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Bret Michaels pops in to meet and greet the kids before the gala.

Bret Michaels pops in to meet and greet the kids before the gala.

On a night fit for a rock star, the 2014 Military Child of the Year (MCOY) gala lived up to its billing last week as the “preeminent recognition event for military kids,” in the words of president and CEO Jim Knotts. More than 300 loyal fans gathered to celebrate and honor five truly outstanding young Americans who understand what it means “to serve,” at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Va.

 

With more than 2 million military kids today – who all serve their country as an extension of their parents – it’s incredibly difficult to select just five honorees. However, when you consider the level of achievement, selfless service to others, as well as future goals and aspirations, there’s no doubt that these kids stack up to any group of young people across America!

 

 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey joined us for the third year in a row.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey joined us for the third year in a row.

MCOY wouldn’t be what it is today without the literally “uniform” support of our nation’s senior most military leadership. Back for the third straight year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey set a tone and an example modeled by the other service chiefs and senior leaders in attendance. “We can’t settle for mediocrity…the kids here tonight will not accept mediocrity and will make a difference in the world,” General Dempsey told the audience when acknowledging a common question he faces about whether the country is advancing or declining.

 

Legendary musician Bret Michaels and General Dempsey surprised and delighted the audience with an impromptu duet.

Legendary musician Bret Michaels and General Dempsey surprised and delighted the audience with an impromptu duet.

General Dempsey proved once again this year that he can set tone through more than stature and presence alone – and treated everyone to a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” – but with a twist. Recognizing the star power available to him in the audience, General Dempsey sought out the keynote speaker for the evening, legendary rocker and philanthropist Bret Michaels, to join him on stage. While there aren’t any plans in place for them to go on tour – yet – there’s no doubt that together they injected an unprecedented level of energy into an already high power evening.

 

For Michaels, his opportunity to deliver remarks as the keynote was an expression of his thanks for the sacrifices made by those in the military and their families. As a military kid himself, he stood in awe of the achievements of the honorees. “I get to play music the way I want to do it, I get to look the way I want to look and it’s all because of the sacrifice you made,” Michaels said to the honorees, their parents, and those veterans and service members in the audience. “I want to congratulate [them] on their fight in overcoming adversity [and] taking a chance to make some great opportunities.”

 

Fox News correspondent Mike Emanuel brought polish and authenticity to an already memorable evening .

Fox News correspondent Mike Emanuel brought polish and authenticity to an already memorable evening .

FOX News Chief Congressional Correspondent Mike Emanuel did a masterful job as emcee for the evening, adeptly moving between each senior military award presenter and guest, with the perfect balance of humor and genuine expression of gratitude for military service writ large.

 

Congratulations again to all the recipients. Read more about the award winners here. Click here to view a full display of photographs from the event.

mcoyblog1Bragging. We’re gonna do a little bit of it…or a lot. And we’re pretty sure you’ll be okay with it…because we’re talking about military kids.

Tomorrow night, at a special gala in Washington D.C., we’ll officially honor five extraordinary young patriots who have been named our 2014 Military Child of the Year recipients. Their presence, strength and leadership shine a beam of light on the resiliency of all military kids. That’s why we celebrate them every year. In recognizing a few, we honor them all!

About our five recipients:

  • Combined they have had at least one parent deployed for 131 months;
  • As a group, they have moved 30 times, often cross-country;
  • They represent 2325 hours (and counting) of volunteer service;
  • Some aspire to be foreign correspondents or doctors and have the grades to back it up;
  • Two have founded their own nonprofits;
  • One advocated for new legislation and addressed Congress;
  • One lives daily with health challenges, and another had major heart surgery as a teenager.
  • They are award-winning team captains, ROTC commanders, National Honor Society officers, class presidents, and an Eagle Scout;
  • But they don’t consider themselves too good to bake cookies, teach Sunday School, serve soup in homeless shelters, blog, collect donations for foster kids, help build a staircase or do what it takes to make life a little better for those who might be suffering around them.

