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It is our honor to announce the recipients of the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award.

“These seven award recipients are among the best of their generation in terms of scholarship and service to their communities.  What is even more remarkable is that they make a profound difference in the lives of others and perform spectacularly in the classroom all while demonstrating resiliency in the face of the challenges inherent in military life,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront. “We had nearly 400 nominees for the ninth annual Military Child of the Year® Awards who personified resiliency, leadership, achievement, and strength of character. Their families, their communities, and our staff, volunteers, and corporate partners at Operation Homefront are justifiably very proud of them.”

Without further ado, here are they are!

 

Henderson Heussner, Army Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-army-henderson-heussner-225-x-281-pixelsHenderson’s family moved to Florida from Colorado as his father was deployed to Afghanistan and as the family was caring for Henderson’s terminally ill grandfather. Henderson, recipient of the 2017 Army Military Child of the Year® Award, shouldered the emotional burden and set a leadership-by-example standard for his peers. A student-athlete and member of the Estero High School varsity baseball team – who worked tirelessly to rebuild his strength after he suffered two broken vertebrae during his sophomore year – Henderson spent many hours alone in the batting cage in August 2016 in the sweltering Florida heat. He was not alone for long because he led one teammate after another to join him in putting forth the same spare-time voluntary pursuit of excellence. That is but one example of Henderson’s leadership and can-do spirit. Henderson also devoted 240 volunteer hours in the year leading up to his nomination as a tutor and mentor for at-risk children and teens at the nonprofit New Horizons of Southwest Florida. Henderson, a onetime American Legion Boys State delegate and West Point Summer Leadership Experience participant, also served multiple terms as class president and as Student Government president. He has spent hundreds of hours as a youth group leader, Sports Camp counselor and Sunday School teacher at Summit Church.

 

Alexander McGrath, Navy Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-navy-alexander-mcgrath-225-x-281-pixelsAlexander McGrath, the 2017 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, in addition to spending time with his friends, spends some of his spare time reading U.S. Supreme Court opinions as well as books about the U.S. Constitution. It is a fitting activity for this 17-year-old Severna Park Senior High School senior, who has established a laudable track record of influencing public policy in the state of Maryland. As first vice president of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, which represents more than 80,000 county students at all levels of government, Alexander organized 700 students to lobby in favor of three education reform bills that would come before the Maryland General Assembly, which is the name of Maryland’s state legislature. He instructed his peers on the legislative process and on the effective use of talking points. He also arranged meetings between the hundreds of public school students and state lawmakers. Ultimately, all three bills got to committee and two became law. Alexander has long advocated on behalf of students from military families as well, personally bringing the needs of military children, notably those needs protected under the Interstate Military Compact, to the forefront of the Maryland State Board of Education’s attention.

 

Jackson Beatty, Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-marine-corps-jackson-beatty-225-x-281-pixelsJackson Beatty is an 18-year-old senior at Lejeune High School and recipient of the 2017 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award. He began studying Kenpo karate at the age of 4 and achieved his black belt at 16. He has served as captain of the high school wrestling team. He competed at the 2017 North Carolina State Wrestling Championships and placed third in the 1A 106-pound weight class. He has qualified for the State Championship for the last three years and that was his best finish. He has been captain of the Marching Band drumline. He has a near-perfect GPA and has an outstanding track record of volunteerism, thusly giving back to the community, especially to children. Jackson has achieved these milestones through his skeletal dysplasia, a condition which hampers the growth and development of bones and joints. Working in conjunction with the Semper Fi Fund, which serves the children of wounded warriors, Jackson has been a mentor to other students participating in the Outdoor Odyssey Leadership Academy. Jackson is a Lejeune High School Band Booster, raising money for competition and band necessities. Jackson teaches karate to children in his spare time at Wright’s Mixed Martial Arts.

