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Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

We are pleased to share with you today some words from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.) on this year’s Military Child of the Year Awards recipients and why it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why we want to make this moment as special as possible for our 2020 recipients at this challenging time:

Although we, as a nation, are still struggling with the unprecedented challenges brought on by a global pandemic, it is important for all to look for bright spots to show the promise of a brighter future. At Operation Homefront, I don’t need to look any farther than this year’s honorees for our Military Child of the Year (MCOY) Awards.

These prestigious awards are designed to recognize the amazing achievements of seven of our nation’s military teenagers who have excelled at home, in school, and in their communities through their leadership, volunteerism, scholarship, and extracurricular involvement, all while working with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.

Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, I canceled this year’s celebration.

That said, I knew we couldn’t sit idly by and let an opportunity to showcase some exceptional young people pass so I am proud to say that the show will go on with our virtual celebration of these extraordinary representatives of the millions of military kids who serve our great nation alongside their parents.

All at Operation Homefront firmly believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event. Having grown up in a military family, and after serving for over 27 years in the Air Force, I understand the challenges that our military families experience. Faced with the uncertainty of frequent short- or no-notice moves and deployments, it can be difficult for military kids to focus in school, to feel connected to their community, and to develop close friendships. That is why I believe it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why Operation Homefront wants to make this moment as special as possible for our recipients.

President and CEO, John I. Pray, at our MCOY gala in 2019. Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, we canceled this year’s in-person celebration. However, we believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event.

The accomplishments of our 2020 group, like all our previous winners, is in a word – impressive. Our judges selected the seven honorees from a very competitive field of more than 400 nominees. The seven represent each branch of service and our Innovation Award recipient. I like to refer to them as the “Magnificent Seven.”

Our 2020 MCOY winners are:

Kainath Kamil – Innovation Award
Fionnuala “Finn” Mahoney – Army
Niklas Cooper – Marine Corps
Miryam Smith — Navy
Samantha Grab — Air Force
Pierce Corson — Coast Guard
Kristina Lee — National Guard

 

Kainath, Finn, Niklas, Miryam, Samantha, Pierce, and Kristina all exemplify the spirit of selfless service that that not only improves lives in their communities but also offers hope for our future. They have logged over 2,080 volunteer hours in the past 12 months. Five of them are National Honor Society members, all of them take AP or dual college credit classes in school. Four are competitive athletes (swimming, volleyball, cross country, cheer) and five speak at least one language other than English.

They are caregivers to family members and leaders in sports and academia. They are ambassadors for mental health awareness, global issues, and the need for greater understanding of differences. They have used science and innovation to find solutions to world problems. Finn is even working with a team at the National Institutes of Health that is searching for a solution to COVID-19.

As we soak in all their achievements, there is little doubt why we must celebrate this very special and deserving group of military teens who represent that brighter future I noted earlier. Congratulations to all of you and to your families.

I would also like to recognize and extend a heartfelt thanks to our partners and supporters who have made our MCOY program possible:

• Our 2020 presenting sponsor, United Technologies (Pratt & Whitney); our Innovation Award sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton; and our other event sponsors, Procter & Gamble, LaQuinta by Wyndham Hotels, PNC Bank, Veterans United Home Loans, Carnival Cruise Line, and Military Times

• Our MCOY judges, board members, OH staff and volunteers, and our two wonderful leaders the Military Child of the Year Award program, Jenny Valderas and Emily Miller.

The celebration continues as more stories and videos are coming – including congratulatory videos from John Heald of Carnival Cruise Line, and the country music sensation Runaway June, who were scheduled to perform. Also, while you may not meet our great MCOY recipients in person, you will get to hear the Magnificent Seven in their own words. So please stay tuned.

Please remember to share your congratulations and special messages with this year’s recipients at http://www.operationhomefront.org/mcoymessages.