Collectively, they attribute their interest in service, other cultures, love of travel, and trying new things to their upbringing in a military family. Military service is a family affair, and all have extended family who served our country with distinction.

You can read about each recipient in detail here. Here is a quick snapshot of each:

 

mcoygabeGage Dabin, 2014 Air Force Military Child of the Year

Favorite Quote: Hakuna Matata (Swahili phrase popular in Kenya and Zanzibar)

Gage says, “Growing up I have always pushed myself to be the best, but at the same time I wanted to have fun with everything that I did. My quote translates to no worries, and if you know the rest it’s also my worry free philosophy. The quote has helped me not to take everything so seriously, to take a step back and cherish every activity and friendship.”

 

mcoykenzieKenzie Hall, 2014 Army Military Child of the Year

Favorite Quote: If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room. (Anita Roddick)

Kenzie shares, “This quote has inspired me as a teenager. The only thing you need to have to be able to make an impact is passion for what you want to change or do. I may be small, but I have a big appetite for success, just like that mosquito!”

 

mcoylindseyJuanita Lindsey Collins, 2014 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year

Favorite Quote:  Getting lost will help you find yourself. (Holstee Manifesto)

Juanita says, “My best friend gave me this quote for Christmas.  This quote inspired me because it helped me remember that even when you don’t know the way you’re going, or you feel down, you will eventually find yourself and your calling; why you were put on this earth.  Keep moving forward no matter what, God and the path you’re on will lead you to finding yourself.”

 

mcoymichaelloganMichael-Logan Burke Jordan, 2014 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year

Favorite Quote: The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, YOU will fill the world with hope, YOU will fill yourself with hope. (Barack Obama)

Michael-Logan says, “On the days that my disease is at its worst and I start to feel hopeless, I remember the words of our President and I get up and do something. When you give of yourself to your community, you fill the world and yourself with hope.”

 

mcoyryanRyan Patrick Curtin, 2014 Navy Military Child of the Year

Favorite Quote: Challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. (Joshua J. Marine)

Ryan says, “Being a military kid is full of challenges, but on the other end of all of those challenges is the great feeling of knowing that you have made sacrifices for your country, however big or small those sacrifices may have been.”

 

 

We’re excited that our top military officials think these kids are pretty special too. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and several other service chiefs will be attending our gala as well. Many of them are now making it an annual event, indicating that they too realize that the whole family serves and deserves any and all recognition. We are also pleased to welcome legendary musician, entrepreneur and philanthropist Bret Michaels, a military kid himself, to the event. Mike Emanuel of Fox News will join us to emcee our very special evening.

If you’d like to watch the gala, we’ll be live streaming. Check our Twitter or Facebook page, where we will post a link closer to the start of the gala.

If you’d like to offer some well-wishes for our recipients or brag about your own military kids, feel free to add to our comments below or email them to socialnet@operationhomefront.net.

It’s National Volunteer Week. What can we say about volunteers…

They are the heart and soul of not just our organization, but of every organization that strives to make a difference and have an impact in their corners of the universe.

As the quotes goes… “Volunteers are love in motion”. And we’d like to share some of that love (and some favorite quotes) with you as we say “Thank You” to the thousands of volunteers across the country that help Operation Homefront make a difference in the lives of our military families and wounded, ill or injured veterans.

 

“A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.”- Washington Irving

A young volunteer gives back to our military families at Holiday Meals for Military 2013

A young volunteer gives back to our military families at Holiday Meals for Military 2013

 

“If you want to touch the past, touch a rock. If you want to touch the present, touch a flower. If you want to touch the future, touch a life.” ~Author Unknown

Every day, our volunteers are out in the community raising awareness of our mission and support for military families

Every day, our volunteers are out in the community raising awareness of our mission and support for military families

 

“The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers.”~ Everett Mámor

 

Volunteers help welcome the newest members of our military families at Star Spangled Baby Showers for military moms all across the country.