 

Jamal Braxton, Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-air-force-jamal-braxton-225-x-281-pixelsVarsity swimming. Varsity cross country. Varsity outdoor track and field.  Jamal Braxton, the 2017 Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award recipient and future United States Air Force Academy Class of 2021 cadet, has been an achiever in them all.  This 18-year-old senior at Northridge High School in Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is distinguished, above all, by his selfless service to others. Jamal fills numerous leadership positions at the Red Cross, including Northern Utah Youth Co-Chair for Services to Armed Forces, Northern Utah Youth Co-Chair for International Services, Student Staff for Red Cross Leadership Development Camp, Member for the American Red Cross of Northern Utah Board of Directors, and the Northern Utah Youth Co-President. In these capacities, Jamal oversees monthly veteran house visits, youth group and leadership group meetings, numerous activities related to the armed forces, the recruitment of future Red Cross Youth Services leaders, and numerous fundraisers, including the International Measles & Rubella initiative fundraiser. He also educates youth on International Humanitarian Law. Serving military families abroad as well as domestically, Jamal earned the Commander’s Leadership Award from the 52nd Fighter Wing Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in 2013 and in 2014. Jamal in the U.S. and overseas has been a champion for the nonprofit New Eyes for the Needy.

 

Molly Frey, National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-national-guard-molly-frey-225-x-281-pixelsAlthough only 16, Molly Frey is a senior at Pickerington High School North in Pickerington, Ohio, and recipient of the 2017 National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award. She has been accepted to Capital University, where she will major in biology, with an emphasis on pre-med, and will play golf for the Capital Crusaders. For her academic excellence, Molly received a letter from President Barack Obama that read, in part, “Students like you will chart the course of our country’s unwritten history…” As a figure skater, dedicated to causes that benefit the troops, Molly and her coach in 2012 created the inaugural and annual figure skating show Tribute to the Troops, a program to honor the military and to collect donated items to send to deployed service members. She also raised funds and participated for five years in Skate for Hope, accumulating more than $6,000 for Breast Cancer research. Beyond the arts, Molly has served in the leadership group Students Serving Students, which is designed to improve character, bolster school climate, and organize events.

 

Mary Kate Cooper, Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-coast-guard-mary-kate-cooper-225-x-281-pixelsMary Kate Cooper, the 2017 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, is a 17-year-old junior at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va. A triple threat, Mary Kate is a scholar who is taking AP Calculus B/C as a junior and has a weighted 4.7 GPA. She is a star multi-sport athlete of national and international acclaim and a community activist who has devoted countless volunteer hours to the betterment of her peers and to strengthening a broader understanding of those with disabilities. That description does not even scratch the surface of Mary Kate’s life, which is practically the definition of resiliency. Mary Kate is a below-the-knee amputee from birth who has only known life with a prosthetic leg. She has transitioned from playing recreational soccer against able-bodied kids to competing at the highest level in Paralympic sports. In addition to earning All-American High School status in Track and Field from the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Olympic Committee, Mary has become a top swimmer, competing on the international level in the Can-Am Swimming Open. Mary Kate was one of the few athletes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Trials in more than one sport. While Mary Kate did not earn a spot on Team USA last year, in her best swimming event, she ranked 36th in the world.

 

Sophie Bernstein, Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton

for-website-innovation-sophie-bernstein-225-x-281-pixelsRecipient of the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, Sophie Bernstein, a 17-year-old junior at Clayton High School in St. Louis, is passionate about food and about social justice. Sophie’s twin passions propelled her award-winning Innovation. Committed to improving the health of her community, Sophie has built, planted, maintained and harvested 22 raised vegetable gardens at low-income daycare centers and shelters in the St. Louis area. Sophie’s innovation has raised awareness of childhood hunger in the community, and it has increased the volume of fresh and healthy produce available at food banks and at child care facilities. Sophie had donated more than 13,570 pounds of produce to local food banks and to families in need by the time she was nominated for the award in the fall of 2016. Sophie’s project has been a hands-on learning lab for children as she has led 225 science technology engineering and math (STEM) botany and plant science workshops for young children throughout the year. In the process, students at low-income pre-schools are engaged in building, planting and maintaining produce gardens.

 

What’s next?

