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Archive for April, 2018

Christopher Rodriguez was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Marine Corps. Now a Marine himself, we had the chance to touch base with him to talk about his journey since we last saw him. (Read Christopher’s profile from 2015).

In the 2½ years since Christopher Rodriguez received Operation Homefront’s Marine Corps Military Child of the Year award, he has completed half his classes toward a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and become a private first class in the Marine Reserve.

While he has one graduation ahead of him — Christopher expects to finish his University of Nevada, Las Vegas degree in 2020 — he completed a big milestone Oct. 6, graduating from basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and Camp Pendleton, California.

The grueling 13-week, three-phase program was tough, but worth it, Christopher said. “Earning the title of Marine, receiving the eagle, globe and anchor [emblem] at the top of the Reaper was a very rewarding and proud moment for myself,” he said, referring to the last obstacle at Camp Pendleton, California, a mountain that recruits must scale before becoming Marines. “Being a Marine was something I’ve always wanted to do.”

The last phase of the training, known as The Crucible, culminates at the Reaper, and is physically and mentally challenging, “pushing your limits that you wouldn’t have expected you could do in the very beginning of it,” Christopher said. Though he had to miss a semester for boot camp, he learned a lot of valuable lessons there, such as how best to achieve goals while working with other people’s flaws and strengths. “Being able to do that kind of gave me some more confidence,” he said.

Family support was key to finishing each day with a positive mindset, Christopher said. “The main motivation for me, getting through the whole process was definitely my family, said Christopher, adding that letters from his parents, grandparents and other family members comforted him.

Another incentive that drove him to finish: his appetite. “When I graduated, I wanted to eat real food. I missed a lot of the home cooking. The first thing I ate, we went to a Mexican restaurant, and I just ordered the fattest burrito that was on the menu.”

When Christopher graduated from Lejeune High School, North Carolina, he wasn’t sure he wanted to join the Marines right out of high school, so he took time to think about it while attending college. “Now I’m ready for it,” he said. “I was all for it.”

One factor that helped him make up his mind was spending time with family. He, his parents and two younger siblings moved to Las Vegas to be closer to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Chris’ stepfather, retired Gunnery Sgt. Jermaine Smith, is now a Marine JROTC instructor at a local high school. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said Christopher’s mom, Griscelda Smith, who teaches toddlers at a child care center. Christopher’s 17-year-old sister, Jazzlyn, and 15-year-old brother, Kilyn, are in the Navy JROTC program at a different high school.

It was important to Chris to be involved in family members’ lives. Having done that, he felt content with his decision to join the Marine Corps, knowing, “If I do deploy, I got to spend my time with family.”

After two more months of training at Camp Pendleton, Chris will drill as a reservist on weekends and up to two weeks a month at the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada. He plans to go through Officer Candidates School to become a commissioned Marine Corps officer, graduating as a second lieutenant.

“Our goal as a parent, he needs to finish school,” his mom said.

Chris said later in life, he might like to go back to school for environmental science, studying renewable and reusable energy. “I find that very interesting,” he said of the field, in which some of his family members work. “A cleaner environment for everyone to live in, to me is very important,” Chris said.

One of Christopher’s favorite memories from the Washington, D.C., trip for the Military Child of the Year gala was getting to know the other 2015 recipients, a memory later marred by the death of National Guard recipient Zachary Parsons, who was killed in a February 2016 car accident. “It was a tragic moment,” Christopher said. “It hit me hard. We all got close. He was a great guy.”

Seeing the Washington sights and memorials was a “big wow moment,” that gave him appreciation for our country’s history, and that he will always cherish, Christopher said.

Another highlight: Meeting the high-ranking officers who attended the MCOY gala and had a good influence on him, especially now-retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Stay motivated, whatever you’re doing with your life,” Christopher advised future MCOY recipients. “Keep moving forward. Keep providing for your community.” He said he knows philanthropic people, such as MCOY recipients, like feeling proud for giving back and helping others, so he encouraged them to be “that leader, that role model in your family and for your friends, for your school.”

“Stay being yourself,” he advised. “Be humble.”

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times.