View President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)’s message for the kick-off of virtual Military Child of the Year gala:

 

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As a military spouse of 20 years, Aileen Boone knows the difficulty of connecting and making new friends with each move. Her most recent was to San Antonio, where she and her husband had been for 18 months before she heard about Operation Homefront’s Homefront Celebration program, which celebrates the service of our military spouses.

Aileen was one of more than 80 military spouses who recently attended the special night of dinner, dancing and making new friends. She met Rita Valdez, a 12-year military spouse, and the two planned on staying in touch.

Rita and Aileen struck up a friendship at Homefront Celebration San Antonio, TX. The two plan to stay in touch.

 

“It’s uplifting and it’s nice to meet people going through the same things,” Aileen said. “We’ve got a common bond.”

Rita agreed, adding that she had already texted her husband who was in training in Dallas that she was having a great time.

“Everything is totally awesome,” she said. “It gives us a moment for ourselves and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Along with door prizes and a very popular S’mores bar, guests also enjoyed speaker Brittany Boccher, a military spouse since 2005 and founder of Discovering Your Spark: Find Your Color in a Camouflage World.

Brittany gave a mini version of her workshop that was created to help military spouses find their passion and balance in life. She now does consulting and speaking engagements to help promote the needs of military spouses both inside and outside the military community.

The Feb. 7 event was made possible through the generous support of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). As part of the celebration, SNHU presented Eliana Cornejo with a four-year scholarship. Married for 10 years to Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Kevin Cornejo and mom to two children, the scholarship comes at a great time for Eliana, who plans to pursue a business administration degree that she will use for a new career and to assist at her church.

“I’m so grateful (to donors) they are opening so many doors and providing so many opportunities,” Eliana said. Hear more about Eliana’s journey as a military spouse here.

Since Operation Homefront began Homefront Celebrations in 2009, the program has served more than 8,600 military spouses.

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While the holidays can be filled with joy, friendship and family, they can also be a stressful time for military families who are on a tight budget or are separated from their loved ones.

Thanks to our generous donors, Operation Homefront’s Holiday Meals for Military program helps fill some of those gaps by providing military and veteran families with a dinner complete with all the fixings. Throughout the holiday season, Operation Homefront and their partners will have hosted nearly 60 events nationwide, serving more than 10,400 families.

Some of the events also include toy giveaways and visits from Santa.

At a recent Thanksgiving event in San Antonio, Texas, hosted by San Antonio Shoemakers, more than 400 families picked up meal kits and their turkey. Now in its fifth year, the shoe company’s HMFM event has distributed 9,500 meals across Texas since the partnership began, and this year they packed 1,600.

The Cino triplets and friend had a blast at HMFM 2019!

Military spouse Jackie Cino brought her triplets and made sure to tell her friend Stephanie Robirds, another military spouse, so she too could come along to pick up a meal. This was the third year in a row for Jackie whose husband Miles is a staff sergeant in the Army. He’s served for 11 years and is now stationed at Fort Sam Houston where he and Stephanie’s husband, Chris, a staff sergeant with seven years of service, work as instructors.

“This year we’re doing dinner for guys that don’t have their family here that will be coming to eat with us,” Jackie said.

Stephanie and Jackie thanked donors who help out, “especially this time of year,” Stephanie said, “because money is always tight.”

“This year we’re doing dinner for guys that don’t have their family here that will be coming to eat with us.”

With more than 100 volunteers from SAS Shoes who either packed up the dinner kits during the week or helped with distribution on the weekend, SAS CEO Nancy Richardson said the company’s employees want to help make a difference. San Antonio is known as “military city” and many of the employees have either served themselves or have family members who are veterans or active duty.

“To actually do something that feels meaningful to them in a positive way so that (our military) truly do feel appreciated.”

“Part of what we are trying to do here is not to make it seem like a platitude,” she said. “But, to actually do something that feels meaningful to them in a positive way so that they truly do feel appreciated.”

At the weekend distribution, three active duty airmen helped carry frozen turkeys. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashley Warden is in the volunteer reserves for Operation Homefront and this year brought along Air Force Master Sgt. William Laflair and Master Sgt. Nancy Horsey.