Each award recipient will receive $10,000 and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition gala on April 6, during which senior military leaders will present the awards. In addition to the $10,000 cash award, the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation award recipient will receive a mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance the recipient’s project.

We would like to express our thanks to our presenting sponsor for the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Awards Gala, United Technologies Corporation, along with sponsors Booz Allen Hamilton, Murphy-Goode Winery, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, and the Military Times.

Check back with us as we shine a spotlight on our recipients over the next few weeks and stay tuned for details on how you can join us LIVE from the April 6th gala on our Facebook page.

Find out more about our Military Child of the Year®  Award program at www.militarychildoftheyear.org

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By Ashley Sistrunk, Guest Blogger.

The viral military Christmas card. Did you happen to see it floating around internet land the past couple of months? Totally cliché, right?

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sistrunkblog2Let me back up and introduce myself. Hey, I’m Ashley! I’m an almost 30 year old (how did THAT happen) wife and mother to four perfectly imperfect children….oh and I’m a military spouse whose husband is only halfway through the journey to retirement.

We’ve had quite an interesting military experience that I’m sure MANY of you can relate to.

When we were 18 & 19, we had this crazy idea to get married and start a family together…but didn’t factor in the expenses. My husband, Brandon, worked at a BBQ restaurant and I worked as a hairstylist in a salon. Not too bad, right? WRONG!

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We were married 4 beautiful weeks before we discovered we were expecting our first child! How did we find out? The fumes from the hair salon started to make me sick, so I did what any logical 19 year old would do….I bought 10 pregnancy tests and sure enough, they all read POSITIVE.

We told our families and within that process, realized we wouldn’t be able to afford a child with a BBQ income alone, since I could no longer tolerate the smell from the salon.

So, this started our military journey.

If you’re lucky enough to know my husband, you know he is one of the most giving, kind-hearted people on the planet. He will do anything for anyone, which can be taken advantage of at times. He knew that joining the military would cover the medical expenses of having a child, even if it meant sacrificing his own life at some point. Who does that?! Only 1% of America, apparently.

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Off to boot camp he went, while I was left behind, 6 1/2 months pregnant. I would write him letters every single day and would pray to receive one from him. Not a single letter came. When I finally saw him at his graduation, he explained that his unit kept getting in trouble, so their punishment was not being able to write letters. I think in a way, that helped prepare me for the rest of our military journey.

My husband missed the births of 3 out of 4 children. One due to tech school and the others due to deployments. The recruiter must have forgotten to mention the chances of that happening. Either that, or we were just young and naïve and assumed we would have a fairytale life.

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When he left for this past deployment, my children were 9, 7, 5 (she turned 6 while he was gone), and 2 months. “They” say deployments get easier each time. I say “they” must not have children or “they” somehow speed up time during deployments. No one prepared us for the emotional strain that this deployment would bring. The kids were now old enough to be downright MAD for him being gone. Not just mad, but incredibly sad too.

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I had to get creative when it came to keeping the kids and myself connected to the person we absolutely ADORE while he was thousands of miles (7,038 miles, to be exact) away, BUT… I’ve never had a creative bone in my 5’1 body.

That’s where Pinterest stepped in. Pinterest SAVED this deployment!

*All the mommas say AMEN*

Here are some things my family and I did to stay connected through this deployment:

1) Deployment wall: We had a family night a week or so before my husband deployed and we decided to spend that time putting our deployment wall together! *See picture*

We showed them on the map where we were and where daddy would be. We had two different clocks, one that showed our time and one that showed his. We had a picture of him in uniform and a picture of him with the kids (added later). We had a space where they could roll out a sheet of paper and draw him pictures or write him letters, or even just write down how they’re feeling that day. We had little baskets for mail received and mail to send out. I would catch them going to the wall and just staring at his picture. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.

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2) Pictures on pillow cases, recording his voice in a stuffed animal, and video recording bedtime stories. If you haven’t visited your Airman & Family Readiness Center, I suggest you do! They have so many different things that can help a deployment along! My husband was able to go and have pictures of him and the kids printed onto pillow cases, have his voice recorded in stuffed animals, AND video record himself reading them each a bedtime story! So they got to see him every night before bed!

