A Blue Star Mom Inspired By a Gold Star Mom
Blue Star Mom Linda Kelly was approached by her son on Valentine’s Day, 2003. He said, “Mom, I’m joining the Marines.” With her son in harm’s way, Linda wanted to put her anxious yet proud energy into work creating media attention on the home-front to better appreciate our deployed troops. Linda wanted to somehow use her lifetime career of award-winning graphic design and photography.
In June of 2005, Linda’s son came home without 13 Marines from his unit. She then went to a fundraiser in Madison, Wisconsin for injured Marines and to pay tribute to the fallen heroes from her son’s unit. Mother of fallen Lance Corporal Shane O’Donnell stated, “We want recognition and remembrance.” Peg O’Donnell’s memorable statement sealed Linda’s concept on how to help Americans never forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend us and our country.
The Name “Operation Never Forgotten” Fit the Mission
Linda immediately registered the domain, “Operation Never Forgotten.” Since then, Linda has been volunteering, at times more than full time, for Operation Never Forgotten’s (ONF’s) administration, creative work, graphic production, marketing, public relations and program development.
Since the launch, Gold Star Mom Peg has been with the ONF team as an adviser, and she volunteers at ONF warrior events.
ONF Delivered Creativity that Worked!
Outdoor advertising companies with digital highway and inner-city billboards were so impressed with Linda’s graphics and messages, they all offered public service announcements (PSAs). One of Linda’s first billboards in 2005 was for the O’Donnell Gold Star family in Madison, Wisconsin by Lamar. Eventually all other major outdoor advertising companies to include Clear Channel, CBS, Adams and others started posting ONF’s digital billboard messages. See the outdoor advertising company SUPPORTERS.
ONF PSAs were soon spreading across the country including NYC Times Square during the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Soon, ONF digital messages would spread to International airports, subways, food stores and malls. TV and radio followed. See more on AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS.
From Campaigns… to Retreats and Workshops
The vision grew beyond awareness campaigns. Linda knew that there would be something therapeutic about sharing her love for the wilds of Montana. January 2011, ONF offered an inclusive winter outdoor recreational retreat to 42 veterans plus their caregivers in Big Sky called SPORTS, AFIELD & STREAM (S.A.S.). In July 2012, a summer S.A.S. retreat followed offering another 50 guest warriors lifetime experiences, comradeship, empowerment and hope. In addition to the adaptive outdoor sports activities provided, the retreats gave away trips for big game hunts, fishing, wilderness adventures, hot air ballooning and cattle ranch vacations.
ONF then expanded the vision to reach more veterans locally in their hometowns. More convenient locations for post-traumatic stress workshops were developed called, A-HEAD OF HEALING.
Sergeant First Class (Retired) Mike Mills joined the ONF team as Warrior Program Director and his wife Suki is a Caregiver Supporter. ONF continues to bring healthcare professionals, mentors and other supporters together for veterans and caregivers in their local communities.
Suicide Prevention Awareness… Fight It Together!
Katie Chrzanowski joined ONF as the Suicide Prevention Awareness Director. She is a family survivor of her late fiancé 1st Lieutenant Matthew Szymanski. Katie’s giving heart and positive outlook on life sets an example of resiliency for all surviving families and friends. Read more about Katie.
The ONF team works endlessly to help fight the stigma associated with veteran post-traumatic stress (PTS)… the leading cause for suicide. ONF creates SUICIDE PREVENTION AWARENESS campaigns; provides suicide prevention training for veteran caregivers and mentors; and offers PTS WORKSHOPS.
Celebrities Who Have Supported ONF
In 2007, Linda recruited iconic songwriter/singer Lee Greenwood, famous for his hit, “God Bless the USA,” to become ONF’s Spokesman. He contributed to ONF for 7 years.
Celebrities honored ONF’s warrior guests with personal video messages during S.A.S. retreats . Some of these personalities included Taylor Swift, Tom Brokaw, J. R. Martinez, John Elway, Randy Couture, Dennis Miller, R. Lee Ermey, Ted Nugent and more. These and more celebrities contributed autographed merchandise for ONF auctions. From famous sports professionals to entertainers and movie actors, they showed their support to include Denzel Washington, NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, Larry the Cable Guy, Minnesota Twins Catcher Joe Mauer, Couture Xtreme UFC Fighters, Sarah Palin, Aaron Tippin, PGA Tour Golf Pro Steve Stricker and Montana Senators.