The nonprofit Operation Homefront has named retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John I. Pray Jr. as its new president and chief executive officer, effective next Monday.

Pray, a former chief executive officer of the USO, said joining Operation Homefront gives him the opportunity to continue serving the military community.

"I'm no longer wearing the uniform, but still able to serve the troops and families," he said.

"What's really great about Operation Homefront is there is so much potential in the organization," he said, noting it is a highly regarded nonprofit that he hopes will be able to do even more in the future.

The organization, with more than 2,500 volunteers nationwide, provides emergency and other financial assistance to families of service members and wounded warriors. The assistance is provided as grants, not loans. In 2014, the organization gave more than $4.8 million to families in need of emergency financial help.

Pray, 56, replaces Jim Knotts, who left in Operation Homefront in September to become CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Pray's father was a World War II Army veteran who was captured in the Philippines and survived the Bataan Death March. "He and my mom inspired me with the notion of service before self," Pray said. "It's ingrained in my being."

Pray graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1980 and served as a pilot. Over his 27-year career in uniform, he went on to hold a number of command assignments, including commander of the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland — the unit that supports airlift requirements for the president and other top U.S. officials — and director of the White House situation room for the National Security Council.

He retired in 2007 to become executive secretary of the National Security Council. He joined the USO in 2009, and led a variety of initiatives in operations, marketing, communications, information technology, entertainment and strategy. In 2014, Pray served as interim president and CEO of USO.

He said he "jumped at the chance" to serve at Operation Homefront and is "very honored to have been selected for this incredible opportunity."

He listed his first priority as getting out and meeting the people — employees and volunteers — who serve the military community, "to see what they need to do the job better. Understanding what they need will be a top priority."

He'll also talk with donors to let them know about the continuing importance of Operation Homefront's work.

Pray says the organization knows that those in the military community "face challenging circumstances, but those aren't static. … Our goal is to remain relevant. I'm responsible for looking into the future and making sure we're relevant tomorrow."

Service members, wounded warriors and families should know that Operation Homefront is there to help them, Pray said, and encourages those in the military community to let the organization know what they need.

His message, he said is: "We're here with you today for sure, but we'll definitely be there tomorrow, too. Help us help you as we move into the future."

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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