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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, Region 1 Advisory Board member Danny Chung, and our National Board of Directors.

 

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.

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Operation Homefront is pleased to announce the seven winners of the prestigious 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award, the nation’s premier celebration of the achievements of our military children.

The 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award recipients are as follows:

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Army:

Rebekah Paxton, 17

Harrisonville, Missouri

Home School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Navy:

Isabelle Richards, 13

Jamul, California

High Tech Middle School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year® , U.S. Marine Corps:

Joshua Frawley, 14

Jacksonville, North Carolina

White Oak High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Air Force:

Eve Glenn, 16

Tampa, Florida

T. R. Robinson High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Coast Guard:

Roark Corson, 17

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Ocean Lakes High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, National Guard:

Aaron Hall, 16

Coarsegold, California

Minarets High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation:

Shelby Barber, 17

Ewa Beach, Hawaii

James Campbell High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the awards, which each year has provided the extraordinary young recipients with opportunities to be recognized by senior military leaders, elected officials, celebrities, and other remarkable military children.

The Military Child of the Year® Award reflects the positive impact that these special young people have made on their military families, their schools, and their communities. The award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at a gala on April 19, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards. They also will each receive $10,000, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts. The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation recipient will work directly with a Booz Allen Hamilton team to develop a plan to help scale the recipient’s project — drawing on technology and strategic thinking as a part of the corporation’s competitive Summer Games.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we profile each recipient.

A huge thanks to United Technologies Corporation for being our gala’s presenting sponsor. Additional sponsors include Booz Allen Hamilton, MidAtlanticBroadband, LaQuinta Inns & Suites, and Procter & Gamble. Military Times is the media sponsor.

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Dustin and Bethany at the ceremony.

Surrounded by the flash of cameras and the buzz of journalists requesting an interview, U.S. Army veteran Dustin Perkins received red-carpet treatment as he prepared himself to accept the Veteran’s Education Award at this year’s Vetty Awards.

“It was super exciting, there were a lot of actors and actresses there. John Kelly, Jake Tapper and Nate Boyer…it was overwhelming.”

Coming from a strong military family, Dustin always saw a future of serving. At age 25, he decided to follow his father’s footsteps and enlist in the Army, not far from his hometown of Bensenville, IL. He served four years as a watercraft engineer and rose to the rank of specialist before being honorably discharged in 2010.

After transitioning from military to civilian life, Dustin decided to dedicate himself to helping other service members adjust after the military.

Dustin with Jake Tapper.

“I know it’s been said time and time again, but in the military, you are told where to be, at what time, in uniform. Everything is predetermined,” Dustin said. “Suddenly you don’t have that. It sounds small but suddenly you find yourself thinking, what do I do?”

As Dustin entered civilian life, he wanted to establish roots for him and his family. Dustin heard about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program from his college’s Veterans Club. One of his friends was a recipient and encouraged him to apply.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Dustin was a recipient of a mortgage-free home in 2016.

“I felt really warm and fuzzy and just overwhelmed with excitement when I received that call.” Dustin said. “It’s close to my job and having this home has improved my quality of life, financially and emotionally.”

Dustin with Nate Boyer.

A few years later, he is being recognized for his efforts to help his fellow veterans achieve their educational goals.

Dustin recalls the moment one of his coworkers nominated him for the award.

“He called me into his office and asked me, ‘Tell me what it is you do for that nonprofit?’ As I was telling him I noticed him typing and asked what he was doing,” Dustin said. “He just said, ‘Oh, I’m just nominating you for this award.’”

Dustin had never heard of the Vetty Awards before then, and now stood on the red carpet with people he admired, all there to celebrate him.

“Everybody was very welcoming,” Dustin said. “It was overwhelming and

Dustin with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

nerve-wracking but amazing to be a part of. It felt like we were the stars instead of them. We felt honored and very special to be there.” See a Facebook Live feed of Dustin receiving his award.

Dustin has dedicated 1.5 years as volunteer Director of Marketing for Student Veterans of America, an organization whose mission is to provide programs, mentorship events, motivation and volunteer opportunities for veterans. Before that, he was president of the Veterans Club at his college.

As for what lies ahead, Dustin has received a promotion at his job at ITsavvy. He is currently working to receive his Project Management Certification and hopes to start a family in the near future.

