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by John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

May is Military Appreciation Month – an important opportunity for Americans to take a moment to reflect on all our military community has done and continues to do for all of us. From celebrating spouses on Military Spouse Appreciation Day and recognizing all service branches on Armed Forces Day, to honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day, May is truly a special month to highlight an exceptional group of our fellow citizens.

While we typically celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of our active duty members and veterans, I think we must also include those who have sustained their service – their families – as they have served alongside their loved ones.

Military service is a noble calling, but it has many demands and many costs. One of those costs is foregoing time with family.

When I look at my family photos, I find I am not in many of them. I wish the reason was I was the one taking them. Sadly, the real reason is I was not there. I was doing something important to serve my country. I understood I was the one who raised my hand and swore an oath to protect our country. I also fully understood my family, because of my service, had their hands raised too.

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John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

That is why I am honored to serve America’s military families as the President and CEO of Operation Homefront. We have 120 employees and over 4,000 volunteers, along with many caring donors and partners, who are dedicated to meeting the needs of military families while they are serving and as they transition back to the civilian communities they have worked so hard to protect. Our relief, resiliency and recurring support programs touch over one hundred thousand family members each year… giving them the support they need to make ends meet and, just as important, letting them know that America is behind them.

This Armed Forces Day, when you thank and honor those who put on the uniform, I would ask you to remember the family members whose sacrifice may be less visible, but just as worthy.

I invite you to join Operation Homefront in our #Mission2Honor military families by sending a message of thanks to those families who serve and help protect the freedoms we enjoy daily. It will mean the world to them: OperationHomefront.org/mission2honor

Every Mother’s Day, I take a moment to look at my life and reflect on how great it is. It’s been over 15 years since I lost my leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq and I can honestly say my life is better now than it has ever been. I am a proud mother, wife, Veteran, elite athlete and motivational speaker. F46181FD-8D91-491A-B0F6-C34D4B1791CF

Being a mom is my favorite. It’s both the best and the hardest job and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s hard not to tear up a little when I think about the love I have for my kids.

My happiest moments and best days are when I’m with my family; playing, walking, dancing or doing anything as long as we are together. I often think about the sacrifice that military families make due to service to our country. Deployments, relocations, training exercise.  All of these mean missed time with family members.

I would not be where I am today, without the support system I had to get me through the transitions I had in life. From a military spouse, to losing my leg, being medically retired from the Army and a new mom. I was so grateful to have organizations out there to help me when I needed them along with my support team of my family and friends. I’ve learned from experience, that us moms need all the help we can get!

I believe that moms are the heart and soul of the family, (dads are pretty important too!)  from the day we know that little one is in our belly! There is a special bond between moms, as if we can give each other a ‘we’ve got this’ head nod as we walk by with our strollers and sometimes screaming kids. We are, after all, all in this together. We have the strength, resilience, to push through whatever comes our way.

My children give me the motivation to dream big and I hope that one day they will have big dreams of their own. I will always be their biggest cheerleader.    45774282-7C31-45CE-8AA0-F79B6AB5D1E2

Coming up on May 19th, I have the opportunity to meet some expecting military moms (and new moms as well) at the Operation Homefront Star Spangled Baby Shower event in Colorado Springs. I cannot wait to meet you all.

So, to all the moms and the soon-to-be moms out there – cherish this day and love on those little, or not so little ones, in your life. I hope you all have a wonderful Mother’s Day! #Mission2Honor  #MilitaryMoms.
Melissa Stockwell
1LT, Ret.
Proud mom of 2

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The Start Strong, Stay Strong campaign offers military moms a network of support – online and in commissaries and exchanges around the world – so they may connect with their communities, explore local events and discover motivational stories. Whether they are welcoming a new child into the home, managing day-to-day household needs through relocations, adjusting to family life with a wounded veteran, or settling into new schools and communities, P&G and Operation Homefront are here to help military moms start strong and stay strong throughout their service to our country.
Through the online community, StartStrongPG.com, military moms can access the information they need wherever they live, all year long. They will discover things to do, find local resources in their community, unlock savings, explore an online marketplace, and much more.

Mission to Honor

Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices our military families make and the challenges they face throughout their service, which is why every day we seek to build strong, stable, and secure military families so that they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

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During Military Appreciation Month, you can join Operation Homefront in recognizing our military families and thanking them for their service. Join us and honor those who have served and are continuing to serve our communities across the country.