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3) Care packages: Pinterest has SO many awesome ideas for care packages! The kids loved putting things in the box and decorating it! They would say “Oh! Daddy will LOVE this!” And their little faces would light up! If you’re OCD, this will really test your patience, but it’s so worth it to see them wanting to get involved!

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4) Technology: This is huge for military families! We didn’t have Skype or video messenger until my husband’s 2nd or 3rd deployment. Before that, you heard from your spouse whenever they could find an open phone, which was never guaranteed. For this deployment, we were so blessed with technology! The kids were able to talk to their daddy *almost* every morning before school! Of course the connection was sketchy or would fail, but most of the time they could at least say hello!

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5) Holidays: Holidays are tough with your loved one halfway across the world. As the parent, you have to put your feelings on the back burner and focus on the physical/emotional needs of your children, ESPECIALLY around the holidays! For holidays, we would remove his picture from the deployment wall and tape it on a chair at the head of the table. This way, the kids could see he’s not been forgotten and that he is still a part of our special day, even though he’s not actually home.

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For Christmas, we made our first ever Christmas card! Yes, the viral military Christmas card! Honestly, the card ALMOST didn’t happen. I had my husband take his pictures from his deployment location, but the timing never seemed right for us to take ours.

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As each day got closer and closer to Christmas, I would see more and more pictures of all the happy families together on their beautifully crafted cards. At first I was sad. So terribly sad. I wanted nothing more than for my husband to be home for Christmas, but I knew that wasn’t an option. So, I decided TODAY IS THE DAY! We went out and got each shot on the first try, thanks momma!

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I pieced them together that night and decided to post them on FaceBook. The response was unbelievable! Within a few days, it was EVERYWHERE! So many spouses reached out saying “We’re apart for the holidays too! Thank you for showing us your togetherness through it all!”.

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Deployments are hard, especially if you actually love spending time with your spouse and consider him/her your best friend. The days can be so long and it can be so tempting to let that cause division in your marriage or family, but if you can focus on the good, you WILL get through it! Give yourself some grace. You will have days where you just want to bury yourself under the covers and cry and that’s ok! Try not to take that frustration out on the deployed member, but at the same time, be honest with them if they ask what’s troubling you. They will feel helpless at times, but that’s where you have to rise up and show them that you are strong TOGETHER, even if you’re not physically together. Your hearts are bonded, for better and for worse.

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mcoy17-web_fbpost_640x640-semi-finalistsHere at Operation Homefront, the New Year doesn’t just bring with it the anticipation of all the ways we will serve our military families but also the excitement of Military Child of the Year award season! And it begins in earnest today with the announcing of our semifinalists for the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award and the semifinalists for the second annual Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation.

This year’s semifinalists range in age from 8-18 and represent 37 states and Puerto Rico, with one nominee from overseas.

Without further ado, here are our semifinalists by branch of service (You can find a list by state here)

AIR FORCE

Anthony Beasley, 18, Hurlburt Field, FL.

Jamal Braxton, 18, Hill AFB, UT.

Katherine Dever, 17, Kathleen, GA.

Marianna Galvin, 17, Henderson, NV.

Linda Goodson, 17, Triangle, VA.

Gavin Hetzler, 17, Edmond, OK.

Sharlee Krkosa, 17, Schertz, TX.

Trevette Kuester, 17, Huntington, MD.

Kylee McClure, 18, Monroe, UT.

Erin McLeod, 17,  Anchorage, AK.

Jordyn McNeal, 10, Birmingham, AL.

Benjamin Rawald, 14, Del Rio, TX.

Edward Salvador, 16, Niceville, FL.

Caroline Stanton, 11, Las Vegas, NV.

Erica Thompson, 18, Colorado Springs, CO.

ARMY

Darrius Anderson, 17, Mansfield, TX.

Alec Argueta, 17, El Paso, TX.