For service members facing transition, Dustin offers some advice.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s a multitude of assets and resources out there for you. Don’t be shy. Use them.”

To learn more about Operation Homefront programs or how you can support the current needs of military families in your community, please visit www.operationhomefront.org/needs/list

-Interview and blog by Cynthia Leyva

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For military families, home is where your heart is. So….we wrote, or kind of rewrote, a very special song just for you and added a few pictures from our Holiday Meals for Military program. Thank you for letting us be a small part of your holidays this year. We wish you a joyous season!

Ahem…here goes…

Oh….

There’s no place like home for the holidays,
For no matter how far away you roam
(and our military families often roam far)

When you long for the sunshine of a friendly gaze,
For the holidays – you can’t beat home, sweet home
(BUT we try to make it easier with our Holiday Meals for Military events)

Operation Homefront, Beam Suntory, and other generous partners worked together to distribute holiday meals to military families in 2017 through our annual Holiday Meals for Military program. This year, holiday meals were distributed at 45 events beginning in November and running through the week before Christmas.

 

We met some families down in Tennessee… 

Special thanks to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store for sending volunteers from the Corporate Office! Santa and Mrs. Claus were also there to spread a little Holiday cheer to the families.

 

and then we were headin’ for…
Old Dominion with some stops at Dix and Drum…

We were honored to make the holidays a little brighter for military families in on a wintery day in Hampton, VA.

 

Quite a bit of snow feel before Holiday Meals for Military at Fort Drum NY this year, but our Northeast Field Office was still ready and waiting for our military families.

 

From Virginia we went travelin’

Down to Dixie’s sunny shore…

Holiday Meals for Military at Fort Stewart GA (photo by Casey Jones, Photography http://www.caseyjonesphotos.com)

 

From Atlantic to Pacific ….

We were honored to serve a delicious meal to military families around Whiteman AFB and Knob Noster, MO. Thank you to Seaboard Foods and Operation BBQ for sponsoring the Holiday Meals for Military Appreciation Dinner in Knob Noster. MO.

Our Volunteer Reserves across the country were a huge part of the success of our Holiday meals for Military events, such as this one in Bremerton WA.

Mele Kalikimaka is he island greeting that we send to you from Holiday Meals for Military in Honolulu HI.

 

Gee, the traffic was terrific
(…to our Holiday Meals for Military events)

We know there’s no place like home for the holidays,
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays – you can’t beat where you call home.

 

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Just about 10,000 families came out this year to one of our 45 events across the United States and Hawaii. Thank you to Beam Suntory, Procter&Gamble, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, SAS Shoemakers, Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation, Safeway, Connelly Foundation, Southern Glazer’s, The Lukens Company, NFCU, Saint Germain Catering for partnering with us to bring holiday cheer to thousands of families across the country.

Join Operation Homefront in our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families through our Giving Strength initiative. This holiday season, we want to give strength to our military and veteran families. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can support, honor and serve our military.

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We caught up with Juanita Collins, Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year® Award for the Coast Guard in 2014. She has been attending University of South Florida, where she is a junior, majoring in biomedical sciences. She plans to graduate in fall 2019, and is still determining her post-graduation plans. She is a second-year resident assistant, president of the National Residence Hall Honorary, and recently joined an acapella singing group. She also has a shadowing position at Bayside Urgent Care Center in Clearwater, Florida. Juanita thanked Operation Homefront for helping make all this possible, and shares what she learned from other award recipients — and shares some advice of her own :

OH: What has been the biggest change in your life since receiving the award

JC: The biggest change in my life since 2014 has definitely been the transition into college life and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s quite different living on your own and learning how to be independent. I absolutely love my school. Through my undergraduate experience so far, I have learned a lot about myself and about life in general.

OH: Tell us about a fond memory you have from traveling to Washington, D.C., for the gala.

JC: My favorite memory from the Washington trip for gala weekend was probably being up on the stage with my family to receive my award. Throughout that trip, I knew it was special because I was able to share that experience and accomplishment with the people who meant the most to me. It wouldn’t have been the same without them.

OH: You have always been an active volunteer with various organizations. Do you still have time to volunteer, or to help military families?

JC: My most recent plan to help military families is to volunteer at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Tampa, Florida, when I have time during the weekends. The VA hospital is very close to my school, so that is the least I can do to pay it forward.