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Nicole Goetz was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Air Force in 2011. We were honored to have Maggie with us this year in DC, helping to present this year’s MCOY award to our Air Force recipient. We also had the chance to touch base with her recently to learn where life has taken her since we last met, including working with her good friend, Maggie Rochon, MCOY for U.S. Coast Guard 2011. (Read Maggie’s update here)

In 2011, I had the honor of serving as the first Military Child of the Year for the Air Force. That Operation Homefront gala in Washington, D.C., was such a special time for me because not only did I meet one of my heroes, then first lady Michelle Obama, but I also got surprised by my forever hero, my father. My father was finishing up a year-long deployment in Afghanistan and it was his service overseas that inspired my community service on the homefront.*

A few short months after the gala, I was pursuing an international affairs degree at Emory University in Atlanta. Every class and every discussion brought me back to my father’s service. During my time at school, I realized just how bad the military-civilian disconnect had become. For the most part, students, staff, and faculty had never personally interacted with an active-duty member or their family member. Most of their understanding of the active-duty service members had stemmed from what they read about or saw on TV, and a vast majority of it was never good. That was when I decided to act. With help from now-retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, former Air Force Chief of Staff, and Moody Air Force Base, we were able to assemble a panel of active-duty service members to speak to students.

I remember the day of the panel like it was yesterday. I was scared that students wouldn’t show, because why would they? But with extra pleading from myself and extra credit offered from professors, the room was packed. The panel consisted of five active-duty service members: a colonel; an Army Ranger who was about our age; an explosive ordnance disposal technician who was 24 with four kids and a purple heart; a combat controller; and a young female airman who performed humanitarian missions overseas.

After I introduced each guest, I watched as students connected the material they were taught in their college classes to those on the panel. The only way I could describe what happened next was that it was magic. The air in the room was no longer cold and awkward, but warm and full of empathy.

The next moment would change my life forever. The colonel shared that he was not sure how the panel was going to be received by the students. He reflected on how the Vietnam veterans were spat on and shouted at by college students when they came home. Then he started to tear up and remarked that my generation would be dealing with 20-plus years of veterans due to our involvement in the global war on terror. Right then and there I decided that I’ll be damned if I let my generation treat my father and the rest of our veterans as they did back in the 1960s and 70s. The panel was a huge success and Emory continued to host military panels and reintegration projects ever since.

From that moment, I figured my best bet at helping the military community was to work in the political sector. It was an exciting, fast-paced world. My military upbringing helped me tackle the unpredictable, tumultuous environment. I worked for organizations and campaigns from the local to national levels. It all seemed like a natural fit, until it wasn’t.

I was exhausted from constantly trying to break through the glass ceiling in politics. Sexism was and is a real issue. Many of my colleagues assumed I was there to become a senator’s wife, not to positively change policy. It had become a major hindrance that set me off my original purpose of serving our military and veteran community. Rather than continuing to try to chip away at the obtuse obstacle in front of me, I searched for a new angle. That angle soon revealed itself through the STEM field.

After my departure from politics, I accepted a marketing and outreach position with the Curtis Laws Wilson Library at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. This past February, I spearheaded the university’s largest hackathon to date. A hackathon is a weekend-long event that brings hundreds of students from across the nation together to solve a current problem in society through the use of coding and technology. This year, we decided to focus our efforts on helping our transitioning military members, veterans, and their families. With over $20,000 from corporate sponsors and around 100 hackers, the event was a success as many new ideas and platforms were created to help assist the military and their families with reintegration. Our inaugural event set a strong precedent for next year’s hackathon.

I’ve also been working on another project with a fellow 2011 Military Child of the Year and close friend, Maggie Rochon — creating a platform that will better connect military spouses and dependents across the different military bases and posts around the country and world.

Aside from my transitioning career, I am also transitioning from the role of military brat to military spouse. In May 2017, I married my best friend, 1st Lt. Brian Kloiber. Brian is a West Point graduate, Army diver, and a great dog dad. His kindness, patience, support, and good humor have made the transition to being a spouse a fun and somewhat seamless one despite the curveballs of military life like moving, deployments, and career sacrifices. With every challenge we have faced so far, I was reminded of how great of a team we make and how we are both each other’s equals and strengths. I am excited to see what all the future has in store for us!