Andrea Gamble, 17, Kaiserlauten, GER

Hayley Hamblin, 18, Florissant, CO.

Henderson Heussner, 18, Fort Myers, FL.

Hunter Hotaling, 15, Lansing, KS.

Timothy Hunt, 17,  Burke, VA.

Mackenzie Miller, 17, Peachtree City, GA.

Elissa Nott, 17, Onalaska, WI.

Jediah Persaud, 16, Appling, GA.

Grace Pleinis, 9, Tampa, FL.

Thomas Rizza, 11, Bradenton, FL.

Cohen Russell, 10, Fort Meade, MD.

Madison Shick, 15, Tampa, FL.

Madeline Turpin, 17, Wahiawa, HI.

COAST GUARD

Mary Kate Cooper, 17, Fairfax, VA.

Kaili Cutler, 8, Daphne, AL.

Tyler Evans, 14, Maple Valley, WA.

Janelle Gehrke, 15, Saint Joseph, MI.

William Kuebler, 12, League City, TX.

Charlie McGuire, 12, Trenton, NJ.

Kylie McGuire, 15, Trenton, NJ.

Gabriel Niles, 14, Bennington, VT.

Jessie Porter, 17, Bayamon, PR.

Ashlynn Ruleman, 16, Waterford, CT

Alyssa Santos, 17, Tarpon Springs, FL.

Joseph Schmid, 8, Marshfield, MA.

Kira Walters, 14, Yorktown, VA.

Cody Watson, 16, Tuttle, OK.

Rachel Winburn, 17, Ketchikan, AK.

MARINE CORPS

Viktoria Alston, 17, Havelock, NC.

Jackson Beatty, 17, Camp Lejeune, NC.

Carson Butler, 18, Virginia Beach, VA.

Kindrah Carney, 16, Pearl City, HI.

Alejandro Cook-Hernandez, 17, Havelock, NC.

Da’Rod Crutchfield, 18, Camp Lejeune, NC.

Jocelyn Figueora-Urquidi, 13, Beaufort, SC.

Joshua Frawley, 13, Jacksonville, NC.

McKenzie Galloway, 17, Stafford, VA.

Brooke Gruber, 17, Jacksonville, NC.

Sierra LeFlore, 17, San Marcos, CA.

Jennifer Narvaez, 16, Hubert, NC.

Cody Phillips, 17, Quantico, VA.

Thomas Russ, 17, Stafford, VA.

Neorah Wells, 9, Charlotte, NC.

NAVY

Alexis Bryant, 17, Virginia Beach, VA.

Olivia Burch, 18, Grand Forks, ND.

Chace Cleckley, 17, Fallon, NV.

Caleb Harding, 16, Camp Lejeune, NC.

Sierra K., 17, Middletown, RI.

Britton Laing, 18, Silverdale, WA.

Akaiah Lovell, 15, Port Orchard, WA.

Alexander McGrath, 17, Severna Park, MD.

Aiden OLeary, 17, Fredricksburg, VA.

Evan Pittman, 18, Phoenix, AZ.

Isabelle Richards, 12, Jamul, CA.

Kathryn Schorr, 17, Darien, CT.

Alexander Sucato, 16, Belle Chasse, LA.

Ethan Vicario, 17, Virginia Beach, VA.

Reagan Warrick, 12, El Cajon, CA.

NATIONAL GUARD 

Connor Ascherl, 18, Granville, IA.

Amelia Bailey, 16, Saint Augustine, FL.

Trevor Bartunek, 17, Rapid City, SD.

Sheryl Evans, 17, Callahan, FL.

Molly Frey, 16, Pickerington, OH.

John Kargel, 15, Isle, MN.

Zaniya Lewis, 18, Edgewater Park, NJ.

Sydney Long, 17, Lincoln, NE.

Isabelle Miller, 16, Spokane, WA.

Lily Moser, 15, Portland, OR.

Eleanor Rager, 17, Douglasville, GA.

Kara Smith, 17, Munford, TN.

Alexander Steinmetz, 16, Cottage Grove, MN.