Volunteers help welcome the newest members of our military families at Star Spangled Baby Showers for military moms all across the country.

 

“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~James Matthew Barrie

The wonderful mother and daughter teams of the National Charity lend a helping hand to the Easter Bunny visiting military families in Texas 2013

The wonderful mother and daughter teams of the National Charity lend a helping hand to the Easter Bunny visiting military families in Texas 2013

 

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” –Benjamin Franklin

The wonderful mother and daughter teams of the National Charity lend a helping hand to the Easter Bunny visiting military families in Texas 2013

The wonderful mother and daughter teams of the National Charity lend a helping hand to the Easter Bunny visiting military families in Texas 2013

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To learn how you can Get Involved with Operation Homefront’s mission, click here or visit www.operationhomefront.net and find the Field Office closest to you. Also check out Points of Light, a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of volunteer service.

“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” — Mulan

MCOY_blog_squareEdelweiss, Edelweiss…

Although this flower was made famous by the beloved musical, “The Sound of Music”, and admired for its beauty, this is no hothouse flower. Growing from a rock at high altitude in frigid air, resistant to radiation, needing little water, Edelweiss’s strength and resiliency is the stuff of legends. So much so that it has been honored on currency, coats of arms, and to this day is an insignia for the Alpine troops of several militaries.

When one takes a moment to marvel at the beauty of this world, you will find no shortage of examples of resiliency. We don’t have to look any further than the young patriots raised in our military families for examples of not only surviving but blossoming in the harshest conditions and under extreme adversity. For those young men and women daring enough to look the world in the eye and say “Show me what you got,” April is the Month of the Military Child.

Think about it. Many of our military children have never known a country not at war. Even those who are old enough to have been born before our current conflicts were probably too young to remember what it was like to serve in peace time (and make no mistake, families serve, too). On average, they move 6 to 9 times between kindergarten and 12th grade.[1] They go long periods of time not seeing Mom or Dad. They long for a hug but have to settle for Skype. They lose parents, or have friends that lose parents. Sometimes, their parent returns, but isn’t the same.

And yet still they maintain outstanding GPAs, volunteer in their communities, find others in need and help them. They are class presidents and varsity athletes. They find the silver lining and turn it into gold.

So why Month of the Military Child? Because, however we can make it happen, they deserve to take center stage. For their stories are our stories.

Over the next couple of weeks, it will be the honor of Operation Homefront to share more about these amazing young men and women as we celebrate this year’s recipients of our Military Child of the Year Award®. We’ll check in with our past recipients to see where the next chapter of their lives has taken them. We’ll also post information and stories about our military children on our Facebook page. Hopefully, you’ll be as inspired by them as much as we are. Every day.

The sixth annual Military Child of the Year Award® will be presented April 10, 2014 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, VA. In addition to the trip to our nation’s capital, recipients are awarded a $5,000 cash prize. General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will speak, and legendary musician, entrepreneur, and philanthropist (and military child himself) Bret Michaels will give the keynote address. Mike Emanuel, chief congressional correspondent for Fox News Channel, will emcee the dinner and award portion of the evening event.

 

[1] http://www.dodlive.mil/index.php/2013/04/infographic-wrapping-up-month-of-the-military-child/

By Jim Knotts
President and CEO, Operation Homefront

Times are tense. Much has been said lately in regards to how the Department of Defense will balance its books, following more than 12 years of war.

infographic-operation-homefront-military-family-impact

While we expanded our reach, and hired more staff to address critical program needs last year, we also achieved an overall 93% efficiency, holding a three-year average of 94%. This means that for every dollar we receive from our generous donors and partners, 94 cents goes directly to the programs and services we provide. (Click on infographic for full size version.)

How does the DoD maintain the world’s finest fighting force, with the right investment in people and associated benefits, while equipping them with superior technology to win decisively on the battlefield?

I don’t envy the difficult choices required by our military leaders and elected officials, as the threats to our security remain real and uncertain – all at the same time. Amidst the back drop and threat of sequestration, their challenge is all the more difficult.