Obstacles and all, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I know I am blessed to be part of one of the best and strongest communities in the world. From growing up watching my mom be the strong and selfless super military spouse to now interacting with so many great, ambitious spouses, I am forever in awe of the service and support that spouses, dependents, and great organizations like Operation Homefront give to ensure our military members, veterans, and their families are well taken care of.

Moving forward, if I have to give advice to future winners, I’d say that it’s OK if things don’t work out as you plan. Things can change at the drop of a hat, dreams can shatter, and you will be thrown off course. But all that matters is how you react. If you stay true with what you are really passionate about, life has a funny way of getting you back on track.

By Nicole Goetz

*Editor’s note: Nicole’s father, now retired, was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

 

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Maggie Rochon was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Coast Guard in 2011. We were honored to have Maggie with us this year in DC, helping to present this year’s MCOY award to our Coast Guard recipient.  We also had the chance to touch base with her recently to learn where life has taken her since we last met, including working with her good friend, Nicole Goetz, MCOY for U.S. Air Force 2011. (Read Nicole’s update here)

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, Margaret Rochon, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt, Peggy Rochon and Chief Petty Officer Gene Rochon at the 2011 Military Child of the Year awards.

It’s been over six years since I was honored as Military Child of the Year for the Coast Guard, and I’ve been through a lot of transitions since then.

As one can expect in life, not much stays the same for very long. This was a lesson that was learned and reinforced on several occasions being a military child. Within a few months after Operation Homefront’s MCOY gala in Washington, D.C., I would decide where I was going to spend the next four years of my life, graduate high school, and move across the country to start on the college journey.

Moving to Ohio for school didn’t seem like too big of a deal. Growing up with a parent in the military, you grow accustomed to moving every few years, so what was one more move? What I didn’t know at the time was that my decision to attend The Ohio State University would be both a culture shock and a catalyst for many subsequent, major, transitions.

Growing up, no matter what new address I had to learn, or friends I had to make, or school I had to attend, I always felt a sense of comfort being surrounded by at least a few others who were also military children. There was a security blanket of sorts knowing that someone else had been in my shoes and could understand what I was going through. There was someone who knew what it was like to miss a parent that was deployed overseas, or how to start a friendship with the new kid because they were once the new kid, but college wasn’t like that. I was suddenly dropped into a setting with 50,000 other people and it felt like not a single other person had even a similar life experience to mine.

The first few weeks in college were a whirlwind of learning a new place, living without my parents for the first time ever, introducing myself what felt like a thousand times, and of course getting to know all these new people. I should have been an expert at that, and thanks to every experience I had as a child, I fared pretty well, at least for the most part, but that’s also when I was confronted with the gap between military families and civilian families. It started with the simple question: “Where are you from?” Well, as a military child, how do you answer that? Do I ask how they are defining “from”? Is it lying if I just name only one place? Will it be too long of an answer if I go into depth about all the places I’ve lived? Do I explain that I was born in one state, started school in another, and graduated high school somewhere else? But that doesn’t even touch on the two other states I lived in.

I felt like I was an anomaly among peers that had never moved from the town they were born in; some had never even vacationed out of the state of Ohio. By the time I explained why I had moved so often, I had been bombarded with so many more questions about my childhood. Next thing I knew, I had to explain what my dad did, what it was like for him to deploy so often, what my childhood was like, and so on. Even at the time of my freshman year in college, my dad was deployed to the Middle East.*

While at the time it was a little isolating to be the only military kid in my friend group, I also realized there was an opportunity to help connect a part of our population with the much smaller military community. So many people shared their gratitude for what my dad did for this country and what my family sacrificed so that he could do that. It was actually amazing.

The transition from a military community to a civilian world was possibly one of the hardest transitions I’ve had to go through, but it was an important learning experience and opportunity that I am glad I had. The appreciation I gained for my childhood, and for what my dad did, is something I can never thank God enough for. Knowing that so many people felt touched by the service of our men and women in uniform, knowing my dad was one of them, made me so incredibly proud of this country, but especially my family.

Undergrad flew by in the blink of an eye. Even though the first year was a little tough adjusting, I found my niche, including finding friends that also were transitioning from the military life to college. In particular, I became friends with a Marine, Alex. Alex came from the Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, area, much like myself; we even had quite a few mutual friends. Alex spent four years on active duty before pursing his degree at Ohio State. We are engaged, and we’ve been together for four years, a part of three units, and are currently residing in the central Ohio area.