Nancy said she would like the donors to know that “a lot of military members would have a hard time at the holidays and this really makes it easier for them.”

Ashley sees volunteering for OH as a time to pay it forward from when she would get assistance.

“Especially this time of the year, there’s no better time to give back and be thankful for what we have and what we have benefited from in the past and help others who might be struggling or might experiencing a rough patch,” she said.

The San Antonio event gave Operation Homefront staff and volunteers the opportunity to meet some new people as well as catch up with some longtime friends.

Operation Homefront events often feel like reunions for our volunteers and families.

Veteran Army Spc. Charles Henry was one of those familiar faces. In 2012, Charles received a home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program.

“During Thanksgiving time, it’s always something we don’t have to think about because Operation Homefront is there for us,” he said.

He often tells people about Operation Homefront’s programs and the great support his family has received. He hopes donors and volunteers, like those at San Antonio Shoes who hosted the HMFM event, plus OH staff and volunteers know they are making a difference.

“My family thanks you,” Charles said. “We are very appreciative of the work they’ve done in San Antonio and throughout the United States. (Operation Homefront) is a great organization that changes veterans’ lives, as they did mine.”

For more information on Operation Homefront’s programs, including Holiday Meals for Military, visit operationhomefront.org.

See pictures from many of our Holiday Meals for Military events on our Flickr page.

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Since spring, when Brandon Mammano won the 2019 Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation, the college freshman has seen his dinner-table idea develop into a global initiative that could launch in early 2020.

Mammano, a freshman mechanical engineering major at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, has worked with global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton – sponsor of the award – to grow his vision for helping children of military members adapt to new schools and communities when their families are reassigned.

Brandon has worked with global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to grow his vision for helping children of military members adapt to new schools and communities when their families are reassigned.

“It feels like a dream,” said Mammano, the son of Mimi and John Mammano, an Air Force colonel stationed at Hickham AFB in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. “It started as a dinner conversation with my parents, and now it’s something that can help people across the United States and globally.”

The Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation is one of seven awards presented by Operation Homefront to celebrate the achievements of military children. Nominations are open through Dec. 9, and awards will be presented April 2 in Washington, D.C.

The annual awards recognize outstanding young people ages 13 to 18 who are legal dependents of a service member or military retiree. Six Military Child of the Year recipients will represent a branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — demonstrating resiliency, leadership, and achievement during their parents’ military service. The innovation award goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional, or global challenge.

The 19-year-old Mammano based his initiative on the outreach program for active-duty service members. He worked with his father’s unit to include a welcome letter to help ease the stress of students who are starting over.

Mammano understands that stress. By the time he was a senior in high school, his family had moved eight times. His longest stay in one school was three years. That, he said, was lucky.

“Even though I’ve moved around, it’s still hard finding out what there is to do (in a new community) and what clubs (a school) has,” he said. “I wanted to give kids an idea of what they have before they arrive (at their new school).”

Now, less than a year after winning the MCOY Award for Innovation, Mammano has seen his idea blossom from abstract to concrete with input from the Booz Allen Hamilton team.

“Seeing the different routes and paths they’ve thought of is absolutely amazing,” he said. The project has grown to include a website and an application that makes it easier for students to connect with peers in their new communities.

“They can start making plans with friends before they arrive,” Mammano said.

The program is set to launch in the Washington, D.C., area and Europe in early 2020. As Mammano looks forward to the roll-out, he is also relishing the experience.

“I have been very blessed to have won this award because it has given me the opportunity to work with Booz Allen Hamilton and see how they … break down all these processes to get a job done. It’s breath-taking to see that,” he said.

“This program has taught me so much that I can use in whatever endeavor I pursue in life.”

To nominate a child for the MCOY Award for Innovation or another MCOY award, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org and click the Nominations tab.

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Happy Holidays!