Support: Help Operation Homefront support military families

The simple act of giving can change the lives of our military families. Your donation could ensure that power is kept on for wounded warriors who need medical equipment for survival or help feed a military family.  Donate today to help us reach our goal of supporting 15 families.

usa_graphicHonor: Send a message of support

Operation Homefront invites Americans who care about military families to publicly recognize, honor, and thank them for their service and support in our communities. Send in your message of thanks and help us turn our map red, white, and blue.

Serve: Get Involved

With the help of our volunteer reserves, Operation Homefront delivers valued programs and services to military families that offer relief through critical financial assistance and rent-free transitional housing, resiliency through mortgage-free homes and caregiver support programs, and recurring family support through holiday meals, school supplies, baby bundles, holiday toys and other resources for military spouses and children.   Visit our website to find out more about how you can become a volunteer with Operation Homefront!

To learn more about the Operation Homefront “Always Serving” campaign and Mission2Honor, visit www.OperationHomefront.org/Mission2Honor.

Last week, Operation Homefront hosted our 2019 Military Child of the Year® recipients, our Magnificent Seven, and their families in Washington, D.C. for a three-day celebration.  Let’s take a look at their activity packed time in our Nation’s capital.

But before we do, it bears repeating how incredible these kids are! This year’s seven honorees have experienced a cumulative 31 moves and 187 months of parental deployments. But they also gave over 1,800 hours of volunteer time just in the year before they were nominated – among their many other accomplishments including stellar academic achievements, overcoming health challenges, becoming Eagle Scouts, being competitive in swimming and other sports. You can read more about each of them here. 

 

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How innovative can we be? The festivities kicked off Tuesday with Brandon Mammano , our Innovation Award recipient, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton, who sponsored the award. After a tour, Brandon and his family brainstormed with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team on how to use technology to create a student sponsor program for military kids to welcome them when they move to a new community. Brandon told us, “It’s touching to me, how my tiny little idea can be turned into something ginormous.”

 

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Welcome to D.C.! On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. John I. Pray, Jr., Air Force (Ret.), President and CEO of Operation Homefront, welcomed all seven recipients at a welcome lunch before the kids, their families, and OH staff departed for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.  The kids enjoyed a behind the scenes tour where they got within feet of some beautiful male lions and seals (top secret – no pics allowed!) Afterwards, recipients, their families, and OH staff shared a delicious dinner before heading back to the hotel.

 

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Headed to the Pentagon! After a delicious breakfast with the staff and our National Board of Directors, the group headed off for a driving tour of the monuments and a tour of the Pentagon.

 

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The Main Event! After a few hours to relax back at the hotel, it was time for the main event.  John Heald, Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Line, served as the emcee, and America’s Beloved Tenor, Daniel Rodriguez, sang the national anthem during the Presentation of Colors by JROTC cadets from T.C. Williams High School from Alexandria, Virginia.

 

MCOY 2019-43 (1)The Spotlight is on … the kids! John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “Each one possesses something very special — a driving force – a spirit of service and of serving others.  Individually, they shined as they dealt with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.  Along their journey, they have developed an inner compass that inspires them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate, and to care for others in their communities.”

 

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Multi-national supergroup King Calaway wows the audience! Musical guest, King Calaway, entertained our guests with two of their hit singles and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Daniel J. O’Donohue, director for joint force development for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, inspired guests with his keynote address. “Their parents couldn’t have continued to serve unless these children decided that they would fall in, that honor, courage, and commitment was part of their life,” said O’Donohue.

 

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All Branches Represented. VIP officers from each branch presented the awards to our honorees and paid proper tribute to their achievements and tenacity in spite of challenges of the military lifestyle. For the third consecutive year, Carnival Cruise Line surprised the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

 

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One Last Musical Note. Before the evening ended, there was one more surprise in store for the Magnificent Seven.  CMT, country music artist Brantley Gilbert, and Peavey gave each of our seven honorees a fabulous Peavey guitar autographed by Brantley himself!

 

As we close out another year of celebrating military kids, we hope you will make plans to join us on April 2, 2020, for our 12th MCOY Gala.

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Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2019 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Carnival Cruise Lines, Military Times, La Quinta by Wyndham, PNC, MidAtlanticBroadband, and Nike.

Elisabeth Lundgren was selling Girl Scout cookies when she suffered her first injury. She was already experiencing mysterious pain in her leg, but it was when she bent down to grab a box that the pain sharpened. Her knee gave out.

Elisabeth underwent surgery for a bucket handle meniscus tear in her knee. That type of cartilage tear is most often seen in adults older than 30.

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She was 8. The doctor called it a freak accident.