After graduating from college, I became actively engaged in state and national campaigns, and started pursing my career. I currently work as the Director of Constituent Affairs in Governor Kasich’s Office, and am a graduate student at Ohio University.

Thinking back six years to the gala weekend, it’s hard to believe that so much time has passed. It seems like just yesterday we were in Washington, D.C. for the event. I remember the night of the gala looking at my mom and dad, seeing how proud they were of me, and seeing that they were relieved that my dad’s decision to serve our country didn’t burden my childhood, but enriched and shaped who I was. There wasn’t a moment that I remember more than that feeling and sharing that special time with my family.

Military Child of the Year Alumni at our 2018 gala: (left to right) Alena Deveau (2012 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year), Nicole Goetz (2011 Air Force Military Child of the Year), Alex McGrath (2017 Navy Military Child of the Year), Christian Fagala (2016 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year), Henderson Heussner (2017 Army Military Child of the Year), Maggie Rochon (2011 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year)

Surprisingly, too, I met a lifelong friend that weekend, Nicole Goetz. That weekend was so overwhelming, I remember thinking that it was nice to meet so many other great, and inspiring, military kids, [but] there was no way in one weekend we would bond in such a way that we would ever be more than pen-pals. I was wrong. About halfway through our freshman year in college, Nicole messaged me on Facebook about a project she was working on. Outside of the project, it was an opportunity to connect with another military kid going through the same transition to college as I was. Now Nicole and I are dear friends and try to hang out as often as we are in the same state. We’ve even started working on a project this fall, an online forum to connect and share experiences among military families so whether they are across the street or across the country, they always have a friendly connection.

By Maggie Rochon

Please check back with us as we bring you more “Where Are They Now” stories from our previous Military Child of the Year Award winners and their families.

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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Last week, Operation Homefront hosted an activity-packed three-day celebration to honor our stellar Military Child of the Year Award® recipients.  And what an amazing three days it was!

The 10th annual Military Child of the Year festivities kicked off Tuesday with our BAH Innovation Award recipient, Shelby Barber from Hawaii, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton. Her visit included a tour, a sampling of their state-of-the-art virtual reality experiences, and a brainstorming meeting with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team who will help Shelby bring to life her concept for a portable medical device for children with severe allergies.

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 Capitol Hill to meet and greet their state congressional representatives.

Afterwards, the MCOY recipients came back to the hotel for dinner, where they received laptops from Booz Allen Hamilton and Microsoft, along with cash awards and some very special surprises from Kendra Scott and Cracker Barrel.

Thursday, our awardees had the opportunity to meet and mingle with OH staff, our National Board of Directors, and Region 1 Advisory Board member Danny Chung, from Microsoft, our breakfast sponsor, who presented each recipient with a brand new Surface laptop.

 

Then, it was off to the National Museum of American History. For the fifth year, OH worked with the Archives Center to give the MCOY recipients a behind-the-scene tour. When the MCOY recipients weren’t weaving through a maze of stacked artifacts, they were able to explore the exhibits, including the First Ladies display as well as the Star-Spangled Banner — the original stars and stripes that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 — providing the inspiration for the Star-Spangled Banner lyrics from Francis Scott Key.

Then, it was time for the main event — the gala! ESPN analyst and former MLB player Chris Singleton served as the emcee, and appropriately kicked off the evening with a rousing “play ball!” 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.


 

John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “We recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of these seven recipients, who represent the collective excellence of military children everywhere. They personify resiliency, leadership, and strength of character. Their families and communities, as well as our corporate partners and the staff and volunteers at Operation Homefront, are very proud of them as individuals and all the other young people in the military families they represent.”

 

Two wonderful guests helped OH salute the MCOY recipients: Brennley Brown and Melissa Stockwell.

Brennley, an emerging country artist (you might recognize her from Season 12 of The Voice) spoke about how inspired she was that she was here with kids who were her own age and had already accomplished so much. She treated the crowd to a beautiful musical performance.

