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by Linda Medler, Board of Directors, Operation Homefront Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

I have been in the military for most of my life. I enlisted in the Marines out of high school, transitioned to civilian life to have children, while still serving in the Marine Corps Reserve. When I was ready to return to active duty, I was accepted to Air Force Officer Training School, and served in the Air Force until I retired with the rank of Brigadier General.

Over that time, I have served with many who gave their lives in defense of our nation, including those lost while I was serving at Hill Air Force Base, where we were always deploying airmen to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, we lost three airmen in one month to an IED attack, and a few months later, we lost another. As a leader, that is something you never get over.

When it hits that close, and you are in a leadership position, you have to look inside and say, ‘How do I help my organization and my unit go forward and recover from this — to lose four airmen on a single installation?’

To ensure that they would never be forgotten, a group of us from Hill Air Force Base entered the Air Force Installation Excellence Award Program, which comes with a cash prize to improve quality of life across the installation. We finished as one of the top award winners, and used a portion of our prize to build a Memorial Park at Hill Air Force Base in Utah as a way to memorialize the four airmen who died while serving our country.

I will never forget that Memorial Day when we dedicated the memorial. Airman and families of the fallen gathered together to grieve, to remember, to unveil the monument.

There is not a Memorial Day when I do not think back to that dedication and the Memorial Park that will forever honor the legacy of these fallen heroes of the 75th Air Base Wing.

I urge all Americans to take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

 

 

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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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Samantha Grab, our 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the Air Force, has brought light and happiness to so many around her through her music and positive attitude, especially during tough times. Her family’s nickname for her is Sunshine.

Air Force_Samantha Grab 1

She is the daughter of retired Lt. Col. Richard “Andy” Grab and Michelle Grab. Samantha, 18, grew up as one of three siblings but four years ago a tragedy changed their family forever when her older brother Nick, then 17, died by suicide.

His death was a challenge for everyone. At only 14, Samantha became aware of her own depression and ADHD. She relied heavily on her mother, who she says is her role model. Her mom helped them all cope with her father’s 20 months of deployments and the eight moves throughout his career.

Samantha also finds solace in music. She began playing the alto saxophone in fifth grade and also plays the French horn, piano, ukulele, and drums. A senior at O’Fallon Township High School, she was hand-picked by her music teacher for the school’s mentorship program. She also assists the fifth-grade music teacher in the classroom and through private lessons for the students.

Samantha has performed at a variety of military events, including performing the national anthem and the official Air Force song during a promotion ceremony for her father and then again during his retirement ceremony at Busch Stadium.

“I felt the happiest and most proud (of being a military child) when my Dad came home from his deployments,” she said. “It was very hard when he was gone, and I was filled with so much joy and excitement each time he came home.”

On one occasion, her dad surprised Samantha and her family in what she calls “the most amazing way.” He was deployed to Korea and not expected home for several months. Samantha, along with her mom, her brother, and oldest sister Elizabeth, was visiting family in Illinois. When they went to their favorite bakery Samantha’s dad was waiting for them behind the counter.

“Our minds were so preoccupied by what to eat that we did not realize our dad was standing right in front of us taking our order!” She said. “My jaw dropped, and I immediately ran up to hug my dad.”

Samantha enjoys helping others. She has volunteered more than 300 hours in the past 12 months, including as one of a few select retreat leaders with the Helping Open People’s Eyes (HOPE) program, an organization that helps teens overcome challenges of bullying, stereotypes, depression and difficulties at school and home.

She plans on attending Illinois State University and studying psychology so she can help children and teens struggling with mental health issues. Air Force_Samantha Grab_3

When she’s not busy with color guard performances, marching band competitions or playing music, Samantha enjoys watching movies, reading, drawing, cooking, and spending time with friends and family, especially her baby sister Sarah and her niece Marcy.

Favorite quote: “All I can be is me, whoever that is.” -Bob Dylan.

