After 10 years in the Air Force as a surgical technician, Staff Sgt. Mariana McKenzie was about to be deployed when she started experiencing severe pain symptoms in her joints. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and had to medically retire in 2012.
“It was like a complete bomb in our lives when that happened,” Mariana said. “Because the air force, the military, was what defined me, what was my identity, it was my career, it was everything for me. I planned to retire. It was really hard to find that out. I did love what I did.”
The transition out of the military was not easy, Mariana said, especially because she received so little information or help. The family was trying to find a place to stay, was unsure of what future income would be, and they lacked a support network at the time.
“It was hard trying to figure out what the next step was going to be and there was no one,” she said. “It was pretty much you figure it out on your own. That’s how it was at that time.”
The same year she was honorably discharged, Mariana, her husband, Trevor, and their three kids moved into a house in San Antonio, Texas. They started having trouble keeping up with bills after Trevor’s contract job was not renewed and Mariana could not work because of the arthritis. On top of that, one of the children became very sick.
They fell behind on bills and needed help paying the mortgage. Plus, two things they had not considered at the time of purchase their home became a growing concern. First, without a fenced-in backyard, their youngest, Abigail, could wander away. Second, the carpets were so dirty and in such bad disrepair that they eventually had to be removed, leaving only concrete. They thought they would replace it themselves, but the project was beyond their expertise and cost was exorbitant for the budget. A veteran resource office referred her to Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) program.
In 2018 and 2019, with the help of generous donors, Operation Homefront was able to provide nearly $11,000 to pay Mariana’s mortgage, build a fence, and purchase new flooring throughout the house. Mariana said the kids play on the floors all the time now and love to run in the back yard. Plus, no longer having to worry about where the money would come from to pay for home repairs meant both Mariana and Trevor could focus on school.
They are so grateful to the support they received from Operation Homefront, knowing that their lives would be much different had they not reached out.
“We would be overwhelmed with stress [without Operation Homefront],” Mariana McKenzie said. “It’s amazing how these little things in your life can accumulate so much stress. Now we can focus on school, we can focus on our children, and not have to worry about the house.”