Melissa Stockwell, Army veteran, two-time Paralympian, and proud mom, spoke about her journey after losing her leg. In her remarks, Melissa spoke about resilience and her inspiration, telling the MCOY recipients, “your voices are so strong … stand up for what you believe in.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lyons, Director for Logistics, representing General Joseph Dunford and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered remarks that underscored the importance of the military family, particularly the children, in ensuring our nation has a ready force. “The decision of our service members to remain serving in our nation’s military is most often made at the dinner table,” said Gen. Lyons. “The way organizations like Operation Homefront care for our families and support children like these helps us keep our forces engaged and strong.”

 

Lt. Gen. Lyons then was joined by John Pray and Lieutenant General Brian Arnold, USAF, Ret., Chairman of the Operation Homefront Board of Directors, for the award presentations. Each presenter took a few moments to celebrate the military family behind the recipients, then they highlighted the amazing awardee accomplishments.

Several of our previous Military Child of the Year Award recipients were on hand to help present the awards to the new generation.

Military Child of the Year Alumni: (left to right) Alena Deveau (2012 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year), Nicole Goetz (2011 Air Force Military Child of the Year), Alex McGrath (2017 Navy Military Child of the Year), Christian Fagala (2016 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year), Henderson Heussner (2017 Army Military Child of the Year), Maggie Rochon (2011 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year)

But it was not over yet! For the second year, Carnival Cruise Line and Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Richard Morse shocked, literally, the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

“This has been a remarkable evening,” said John as he closed out the evening. “To all our honorees tonight, I know your parents, families, and communities are so proud of you. We are proud of you too. You inspire every one of us.”

 

With the 10th annual Military Child of the Year in the books, we turn our focus to wrapping up the logistics and towards planning for the 11th MCOY Gala to be held on April 11, 2019.

Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2018 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Military Times, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, Veterans United Home Loans, and Under Armour. #MCOY2018

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15-year-old Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award recipient Joshua Frawley likes to challenge himself, especially when doing so means others will benefit.

Joshua has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. People with Asperger’s often have difficulty with social interactions or need strict routines to thrive. All challenges that could have been overwhelming for Joshua due to the frequent deployments and moves that come with life as a military family. But despite these challenges, Joshua regularly pushes himself out of his comfort zone. Never more so than when his father and mother both needed him to be strong.

His father Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Frawley, deployed multiple times while serving in the Marine Corps, and was then medically retired as 100% disabled veteran. Throughout the time, Joshua’s Mom was the source of strength for the family especially Joshua. Two years ago, Joshua’s mom found out she had a sarcoma in her ankle, which led to her leg being amputated three weeks later. The tables turned and the family, once looked over by a strong mom, had to step up and help her in her time of need. Once again, Joshua stepped outside his comfort zone, in a big way.

“My Mom is my biggest supporter. She was there for my Dad when he was injured and gave up her job teaching college to be his caregiver. She also made sure I got the support and help I needed at school to help me learn how to redirect, avoid meltdowns, and handle the issues that kids with Autism face. She never set limits on me and always signed me up for activities that most kids do. It was not always easy, but I can say I am glad she did. She wanted me to have as “normal” of a childhood as possible and to not let my Autism define me. I played baseball, soccer, basketball, and was in scouts,” said Joshua.

“Our family is stronger than ever and I think we appreciate life more. My mom has been so strong and faced her cancer and treatments head on. She doesn’t let being an amputee slow her down. In a way, all of the stuff my family has been through (as a military family) has helped prepare us for my Mom’s cancer battle. Although she is still fighting her sarcoma, she has already shown me that she is way stronger than cancer!” said Joshua.

His younger sister, Amber, who is 12, looks up to Joshua, especially when their parents are out of town for their mother’s cancer treatments and he helps his grandmother keep things running smoothly.

But his sister isn’t the only one who sees him as a role model. An excellent student, Joshua serves as a tutor to students who need help with math, science, and other disciplines. For over four years, Josh has been a SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) ambassador. SAVE student ambassadors provide positive peer influences and facilitate reporting bullying as a form of violence prevention, among other service projects. One unique factor Joshua brings to SAVE is that he can spread autism awareness, explaining to other students how children with autism might act differently in certain social situations. In this way, Joshua opens a window into the world of autism and helps build understanding and support for kids like himself.