Service/Leadership Highlights:

•Helping Open People’s Eyes (HOPE)

•OTHS Mentorship Program

•Christ Church Children’s Ministry

•Karla Smith Behavioral Health

•Scott Air Force Base Centennial

•OTHS Marching Band

•OTHS Jazz Ensemble

•Elk’s Organization

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

Read previous 2020 recipient profiles:

Niklas Cooper, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Marine Corps

Miryam Smith, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Navy

Fionnuala Mahoney, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Army

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Our virtual 2020 Military Child of the Year® award gala continues today with an introduction to this year’s recipients: Fionnuala Mahoney, U.S. Army, Samantha Grab, U.S. Air Force;  Pierce Corson, U.S. Coast Guard; Niklas Cooper, U.S. Marine Corps; Kristina Lee, National Guard; Miryam Smith, U.S. Navy; Kainath Kamil, Innovation Award presented by Booz Allen Hamilton.

Check back with us over the next week as we dedicate a day to each winner and honor their achievements by sharing their unique stories of courage, resiliency, service and success with you. We hope you will be as inspired as we have been.

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

 

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We are excited to announce the start of our VIRTUAL 2020 Military Child of the Year® Awards celebration! We invite you to join us over the next two weeks to help us celebrate these seven amazing young men and women who represent the thousands of military children everywhere who thrive and excel while coping with the challenges of military life.

Due to the extraordinary and developing circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus outbreak, Operation Homefront had to make the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Military Child of the Year® Awards Gala in Arlington, VA. While the gala will not occur in-person, we can still recognize and celebrate the incredible achievements of this year’s award recipients.  We ask for your help to do this.

We start today with opening remarks from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.). Check back throughout the next two weeks as we add more ways for you to join in the celebration #MCOY2020

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

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Military Child of the Tear 2020-SemifinalistsNinety-five military children have advanced as semifinalists in Operation Homefront’s 2020 Military Child of the Year® Award program

This year marks the 12th anniversary of this special event as the nation’s premier celebration of the achievements of America’s military children, reflecting the positive impact they’ve made on their families, schools, and communities. The Military Child of the Year® Award is a lifelong source of pride for the recipients. Participating in the program provides them with amazing opportunities to meet senior military leaders, elected officials, celebrities, and other remarkable military children.

The following are all the 2020 Military Child of the Year® Award semifinalists by service branch. Semifinalists for the 2020 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation are also designated:

Army

Jonathan Bailon, 17, Corpus Christi, Texas

Abigail Birano, 16, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

Jordan Daugherty, 18, Alexandria, Va. Daugherty is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation.

Lauryn Dixon, 17, Cabot, Ark.

Peyton Faulk, 17, Lansing, Kan.

Coralynn Fisher, 14, Stafford, Va.

Ashley Gorrell, 16, Fort Polk, La.

Morgan Kim, 15, Richmond Hill, Ga.

Fionnuala Mahoney, 18, Bethesda, Md.

Amara Park, 18, Fort Belvoir, Va.

Olivia Starz, 16, Fort Campbell, Ky.

Austin Theroux, 17, Cranston, R.I.

Anna Torres, 16, Fort Riley, Kan.

Anna Turlington, 16, Cecilia, Ky.

Devin Woods, 17, Bel Air, Md.

Marine Corps

Aubriannah Aittama, 14, New Bern, N.C.

Lee Balderaz Jr., 17, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Niklas Cooper, 16, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Dean Fecteau, 18, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Hunter Galvin, 17, Holly Ridge, N.C.

Clyde Harris, 17, Oceanside, Ca.

Payton Jeffers, 17, Holly Ridge, N.C.

Harmony Jones, 14, East Garrison, Calif.

Jason Morrison II, 17, Maysville, N.C.

Iain Nicol, 13, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Abigail Paquin, 17, Tarawa Terrace, N.C.

