Andy Ladner has witnessed many stories in his life – those of soldiers in battle, veterans fighting for recovery, and military families stepping through difficult circumstances to provide for the people they love. He’s got his own story too; in fact, as a former Military Commissioner for the State of North Carolina, Sergeant US Army Paratrooper, Desert Storm, and disabled combat veteran, he has more stories than you can count. And now with his non-profit organizations, Operation Coming Home and US Veterans Corps, he’s helping to create new chapters and a pathway for others to reimagine what military appreciation can really look like – whether military or civilian.
How It Started…
As President of Operation Coming Home and US Veterans Corps, Ladner now finds himself with a busy, full-time passion project that started when a group of former military members began working together to support hurricane relief in their free time. They did it without a name or logo, simply stepped into a place that felt natural – service. This “band of brothers” started to get noticed and were called the “black hats” because of the caps they wore. They began with building a home for the popular TV show, Extreme Makeover – Home Edition, and eventually found themselves getting requests for more help across various missions, which made them ask what “more” could really look like.
With connections to a network of veterans in construction, and recognizing a need, in 2008 they pivoted from Extreme Makeover to start Operation Coming Home, with the intention to build and donate houses annually for a military hero or widow. That same year Andy also started US Veterans Corps to provide disaster relief, organize toy drives, operate a food pantry, and similar efforts.
How It’s Going…
Operation Coming Home and US Veteran Corps are both celebrating their 15th anniversaries this year. They have built 27 homes and garnered three US Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and two Guinness World Records for toy and food drives – all because Andy and some like-minded veterans found their lifetime of military service had many more missions left to give.
When we asked Ladner about how we can all celebrate Military Appreciation Month, Ladner explained, “When military members get out, one of the things they miss is the camaraderie – I’m here to tell them that the mission isn’t over. Whether you’ve hung up your uniform or not, you still have a unique ability to serve. You are specially equipped to do it; you have all the right tools to do it and you are needed.”
For civilians, Ladner shares a call to action,
“If you’ve never served and you want to give back, we have community service projects and lots of coordination needed to run toy and food drives. Corporations can also get involved and donate time or resources at our operations center in Raleigh. There is so much work to do and many hands make light work.”
Needless to say, Ladner knows a thing or two about military appreciation, and this month we salute him and all the members of his team for sharing their stories and showing us what service in action can look like. Regardless of your rank, status, or history, we are all called to our own kind of active duty.
To learn more about US Veterans Corps or to get involved, visit: https://myusvc.com/index.html