This year, Joshua was nominated as an officer of his Students Against Violence Everywhere Program and has been serving as the treasurer. He will represent his program at a statewide conference to further the mission of SAVE in North Carolina Public Schools.

Joshua’s dream is to become an engineer “I am very proud of my Dad. His job was to disarm IEDs. He is so brave. I love electronics and robotics like my Dad and hope to someday find a way to contribute and give back to our country like he did,” said Joshua.

We have no doubt, Joshua, that the future has good things in store for you and your family.

See highlights from Joshua’s long list of achievements:

Meet all seven Military Child of the Year® Award recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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Isabelle Richards knows what it means to be a part of a military family. Not only is she the daughter of Senior Chief Petty Officer James Richards and Lorraine Richards, she has five older brothers, four of whom have served on active duty.

Isabelle has embraced the opportunities and challenges of military life. “Military kids get a great gift when we are born into this life. My Dad and Mom always tell us we are giving you a gift of Grit,” she said. It is this grit and dedication that compelled us to select 13-year-old Isabelle as the 2018 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award recipient.

Having a front seat to the many ways that our young men and women serve, and the high costs that can be borne by them, Isabelle wanted to ensure that they never felt forgotten. She created a local call to action group/nonprofit called Cards and Cupcakes Supporting Our Wounded Warriors. Expanding the program from Southern California to the entire West Coast and Midwest, Isabelle’s organization sends homemade greeting cards and cupcakes to a segment of veterans she calls “healing heroes.” Students in schools across the country participate in her growing enterprise.

The countless hours she pours into Cards and Cupcakes pales in comparison to the contributions of wounded veterans, according to Isabelle, who lives by her own words. “When I am tired or feeling lazy, I remember what they sacrificed, and they never complain,” she said.

Isabelle carries her message of grit and determination to others, founding and running the Dove Self-Esteem project at her school. This year, she was chosen to be a peer mentor, a highly sought position, appointed by a teacher. Peer mentors help other students deal with crisis situations and encourages them to seek assistance. Isabelle did all of this while maintaining a 4.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

 

In addition to her passions, Isabelle spends double-digit hours every week in the dance studio. She aspires to be a professional ballerina but also use her passion for dance to help others learn to express themselves unconventionally.

Isabelle feels blessed to be a part of a military family. “I am the only girl and I have a Daddy and 4 older brothers who serve and protect our country, SO lucky is a huge way I feel. I am also extremely proud of my Daddy and brothers. I am the fan club president for all of them. We learned when we were young the importance of serving others. (Every day) and a lot of special moments are sacrificed by all of them and I am happy to shout it from our mountain that my Daddy and brothers are all proud military members.”

Her advice to other military kids: Embrace this great life we have. Don’t dwell on the negative, find the positive. Be the example to other military kids and help them learn about this crazy roller coaster life, remember how awesome it feels on the top of the ride when you have the wind blowing in your hair and share that feeling every day!

Isabelle is the daughter of Senior Chief Petty Officer James Richards and Lorraine Richards. Her youngest brother, James Nathaniel “Nate” Richards, won the 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award.

See highlights from Isabelle’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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As an Air Force child living in Europe for over a decade, Eve Glenn gained an appreciation for other cultures, people from diverse backgrounds, the importance of serving others around the globe, and … garlic mayonnaise?

All her hard work putting others before herself, and studying science, technology, engineering and math must make her hungry. When asked about traditions she has held onto from places she lived, Eve said the aioli condiment enjoyed in Germany, France, Spain, Turkey and other countries has become a staple in their Tampa, Florida, home near MacDill AFB.

Not that the 2018 Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award recipient spends much time thinking about her gastronomic preferences. A standout high school senior, she’s usually too busy acing tests, volunteering, tutoring and competing in cheer and Irish dance.

If it ever starts to feel overwhelming, or when military relocations seem challenging, Eve relies on family and friends to keep her focused. “I strive to succeed in every scenario despite external and internal obstacles that may hinder success,” she said. She also depends on the “strongest mental armor” she began forging when her father, Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Glenn, deployed to Iraq while she was in second grade, one of many lessons in the “art of resiliency.”

