Several months ago, I met with P.J. Sesker-Green, chairman of the Operation First Response board. At the beginning of the meeting, she talked about her nephew, a young Iowa National Guard soldier who was killed seven years ago in Iraq. Sgt. Daniel Sesker, of Ogden, was only 22 years old when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb outside Tikrit. 

I recall that tragic news, but didn’t learn until this summer, at that meeting, that Daniel once worked at our Hy-Vee store in Boone.

During our meeting, P.J. played a video that was recorded in Iraq. The clip showed Daniel’s buddies giving him a good-natured ribbing about being the happiest person they had ever met. 

When asked why he always was smiling, Daniel said it was something he learned while working at Hy-Vee: “A helpful smile in every aisle.” It made sense in Iowa, and it made sense as a soldier in Iraq.

Since our meeting, I have thought a lot about Daniel’s story. And having a son-in-law who is serving, I thought more about P.J.’s mission to help military veterans and their families through Operation First Response. While P.J. came to share her story and the mission of her organization, her visit sparked a larger vision. Our company has long been a champion of military and veterans’ causes, but maybe we could do more. And now, through Hy-Vee Homefront, we will.

Hy-Vee Homefront is a new, year-round initiative that will increase awareness of and support for organizations that serve our nation’s military members, veterans and their families. Through Hy-Vee Homefront, we have the opportunity, along with our customers, suppliers and communities, to serve those who have served us, both abroad and here at home. 

We have been longtime supporters of veterans through internal programs and sponsorships. We know these efforts are important to our employees, customers and communities. This new initiative is Hy-Vee’s way to engage those individuals and groups, and provide an organized effort for programs serving veterans. 

Along with a financial commitment, it is important that we increase public awareness of these organizations. Our partnership is about providing people with the opportunity to get involved.

Hy-Vee Homefront begins by focusing support and awareness on three organizations serving veterans: Hope for the Warriors, Operation First Response and Puppy Jake Foundation. These organizations were chosen based on the important services that they provide, and are in addition to our current donation efforts. 

We are not alone in our efforts to assist active-duty military troops and veterans. From Casey’s General Stores Inc.’s sponsorship of Hope for the Warriors, to the governor’s “Home Base Iowa” program to attract and hire veterans in Iowa, to the military support of our state and local communities, much is already being done. 

We are proud to be a part of a community that is socially aware and committed to helping others. With another Veterans Day just behind us, and as we go into a new year, I challenge each of us to honor our veterans every day, not just on Nov. 11. 

Together, we can make a big difference in the lives of Iowa’s veterans and their families.

Randy Edeker is the CEO of Hy-Vee Inc.