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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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Veteran Receives Mortgage-Free Home in Washington, North Carolina:

today awarded a mortgage-free home to U.S. Marine Sergeant Ronald Seaver and wife, U.S. Marine Corporal Laura Seaver, through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. The home was donated by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“We are extremely excited to become home owners,” said Ronald. “This new house means stability because before we were constantly moving.”

“My kids will be able to make friends and have a room – I love the fact that we will be stable and close to Laura’s family,” added Ronald. “This is life-changing, thank you Operation Homefront and Chase and God bless you all – you all are in my prayers.”

After receiving great scores as a firefighter, Ronald rose to the rank of sergeant. He served as an aircraft rescue and firefighter specialist. Some of his responsibilities were to perform applicable firefighting functions and assist in all phases of rescue incidents. During his 10-year term, he was deployed to Iraq in 2008. In 2012, he medically retired with an honorable discharge.

Ronald met his wife Laura through a mutual friend. Laura was also a Marine and was inspired to serve because she herself comes from a military family. Her sister, brother, and father were service members. She was stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, and he was stationed five miles north in Beaufort. Ronald and Laura have been married for 10 years and have three children, two sons and a daughter.

Laura’s family lives in the Greenville area and will be closer to them, school, and the Veterans Affairs Hospital for Ronald. His plans are to spend quality time with his children and go back to school and earn a bachelor’s degree in public administration or human resources. Laura is going to school and plans to finish her second associates degree in human resources and bachelor’s degree in business administration by next year.

In 2012, Operation Homefront created the Homes on the Homefront program with the assistance of corporate partners to award mortgage-free homes to our nation’s veterans and military families. They have awarded over 600 homes to military families nationwide through the program.

Operation Homefront has provided since inception over $64 million dollars in home equity to military families. The homes are donated by bank partners, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other major financial services companies and home builders.

Anyone looking for more information or to apply can go to www.homesonthehomefront.org.

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About Operation Homefront:

Founded in 2002, Operation Homefront is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so that they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. Recognized for superior performance by leading independent charity oversight groups, 92 percent of Operation Homefront expenditures go directly to programs that support tens of thousands of military families each year. Operation Homefront provides critical financial assistance, transitional and permanent housing and family support services to prevent short-term needs from turning into chronic, long-term struggles. Thanks to the generosity of our donors and the support from thousands of volunteers, Operation Homefront proudly serves America’s military families.

For more information, visit OperationHomefront.org.

JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to service members and veterans:

JPMorgan Chase, a leading global financial services firm with assets of $2.5 trillion and operations worldwide, has supported our veterans since before World War I. The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs (MVA), started in 2011, has hired more than 12,000 veterans and facilitated more than 400,000 veteran hires through the Veteran Jobs Mission coalition; awarded more than 950 mortgage-free homes to military families in need; 17 in South Carolina; helped 9,520 veterans and spouses – at no cost – complete 15,554 courses through the Veterans Career Transition Program, which was co-founded and is supported by JPMorgan Chase and Syracuse University; and invested $4.2 million to support veteran-owned small businesses through access to capital and education.

Learn more at: www.jpmorganchase.com/veterans

 

 

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Congratulations to the top 5 finalists for 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award!

Six Military Child of the Year® Award recipients will represent each branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life. The seventh award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. This award goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.

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.

The following are the 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award finalists by service branch. Finalists for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation are also designated:

Air Force
Eve Glenn, 16, Tampa, FL (Glenn is also one of 4 finalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)
Hannah Cheater, 17, Las Vegas, NV
Benjamin Rawald, 15, Del Rio, TX
Braden Westby, 18, Vilonia, AR
Madison Williams, 18, Monument, CO

Army
Rachel Ball, 17, Springfield, VA
Elizabeth Clinger, 17, Colorado Springs, CO
Hunter Hotaling, 16, Lansing, KS
Bryce Kim, 17, El Paso, TX
Rebekah Paxton, 17, Harrisonville, MO