The holiday season can be overwhelming with the many events, parties, shopping and gifts that seem to take away from its true meaning of giving. Now that I have kids, it’s important to me and my husband that we start to teach them early what it means to give back, especially when it comes to our military community.

Below, you’ll see several ideas to help you get involved this holiday season but anything that helps is a worthy idea in my opinion. Happy giving!

Holiday Meals for Military 

This yearly program from Operation Homefront distributes ready-to-go holiday meal kits to military families and includes everything needed for a traditional holiday meal. Since 2009, the program has fed more than 90,000 military families and continues to grow each year. Get inspired with photos from past events and help by making a small donation at the Operation Homefront donation page.

Holiday Toy Drive 

I’m sure some of us feel that we can all do with less toys in our lives but for those families who struggle with the expectations of gifts during the holidays, toy drives are the perfect way to pass along the spirit. Operation Homefront’s Holiday Toy Drive is an easy way to do a little good for the next kid. The program collects toys and distributes them at a participating event on base. Learn about how you can get involved at: https://www.operationhomefront.org/holidaytoys.

Consider a Monetary Donation 

We all lead hectic lives, so sometimes it’s just easier to contribute monetarily. Operation Homefront makes it super easy with their Current Needs list, a running list of critical requests for help made by military families across the country. Your donation can help a family pay utility bills, support medical expenses or even pay rent. I love the transparency and that I can see where donations are going. Check the Current Needs page for more information.

Organize a Bake Sale 

Something about the holidays gets me in the baking mood! Instead of doing it alone, think about organizing a bake sale on your base instead. It’s a fun way to connect with other parents in your community, get the kids involved, try different recipes and enjoy delicious treats at the end! A total win-win. You may even want to check in with your local commissary to see how they can help with the cost of ingredients and supplies.

Operation Homefront and Procter and Gamble are proud to partner together to serve America’s Military families.

About Start Strong, Stay Strong: Start Strong, Stay Strong enables military families like yours to connect with your best allies—each other. We’ll help you create the stability, connections and comfort in your military community that you and your family deserve.

About Melissa Stockwell: Nothing is harder and more rewarding than being a military mom. This is something American war veteran and Paralympian Melissa Stockwell knows well. After losing her left leg in combat in 2004 as a 24-year-old first lieutenant, the lifelong athlete and patriot knew should couldn’t stop there. She turned her years of hard training and dedication to para-athletics, and in 2008 earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Swim team. She competed for the first time as a Paralympian in Beijing, China. This commitment and new path started a journey that eventually led her to become a three-time world champion Para-triathlete, earning the Paralympic Bronze Medal in 2016. She then went on to co-found Dare2Tri, a nonprofit organization that introduces people with disabilities to the sport of triathlon. However, has been nothing compared to the joy and reward of Melissa’s biggest accomplishment—becoming a mom. Her two kids Dallas and Millie motivate her to continue to dream big and inspire her to serve as a role model so that one day they too will learn to discover their own dreams.

Whatever type of mom you are, Melissa helps us see that all moms are on a mission, together. Visit Melissa’s Corner and join today!

Inspire!

Melissa has inspired military spouses across the country at Operation Homefront events like Homefront Celebration and Star-Spangled Babies showers

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vickie at baghdad sign

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr

With 84 percent of our staff either veterans or coming from a military family, the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day resonates at Operation Homefront. 

From our top executives, to our staff working throughout the nation, and from our board members to our volunteer brigade (more than 4,500 strong with 56 percent being service members or military spouses), Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices made by our country’s military families.

We asked one of our own to tell us, in her own words, about serving our country.

Operation Homefront Communications Manager Vickie Starr, veteran, US Air Force November 1978 – August 1987; US Army May 1990 – 1993 

I have several immediate thoughts when I think of Veterans Day. The first is the overwhelming support that the American people showed to military troops during the Gulf War in 1990-1991. As part of the 786th Transportation Company, an Army National Guard unit in Lucedale, Mississippi, we were activated in November 1990. As we made the drive from Lucedale to Fort Stewart, Georgia, we encountered many people waving miniature flags as we passed by. Whenever the convoy stopped, people voiced their support of us, America, and the U.S. military.