Eve’s favorite place to live was Stuttgart, Germany. There she met other high school students interested in STEM subjects, observed surgeries at a local hospital, and researched bacteria with a teacher. Her experiences have made her proud to represent military children: “Living abroad and befriending teenage Syrian refugees, German students and American peers; the opportunity to have such a diverse friend group stems directly from being a military child. I am most proud to be a military child because of the opportunities it has given me to embrace and continue learning to become a more worldly citizen.”

Eve is modeling herself as a leader on her parents. She respects her father and other service members, asking if it were not for their “commitment and eagerness to travel wherever the United States required assistance, who would protect and preserve freedom over the hostilities of oppression and injustice?”

She credits her mom, Lori Glenn, with helping her develop a positive outlook. “I aspire to be as motivated and determined as she is one day,” Eve said.

Her continued dedication will benefit her future, and likely have a positive impact on many other people too.

“As a leader, being a product of the military community has given me an opportunity to see the world through less selfish eyes, my instant connection to any new location.”

See highlights from Eve’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year® recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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Avid reader Shelby Barber draws inspiration from a favorite author, the always quotable John Green of “The Fault in Our Stars” fame.

“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” This line from Green’s novel, “Abundance of Katherines,” is among the quotes that speaks to Barber, who received the 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation for her idea to help severe allergy sufferers, especially young children, administer medication more easily. The Operation Homefront award is presented by global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which will assign a team to help her develop a plan for scaling her project.

Shelby also likes this Green quote from “Turtles All the Way Down”: “You’re both the fire and the water that extinguishes it. You’re the narrator, the protagonist, and the side-kick. You’re the storyteller and the story told. You are somebody’s something, but you are also your you.”

Shelby says the statement addresses people’s potential. “We are all so much more than we think we are, but so many people depend on everyone else around them, when we all have so much strength inside,” she said.

Perhaps Shelby admires Green not only for his writing, but for his philanthropical efforts, his willingness to discuss his own obsessive-compulsive disorder to help destigmatize mental illness, and the free, educational YouTube channel he co-created with his brother, Hank. The brothers’ Project for Awesome has raised millions of dollars for numerous charities that “decrease the overall level of world suck.”

Like Green, Shelby, a high school senior, aspires to make change and give back. She volunteers for organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics and March of Dimes, and received The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Young Womanhood Recognition for establishing “a pattern of progress in your life,” “serving others, and developing and sharing your gifts and talents.”

Shelby is a proponent of making military families and children more aware of all the resources available to help support them. She remembers realizing her life as a military child was different from civilians’ in middle school, “when peers didn’t want to be my friend because they knew I would be moving.”

Sometimes, outsiders get the wrong idea about what military life is like. It does not necessarily occur to them how difficult and challenging it can be — for both the child and the parent — when a parent is deployed for months, or how lonely it feels to move far from relatives and friends. “People just see the benefits and they assume it’s just easy and it’s not,” Shelby said.

Her father’s service is “an example of selflessness as my dad is willing to sacrifice his own life for others,” she said of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Barber. “He has spent countless months away from us and does it because he wants to serve his country.”

That’s why Shelby advises other military kids to “make goals and follow through on them regardless of where you move to and who you have around you.”

After all, living in another country or on a distant base can be one of the best advantages of military life, Shelby said, helping families become more culturally aware and familiar with world affairs. She has loved living in Hawaii and England, where she discovered a new breakfast treat, crumpets.

Shelby, who wants to be a cardiac surgeon, may have her mother to thank if she realizes that goal someday. Elizabeth Barber taught her daughter the value of diligence, and “if you want something you have to work for it.”

See highlights from Shelby’s long list of achievements:

Meet all seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year® recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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Listening to his father speak at a 9/11 ceremony in 2015 was a time Aaron Hall felt proudest to be a military child. Hearing his dad tell the audience that serving and inspiring others to serve are among the best ways to honor the lost lives made an impact on Aaron, and he has heeded that call to action ever since.

“It allowed me to realize that my father’s experiences were different than others and how important military service is,” Aaron said of that speech in Oakhurst, California. The following year, while he was a high school freshman, the 2018 National Guard Military Child of the Year® recipient planned the first annual baseball Military Appreciation Game and dinner in O’Neals, California, for local service members and veterans that also benefited a veterans service organization.