Coast Guard
Allison Brozusky, 17, Middletown, RI
Roark Corson, 17, Virginia Beach, VA
Mattie Gross, 16, Kodiak, AK
Gabriel Niles, 15, Bennington, VT
Cody Watson, 18, Tuttle, OK

Marine Corps
William Butler, 16, Virginia Beach, VA
Katelyn Francis, 17, Havelock, NC
Joshua Frawley, 14, Jacksonville, NC
Taylor Pokorney, 17, Albany, OR
Elena Polinski, 17, Moundsville, WV (Polinski is also one of 4 finalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

National Guard
Madisyn Clark, 17, Peoria, AZ
Aaron Hall, 16, Coarsegold, CA
Aiden Hunter, 16, Onalaska, WA
Koralys Rodriguez, 17, Statesville, NC
Jessica Walker, 17, Blanding, UT

Navy
Sidney Brown, 17, Wiggins, MS
James Cosman, 13, Quantico, VA
Elisabeth Lundgren, 17, Chula Vista, CA
Isabelle Richards, 13, Jamul, CA
Madison Walker, 17, Virginia Beach, VA

Innovation Finalists
Eve Glenn, 16, Air Force, Tampa, FL
Shelby Barber, 17, Air Force, Ewa Beach, HI
Elena Polinski, 17, Marine Corps, Moundsville, WV
Gavin Sylvia, 18, Army, Fort Campbell, KY

The finalists were selected by an independent panel of judges. The final award recipients for each branch of service will be announced in early March. 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 final seven award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at the April 19 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.

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of this special event — the nation’s premier celebration of the achievements of our military children. Thank you to the amazing sponsors of our Military Child of the Year awards program: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, LaQuinta Inn & Suites, MidAtlantic Broadband, Procter & Gamble, Sightline Media Group, and Tutor.com Online Tutoring for Military Families.

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Before we jump into 2018, we’d like to look back at some of the best moments from this past year. It goes without saying that we are able to advance our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families because of those who give – our individual and corporate donors. Thank you! These moments would not happen without you.

1. These women came to our caregiver retreat…in a hurricane! As Hurricane Harvey was skirting San Antonio, we were hosting a group of caregivers along the Riverwalk for a very special retreat, as part of our Hearts of Valor program. They would not be kept away by a hurricane and there’s a good reason. These retreats are designed to uplift those who are closest to wounded veterans. The retreats give caregivers a much-needed break and education about invisible wounds, compassion fatique, healthy living and staying connected. Special thanks to our sponsor, USAA, for making these retreats possible.

 

2. Our annual gala to celebrate military kids has become a must-attend event! Celebrating the youngest heroes of our military families is one of our favorite things to do. This year’s Military Child of the Year® Award, once again, recognized several outstanding young men and women who represent their families, their branches of service and their country very well. Read more about them and you’ll be inspired. Looking forward to meeting next year’s award recipients in April 2018 in Washington D.C. Who will they be? We’ll find out in early March! #GivingStrength

 

3. There’s no place like home! We get to be a part of making dreams come true through our Homes on the Homefront program that awards mortgage-free homes to veterans. To date, we’ve awarded 599 homes since the program began. All of this is possible because of our great partners like Chase, Meritage Homes, Wade Jurney Homes and Sears (who donated and raised money to provide two homes to veteran families in 2017). Stay tuned as we plan a big celebration for our 600th home in 2018.

 

 

4. Special nights for military spouses? Yes, we did! The call to military life is not easy on a service member’s spouse. Being apart from your service member AND trying to hold down the homefront is managed more easily when you have friends nearby. Our Homefront Celebrations give military spouses a night away to relax, make new friends and be pampered just a little. And thanks to our friends at Southern New Hampshire University, these events have bolstered the careers for some very special women who received a full-tuition scholarship at each celebration, like Megan Morris (pictured here at our event in Tampa, FL). Stay tuned as we announce another year of Homefront Celebrations around the country in 2018.

