All Seasons

Meet the Fleming’s. As a military family, they know something about seasons. They’ve spent many of them apart from one another. Joe’s service to his country in the United States Marine Corps required frequent sacrifices that this family embraced with joy and strength. After four overseas tours and a variety of stateside moves filled to the brim with activities within each military community, this close-knit family knows what it means to serve.

His wife, Amy, remembers placing young Jill in her husband’s arms as an infant, and holding her daughter close as she watched her husband board his ship headed for the Persian Gulf. She also remembers watching that same little girl run into her daddy’s arms nine months later when he returned safely from Operation Iraqi Freedom. Amy recalls her son’s try-outs for athletics, always starting over as the newcomer on the local roster. There were countless milestones in these children’s lives that Joe missed as he served abroad, while Amy spent thousands of hours supporting military families through volunteer networks during deployments or in garrison.

The educational path these children have taken has not been, for a moment, something this family has taken for granted or let unfold haphazardly. Amy and Joe have made deliberate decisions about where to school their children, how to become involved as a family in their local communities, what sports or extracurricular activities fit into the family’s timetable, and how to picture a special future for their children no matter where the Marine Corps sent them. Moving to various states, each with its own set of curricular requirements, has required these parents and students to be vigilant in making sure that school matters and that they excel.

After twenty years of military life, this proud and durable military family has decided to put down roots in central Texas. Joe Jr., now midway through his sophomore year in high school, wants to play ball for the University of Georgia after high school, and Jill dreams of competing professionally as a sand volleyball player. So the Fleming’s have decided that it’s now the season for allowing the dreams of their children to come first.

Enter Gratitude Initiative. The Fleming’s have embraced the opportunity to participate in Gratitude Initiative because they view GI as a great equalizer. Despite the frequent moves, academic transcripts that require some translation, and a commitment to ensuring academic preparedness, regardless of where their schooling has taken place, this family exemplifies the reason Gratitude Initiative is so important.

Gratitude Initiative is going to join the Fleming’s and thousands of families just like them in helping children of military service members realize their dreams. Just because most military kids have enrolled in more schools than they can count, or moved more often than most kids in mainstream America, doesn’t mean that they have to be at a disadvantage when it comes to planning and preparing for their dreams. Gratitude Initiative is ready to develop a plan of action for Joe Jr. so he has everything he needs to succeed in being admitted to the university of his choice. GI is ready to support Jill in the curricular and career choices she needs to make as well.

As the Fleming’s prepare for their first Christmas in the Lone Star State, there will be plenty of tinsel and twinkling lights adorning their tree. At Gratitude Initiative, we understand our mission: ‘tis the season to help these young people shine.

About the author:
Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members.  A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve. 

Publisher’s Note: Gratitude Initiative is dedicated to serving and protecting military families, therefore actual names and duty locations are not disclosed.

Image source: Stephen Morton/Getty Images North America

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Alpha, Bravo, Charlie – Military Families Have A Language All Their Own

Celebrating and supporting military families is part of our mission at Gratitude Initiative, and November’s Military Family Appreciation Month gives us a great opportunity to highlight the unique qualities of the folks we serve. Military families have a language all their own. It’s an alphabet soup of terminology that few civilians understand, but military families master their ABC’s very quickly.

They know what Active Duty means, and understand what it means to Aim High or become Army Strong. For military families, Arlington is not a city, it’s a sacred destination. Brave, bold, and beautiful inside and out, military “brats” wear the moniker proudly. All military families can tell the difference between a BX and PX, and if they get the blues, it’s likely a uniform. A military family can navigate the chow hall, the chapel, or the commissary. They’ve trouped through castles, Chinooks, and the chain of command. Every military child knows what to do when the colors are posted or called, hand over heart, facing the flag. A military family comprehends the wrath of the DI, the draft, and the duty roster. They can point out the DMZ on a map, conduct a DITY move, and prepare for deployment in record time. Advocates for the underserved, they embrace the EFMP, a program to assist exceptional families with exceptional needs. They know a fort is not a pile of sticks, File 13 holds the trash, and the Fisher House offers a safe place to land. They understand phrases like First to Fight or The Few, The Proud.

Gratitude Initiative salutes and celebrates all that our military families give, and give, and give. They know how to say goodbye only too well. They’ve lived in Grafenwoehr, Garmisch, and Greenland. A Global Force for Good is their benchmark; honor their hallmark. Before they lose all their baby teeth, military kids know what an ID card is and where to use it. They ride in jeeps and jets and know what a jarhead is. They’ve eaten k-rations and love kids. In a military family, leadership is spelled LDRSHIP: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. They can share an MRE or call an MP. Never give up is their mantra, along with Oorah, or some version of the same.

