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As we wrap up the Month of the Military Child, we asked the past winners of our Military Child of the Year award what they want Americans to know about military kids. Nine out of 17 of our past recipients provided input for this blog. They brought us up to date on where they’ve been — and where they’re headed — and they STILL continue to inspire us!

Now, in their own words…

operation-homefront-blog-kids-1“Military kids are little warriors themselves. Many have to move multiple times and start over in new schools and towns, make new friends constantly (a scary thought for those in middle school), and send their fathers and mothers off to war. That being said, military kids are not to be underestimated. Military kids are outgoing, resilient, creative, and strong. The hardships and the sacrifices that comes with being part of a military family only makes us that much stronger and that much more motivated to change the world for the better.”

Nicole Goetz – 2011 Air Force Military Child of the Year(Nicole is working on her undergrad degree in Georgia and is partnering with fellow MCOY recipient Maggie Rochon to create a new military nonprofit that focuses on reintegration and bridging the military-civilian gap.)

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-2“The children share their parents love for serving.”

Willie Banks, 2010 Military Child of the Year (Willie, a very active 8th grader, is working towards becoming a historian, a professional soccer player, and a saxophone player.)

 

 

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-3“I truly don’t think anyone can understand the reality of what it’s like to be a military child unless you’ve been one yourself. Military families are unique in that they all have a common bond and that is knowing how to accept change. Whether it is moving every few months/years, or having a parent go away or get deployed for lengthy periods of time. It can be challenging. Not only are our active duty military parents making self-sacrifices for our country, but those families are making sacrifices too. It’s incredible to see the service our young military heroes make for both their families and our country. I think that’s the beauty of living the life as a military child. We are presented amazing opportunities to enrich and immerse ourselves in new cultures and ways of life. It is up to us to take advantage of those opportunities and cherish every moment of it.”

Alena Deveau, 2012 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year (Currently, Alena is double majoring in Meteorology and Geography and minoring in Communications. Right now, she is leaning toward working in the service sector.)

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-4Being a Military child is the best way to grow up. Yes, it is hard at times but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. We learn the respect, values and morals from the military environment. I think most military children would agree that we have a bond that can’t be broken because of the military experience we share.”

Chelsea Rutherford, 2012 Air Force Military Child of the Year (Chelsea hopes to be an elementary teacher by this time next year. She is eager to start in her classroom and begin her journey.)

 

 

 

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-5“I want America to know about all the sacrifices that military children make every day. (They) move countless times, have to step up and become the leaders of the house when their loved ones are deployed, or continually be the rock when times are tough.”

Mark Newberry, 2013 Air Force Military Child of the Year (Mark is a pre-med student, through the Air Force ROTC, in Michigan. He wants to become a surgeon, so he has joined a pre-med club on campus and is shadowing a thoracic surgeon).

 

 

 

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-6.jpg“The saying, “kids serve too” is very true. We move every few years, have to make new connections and support systems, and many of us face the fact that our fathers and mothers might not come home. It is a fact of life for military children, and we continue to live our lives as normally as possible. Many of us do not have hometowns or childhood homes that we grew up in. I was born in Japan, and have lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Hawaii. These experiences are difficult to cope with, but form our personalities, and make us who we are. We adapt, and change is just part of our everyday lives. We devote our lives to the military lifestyle, and home is where the military sends us.”

Erika Booth, 2012 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year (Erika is currently an undergrad student in North Carolina. She is a biology major with a minor in chemistry, and hopes to get into medical school after getting her undergraduate degree.)

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-7“I want America to know that military kids sacrifice just as much alongside their parents in order to protect this country. They move schools frequently, adapt to new environments, and travel the world representing our country. They are the strongest people I know. “

Nicole Daly, 2013 Army Military Child of the Year  (Nicole, a senior in high school, has started her own nonprofit with a mission to spread awareness about the problems of poverty and their connection to the lack of education throughout the world. She says that after college she has a passion to fight the global education crisis.)