 

5. Awwwwwww! At our Star-Spangled Baby Showers each year, we get all mushy at the sights and sounds of our expecting moms and the young moms who bring along their sweet newborns. In 2017, we hosted 9 events from coast to coast, a few places in between and even Hawaii, providing critical baby supplies and large raffle items to hundreds of military moms. We were also excited to be joined by Procter and Gamble and Paralympic veteran Melissa Stockwell at our baby shower in Chesapeake, VA.

 

6. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without you! It’s been an honor serving military families around the country. Thanks to our generous donors, we served more than 11,000 families with everything they needed for a spectacular holiday meal. Since we began our holiday programs in 2008, we have served nearly 80,000 military families, impacting over 330,000 family members. See our feature blog to celebrate another year of bringing joy to our military families this holiday season!

 

7. When it was time to hit the books, we made it a little easier. Going back to school is expensive. Military kids have enough to deal with and not having the right supplies should not be one of their struggles. We were happy to meet so many smiling faces, like this child in Dayton, OH, and remove the financial burden from their families. This year, we hit a major milestone, as we distributed our 300,000th backpack since the program began which included more than 41,000 backpacks given to military children around the U.S. this summer alone.

 

8. Home Depot Really Is #DoingMore4Vets! From golf tournaments to renovating veterans’ homes to providing support for our Critical Financial Assistance program, The Home Depot Foundation, and its band of Team Depot volunteers, are a long-time partner who support means so much as they join us in giving strength to military families! We were honored to present a Cornerstone Award to Heather Prill, Senior Manager, National Partnerships at The Home Depot Foundation for her contributions to the national nonprofit’s mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families this past September.

 

9. Transition from service can be a challenging time for veterans. Especially if they are coping with injuries and illnesses from their service. Our rent-free transitional housing villages stand ready to help when these families need it the most. Since inception, our villages have welcomed more than 500 families who lived in a rent-free, fully furnished apartment to help them make a smooth transition to civilian life. Our Critical Financial Assistance program helps military and veteran families overcome unexpected crises like a major appliance or car repair or help with rent or mortgage. We’ve been able to help veterans like Petero Taufagu who needed help getting his car repaired. Later, through our partnership with American Airlines, he also received a brand-new Jeep Cherokee. So now he has a reliable way to get to his necessary doctor appointments. Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $22 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests.

 

10. Fact IS Stranger Than Fiction! We can’t make this stuff up!

a. Cracker Barrel created the Flip It Forward Pancake Fundraiser and raised $64,000 for Operation Homefront! It included a media tour with a pancake artist who even created our logo in pancake batter. We thought about framing it…then thought again.

b. Who doesn’t secretly harbor the desire to shatter glass? Our friends at CDW found a way to convince PGA TOUR players Ben Crane, Smylie Kaufman, Ryan Palmer and CDW-sponsored Gary Woodland to compete in a “glass breaking” event between the golf pros. And more was at stake than just bragging rights – winner Gary Woodland presented an additional donation of 10 Lenovo Chromebooks – five to Operation Homefront and five to the charity of Woodland’s choice. The entire event raised support for military families through Operation Homefront.

c. A personalized burger? Carnival Cruise Lines is known for fun but they outdid themselves when they devised a way to laser-burn personal well-wishes from military supporters onto burgers they served to Marines at a special event at MCAS Miramar in California. They even got former Miss USA DeShauna Barber there to serve the burgers and provided a $25,000 donation to Operation Homefront. You have to see the pictures to believe it.

d. We’ll brave a blizzard for you! We were still in the doldrums of summer heat when Chevy first invited us to be a part of their #ChevySalutes event to honor the military at the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia. Let’s just say winter hit with a vengeance that day and provided a very memorable experience to award a brand-new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse to one of the nicest caregivers and her seven-tour combat veteran husband. Don’t worry, we dressed warmly, mom!