Military families lead the Pledge of Allegiance; their kids know the difference between a Pentagon and a Purple Heart. They can use a P-38, especially during a PCS. PT is their formula for fitness. They’ve gone to school in Quonset huts and taken quinine tablets. Every military family member knows the difference between retreat and reveille. They salute the Stars and Stripes, have eaten their fair share of Spam, know how to stand down, stand up, and stand to. Semper Paratus, they’re always prepared. They know the sandbox is someplace in the Middle East, and a stairwell is just one more type of military housing.

Military families can navigate Tricare and handle TDY; most have seen the inside of a tank or a TOC. For military families, transition has always been a verb. They know their Uncle Sam, and use the USO in USAREUR. Veterans of modern wars, foreign wars, Cold Wars, and spiritual warfare, military families crave victory and repel defeat. Wounded warriors too numerous to name are surrounded by military families who will not withdraw or give up.

At Gratitude Initiative, we celebrate the military families we serve. Their workday never ends, their service is never complete, they simply finish their alphabet in a way few others understand…X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.

About the author:
Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members.  A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve. 

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GI Speaks to Patriot Paws of Aggieland

GI’s Executive Director Lee Sechrist and the President of Texas A&M’s Gratitude Initiative Student Chapter Stephanie Sechrist were invited to speak to the 150-member strong Patriot PAWS of Aggieland on Thursday evening. We couldn’t resist sharing photos of the adorable Patriot PAWS Service Dogs in training and the wonderful college students preparing these four-legged patriots to help our disabled veterans.

The chapter is a part of the national Patriot PAWS organization located in Rockwall, TX. Patriot PAWS trains and provides service dogs to disabled veterans and veterans suffering from post traumatic stress. The student chapter trains dogs for the national organization to prepare them to provide needed help and companionship to eagerly awaiting disabled veterans.

Lee spoke about the importance of the Patriot PAWS mission and the incredible impact the students are having on the lives of our disabled veterans and their families. He also touched on GI’s unique mission of supporting military and veteran children through education programming and support. Stephanie talked about the exciting projects that Gratitude Initiative Aggie Student Chapter has lined up in the coming months and how the two student organizations can work together to best meet the needs of our military and veteran families in the local community.

 

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Gallagher Book Sales Already Supporting Gratitude Initiative

Frank Gallagher celebrated the launch of his book “The Bremer Detail: Protecting the Most Threatened Man in the World” at a Washington D.C. event last week with hundreds of friends and dignitaries. All guests received a signed copy of his book in exchange for a donation to Gratitude Initiative (GI).

Gallagher collected $18,000 dollars that evening for GI, paving the way for the kids of active duty military and veterans to receive educational support, career counseling and college scholarships. Amyntor Group alone donated $10,000.

Immediately upon learning about what GI does for military and veteran children, Gallagher let GI know that he plans to support GI by donating a portion of the proceeds from his book to the new non-profit.

“I cannot say enough about Frank’s and The Amyntor Group’s support of GI,” said GI Founder Lee Sechrist. “I was speechless when I received Frank’s call. There I was attempting to find the right words to express my gratitude to Frank and all he wants to do is thank GI for what we are doing for our military and veteran families!“

Gallagher is a career professional who has dedicated his life to serving our country. In May 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Paul Bremer as the Presidential Envoy to Iraq. Bremer immediately banned the Ba’ath party and dismantled the Iraqi Army making him the prime target for dozens of insurgent and terrorist groups. Gallagher and a team of former Marines, SEALs and other security professionals were assigned to protect Bremer during his grueling sixteen-hour days.

When they arrived, Baghdad was set to explode. As the insurgency gathered strength, Bremer and the men who guarded him faced death daily. They weren’t in the military, but Gallagher and his team were on the front lines of the Iraq War. His fascinating memoir takes the reader deep behind the scenes of a highly dangerous profession.

To learn more about the book and order your copy, visit http://www.thebremerdetail.com.