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-8“I want America to know that military kids should be honored because of what they go through.  Moving all of the time, parents being deployed, and not being treated the same, military children go through some daily struggles that other children do not. And they should be recognized for that.” 

Amanda Wimmersberg, 2013 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year (Amanda is an undergrad student in Florida. She has a dream of eventually becoming a nurse practitioner for either surgery or pediatric oncology.) 

 

 

 

 

 

operation-homefront-blog-kids-9.jpg“They are the best kids in the world! They live extremely tough lives, yet they continue to work hard and challenge themselves every day. They make sacrifices for our freedom, just like their parents. They are a very special breed- one that deserves recognition. Next time you meet a military kid, thank them!” 

Abigail Perdew, 2013 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year (Abigail is a “plebe” at the U.S. Naval Academy. She is working toward a political science and Arabic double major. She is hoping to earn a commission in the Marine Corps, where she would like to serve her country as either a Public Affairs Officer or a Foreign Area Officer.)

by Jim Knotts
President and CEO of Operation Homefront.

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There are two million children under the age of 18 with an active-duty parent. 500,000 of those are children under the age of 6

With April as Month of the Military Child and our signature Military Child of the Year™ (MCOY) program just completed – there’s no better time to pause and reflect on the unique challenges of being a military kid today – and why our focus on them is so important to what we do here at Operation Homefront.

We see firsthand in our work that the strains of more than 13 years of war have exacted a toll on not just those who serve, but the family members who stand with them in service. We also know that a number of research efforts have been completed in the past several years trying to quantify the impact and catalog the challenges confronting military kids.

A Child Trends Research Brief, Homefront Alert: The Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families, published last year found that the composition of military families today is very different than thirty years ago. Today, about half of active-duty service members are parents, compared to just 15 percent in the Vietnam era – most of whom were officers. And significantly, the report noted that of two million children under the age of 18 with an active-duty parent, 500,000 of those are children under the age of 6. So at a time when our country has been fighting its longest sustained war, the stresses associated with military life are falling on an increasingly young military child population.

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The stresses associated with military life are falling on an increasingly young military child population

As children deal with life without their deployed parent and help the other parent along in the process, it creates family stress. A RAND Corporation study conducted throughout 2008 and 2009 found that 30 percent of the youth surveyed reported elevated anxiety levels, as compared with 15 percent of non-military youth. They face a burden that non-military children do not, and many of those non-military children cannot understand what it’s like for the military children, which creates additional stress in an already difficult situation.

I highlight this research because when you think of military kids, and the programs supporting them and military families, the importance of our work is all too abundantly clear. Whether it’s Back-to-School Brigade™, or Holiday Toy Drive, we seek to normalize where possible what we know are demands that military kids and families face that are often precipitated by service to country. And all kids, no matter their background or their parents’ occupation, deserve the chance to realize their full potential.

As we near the end of the Month of the Military Child, Operation Homefront will continue to deliver at the highest level with the programs and services we provide to this most deserving group of young patriots, and, continually look for ways we can help break down barriers that might impede their progress in realizing their dreams.

If you haven’t already, read the bios of this year’s MCOY award recipients. They truly are amazing and inspirational. If you’re like me, you can’t help but feel humbled by their tremendous achievements. Meeting this exemplary group of young people each year always inspires me to re-double my efforts and recommit to our mission, and I hope you too are spurred to action to do whatever you can in support of military kids and military families.

 

Jim (second from left) with MCOY 2014 for Coast Guard Juanita Collins and family, along with VADM Manson Brown, USCG, at the 2014 MCOY gala, April 10.

Jim (second from left) with MCOY 2014 for Coast Guard Juanita Collins and family, along with VADM Manson Brown, USCG, at the 2014 MCOY gala, April 10. Military children truly are amazing and inspirational. Our focus on them is an integral part of the mission of Operation Homefront.

Related:

Why Month of the Military Child? Because they deserve to take center stage.

We’re going to do a little bragging… (Military Child of the Year 2014)

Military Kids Take Center Stage

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.

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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.

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