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by John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

May is Military Appreciation Month – an important opportunity for Americans to take a moment to reflect on all our military community has done and continues to do for all of us. From celebrating spouses on Military Spouse Appreciation Day and recognizing all service branches on Armed Forces Day, to honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day, May is truly a special month to highlight an exceptional group of our fellow citizens.

While we typically celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of our active duty members and veterans, I think we must also include those who have sustained their service – their families – as they have served alongside their loved ones.

Military service is a noble calling, but it has many demands and many costs. One of those costs is foregoing time with family.

When I look at my family photos, I find I am not in many of them. I wish the reason was I was the one taking them. Sadly, the real reason is I was not there. I was doing something important to serve my country. I understood I was the one who raised my hand and swore an oath to protect our country. I also fully understood my family, because of my service, had their hands raised too.

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John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

That is why I am honored to serve America’s military families as the President and CEO of Operation Homefront. We have 120 employees and over 4,000 volunteers, along with many caring donors and partners, who are dedicated to meeting the needs of military families while they are serving and as they transition back to the civilian communities they have worked so hard to protect. Our relief, resiliency and recurring support programs touch over one hundred thousand family members each year… giving them the support they need to make ends meet and, just as important, letting them know that America is behind them.

This Armed Forces Day, when you thank and honor those who put on the uniform, I would ask you to remember the family members whose sacrifice may be less visible, but just as worthy.

I invite you to join Operation Homefront in our #Mission2Honor military families by sending a message of thanks to those families who serve and help protect the freedoms we enjoy daily. It will mean the world to them: OperationHomefront.org/mission2honor

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Every Mother’s Day, I take a moment to look at my life and reflect on how great it is. It’s been over 15 years since I lost my leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq and I can honestly say my life is better now than it has ever been. I am a proud mother, wife, Veteran, elite athlete and motivational speaker. F46181FD-8D91-491A-B0F6-C34D4B1791CF

Being a mom is my favorite. It’s both the best and the hardest job and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s hard not to tear up a little when I think about the love I have for my kids.

My happiest moments and best days are when I’m with my family; playing, walking, dancing or doing anything as long as we are together. I often think about the sacrifice that military families make due to service to our country. Deployments, relocations, training exercise.  All of these mean missed time with family members.

I would not be where I am today, without the support system I had to get me through the transitions I had in life. From a military spouse, to losing my leg, being medically retired from the Army and a new mom. I was so grateful to have organizations out there to help me when I needed them along with my support team of my family and friends. I’ve learned from experience, that us moms need all the help we can get!

I believe that moms are the heart and soul of the family, (dads are pretty important too!)  from the day we know that little one is in our belly! There is a special bond between moms, as if we can give each other a ‘we’ve got this’ head nod as we walk by with our strollers and sometimes screaming kids. We are, after all, all in this together. We have the strength, resilience, to push through whatever comes our way.

My children give me the motivation to dream big and I hope that one day they will have big dreams of their own. I will always be their biggest cheerleader.    45774282-7C31-45CE-8AA0-F79B6AB5D1E2

Coming up on May 19th, I have the opportunity to meet some expecting military moms (and new moms as well) at the Operation Homefront Star Spangled Baby Shower event in Colorado Springs. I cannot wait to meet you all.

So, to all the moms and the soon-to-be moms out there – cherish this day and love on those little, or not so little ones, in your life. I hope you all have a wonderful Mother’s Day! #Mission2Honor  #MilitaryMoms.
Melissa Stockwell
1LT, Ret.
Proud mom of 2

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The Start Strong, Stay Strong campaign offers military moms a network of support – online and in commissaries and exchanges around the world – so they may connect with their communities, explore local events and discover motivational stories. Whether they are welcoming a new child into the home, managing day-to-day household needs through relocations, adjusting to family life with a wounded veteran, or settling into new schools and communities, P&G and Operation Homefront are here to help military moms start strong and stay strong throughout their service to our country.
Through the online community, StartStrongPG.com, military moms can access the information they need wherever they live, all year long. They will discover things to do, find local resources in their community, unlock savings, explore an online marketplace, and much more.

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Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices our military families make and the challenges they face throughout their service, which is why every day we seek 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.

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During Military Appreciation Month, you can join Operation Homefront in recognizing our military families and thanking them for their service. Join us and honor those who have served and are continuing to serve our communities across the country.

Support: Help Operation Homefront support military families

The simple act of giving can change the lives of our military families. Your donation could ensure that power is kept on for wounded warriors who need medical equipment for survival or help feed a military family.  Donate today to help us reach our goal of supporting 15 families.

usa_graphicHonor: Send a message of support

Operation Homefront invites Americans who care about military families to publicly recognize, honor, and thank them for their service and support in our communities. Send in your message of thanks and help us turn our map red, white, and blue.

Serve: Get Involved

With the help of our volunteer reserves, Operation Homefront delivers valued programs and services to military families that offer relief through critical financial assistance and rent-free transitional housing, resiliency through mortgage-free homes and caregiver support programs, and recurring family support through holiday meals, school supplies, baby bundles, holiday toys and other resources for military spouses and children.   Visit our website to find out more about how you can become a volunteer with Operation Homefront!

To learn more about the Operation Homefront “Always Serving” campaign and Mission2Honor, visit www.OperationHomefront.org/Mission2Honor.

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Last week, Operation Homefront hosted our 2019 Military Child of the Year® recipients, our Magnificent Seven, and their families in Washington, D.C. for a three-day celebration.  Let’s take a look at their activity packed time in our Nation’s capital.