At no point in our nation’s history have we been on a war footing for any longer period of time, nor has that war been fought by a smaller percentage of the population. How we effectively communicate the stories and needs of this valiant 1%, to the other 99%, will prove critical for how successful we are in caring for this current generation of patriots and their families.  And there is much work ahead of us.

More than 2 million service members have deployed since 9/11. Now is not the time to turn away from the emergency needs and longer term support of this community – both active duty and veterans – that we see daily at Operation Homefront. And, it might seem that fewer deployments and a corresponding drop in combat-related injuries would reduce the need for the types of services we provide.

kenneth-walker-operation-homefront

Wounded warrior Kenneth Walker said he heard about Operation Homefront when he only had $40 left in his pocket. He moved into our wounded warrior village and lived rent-free while he got back on his feet. He just settled into a new home with his wife and children.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the needs of those we serve are greater than ever.

In 2013, we provided more than $4 million in assistance for some of the most basic needs – food, rent and utilities. That was a 263% increase over the year before. And while we typically support active duty military families dealing with the associated challenges of deployments and frequent relocations, our assistance numbers show an increasing percentage of the post 9/11 veteran population needing our help as well. In fact, last year, more than 80% of our emergency assistance grants were made to wounded, ill and injured.

But we need to do more. And we need to focus more on not only helping military families get through a crisis but helping them avoid one in the first place.  In 2014, we’re shifting our focus from intervention to transformation.

Anywhere from half a million to a million service members could leave the military over the next five years. We know that the mix of programs and services we offer will continue to evolve with that growing population. And we’ve anticipated and planned for this shift.

For example, in 2012, thanks to generous bank partners JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo and Bank of America, we began our Homes on the Homefront program, providing mortgage-free homes to qualifying veterans and military families, of any era. In the first full year of the program, last year, we placed 188 families in homes, helping them save more than $41 million in mortgage payments over an average 30-year loan. Home ownership – an essential part of the American Dream – is something our nation’s veterans and their families have earned through their service, affording a transformative generational impact for decades to come.

Jim Knotts

Jim Knotts
President and CEO
Operation Homefront

We also work closely through collaborations with other nonprofits focused on improving the lives of our military families. We know that many crisis situations may be preventable through better financial education. So just a few weeks ago, we entered into a partnership with the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line, working together to extend resources to the mutual client families we serve with financial planning and budgeting resources.

As we look ahead through the balance of this year and beyond, we know that the nonprofits who support the military and veteran communities will confront similar significant issues as those faced by our government leaders. The nonprofits who endure will be those who seize the opportunity to adapt to the evolving needs of our military families and veterans. Those who succeed will do so by transforming lives, measuring the results and being agile enough to adapt as needs change.

military-savesThe lifestyle of a military family brings with it many sacrifices and plenty of stress. But when a financial crisis or poor planning are added to the mix, the results can be overwhelming.

Did you know? 68% of military families say they feel stress from their family’s current financial condition.*

Money matters affect the entire family, and can impact the ability to be strong and resilient in the face of multiple deployments, PCS moves, and the many other rigors of military life. That’s why Operation Homefront is pleased to join two initiatives that will help military families learn how to save and gain more control over their finances:

Joining the Military Saves Week mission:

We are pleased to participate in Military Saves Week. Military Saves is a component of the nonprofit America Saves and a partner in the Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign. The campaign seeks to motivate, support, and encourage military families to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. This annual initiative gives Operation Homefront an opportunity to join in the larger mission to promote good savings behavior and remind service members and their families to assess their own saving status.

You can find tips, financial advice and amazing success stories at MilitarySaves.org or Take the Pledge today.

Teaming Up with the Better Business Bureau:

Better Business Bureau and Operation Homefront have entered into a collaborative partnership to better serve military service members and their families.

