Loree Tillman said she didn't get it. Even though her husband was a reservist for the Navy, she says, thinking back, she just didn't get it. Even though she was still the wife of a military man, she didn't understand quite what military families went through until he was reinstated and deployed for a year when their son was 4 years old. Then she got it.
Tillman explains that 92 percent of military families don't think the rest of the country "gets it." The "it?" The rest of the country doesn't understand the help that military families need while one of their loved ones are away, the emotional effects it has on temporarily single parents and children wondering when the other half of their parental unit will return.
It's now Tillman's mission, as the director of programs for Operation Honor Cards, to make sure that military families don't feel this disconnect from their community.
Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign for military families, Operation Honor Cards was created jointly by Blue Star Families, the American Red Cross, ServiceNation: Mission Serve and the Points of Light Institute to show individuals and groups the little things they can do to honor service members by making an act of service themselves. The slogan of the program is "Honoring their service with our own."
It starts with a pledge card, which is used to track community involvement and which are displayed at public venues to provide a "physical rallying point for community service events across the country." But these cards will also be collected and sent to military families.
A few examples of groups rallying together to pledge their service to military personnel include the entire town of Independence, Kansas pledging some sort of service in honor of those who served on 9/11, and Girl Scout troop 2255 and Boy Scout troop 888 making care packages to honor veterans recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Tillman said a group for New York young business people created comfort packages for wounded warriors. And toda, Veteran's Day, the state of Montana announced that since it started collecting Honor Cards on September 11 more than 200,00 hours have been pledged.
And these are just a few. So far, more than 9 million hours of service have been pledged and nearly 4 million have been served.
"I think sometimes folks don't know what to do, but we help provide the avenue," Tillman said.
Tillman says service can be anything from organizing a new and used book drive to making a meal for the family of a deployed service member. Service can be done individually or organized as a group. She points to letter drives as an example: they cost no money and anyone can do them.
"Once a family receives those letters, it's very empowering," she said.
This video shows how to participate in the program from the perspective of the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts who created care packages for those a Walter Reed:
Care to learn more, pledge your service or find volunteer opportunities in your area? You can do that here.
This story has been updated for clarity.