 

11. We still get starstruck! We’ve been excited to work with some pretty inspiring people this year.

a. The Pale Ale Wins the Summer of Yes! Carson Daly who worked with Other Half Brewing to create a craft beer with proceeds to support Operation Homefront as part of his #SummerOfYes on the Today Show.

b. Wonder-Super-Mega-Amazing Melissa Stockwell: Through our partnership with P&G, we got to work with the very inspiring Melissa Stockwell, who is a bronze-medal winning, 2-time Paralympian, triathlete and Purple Heart wounded Army veteran. She attended one of our Star-Spangled Baby Showers in Virginia and has since welcomed her own baby Millie to her sweet family.

c. Tim McGraw Walks the Walk. And where do we start with Tim McGraw? We’ve been working with this country superstar since 2012. From his personal support to joining us to award mortgage-free homes along with Chase, he has been a steadfast champion for military and veteran families. #GivingStrength #startstrongstaystrong

 

12. We have the best volunteers! Our volunteers show up and pitch in whenever they are needed. We host hundreds of events all year long from Alaska to the tip of Florida, from San Diego to Massachusetts. This year, we created a special Volunteer Reserves which recruits our volunteers that want to get involved, but don’t want to volunteer on a daily basis or even a weekly basis, but they’re very interested in staying in the loop and ready to be called on when we need help serving our military families.

There are so many moments to remember in 2017. And each was an honor because we got to be a part of serving our military and veteran families. That makes any year a great year!

If you’d like to be a part of giving strength this holiday season and making our 2018 even better, consider giving to a current need of a military family to give them the best start possible to the New Year!

 

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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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A Marine greets his family at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., Nov. 21, after returning from a seven-month deployment. The Marine is assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, which supported combat operations in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Terry Haynes III

Dare we say it? Thanksgiving is one of the remaining holidays with a clear central purpose. Consider the things you are thankful for … and eat! For years and years, and to this day, our nation has yet to veer from the main goal of Thanksgiving. We gather, we consider our blessings and we partake of a glorious meal. (And Operation Homefront is honored to provide Holiday Meals for Military, like our recent events in Texas).

Retailers may try to invade, starting Black Friday sales earlier every year…but Americans hold fast to this turkey-licious tradition.

And when we consider all that we have to be thankful for, our military is always at the top of our short list! We’re fairly certain that whether your family serves in the military or not, you are likely to take a moment today to be grateful for the men and women who miss many a holiday, including Thanksgiving, to ensure their fellow Americans can rest easy at night. We do.

So, share this with your family today.

Here are 3 reasons to be thankful for our military. These may not be the first time you’ve considered them, but Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to truly appreciate those who serve in our Armed Forces.

Two children excitedly welcome home their father and the crew of the attack submarine USS Norfolk from a six-month deployment during a homecoming ceremony on Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kim Williams

1. What they’ve missed. There is a reason we all love military homecoming videos. Unless you’ve experienced, you can’t completely understand the feeling of leaving those you love behind. Or the joy of returning home to them. Thanksgiving isn’t the only holiday many of our service members have spent on foreign soil in unfamiliar surroundings. Those are moments with sons, daughters, spouses and family that can never be recovered. For every peaceful day Americans get to experience with loved ones nearby, we have our military to thank.

2. Courage in the face of the unknown. Those who serve have a mission. They work as a unit. But the whole point of having a strong military is outmaneuvering those who threaten the freedoms we enjoy. While they are trained for difficult situations, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause a certain amount of trepidation – for the service members and their families who may not sleep from the weight of worry. But our service members persevere through those hard days. And for those who carry the wounds of war, they are on a journey with an unknown conclusion. They have certainly earned our support.

Pfc. Jordan Wagner, an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, greets loved ones during a homecoming ceremony at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

3. They choose to serve. Only about 1 in 4 of those between the ages of 17-23 years qualify for military service. And because we have a volunteer force, of those who qualify, not everyone wants to serve in our military. Thank YOU to the brave men and women who chose a hard but noble way to spend your youth. You did it for your future but mostly, you did it for all of us!

For all you do, thank you!

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.

A few easy ways:

1. Send a message of appreciation to our military.

2. Use our new Facebook frame to show that you join us in giving strength to our military.

3. Sign up to be a volunteer.

4. Give a gift in support of our military through one of our current needs.

May you and all our service members, veterans and their families, have a very Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for all you do to keep our country strong.

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