When we returned from our deployment to Saudi Arabia in May 1991, I was once again overwhelmed by the support—this time from Vietnam veterans and the local Bangor, Maine community.  We were, by far, not the first troops to return from Desert Storm—the first in country were the first out. Yet, when our plan landed in Bangor for refueling, at 3:00 a.m. (as in early, early pre morning), this Mississippi Army National Guard unit was met by a group of local Vietnam veterans. These Vietnam veterans wanted to make sure that all military troops were welcomed back to the United States. They had also convinced members of the local community that getting up at 2:00 a.m. to welcome soldiers back to the United States at 3:00 a.m. was a great idea. At that point, I really knew that being a member of the military was being a part of brotherhood, and I would always have a connection to this select group of individuals.

A few years after Desert Storm, I got together with a fellow soldier and attended the Laser show at Stone Mountain, Georgia. As the night fell, the show began which was military themed. Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” played across the loudspeaker as the American flag wavered against Stone Mountain. Each branch of the military was recognized, and the veterans in the audience were asked to stand. I had never considered myself to be more patriotic than anyone else, but in that moment I had an overwhelming sense of patriotism, an overwhelming sense of pride, and a few tears. When Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All” played a few minutes later, the tears did not stop. The cost of freedom is never free, and we must always remember those who walked before us, and that “All Gave Some and Some Gave All.”

That same support from the American people, that I witnessed firsthand in 1990, is what allows Operation Homefront to accomplish all of the many things we do for today’s veteran and military families. Our supporters give of their money, time, and goods, which we must always be thankful for – they are our cheerleaders. The other driving force is the “brotherhood of the military” (please note that as a female the brotherhood is meant to be inclusive of all). People associated with the military want to help each other as witnessed by my encounter with the Vietnam veterans in Maine. Operation Homefront helps veteran and military families because many of us have a tie to the military, and we want to give back to our brothers and sisters, who will in turn pay it forward and give back to others. And the pride and patriotism keeps all of us going when the days are long and things seem to go wrong. Patriotism reminds us that some of our veterans, our military, and their families made the ultimate sacrifice, while others are living with their sacrifice daily.

Join Operation Homefront in recognizing the 100th celebration of Veterans Day through our Raise Your Hand campaign. Click here to learn more.

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Response to our 2019 Back-to-School® Brigade program was phenomenal. Read about how we are making a difference in the lives of military families, all thanks to our partners, volunteers and supporters like you:

Nearly 30 minutes before the start of Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School® Brigade (BTSB) event in San Antonio, a line of families started at the gym doors inside a local YMCA and snaked all the way out of the building.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers, Operation Homefront employees and partners like Chobani and H-E-B made the necessary last-minute checks. The face painters were ready, the photo booth filled with props and more than 500 backpacks were stacked and ready to go.

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

 

Volunteers from H-E-B helped make the day special for military families. Operation Homefront is proud to partner with H-E-B for BTSB as well as our Holiday Meal for Military program.

 

We were excited to host the team from Chobani at our San Antonio BTSB event. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families via Operation Homefront, and also matching donations—up to an additional $250,000!

Once the doors opened, the families filed through the gymnasium, gathering information on various resources from all the different booths and of course picking out a purple, pink, or clear backpack before leaving with smiling faces.

Good times!

 

 

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

Sailor Natalie Larenas attended the event for the first time, bringing her two sons, one in fourth grade and the other a freshman in high school.

“I had no idea there would be so much stuff here,” she said. “There was a lot of things the kids could learn about, like PTSD and education resources.”

Having been in the Navy for the past 14 years, Natalie said she appreciates that there are donors who give to Operation Homefront to help military families.

“Thank you!” Natalie said. “The families who serve sacrifice a lot and when there is something like this, we feel appreciated. It’s really nice. I really appreciate this, especially with three kids. I get emotional because I have served so many years and sacrificed time, just being away from my family. That’s why this is so nice. It tells me that we are appreciated too.”