Our two organizations offer complimentary services, with BBB focusing on financial education through its BBB Military Line® program and Operation Homefront providing emergency financial assistance grants.  “When organizations work together, each playing to their strengths, we have the ability to affect positive outcomes for our military families” said Jim Knotts, Operation Homefront president and CEO.  “Operation Homefront has always taken an active approach to collaboration.  We look forward to working with BBB to help our military service members and wounded warriors become more financially self-sustaining.”

BBB will refer military families to Operation Homefront for emergency financial and other assistance needs.  In turn, Operation Homefront will refer military families to BBB for assistance in resolving issues with their creditors with dispute resolution.  Additionally, Operation Homefront will help highlight financial education tips and educational materials provided by BBB Military Line. Read full press release here.

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Operation Homefront’s mission is to provide emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors. Learn more about How We Help and how to Get Involved.

*As reported by MilitarySaves.org

A Badge of Honor

“I grew up with bugle calls and artillery salutes and the knowledge that home is where the heart is and the family–with no dependence on the dwelling.”  (from I Am A Military Brat)

December brings so much excitement for our little ones. As you enter the season of giving, don’t forget to nominate an amazing military child for our 2014 Military Child of the Year award. Five winners will be chosen, representing each branch of service, and each will receive $5,000, a laptop and a trip to Washington D.C. for a special awards gala in their honor. All nominees will be sent a special certificate of recognition. Deadline to nominate is Dec. 14.

We think the term “military brat” is a badge of honor that represents a resilient and tenacious group of young Americans who sacrifice so much on behalf of all of America’s kids. In honor of our youngest patriots, enjoy the following article, used with permission from the Military Brats Registry:

“I am an Army Brat. My hometown is nowhere, my friends are everywhere, and if I haven’t been someplace yesterday, I am sure to go there tomorrow. I grew up with bugle calls and artillery salutes and the knowledge that home is where the heart is and the family–with no dependence on the dwelling.

Mobility is my way of life. I have found security and happiness in motels and guest houses, in duplexes and apartments around the world. Some would wonder about my roots, yet they are as deep and strong as the mighty oaks. I sink them quickly, absorbing all an area offers and hopefully giving enrichment in return.

mcoy-blog-pic4Like all Army dependents, I can say “Hello,” “Good-bye,” and count to 20 in five languages. I can tell of the shores of Maine, the marketplaces of Mexico, the Buddhas of Japan; and my knickknack shelves look like those of an import shop, for my memories span the globe.

Travel has taught me to be open. By age nine I had seen more of the world than most people do in a lifetime; I had touched many and allowed their cultures to touch me. Shaking hands with the universe, I found a brotherhood in all men.

mcoy-pic2Just as there is joy in meeting, so is there pain in parting; and although practice makes perfect, there is no way to perfect “Good-bye.” Farewells are never easy. Yet, even in sorrow comes strength and an ability to face tomorrow with anticipation. And if when I leave one place I feel that half my world has been left behind, I also know that the other half is still waiting to be met.

As an Army Brat, I go out to others extending hand and heart. Friendships are formed in hours and kept for decades. I will never grow up with someone, but I will mature with many, and the help that I offer today will be returned farther down the road. Be it inevitable that paths part, there is constant hope that they will meet again.

I feel fortunate to live in a society of tradition drawing from the past to enhance the present – where silver baby cups announce life, horse-drawn caissons pronounce death and the living in between is dedicated to the service of God, man and our nation.

mcoy-blog-pic3Love of country, respect and pride fill my being when Old Glory passes in review. As I stand to honor that flag, so also do I stand to honor all soldiers, most especially to the man whose life created mine — my father. Because of him I have shared in the rich heritage of Army life.

Now, as Army wife and mother, I have passed on that legacy to my children. I wish for them a wealth of experiences and knowledge and love, so that their lives will be blessed as mine, and I pray that one day they will join me in boasting, “I am an Army Brat!”

Make sure your branch is represented well among the nominees – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – let’s hear from you! To nominate an amazing military child of your life, go to www.militarychildoftheyear.org by Dec. 14.

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