It took five years before Elisabeth finally received a correct diagnosis of Ehlers- Danlos Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissue. Pain became a constant companion, something she often fights, and on most days, conquers.

Even as she battled pain and injuries and undergoing surgeries and physical therapy, Elisabeth maintained a 4.0 GPA through high school, became a champion swimmer and logged more than 200 volunteer hours in 2018.

Her success in the face of adversity helped Elisabeth, now a first-year biological sciences major at the University of California, Santa Cruz, win the 2019 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award.

ElisabethLundgrenhospital“I want to be someone who motivates other people, either through my actions or accomplishments,” Elisabeth wrote in her application essay. “I want other kids either who are diagnosed with Ehler’s Danlos or experience daily pain or are even recovering from an injury to know that they are not broken or weak. Keep fighting, keep smiling, and do the best that you can do in the moment because that is all you can ask of yourself.”

She credits her parents with the support she needed to succeed. Her mother, Connie, works for General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego supporting the construction and repair of Navy ships in the Pacific Fleet.

“I remember very vividly after my first major knee surgery, my mom carried me on her back so that I could play tag with my friends,” she said.

She calls her father, Kevin, her hero. Kevin, CMC EOD Group ONE retiring later this year, has served in the U.S. Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal community for 27 years with 29 years active duty, completing several international deployments—three in war zones—and 23 years on sea duty.

“My Dad taught me how to be a warrior, but he also taught me how to be a role model,” she wrote. “In the water, I became a warrior athlete. While I knew I could never play sports on land given the risk, swimming was an option. I trained hard whenever possible and swam with knee braces and taped up shoulders.”

Elisabeth was using a cane when she started swimming her freshman year of high school. By the end of the season, she earned the Freshman Swimmer of the Year award and moved up to varsity level. She graduated with 16 league titles, represented her school in 14 California Interscholastic Federation finals, became the 2018 team captain, won MVP titles and was named 2018 female Swimmer of the Year.

As captain, her toughest challenge was leading the team after her friend and teammate, Ellen Erickson, died of cancer. After Ellen’s death, Elisabeth helped grow the cancer awareness club from 20 to 250 students and helped raise $13,000 for cancer research. Her dedication and positive attitude earned her the Ellen Erickson Memorial Award from South Bay Aquatics. ElisabethLundgrenSwim

Elisabeth now competes at the NCAA level and as a freshman recently broke a 19-year-old university record in the 200-meter backstroke.

Inspired by her dad’s military service, Elisabeth has helped him raise money for the EOD Wounded Warriors Foundation, and she has participated in local SUPERFROG and SUPER SEAL events to raise money for veterans. She became a USA Swimming athlete representative and private swim instructor to help address drowning prevention and mentor for other military children.

While the last decade has been filled with challenges, Elisabeth focuses on the triumphs — the times she beat the pain, her efforts to help others and the ways she has dedicated herself to making her family and community proud.

“As my Dad explained, you will be in situations you feel fear, you feel pain, you feel hopelessness,” Elisabeth wrote. “But never give up, because you can always do more than you think. That is what it means to be a warrior.”

 

Maryland high school senior Campbell Miller had just started his Eagle Scout project to improve the school’s track for the cross country team when he got the news. His mom, National Guard Col. Allison Miller, had a new assignment. The family would be moving to Ohio.

It was the third time moving in high school. And while Campbell always looked on the bright side of moving, he did not want to drop the Eagle Scout project. He had planned on raising funds to get workout stations and mile markers along the trail. Without them, the teams had to go inside to get a workout and visiting students had a hard time keeping track of distances because nothing was marked. Each station was designed for multiple different exercises.

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“I wanted to give back to the school that had given me so much,” Campbell said. “All of my project planning, along with getting signatures from the board members and school facilities manager, had to be done over email and phone. It taught me a lot about communication and how important it is to be able to communicate in different ways.”

Campbell’s long-distance leadership on the project is just one of the many reasons he was named the 2019 National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award recipient.

Being in a military family has its own challenges but as the oldest son of a single mom, Campbell has often taken on the responsibilities of someone much older. During his mom’s frequent deployments, he has helped with his two younger siblings, he’s also escorted his mother to military functions and handled routine home and lawn maintenance.

Campbell has helped with his siblings during his mom’s frequent deployments, escorted his mom to military functions, and handled routine home and lawn maintenance. In his MCOY® applicant essay, Campbell wrote about two ways he had to grow up fast. In one instance, his sister became extremely ill while his mother was four states and 12 hours away. She needed immediate medical attention and Campbell took care of her. He also helped his younger brother navigate bullying issues after he started at a new school.