From L-R, clockwise: An OH volunteer and service member at the BTSB event in Colorado Springs, CO; OH CEO John Pray (second from left) volunteers at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN; A soldier fills a backpack at the BTSB event at Camp Murray, Tacoma, WA; A boy gets his face painted at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN.

Since BTSB began in 2008, more than 375,000 military children have been provided with backpacks filled with supplies, helping them have the tools they need to succeed for the school year. You can see photos from our events on our Flickr page.

Operation Homefront Program Coordinator Rebekah Reyes said the Alamo City event could not have happened without the volunteers and partners. “I want to thank all of our donors and our volunteers who came out to support”,” Rebekah said. “(At the event), we had about 150 volunteers help us from the set up to clean up. They really helped make the event run smoothly.”

Team work makes the dream work.

Cathy Toyoda was one of those volunteers. She’s been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years, currently in the donations department but has helped at several BTSB events.

“You know, military families, most of them, are on a tight budget, and buying school supplies is very costly,” she said. “It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event by giving all the school supplies and the back packs and it’s really wonderful to give them away to people who need them.”

Cathy Toyoda has been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years. It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event.”

Talia Farrell was at BTSB for the first time. She and her husband Troy, who is in the Air Force, brought their two kids, Jordan and Jayda, in kindergarten and third grade respectively. She said the kids had a great time and the family was surprised at all the goodies. She hopes to return in the future.

This was Talia’s family’s first time at BTSB. This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.”

“This is a great opportunity for military families,” Talia said. “This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.

Back-to-School Brigade 2019 has concluded, but we have many more opportunities for military families in the coming months. Keep an eye on our events page for when registrations open.  If you would like to get involved as a volunteer, this page has everything you need to get started,

Chobani has been an incredible supporter of Operation Homefront’s mission. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families. And for every dollar you donate, Chobani will match your donation—up to an additional $250,000.

Finally, a special thanks to our national sponsors, Dollar Tree and SAIC, for their ongoing support of Back-to-School Brigade and many other Operation Homefront programs.

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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

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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.

Jaxson-Jordan-and-sister-food-drive-operation-homefront

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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A champion swimmer, two Eagle Scouts and a Princeton University research assistant are just a few of the outstanding characteristics of the 2019 Military Child of the Year® Award winners recently announced by Operation Homefront.

The winners also include an aspiring actress, a middle school fundraising phenom and an advocate for new-to-school military students. Recipients are selected for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life.

“These seven award recipients are truly exceptional young people who have absolutely shined in terms of academic achievement and service to others – positive representatives of the larger community of extraordinary military kids,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront.  “Each of our over 350 nominees for our 11th annual Military Child of the Year® Awards personified resiliency, leadership, achievement, and strength of character.  Their families and their communities can be justifiably proud of them – and we are too.”

Each year, an independent panel of volunteer judges choose six MCOY® winners to represent each branch of service in which their parents currently serve or have served. A seventh recipient is named in the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, presented by Booz Hamilton.

The award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at the April 18th gala, 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 innovation award 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.

The 2019 recipients are as follows:

Army: Elisabeth McCallum Polleys, 16, Macomb, Michigan, L’Anse Creuse High School-North

Marine Corps: Jaxson Jordan, 13, Tarawa Terrace, North Carolina, Brewster Middle School

Navy: Elisabeth Lundgren, 18, Chula Vista, California, University of California

Air Force: Benjamin Rawald, 16, Del Rio, Texas, Brackett High School

Coast Guard: Kylie McGuire, 17, Hamilton, New Jersey, Nottingham Hamilton High School North

National Guard: Campbell Miller, 17, Ontario, Ohio, Mansfield Christian School

Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation: Brandon Mammano, 18, Mililani, Hawaii, Hanalani Schools

Check back here in the coming weeks, and on our social media, as we highlight each winner in the days leading up to the gala. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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