Joshua Traxel, 16, Rolla, MO.

Alysha Worden, 17, Martinez, GA.

Semifinalists for 2017 Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation Presented by Booz Allen Hamilton

BreAsia Austin, 17, Dallas, TX, National Guard

Kamille Banks, 17, Lodi, NJ, Coast Guard

Sophie Bernstein, 16, St. Louis, MO, Navy

Elizabeth Brouse, 17, Merchantville, NJ, Army

Marianne Dunaway, 17, Madison, AL, Army

Gabriel Feinn, 16, Louisville, KY, Navy

Kianna Flowers, 17, Gambrills, MD, Air Force

Noah Freye, 17, Chesapeake, VA, Navy

Kennedy Knight, 17, Charlotte, NC, National Guard

Maura Knutsen, 17, Centerville, UT, Army

Jason Lee, 17, Pacheco, CA, Army

Jennifer Molton, 16, Lucas, OH, National Guard

Lily Moser, 15, Portland, OR, Army

Krystalin Neary, 17, St. Peter, MN, National Guard

Caitlyn Schoon, 17, Belle Plaine, MN, Army

Samantha Shaffer, 18, Greenwood, IN, Army

Madison Shick, 15, Tampa, FL, Army

Mikaela Smith, 17, Las Vegas, NV, Air Force

Trinity Torgerson, 17, Colorado Springs, CO, National Guard

Cierra Williams-Carter, 17, Virginia Beach, VA, Navy

So now that we have our semifinalists, what’s next?

Each semifinalist for the military branch awards will be interviewed by a team selected by Operation Homefront staff. Award recipients will be chosen by a panel of judges, to include senior retired service members, senior spouses, members of Operation Homefront’s board of directors, and other leaders in the military support community.  Booz Allen Hamilton will judge competitors for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation.

The top 5 finalists from each branch will be announced in February.  Winners will be announced in March and then on to the big gala in Washington, D.C. on April 06, 2017.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the Military Child of the Year Award and read about our past recipients at www.militarychildoftheyear.org and get inspired by pictures from last year’s festivities here.

Congratulations to all of our Military Child of the Year semi-finalists! Great job!

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ertIn the weeks before Christmas, throughout this great land.

Our elves on the homefront were lending a hand…

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Holiday Meals were bagged up and stuffed

To give to the families we can’t thank enough…

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Wishes were granted and moments were shared

Letting military families know that all of us cared…

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The smiles of the families and joy that abounded

Reminded us all of the mission we founded…

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To remember the many who serve so we remain free

Who won’t be home this year to decorate their tree…

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The East Garden Room of the White House features an American flag display formed from images of brave military members and their families, and Gold Star ornaments adorn the evergreen that honors the men and women who have laid down their lives for our country.

We hope you are home soon and with loved ones so dear,

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!

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Thank you for helping Operation Homefront build strong, stable, and secure military families – all year long.

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Special thanks this year to…

Walmart, Dollar Tree, Beam Suntory, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, HEB, SAS Shoemakers, Thirty-One, Procter & Gamble, Ocean Spray, Navy Federal Credit Union, Samuel Adams , Veterans United and many more local supporters who helps us serve over 11000 military families with meals and toys this holiday season.

Our volunteers who gave us the priceless gift of time.

And finally, to our military far away from home… our most heartfelt thanks for keeping us safe. We miss you and pray for your safe return. 

Find these and many more terrific pictures from our Holiday Events on our Flickr page. If you would like to know more about #GivingStrength to military families, visit www.operationhomefront.net/givingstrength

 

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cvsinthecommunityblog1Starting a family is one of the most exciting and challenging times of a person’s life. Due to deployments and frequent relocation, military parents-to-be often live far from their extended families and support systems. The Star-Spangled Babies program provides baby showers to expecting service members and their growing families, giving these new and expecting parents tips on early childhood education and a support system when loved ones are far away.