OH: Have other military children ever given you advice you valued?

JC: My favorite piece of advice that I’ve gotten from another military child is to be giving. The other recipients from 2014 all displayed such giving hearts, and that’s something I always admired. For example, Kenzie Hall, the Army recipient, created a nonprofit to grant dream wishes to military kids who had a parent injured or killed in combat. That was something that I loved just seeing how young she was and how full of compassion; she was such an example. What I have learned is to always have a giving heart. No bad has ever come out of helping others.

OH: What advice would you give future MCOY award recipients?

JC: For future recipients, I would give the advice to have fun on your trip. It’s a great honor to be recognized, so continue to be awesome. Never take these opportunities for granted, and use the scholarship to do what you really want to do with your life, not what you think your parents want for you to do in school and what career they want for you, and not what you feel will impress your friends or make people think more highly of you. Use that scholarship and put that money toward what you’re passionate about, what you can imagine yourself doing for the rest of your life. Only you truly know that. But also, never doubt yourself. If you choose a major or career path that seems super hard, and you’re scared that you might not make it; go for it. Don’t be afraid to reach a goal because of the time it’ll take to accomplish; the time will pass anyway. Work hard and be determined, and stay focused! Hold that title with pride.

OH: What would you say to your past or future self?

JC: I wish I could say the above advice to my past self. I really could have used this advice, but I’m glad that I learned it while life went on, even if it was the hard way. To my future self, I would like to say, “Wherever you are, I’m glad you’re there. I’m sure it was a tough path to get to where you are, and I’m proud of you.”

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Nominations are now open for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.

Our prestigious award will recognize 7 outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Six of them will represent a branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their achievements while facing the challenges of military family life. The 7th award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by Booz Allen Hamilton which will honor a young patriot who has designed a bold, creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.

Nominate today at http://bit.ly/2cKII81 Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

Recipients of the Military Child of the Year® awards will receive $10,000 and a trip to DC for our special awards gala. The recipient of the Innovation Award will receive a $10,000 cash award, donated gifts, and a trip to Washington, DC with a parent or guardian and assistance from Booz Allen Hamilton to advance their project. #MCOY2018

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Our veterans have given so much of themselves to an idea greater than themselves, and many of you have honored that gift through your support of our mission.  On the last day of our “11 Days, 11 Stories” series, we would like to show you how your support has impacted thousands of military and veteran families.  This support has truly made a difference, and we are encouraged, daily, by the efforts to give back to those who give so much of themselves.

Having seen his brothers serving in the Marines, Petero Taufagu felt inspired to serve as well. Born in Pago, Pago, American Samoa, he decided to enlist in the Army in 1993. Petero spent sixteen years in the Army, deploying multipe times including three tours to Iraq. In 2007, he was medically retired and began a new chapter in the expereince of many who serve: transition.

After he left the Army, Petero, his wife and five children moved from San Diego, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada. During the move their 2004 BMW broke down and with their limited funds, they fell into financial hardship. Petero’s mother had passed, so their savings were gone, leaving the family without money for their auto repair, security deposit, rent and food.

Having only one vehicle, the Taufagu family was not only experiencing financial stress but major logistic challenges. They had to coordinate dropping all five children as school as well as being two working adults. Petero’s wife had to work around his schedule. It was then when Petero was referred to Operation Homefront by the Warriors Transition Unit.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and generous donors, Petero paid off and repaired his car, as well as getting some breathing room with housing costs and groceries for his family.

“Thank you,” said Taufagu,” We had limited funds due to the move and my mother’s passing, and you guys made it happen.”

blog peteron400pix

Petero Taufagu was the recent recipient of a new Jeep Cherokee, thanks to our partnership with American Airlines.

Transition from service is a challenging time for veterans, and especially so for veterans also coping with injuries and illnesses as a result of their service.  Many times, just one financial crisis can mean the difference between continuing towards a strong, stable and secure future and a setback that can take years to overcome.  Our Critical Financial Assistance program, as well as our transitional housing villages, stands ready to help when these families need it the most.  Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $21 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests*, including:

  • Providing rent-free temporary housing to more than 500 families of wounded service members, saving them over $5-million in rent and utilities though our Transitional Housing program;
  • Matching nearly 600 military families with mortgage-free homes through our Homes on the Homefront program, providing well over $56-million in deeded value;
  • Delivering over a quarter million backpacks to military kids through our Back-to-School Brigade; 
  • Serving nearly 70,000 military families through our Holiday Meals for Military program,  a program that has  impacted over 300,000 individual family members since inception.  In 2017, we will be hosting families at 32 events in 20 states, serving thousands more.

