Photos courtesy of Gaby Juergens/Homefront Girl
Returning from the nation’s capital can turn even a jaded civic cynic into a wide-eyed variation on Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Leisurely strolling and then practically limping past all the famous monuments — travel tip: don’t do a walking tour of D.C. in 100+ weather — I couldn’t help but be impressed by the faith in mankind and divine providence that influenced America’s founding and preservation.
So, it makes sense that the United States as a bastion of freedom is still on my mind. Watching the precise movements and ritualistic ceremony of the Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, I felt how precious our liberty is, and how much we owe all the military men and women who have served our country in times of war. With the news focusing on which recruits are fit for service, I would like to salute one army wife who has made a career out of recognizing the sacrifices that all people make when they are called to duty.
Gaby Juergens calls herself the Homefront Girl and her line of home décor, stationery, candles, clothing, jewelry and accessories, all reflect the joint effort it is to marry a veteran and raise a family while trekking across bases and watching a loved one depart for deployed service.
Describing herself as “a woman who has lived the life of a soldier’s wife for over 20 years,” Gaby knows what it feels like to be the spouse of a military serviceman who can be honored and feted by some people, and ignored and decried by others.
“I knew firsthand what it felt like to have a loved one serving in the military,” Gaby told me during one of our interviews, “but I was unable to find products that reflected the lifestyle and the special bonds of the military community. I could not find any merchandise or products that showed off our pride, the weight of our time apart, the fear and worry of deployments and the real joy of homecomings. I couldn’t find anything that reflects what a military family feels, so I created the items myself!”
Homefront Girl, which has connections in all facets of the collectibles world, is designed to speak directly to the people who sacrifice their daily security so that the country can be more secure. “I came up with Homefront Girl for all of the homefront girls out there. I mean the wives, fiancées, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, and daughters who have ever loved someone serving in the military. To me, these women have had to share their heroes with the rest of the world.”
Joining all of the home accents and personal accouterments are a squadron of teddy bears. It makes sense that Juergens who has made jewelry inspired by dog tags would see the huggable and cuddly benefits of a bear battalion.
“The Homefront Girl Signature Teddy Bear Collection represents love, admiration, and concern for heroes every day. The bears have messages of love and support. They are designed for people who have shared their loved ones as men and women serving in uniform, as well as for all the first responders in our nation,” Gaby detailed to me. “What is great about the Homefront Girl bears is that they can be shared with the loved ones who are serving around the world. Both the partner on the homefront and the loved one in the field can have these bears as a symbol of love, strength, pride, and concern.”
Like many of the other creations in the Homefront Girl portfolio, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each teddy bear is earmarked for charity. Monetary donations are made to Operation Homefront, a four-star nonprofit that is set up to support and strengthen military families and returning veterans.
One of the most personal and autobiographical touchstones for Gaby has been her Christmas ornament, The Missing Piece Is You. When Gaby and her husband were a young military family, they met an older Air Force couple that would gather their whole family together to make jigsaw puzzles at the holidays. When the puzzles were completed, the family would all sign their names and date it, keeping a framed heirloom as to who was present, where they were stationed, and what their time together meant.
Gaby attempted to emulate that with her own family, but every time they would near the end of the jigsaw, there would be a puzzle piece missing. The vanishing puzzle piece would eventually turn up stuffed in a toy dinosaur’s mouth or hidden beneath the couch’s cushions. One day, though, a missing piece turned up in an unexpected place and time.
“Fast-forward to an assignment at the 25th Infantry Division, shortly after Christmas, and my husband was deployed. One day while I was in the park with our son, I reached into the pocket of my jacket, searching for a pen. Instead, I found the puzzle piece that had gone missing from that year’s Christmas puzzle,” she recalled.
“I had a pretty good idea which grubby little hand had placed it in there,” she laughed. “It was in my pocket along with a Lego piece and the sticky remains of a fruit roll-up. At that moment, I really wanted to share the discovery with my husband. But I couldn’t. He wasn’t there. He was thousands of miles away.”
At that moment, the puzzle piece took on a broader and bigger significance, and Gaby Juergens found her life’s calling: “I looked down at that puzzle piece in my hand, and I taped it down in my journal. I wrote what I felt about it and its symbolism. The missing piece was him.”
It is that sympathy and empathy for all people who have taken part in a nation’s sacrifice that has helped Juergens with building and coalescing her brand. She knows what military and law enforcement families crave and need. She is one of them: “Sometimes the simplest things can resound the loudest and most eloquently. For me at that moment — and even today — it was a tiny puzzle piece. For military and first responder families, our men and women serving far from home and putting it all on the line for freedom, they are our missing pieces. They are the individuals that complete us.”