Moving and meeting new people has taught Campbell flexibility and resiliency.

“I have found the positives in attending three high schools in two years and consider it an honor to meet and get to know other teenagers from the south, the east and now the mid-west,” he wrote in his application essay. “I look forward to seeing how these opportunities will help me as I transition to college and later in life as an adult.”

 

 

He also has a love of advocacy and service, including through his church both locally and internationally. He has hundreds of service hours and has participated in mission trips to Ireland, Guatemala and Uganda. For those trips he had to raise more than 90 percent of the funds.

He has also been recognized for his outstanding leadership, service and maturity. He was chosen to be a Troop Senior Patrol Leader, student ambassador (at both schools in Maryland and Ohio), captain and starting player on his varsity baseball and cross country teams all while earning membership in the National Honor Society and taking dual college credit courses as a junior and senior.

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Now he can add to that list being named a MCOY® recipient, which rendered him speechless, he said.

“It is such an honor and quite humbling to know that my story matters and that all that we, as a family, have endured, actually means something to someone.  We know we are serving something larger than our family, but to feel appreciated for the sacrifices is a feeling I cannot describe.”

When 13-year-old Jaxson Jordan found out that he had been named the 2019 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® he got a coveted prize—his older brother’s favorite Operation Homefront hoodie given to recipients five years earlier when he also won the award.

“It’s time for me to welcome you into the MCOY family,” Jaxson said his brother Michael-Logan told him.Jaxson Jordan headshot

The seventh-grader was, for once, speechless when his parents gave him the news. They seemed so serious, his mom Rebecca Jordan setting up a video chat with his father Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Jordan, stationed in Okinawa. Jaxson credits his father with being an example of resiliency he strives to emulate. In 2006, Christopher Jordan was injured, and a fellow Marine killed in Iraq.

The challenge was one of many he and his family have faced. Even so, Jaxson’s approach to life is one with a hefty dose of humor, from dry or sarcastic to what some adults might consider a bit dark for a kid his age. But he realized that laughter, positivity and tackling problems head-on was the best way to cope after being diagnosed with nine overlapping autoimmune/inflammatory diseases at age 7.

More specifically, he has been diagnosed with: Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which attacks his organs; Polyarticular Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which attacks more than five joints; Ankylosing Spondylitis; Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III, a genetic disorder that affects joints and connective tissue; IgA Nephropathy Kidney Disease; Asthma; Interstitial Lung Disease; and Autoimmune Retinopathy and Cancer Associated Retinopathy, two very rare eye diseases. He’s also dyslexic.

“I bet you are googling these medical terms right now, aren’t you?” he wrote in an award application essay. “That’s okay. As many times as you have had to google these terms, I have had to retype this essay due to my dyslexia kicking in and my spellcheck having a field day!”

Along with his knack for making people laugh, Jaxson’s communication skills could rival the most seasoned salesman, as evidenced after his North Carolina neighborhood suffered the back-to-back devastation of hurricanes Michael and Florence. “I’ve got this,” he said when the principal of his sister’s school talked to him and his mother about trying to help victims.


Taking $100 he had saved and another $100 match from his mom, he went to a local Walmart. He walked out with $400 in supplies, food and clothing after the manager matched with his own $200.

Jaxson caught on quickly. He walked business to business, pitching his idea for hurricane donations, mentioning to each manager or owner that Walmart had doubled their amount through its own donation. Turning it into a friendly competition, Jaxson brought back $1,200 worth in donations to his sister’s school to kick off the donation drive.

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Jaxson has used that strength, purpose, hope and a love of advocacy to benefit the Arthritis Foundation as a Junior Ambassador. On behalf of the organization, he works on grassroots campaigns, including going to Washington D.C. to meet his senator and congressman, organizes walks and is a mentor to other children, telling them about his own challenges and helping them through theirs.

Aside from Junior Ambassador Awards, he has received many accolades for his volunteerism and leadership roles including Presidential Volunteer Awards, Logan’s Heroes Honu Award and Lead Award for Outstanding Community Service and Leadership, and multiple volunteer appreciation awards.Jaxson Jordan
In the future he wants to help people with disabilities retain or regain their independence.

“Originally, I wanted to become a surgeon. However, I’m sure most people would prefer not to have a visually impaired person poking around in their insides!” Jaxson said. “Challenges are meant to be overcome. There’s always a way to greatness; always a way to get through challenges. You have to stay positive and spread kindness. When you spread kindness to people, they’ll spread it to others, and so on – like a ripple effect.”

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