Ethan Perdew, 17, MCAS Iwakuni, Japan

Gabrielle Ryder, 17, Smithsburg, Md. Ryder is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation.

Justin Skillings, 13, Tarawa Terrace, N.C.

Michayla Wittner, 16, Jacksonville, N.C.

Navy

Michael Archie, 18, Pensacola, Fla.

Catherine Besachio, 17, Norfolk, Va.

Danielle Bilotta, 18, Albuquerque, N.M.

Chloe Cullen, 17, Petaluma, Calif. Cullen is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation

Logan DeLisle, 17, Beavercreek, Ohio

Nai’a Freeman, 17, Cathlamet, Wash.

Wester Gapasangra, 16, Honolulu, Hawaii

Sawyer Getschman, 17, RAF Molesworth, England

John Grady, 18, Chula Vista, Calif.

Jalen Hines, 17, St Johns, Fla.

Kaitlin Howard, 16, MCAS Iwakuni, Japan

Kainath Kamil, 16, Oceanside, Calif. Kamil is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation

Katherine Kennedy, 17, Crozet, Va.

Miryam Smith, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Lauryn Williams, 18, St Johns, Fla.

Air Force

Lance Almand, 16, Southlake, Texas

Kabryni Bruening, 17, Sembach, Germany

Audrey Camper, 15, Talofofo, Guam

Marina Cardoso, 15, Minot AFB, N.D.

Jessop Collins, 17, Bedford, Mass.

Brianna Cooley, 14, Bossier City, La.

Taylor Curro, 17, Carrollton, Va.

Merideth Curwen, 17, Tokyo, Japan

Samantha Grab, 18, O’Fallon, Ill.

Rachel Kent, 18, Ramstein Air Base, Germany

Jordyn McNeal, 13, Apollo Beach, Fla.

Taylor Sandlin, 17, Cedar Park, Texas

Jacob Taylor, 17, Tucson, Ariz.

Brian Thompson, 17, Bel Air, Md.

Stephen Wolf, 13, Xenia, Ohio

Coast Guard

Alexis Blyth, 18, Santa Rita, Guam

Liam Cooper, 17, Port Jefferson, N.Y.

Pierce Corson, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Jade Davis, 16, Alexandria, Va.

Callie Graziani, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Ethan Hunt, 18, Key West, Fla.

Veronica Kavanaght, 16, Orlando, Fla.

John (Jack) Kennedy, 17, Grangeville, Idaho

Kimberly Locke, 17, La Plata, Md.

Hennessy Martinez, 17, San Deigo, Calif.

Kaytlyn Meyer, 17, Owensboro, Ky.

Evelyn Nutt, 16, Ketchikan, Alaska

Tucker Pullen, 17, Bahrain

Tyler Schultz, 17, Forestdale, Mass.

Giavanna Vinciguerra, 14, Palmetto Bay, Fla.

National Guard

Logan Carter, 18, Clinton, Mo.

Bethany Chacon, 17, Albuquerque, N.M.

James Chattaway, 13, Stanton, Calif.

Olivia Chiancone, 17, Winterville, N.C.

Easton Christainsen, 16, Pleasant Grove, Utah

Maya Faulds, 16, Barnegat, N.J.

Victoria Fillipi, 18, Anthon, Iowa

Hannah Grau, 14, Virginia Beach, Va.

Anna Harris, 18, Warrior, Ala.

Audrey Hartgraves, 14, League City, Texas

Gavin Holland, 18, White House, Tenn.

Kristina Lee, 18, Galion, Ohio

Maycie Madsen, 18, Richfield, Utah

Allison Roper, 16, Morganton, N.C. Roper is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation

Noah Sherman, 17, Acworth, Ga.

Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Shaylee Barber, 17, Clinton, Utah, Air Force

Chloe Cullen, 17, Petaluma, Calif., Navy

Jordan Daughterty, 18, Alexandria, Va., Army

Denitsa Dimitrova, 17, Virginia Beach, Va., Army

Kainath Kamil, 16, Oceanside, Calif., Navy

Hannah Lipschutz, 17, Charleston, S.C., National Guard

Kaileen Myers, 17, Virginia Beach, Va., Navy

Clairissa Nivens, 17, Chillicothe, Mo., National Guard

Allison Roper, 16, Morganton, N.C., National Guard

Gabrielle Ryder, 17, Smithsburg, Md., Marine Corps

Thirty-five finalists will be selected in February by a panel of judges chosen by Operation Homefront’s senior leadership and Booz Allen Hamilton, a global technology and management consulting firm. The final seven award recipients will be announced in March and will travel to Washington, D.C. to be recognized at a gala on April 2, during which senior leaders from each branch of service will present the awards. They’ll also each receive $10,000, a laptop, and other donated gifts.

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 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 team at the BAH firm, developing a plan to help scale the recipient’s project — drawing on technology and strategic thinking.

More information about the Military Child of the Year® Awards is available at www.militarychildoftheyear.org.

For media inquiries, please contact Mike Lahrman at communications@operationhomefront.org or call (210) 202-1243.

Inquiries regarding sponsorship of Military Child of the Year® can be sent to development@operationhomefront.org.

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Clockwise from left to right: Isabelle Richards, Campbell Miller, Eve Glenn, Shelby Barber, Elisabeth Lundgren.

As the deadline nears to nominate outstanding military teens for Operation Homefront’s 2020 Military Child of the Year (MCOY) Awards, past winners explain why nominating someone matters.

The deadline for nominations is TONIGHT. Anyone can nominate. Click here for more information and to nominate a military dependent between the ages of 13 and 18 who has a parent serving in the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, or Navy.

Military children can apply here for the Military Child of the Year Innovation Award.

These five winners share how the nominations are significant for military children:

Isabelle Richards, 2018 Military Child of the Year® , Navy:

As military kids, we rarely look for acknowledgements or accolades, but Operation Homefront gives everyone the opportunity to show military kids that their work and mission matter.

This is your moment to inspire change in a military child’s life by nominating them for the prestigious Military Child of the Year Honor. You know them, you know the adversity they face, you see them thrive, so take he few minutes to #inspirechange!

Campbell Miller, 2019

Every military child has a story that is worth being told. It may be supporting their parents going overseas or moving across the country or even just being here at home for those who proudly wear the uniform. By nominating someone for MCOY, that story can be told.

No matter if they are chosen as a Military Child of the Year or not, it is an honor to share the story of a military child – a story of toughness, sacrifice, and ultimate love for our nation and those who defend it. For me, having someone tell my story was an amazing honor.

Eve Glenn, 2018 Military Child of the Year®, Air Force

Holding the identity of a military child, by itself, distinguishes an individual as unique and resilient. If you are or know of an outstanding military youth, apply to be recognized. This opportunity honors the sacrifices made by the military child, service member, and family.

Selection as a finalist provides all-inclusive access to connect with an expanding network of working professionals. Likewise, finalists are introduced to other driven young, military-brat identifying, servant leaders.

Elisabeth Lundgren, 2019 Military Child of the Year, Navy

Often times we forget how much coming from a military family affects children. The constant worry and loneliness when a parent is gone doesn’t get in the way of those children excelling in school and making a difference in their communities.

Military children are strong and resilient, but sometimes we can’t see how much this positively impacts and inspires those around us.

Shelby Barber, 2018 Military Child of the Year®, Innovation

Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year gives the child opportunity. A lot of us are hardworking kids who not only deserve the recognition but deserve the opportunity to make connections with other military kids and with a program such as Operation Homefront that helps military families through so much. The connections help us realize how important an influence just one of us can make.

Check out our previous blog where our recipients talk about the impact of receiving the Military Child of the Year® Award.

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