Now it was his dad’s turn to be proud. Col. David Hall watched the game on FaceTime from Kuwait, where he was deployed at the time. Aaron, the varsity baseball team captain, has kept the annual event going, while serving the community in many other capacities, participating in other sports and maintaining an off-the-charts grade point average, proving, as he says, “whenever you do something you should give it your all.”

If Aaron, a junior now, attends the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, he would follow in the footsteps of his brother, Grant, and father, who has served on active duty for more than 20 years. In the meantime, he welcomes every chance to educate civilians about the ups and downs of military life, especially noting that National Guard kids who live in remote areas away from military installations need adequate support. Aaron considers it a privilege to “bring a story to the table that those around me don’t understand or have” because he knows firsthand what it’s like to miss a parent who’s away on military service, possibly in harm’s way.

“It is important that Americans learn about the life of military families,” he said. “Sometimes well-intended questions have a negative effect because they just don’t know what it is like.”

In that same spirit, when asked about family traditions, Aaron mentions praying for all fallen soldiers and their families, as well as those serving overseas during the holidays. “It is important to realize how lucky we are to be together in peace and who is providing that for us,” he said.

Like his dad, Aaron’s mother, Christina Hall, has had a strong influence on her son’s life. Guidance some teenagers might call hounding (think: finish your homework; do your chores; don’t argue with your sister), Aaron recognizes as helping him become a better person. “She is the type of person who tells you to stop whatever you are doing,” he said. “Then 5 minutes later, tells you to stop whatever you are doing again when you didn’t fix it. And then again.”

“She is never afraid to get involved when it comes to conflicts that raise question of right or wrong because she always ensures that “right” is persevering,” Aaron continued. “When I start to fall back into a bad habit, she is always there to correct and help me … showing love and compassion … Without her, I would not nearly be the person I am today.”

See highlights from Aaron’s long list of achievements:

Meet all seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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Rebekah Paxton was forced to grow up quickly.

Our 2018 Army Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, Rebecca was confronted first-hand with the wounds of war when her father was injured as a combat medic in the 82nd Airborne Division. He served 19 years and, now medically retired, suffers from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He is also a cancer survivor.

Coming to her family’s aid as a de facto third parent, Rebekah has spent much of her childhood caring for herself and for her younger brother and sister. She fed them, prepared them for school every morning, and took them to sports practices and games.

Rebekah has used the trial as fuel to motivate her toward a better future. Currently aspiring to become a neurosurgeon, she competed in three subjects for two years with the University Interscholastic League and earned the Medical Science Award of Excellence. “I have grown up at the Brooke Army Medical Hospital in San Antonio and I fell in love with the medical field. After I finish my residency I would like to apply for Doctors Without Borders and take two years helping other people worldwide,” she said.

As she has made college plans, Rebekah has set her sights on someday raising awareness of the plight of wounded veterans and their families. It’s no surprise that giving back is a big part of Rebekah’s past, present and future. Rebekah arrives at a life of helping others naturally. It’s in her DNA. Members of her family have served in the military from the Civil War to present day.

“Personally, I believe there is not enough support for military kids (and) families. I have (had to learn) how to cope with my father’s military-related injuries alone. Not many people outside my family realize what we have gone through in this process and I believe no one really wants to know what goes on. I believe civilians do not understand completely what it is like to have a service member come home from the terrors of war,” said Rebekah.

In addition to her passions, Rebecca has a heavy academic load, taking advanced placement courses as well as dual enrollment courses at Missouri Southern State University. Yet she still has time to pursue athletics and serve her community wherever possible. She is a varsity athlete in three sports, and has volunteered hundreds of hours working with children and faith groups. She was editor for the school yearbook and a writer for the school newspaper.

Rebekah certainly has risen to the many challenges her family has faced, and her life is an example of the quote that inspires her:

If all struggles and sufferings were eliminated, the spirit would no more reach maturity than would the child. (Elizabeth Elliott)

“I realize that what I have gone through during these trials have made me better. When I was in my toughest moments I did not believe that I would come out if those times okay. But God has been there the whole time and has given me an opportunity to do amazing things in life,” said Rebekah.

See highlights from Rebekah’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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