Inspired by the experiences of Sue Rebar

"The Hope of Home"

Cheryl Johnson
40″ x 30″ • Mixed Media

Artist Statement

“The Hope of Home” Was created to celebrate the returning soldiers from combat. It is a piece to make you think of home and all of the blessings we have here, and all of the people who support our troops.
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Welcome Home Troops

by Ron Osso

“The sacrifice our vets make is more than blood. It’s life and future. It’s their very life they put on the line for freedom’s sake, because they signed on the dotted line, they made a commitment, they’ve given their oath. And they understand, better than most, what the responsibility is to fight for your children, to fight for your family, to fight for our homeland.”
Sue Rebar is a Veteran’s Guardian Angel. She founded “Welcome Home Troops” in 2007 and has been working with service members and their families ever since. They provide tickets to sporting events, concerts and all types of activities, creating opportunities for bonding, normalization and replacement memories. The intent is for them to replace old memories with fun and family engagement in a way that could strengthen their relationships and grow their families. Sue’s group grew out of an idea that began six years earlier.
“I was on a prayer initiative in Washington, DC sixty-six days before 9/11. There was an invitation to go to the Pentagon, but I opted to go to Arlington instead. Then, when the plane hit, my heart broke because I felt as though I’d missed God’s message and didn’t take my prayer responsibility into the Pentagon where I’d had an invitation to go. So, by December of that same year 2001, I was at the Pentagon praying for our service members.
It was a horrific time for military families. I was just like, oh my gosh we have to do something to keep these families connected. At the time, it was even difficult to make phone calls back and forth. There were so many limitations and security of course, is always an issue. So ultimately, in 2007, I founded “Welcome Home Troops”, in hopes of creating bonding experiences and giving people time to reconnect. At that time, PTSD was running rampant. The divorce rate was humongous. I was supporting a National Guard unit out of Alaska. They had 700 deployed troops and half of them were divorced before they returned home. It was incredible to see the devastation for the families. And I’m like, well, if you know how to do something, you should do it. So, I did.”
Rebar had never served in the military, but felt she needed to experience it on some level. She was small, 5’1” and only weighed one hundred pounds. She didn’t think she could carry enough equipment
“But I went out on a training mission. I wore 70 pounds of body armor, they put me into a Humvee, and I found that I was ultimately able to carry enough weapons to save my life, and my appreciation for those who agreed to fight for our freedom, just continues to grow.”
Her love of Christianity, of God, is a driving force in Rebar’s life. Talking about it with her brings back memories of an old movie title, “God in My Co-Pilot”.
“I was at an event in 2000. And God was speaking to me about voting and becoming involved. And there was the song by Lee Greenwood, Proud to be an American. The lyrics call for us to stand up for our nation and stand up for the flag. And I was in a room with maybe 2 or 3,000 people. And I couldn’t help myself. My commitment was to stand because Christ had stood for me. So, I stood up, and I was the only person standing, but by the end of the song, everyone in the room was standing. Because we’re all standing to make a commitment for Christ in our country, and for our military service members, and for having a level of unity.”
In their first year, “Welcome Home Troops” produced thirty events, more than one every other week. Sue coordinated all of them. One of the events took place in front of the Elsinore, California City Hall. The mayor was there and announced his eighteen-year-old son had joined the 101st airborne unit out of Fort Cambell, Kentucky,
“…and I knew I had to do something. Malachi 4:6 is the prevailing scripture:
And I will return the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to their fathers.
As part of their mission, they believe restoring the value of life begins with honoring the fallen and honoring those who served.
“If you fail to do that, it creates a moral conflict, whether it’s a conscious conflict, or an unconscious conflict, just recognizing that you’re, battle buddies who died or didn’t survive with you, or are broken when they come home, if there’s no honor restored to them, there’s no place to honor their service.”
A wounded warrior who had suffered a traumatic brain injury attended one of the events. Sue wanted to do something special for him. Instead of tickets to a one-day event she gave him three days worth of tickets, but there was a mix up with one of the volunteers, a First Sergeant, who had passed the additional tickets on to the Command Sergeant Major. Sue sprang into action.
“I don’t care who you gave those tickets to, you’re going to get them back right here, right now. Because the man I gave them to is expecting them.