Operation Homefront depends on our corporate partners to make what we do possible, and CVS has been an especially important partner for our Star-Spangled Babies program. We recently got the chance to talk with Eileen Boone, the senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy at CVS, and hear her thoughts on why it is important to support Operation Homefront and the military community.

Where does supporting the military community fall in CVS Health’s values as a company? Do you have many veterans employed by CVS or do you have certain military connections?

With millions of service members transitioning out of the military over the next few years, we’re committed to hiring veterans, current National Guard and Reserve members and military spouses across all parts of our business. We have approximately 150 stores that are within 20 miles of a military base, so it is important to us that our colleagues represent the communities that we serve. We’re also committed to supporting and hiring military spouses, which helps veterans better understand what opportunities are available to them when they leave the service.

At CVS Health, we have a long history of providing charitable support to a range of veteran-focused initiatives, including the National Guard, Fisher House, the USO and now, Operation Homefront. We’re also proud to offer a colleague resource group—called Valor—within CVS Health, which has nearly 500 active and retired military CVS colleagues.

What are some of the best ways to support the military? How can we give strength to military families?

cvsinthecommunityblog4Due to deployments and frequent relocation, we know that military families often live far from their extended families. This is especially hard for new and expecting parents and why CVS Health is proud to be the National Sponsor of the Star-Spangled Babies program that provides baby showers to service members and their growing families. Like many new parents, they have questions, concerns, and fears. Our partnership with Operation Homefront provides these new and expecting parents with early childhood education tips and a support system when loved ones are far away. This is one way that we support and give strength to military families.

 How do you feel knowing that you are helping so many military families? How are military families important to the rest of the country?

It’s an honor to work for a company that is committed to supporting veterans and military families across the country and it’s great to see the impact we’ve been able to have.  As part of our partnership with Operation Homefront, we’ve supported more than 100 new moms in Jacksonville and San Antonio, filled 800 baby bundles for families across the country and support troops through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront and Emergency Assistance programs. 

Why did you choose to support Operation Homefront?

We were drawn to Operation Homefront’s commitment to our nation’s heroes and their mission to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive in the communities they’ve worked so hard to protect. Their mission directly aligns with our company’s purpose of helping people on their path to better. 

cvsinthecommunityblog3Which Operation Homefront programs resonated with CVS most?

Operation Homefront has many great programs that are helping military members and their families. In addition to Star Spangled Babies, CVS Health is also proud to support Homes on the Homefront to provide military families with financial support for much-needed items like groceries, rent and heating bills. We understand the challenges that military families face as they transition to civilian life and are proud to support Operation Homefront’s efforts to minimize these struggles as much as possible.

With the help of generous partners like CVS, Operation Homefront is “Giving Strength” to thousands of military families in need this holiday season. Operation Homefront would like to thank CVS for its tremendous support of our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families. Check out these pictures from the Star-Spangled Baby Showers in Jacksonville and San Antonio and see the impact our partnership is having on our military families.

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carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30845320545_oBefore the night was over…

They were dropping names like Carrie Underwood and saying they got to be part of a private concert with her.

Before the night was over…

They were talking about Carnival Cruise Lines, well-known for a fun family atmosphere, and proclaiming they got one free night on Carnival’s biggest and best ship, the Carnival Vista, with a skyline view of New York City.

Before the night was over…

They could say they met Miss USA Deshauna Barber, the very first active duty service member to wear the crown.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30544200720_oBefore the night was over…

They were able to be part of a rare event, a naming ceremony to officially christen Carnival’s biggest and best new ship, the Carnival Vista, complete with helicopter delivery of the champagne, Kathie Lee Gifford, confetti cannons, and more.

Is it possible that all that could happen in less than 24 hours? Yes it is. And all of those experiences, and many more, were a reality for some of our military families, who were guests of Carnival’s “Honor.Family.Fun” event in New York City recently.

The experience featured it all before the night was over.

But beyond the bright lights, the gorgeous expansive ship and the entertainment…one message came through loud and clear.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808587226_oPeople care about our military.

Our families heard it over and over again.