 

 

 

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Let’s Call Him Jack – A Look at the Life of a Military Son

Everyone has a memory attached to 9/11/2001. We know where we were, what we were doing, what we felt that day. One little boy, let’s call him Jack, was starting his first year of school; he was in kindergarten. The principal came into his classroom to say there was an emergency, and he would be going home. He didn’t want to go home. He was busy with blocks and numbers. But his mom picked him up early, and he knew as soon as he got home that something bad had happened. His dad was stationed at the Pentagon, and his mom was in tears all day. The phone kept ringing, neighbors kept appearing, and their house was in disarray.

Two days later, Jack’s dad finally returned home, way past his bedtime, and he waited in the dark for his father to tuck him in. He was so happy to see his dad’s face, to know that he was okay. Fast forward several years.Now Jack’s a third grader in Tampa. His dad’s working at SOCOM, Special Operations Command, and this time when his dad comes into his room to say goodnight, he tells him that he has to go to someplace called Iraq, and he’ll be gone for a year.

Jack has knots in his belly; he thinks his dad’s job is awesome, but he also has a knowing about combat.

Jump ahead five years. Now Jack’s thirteen. His family’s just moved to Fort Hood, Texas, and he’s in a new neighborhood. He’s got to find a new group of friends, a new soccer team, someone to eat lunch with in a new school cafeteria, and he’s hoping he can find an empty seat on a new school bus that will drop him off in front of a row of houses that all look the same. This time his dad’s in Afghanistan, and his mom’s started a new job. Life is hectic but they’ll figure it out. They’ve done this before.

Four years later Jack’s got to think about going to college. He’s going to graduate from a new high school. His family’s stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia now, and he’s not sure if he wants to go back to Texas to go to school or if he should stay close to his mom. Jack’s guidance counselor is trying to add up his credits from three different high schools so he can make sure he’ll graduate on time. He has to take his SAT’s to figure out what college will be a good match, and his love for soccer has narrowed the field. He wants to play college ball. His mind races with all of the factors that will weigh on his decision. His dad’s in Afghanistan again, and maybe it’s going to be too tough to be so far away from home. But if Jack’s learned one thing, it’s that home is where the military sends you.

Jack has hopes and dreams, like most kids. He’s got to come up with a plan to prepare for the career he chooses. He must find the college that allows him to do what he loves, both in the classroom and on the field. He’s got to think about his younger brother and sister, his mom, and how his plans will impact his family.

Most of Jack’s decisions have to be made on the fly. His dad’s been deployed often and his home address has changed eight times in twelve years.

Jack’s an icon, a symbol of a GI kid. He is one of over a million U.S. military kids who have had a parent deployed to a combat zone since 9/11. He also represents the two million kids who have a parent serving on active duty today.

Gratitude Initiative (GI) offers a hand up to kids like Jack. GI works with military and veteran families at no cost to them to provide parents and their children in eighth grade through college with tools and programs proven to put young people on a path to success. Would it make a difference if Jack had tutoring and homework help, access to a college preparatory academy, career guidance, scholarships, and a personal GI advisor? What if we added some more tension to Jack’s life—what if his father is wounded in combat? What if he suffered a traumatic brain injury, amputation, or spinal cord injury? What if his dad or mom suffered from PTSD? What if Jack’s grades aren’t up to par? What if there’s not enough money to finance Jack’s dreams and ambitions? Would GI make a difference? We believe it would.

Since 9/11/01, over 6,650 service members have been killed in action. Over 50,000 men and women in uniform have been wounded. More than 50,000 military children have had a parent killed, wounded, or injured. More than 13 years fighting two separate wars have taken an incredible toll on our military families. But our military families are incredibly brave.

In the months ahead, we’ll share real stories of boys like “Jack” and other military kids who are part of GI’s mission. By joining hands and hearts, we can all give kids like Jack a chance to make their hopes and dreams a reality. Please give to GI today.

About the author:
Robin Overby Cox is part of a military family comprised of her husband, MAJ (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox III, her father, COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Lauren Overby, her brothers, LTC (USA, Ret) Stacy and Todd Overby, her father-in-law COL (USA, Ret, Dec) Carlisle B. Cox Jr., her son-in-law, MAJ (USA) Jeffrey Ryan Petty and numerous extended family members.  A librarian and writer, she authored Steel Will, Baker Publishing Group, 2014,with wounded warrior, SSG (USA, Ret) Shilo Harris. She’s lived on Army posts from Okinawa, Japan to Hohenfels, Germany, to everyplace in between and now calls College Station, TX her home. She’s committed to Gratitude Initiative because she knows first-hand about the support the children of our military and veteran families need and deserve.