Volunteers send more than 17,000 gifts to service members, veterans

InsideNova | November 29, 2020 | Link to Article

The ornaments were prepared and mailed from VFW Post #1503 in Dale City.

The annual distribution is funded and organized by the non-profit Semper Fi and America’s Fund. Each ornament is meant to serve as a reminder to service members that Semper Fi and America’s Fund honors their service and will be with them every step of the way. 

Semper Fi and America’s Fund provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support for veterans during their time of recovery and transition back into civilian life. It was founded in 2003 by a military spouse. 

Volunteers send more than 17,000 gifts to service members, veterans

Belvoir Eagle | December 18, 2020 | Link to Article

Two large Postal Service transport trucks sat silently behind the Dale City VFW Post, Nov. 22, as volunteers received a steady arrival of hundreds of bags, each bag containing 150 envelopes; each envelope with a 2020 holiday ornament inside. By day’s end, 17,000 ornaments were mailed out to Service members, veterans and their families from every branch of the Armed Forces who have been wounded or injured since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, courtesy of the non-profit Semper Fi and America’s Fund.

One of those ornaments was bound for Fairfax, and the mailbox of Jeremy Haynes, a client of The Fund. Haynes was an Army Major who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In August 2014, Haynes was an aide to Gen. Harold Greene, who was visiting the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Afghanistan when an Afghan MP opened fire on the group, wounding Haynes and 17 others. Gen. Greene was killed, the first American general officer to be killed in combat by enemy fire since 9/11, according to a Centcom report.

After several months of painful recuperation at Walter Reed, Haynes was given permission to live on Fort Belvoir.

“For me it was important because it introduced me to a household with an injury I couldn’t quite accept,” said Haynes. “I lived in a wheelchair-accessible home, and I had to work out how to work with a new body, and explore my limitations. During that trial period, Semper Fi never skipped a beat – helping me push through that process.

“I had just heard the worst news of my life – I’d never be able to walk again. My case manager, Karen Hetherington, looked at me as a human, as Jeremy, not with pity or remorse. She greeted me with two words: ‘what’s next’? Those two words threw me off. That was what I needed. I needed to think about ‘what’s next’. Jeremy didn’t stop there; Jeremy didn’t die there. Her constant motivation and push from her team really empowered me to take a second chance at life,” said Haynes.

Reflecting on this year’s holiday ornament, Haynes said he sees a lot of positive symbols in The Semper Fi ornament, now hanging in his Fairfax home.

“When I see the truck moving in a forward motion, Karen was that truck, making sure I kept going in a forward direction. The service animal in the back of the truck wearing a helmet reminds me of the increased role service animals have played. It makes me think of the Semper Fi fund and its ‘you are not alone’ campaign. I’m always in contact with Karen, and I see the connection,” Haynes said.

The Fund provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support for veterans during their time of recovery and transition back to civilian life. According to thefund.org, Semper Fi and America’s Fund was founded in 2003 by a military spouse, and since then has helped more than 25,000 Service members and distributed nearly $250 million in assistance.

“We’ve done this mailing for the last 12 years, and we usually have about 200 volunteers, including the local JROTC from Gar Field High School. They come in and unload all the supplies to set up an assembly-line process,” said Laura Castellvi, The Fund’s director of community outreach. “This year, due to the pandemic, we’ve had staffers and volunteers take home materials to assemble, wrap, and label. We weigh the bags, and then all of our volunteers help load the postal hampers. As this project has grown over the years, we’ve had to add a second Postal Service truck to the process.”

Castellvi said they were excited to come up with a way to safely continue this tradition, to make this holiday as normal as possible.

Haynes said he has two sons, both born on Jan. 31, three years apart. They were both named in honor of Gen. Greene.

“The Fund donated to help us build a wheelchair-accessible home,” Haynes said.

“We enjoy simple things, like time. I’m much more humbled to appreciate the simple things; less driven on things that don’t matter, and family matters a great deal. Because of this,

I have inherited a new family. I was on a virtual Christmas call last night, and my family grew out of that. They do a great job of connecting you with others who have endured and overcome.”