They heard it in Carrie’s live performance of her song Keep Us Safe:

“And through the struggles and the trouble I know we don’t walk alone.

Even when we get lost through the valleys we crossed.”

And in Carrie’s words:

“It’s been really amazing to get to be a part of such an incredible organization and the way you’ve…committed to helping military families and giving them special time together. I’m a mother and I know how precious those moments are.”

They heard and recognized themselves in the words of our President and CEO, John I Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.):

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808588626_oI served in the Air Force for 27 1/2 years. When I go back and look at pictures of my family, I am not in any of them…because I wasn’t there. This partnership is important (because) those military families will be able to create the memories that will last a lifetime. The opportunity to go on vacation with your families and capture those photos, is going to be truly spectacular.

They heard it from Carnival CEO Christine Duffy:

Carnival carries more active and retired U.S. military personnel than any other cruise line. So it means a great deal to me to be able to be a part of this amazing event, honoring and celebrating the sacrifices of those who serve in our Armed Forces and protect our freedoms each and every day. I couldn’t think of a more deserving group to honor as we celebrate the launch of our spectacular new ship, Carnival Vista.

They heard from Miss USA Deshauna Barber who understand the military life very well. As she spoke at the Naming Ceremony, she recalled, with barely veiled emotion, the birthdays and holidays that her father always missed because he deployed a lot as part of special forces:

“I do a lot of speeches… but this one touches my heart. I am humbled and proud and honored and inspired all at the same time. …What we do as military is very important. When the days get hard, you have to think about days like this.”

As we approach Veterans Day, we want to remind our military families that we are grateful for the courage and honor of all of you who serve our great nation. We know you must give up so much and you do it willingly. We are grateful and we care about you.

We hope you hear that over and over again.

Check out our album of images from that special day, and join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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Operation Homefront is accepting 2017 Military Child of the Year nominations through Dec. 5, 2016. There will be a seventh award for a young person age 13-18. This award is the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation® presented by Booz Allen Hamilton. With a new invention, improvement to existing technology, creation of a new nonprofit or community service group, or expansion of an existing membership organization, the winner of this award shows the power of innovative thinking. A child can be nominated and apply for both awards. We encourage it! Nominate here

mcoy2017rerunGoogle “military kids”, and you’ll find there’s no shortage of research and statistics available about the impact of the military life on the children who live it. How many times the average military child can expect to move. How many schools the average military child can expect to attend. How many deployments the average military child can expect to face.

But those statistics don’t tell us who they really are. YOU DO. And they aren’t average. They are extraordinary.

Every year, when we open nominations for our Military Child of the Year Award, we get forms filled with the pride and love of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, teachers, coaches and community members. Yes, they talk of accomplishments; GPAs, leadership positions, obstacles overcome. But they also talk about the little things that matter the most. The smile that lifts up those around them. The jokester that keeps the family on their toes. The one who knows just when a hug is needed. The artist. The musician. The ever energetic powerhouse and the budding philosophers.

Quiet courage and strength that speaks volumes. They aren’t just making the best of what military life handed them….they’re owning it. With zest and joy and determination.

Which is why we always look forward to the opening of the annual nomination period for the Military Child of the Year Award. As part of our mission to raise awareness for the challenges faced by the children of our military families, we are always looking for the right words and message that captures just how terrific these kids are, and why it is so important to recognize them as a force behind the forces. For the past 8 years, we have truly had to look no further than you, our community, for the pride, love, and awe in your words as you share the stories of the youngest heroes in your lives.

mcoyblog2015familyHelp us tell the stories of who our military children really are. Anyone can nominate a military child in their life, so share with your friends, neighbors, schools, and community groups. One child from each branch will be honored in April at a special gala in our nation’s capitol. Recipients will also receive a laptop and a $10000 award.  The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation recipient will receive a $5,000 cash award, will benefit from mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance the winner’s project, and will be flown to Washington along with a parent or guardian to be recognized at the gala. So, fire up those keyboards!

To learn more about the Military Child of the Year and Innovation Awards, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. You can also find the nomination form here and FAQ here.

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