Unbeknownst to me, because I hadn’t been introduced to the veteran, he was sitting in a chair watching the entire exchange. And when the Command Sergeant Major came and brought the tickets back to the first sergeant who handed them to me, I went over and got right in the middle of them and thanked them for returning the tickets. What I didn’t know was the veteran, who I got the tickets for originally, was sitting in a chair watching this entire encounter. When I found out, I handed the tickets to him, and thanked him for his service, which is a restoration of honor, and I also thanked him for his commitment to freedom. The man was emotionally overcome. He took off and went into the men’s room. At first, I didn’t know what I had done. But later I realized, it was simply handing him an honor and fighting for him. When he saw me fighting for him with the Command Sergeant Major, he knew that his life mattered to me.”
Sue Rebar reaches out to leadership at military bases, she goes through the Veterans Administration and other service organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion to find vets she feels will benefit from what she provides. And now that she has been working with these organizations for the past fifteen years, they have been reaching out directly to her. Currently Rebar is working mostly on NASCAR events, but there are occasions when they stage concerts together with The Academy of Country Music and The Rose Bowl.
Since 2007 Sue Rebar’s group has given away 65,000 tickets to events around the country.
“And I’m humbled by that, it’s a huge responsibility and I’d like to do a better job, I’d like to do more. I’m choosing people who celebrate life. It doesn’t matter who you are when you come into one of our events. I just hope that my presentation of the principles of God, and the Christ in me will affect the love in you. It may be something you’ve never had before. I hope you’ll be filled with joy and appreciate your own family.”
Rebar says she couldn’t have done any of this without God’s intervention, and other people who engage. It requires favors not only for tickets but for food and refreshments. Since its inception Welcome Home Veterans has given away over fifteen million dollars in donations to benefit veterans.
“You know, God loves a good barbeque, and we always have barbeques. And God just loves people. We have music, we have entertainment, we do everything that is really based on the scriptural principles of having a feast. It’s a joy filled time. And our hope is that everybody gets to experience God in their own way. I always pray, but rarely at our events. I usually have someone else do it because it makes me cry. I get so deep into it because I love these people so much. You know, most everyone knows that I’m a Christian, but we’re not a Christian centric organization. I don’t want anybody feeling limited. We need to serve every veteran, because every veteran has made that commitment, and we are committed to them.”
Before founding Welcome Home Troops, Rebar was a small business owner. She had a wallpaper and window covering store. One morning, an armed man came into her store to rob her. He had pantyhose on over his head. This sight didn’t scare her, in fact it did the opposite, all she could do was laugh at the sight of him.
“First of all, he’s in a wallpaper store. I only have $60 in the register. I’m thinking he’s kidding. And he’s telling me to give him the money, and I’m like, ‘I’m on the phone, ordering drapes. This is a wallpaper store, we have $60 In the drawer, you can’t be serious.’
But apparently, he was. And my store manager was there with me because we had just opened, and she said to him, ‘you know, your mother wouldn’t be very proud of you right now.’
So, while I’m on the phone, I say to Louise, the person I was ordering from, ‘would you please call the cops for me? I have a guy in here and he’s trying to rob me.’
Then he comes around behind the counter. I gave him the $60 and asked if he wanted the change too, he just shook his head. Then I went into the back room, pulled out a shotgun my husband had given me, which I told him I was never going to use, grabbed it, and acted like I knew what I was doing while I loaded shells into it. He made a rapid exit. But when I got to the door, barefoot no less, I had the keys in my hand, and decided to just lock it. As I walked back to my office, the words that popped into my head were, ‘Who Can Know the Heart of a Man?’ And this was all before I became a Christian. Then five years later after I converted to Christianity and began to read THE WORD, I found that phrase in Scripture. ‘Who Can Know the Heart of a Man,’ It was profound.”
No matter what your beliefs, after speaking with Sue Rebar, it’s impossible to not be affected by her joy, her commitment, not only to our returning troops but to her love of God. Her enthusiasm for life, for service, her love of family, is infectious. She has devoted her life to helping veterans and their families. She has made profound, positive differences to thousands of people, yet she asks nothing of them. She is the most generous, altruistic person who takes what she does seriously, yet she can break out into a contagious laugh at any moment, because she is a happy person. Just being around this woman brings joy to your heart. Sue Rebar, loved by many, a joyful spirit, a living Angel.