This Veterans Day, we encourage everyone to show their gratitude for the gift of freedom given to us by the centuries of service of our nation’s veterans. Send a message of thanks or stories with #RaiseYourHand. Send us your pictures and videos that show your support for our military, our country and why you answer the call! Together, united, let’s show our American pride and show some love for those who give so much to make our country great!

If you would like to help support families like the Taufagu family, you can support one of our current needs or check out more ways to give here.

If volunteering is high on your list of ways to give back, we welcome you to see the ways to Get Involved with Operation Homefront.

* numbers through Summer 2017

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As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

At Operation Homefront, over 80 percent of our staff have served, had a significant other who served or have been part of a military family. As Veterans Day approaches, we asked our staff to share insights into what made their military service meaningful, and what kind of recognition means the most to them, if any.

Here are their reasons, realities and rewards about serving our country:

What keepsakes from your time in the service have the most meaning for you?

• A gold watch from a commander with a short note that was the most heart touching.
• My flying helmet.
• My plankowner plaque and the tri-corner-folded flag that draped the coffin of my World War II veteran father when he died in 1996. He was a great father and a great American.
• I don’t have too many keepsakes left as my household shipment sank in the ocean on the return from overseas. (Of those that I still have), my most meaningful is the baby blanket my Commander and his wife gave to me when my oldest son was born at my last duty station (Beale AFB, CA).
How did your military service shape or define who you are today?
• It allowed me to strengthen my belief in service to others.
• I learned more about how to write news stories and how to handle media relations from Defense Information School (DINFOS) than I learned at the University where I earned my (degree).
• I worked in a field that was unfamiliar to me and one that was primarily all men, so I was the minority and usually at a disadvantage. But, this allowed me to learn a lot of new skills such as construction, maintenance, etc. and taught me to be confident in myself, my knowledge, and my ability to learn.
• Most folks would say I tailored the Air Force to meet my needs and desires. (I was ) always the rebel on top of the pack and the leader of whatever I was tasked to do.

What is one way you have seen veterans honored that touched you the most? Or has someone honored your service in a way that was especially meaningful?

• The annual placement of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, Va., is special. I’ve actually done that for the American Legion National Headquarters a few times when I was on the K Street staff of the nation’s largest veterans-service organization. I once gave a wreath to the sentry along with my wife, who is a U.S. Army veteran even though she is from Poland.
• Standing for the flag.
• A co-worker in Milwaukee went to Harley Davidson and I received the first flag flown for my retirement over H-D headquarters.
• I attended an evening event at Mt Rushmore. Veterans were asked to come to the front of the audience and say their name and branch of service, and when everyone had been acknowledged the monument was lit up. It was simple, but beautiful.

What is something meaningful that Americans can do today to honor or support those who have served in the military?

• Be interested, ask questions, and listen to their stories.
• I’m sure many adults tell veterans and troops, “Thank you for your service.” And, (sadly), most of those adults also encourage young family members to avoid the military. Be realistic about the risks, but don’t be discouraging with a young family member who has his/her mind made up to serve. They just need to know what they’re getting into.
• For myself, no thanks are needed, I chose to serve my country because I believe our freedoms come with a cost and I gladly served so others could enjoy their freedoms set by the founders of this nation. However, it doesn’t hurt when someone takes a moment to thank you for your service and sacrifice.
• Take time to understand what it means to military members to serve and why they choose to do so.

If you’ve served, thank you. Your willingness to place your life at risk, give up precious moments with family and friends (too many to count), and put others before self does not go unnoticed by all of us at Operation Homefront. Our mission is to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities you have worked so hard to protect. That’s how we say thanks. Those who support us, echo our gratitude, with their gifts.

As we draw close to Veterans Day, we wish for you to feel the full force of the honor you are worthy of as a veteran of the United States Armed Forces. Thank you for your service!

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This blog is the first part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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