But before we do, it bears repeating how incredible these kids are! This year’s seven honorees have experienced a cumulative 31 moves and 187 months of parental deployments. But they also gave over 1,800 hours of volunteer time just in the year before they were nominated – among their many other accomplishments including stellar academic achievements, overcoming health challenges, becoming Eagle Scouts, being competitive in swimming and other sports. You can read more about each of them here. 

 

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How innovative can we be? The festivities kicked off Tuesday with Brandon Mammano , our Innovation Award recipient, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton, who sponsored the award. After a tour, Brandon and his family brainstormed with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team on how to use technology to create a student sponsor program for military kids to welcome them when they move to a new community. Brandon told us, “It’s touching to me, how my tiny little idea can be turned into something ginormous.”

 

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Welcome to D.C.! 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 the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.  The kids enjoyed a behind the scenes tour where they got within feet of some beautiful male lions and seals (top secret – no pics allowed!) Afterwards, recipients, their families, and OH staff shared a delicious dinner before heading back to the hotel.

 

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Headed to the Pentagon! After a delicious breakfast with the staff and our National Board of Directors, the group headed off for a driving tour of the monuments and a tour of the Pentagon.

 

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The Main Event! After a few hours to relax back at the hotel, it was time for the main event.  John Heald, Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Line, served as the emcee, and 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.

 

MCOY 2019-43 (1)The Spotlight is on … the kids! John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “Each one possesses something very special — a driving force – a spirit of service and of serving others.  Individually, they shined as they dealt with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.  Along their journey, they have developed an inner compass that inspires them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate, and to care for others in their communities.”

 

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Multi-national supergroup King Calaway wows the audience! Musical guest, King Calaway, entertained our guests with two of their hit singles and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Daniel J. O’Donohue, director for joint force development for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, inspired guests with his keynote address. “Their parents couldn’t have continued to serve unless these children decided that they would fall in, that honor, courage, and commitment was part of their life,” said O’Donohue.

 

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All Branches Represented. VIP officers from each branch presented the awards to our honorees and paid proper tribute to their achievements and tenacity in spite of challenges of the military lifestyle. For the third consecutive year, Carnival Cruise Line surprised the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

 

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One Last Musical Note. Before the evening ended, there was one more surprise in store for the Magnificent Seven.  CMT, country music artist Brantley Gilbert, and Peavey gave each of our seven honorees a fabulous Peavey guitar autographed by Brantley himself!

 

As we close out another year of celebrating military kids, we hope you will make plans to join us on April 2, 2020, for our 12th MCOY Gala.

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Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2019 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Carnival Cruise Lines, Military Times, La Quinta by Wyndham, PNC, MidAtlanticBroadband, and Nike.

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Elisabeth McCallum Polleys’ passion for acting has exposed her to diverse roles, giving her insight into different eras, ways of thinking, and styles of interacting. Her love for theater is among the many facets of Elisabeth’s life that have made her an informed, well-rounded person, attributes that helped her become the 2019 Army Military Child of the Year®.

Elisabeth attends two schools in Michigan – L’Anse Creuse High School North for core courses in science, math and history and the Frederick V. Pankow Center for classes in performing arts and English, which requires an audition for admission. In her first year of high school, Elisabeth, now a junior, was selected for best debut performance for portraying Ginette in “Almost, Maine,” an uncommon honor for a freshman to have played a lead role. She landed the part in her first audition after moving to Michigan from Hawaii when her mother, an Army major, was reassigned.

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Initially, Elisabeth was uncertain about immersing herself in teenager Ginette’s character because it’s a love story, and she was afraid it would be awkward playing opposite her friend, another freshman, in the role of Pete. But looking back on it now, she is proud of her performance.

Elisabeth also was inducted into Pankow’s Thespian Troupe 7494, another rare honor for a ninth grader. She earns her place not just by acting but by helping with fundraising, working back stage or in the box office, ushering, building sets, and helping with costumes, makeup and hair. As a member of the troupe’s executive council, she and other students work hard to raise money because otherwise, they cannot produce performances. Serving also gives her the chance to mentor younger actors.

 

 

 

In 2018, Elisabeth played a wildly different role, a mother in 1917 England, in “The Light Burns Blue.” Again, it took time for her to embrace the role she initially could not relate to – a wife and parent to a teenager during World War I. The character evolves into “being that strong, independent woman that doesn’t need to just follow what her husband says,” Elisabeth said, which was easier to identify with. She said she channeled her own mother because she’s a good role model, raising Elisabeth as a single mom, with help from Elisabeth’s grandparents, while also serving in a demanding military job as a command judge advocate at Detroit Arsenal.

That same year, Elisabeth and two other actors received second place in a group acting competition at the Michigan Thespian Festival for a scene from “Crimes of the Heart.” Elisabeth portrayed Meg, a 27-year-old singer, sister and one-time mental health patient.

“I love acting so much,” said Elisabeth, agreeing that it’s fun but also a growing experience. “It’s opening my eyes to different perspectives. I’m opening my mind.” Being involved in all aspects of theater has led to her positive attitude. “It won’t be a show unless we have all the help we need. Everyone plays a part. We’re taught that you can’t have an ego because being an actor, you’re just one part of the whole play or musical. Everyone chips in.” 11. Elisabeth McCallum Polleys theatre performance (2018)

Maintaining a good attitude has not always been easy for Elisabeth because as a military child, she has endured multiple moves for her mother’s career and missed her mother during extended absences. She empathizes with other military children, especially those who don’t live near bases with other kids who understand their challenges and sacrifices.

“I learned Hawaiian history in seventh grade, not Michigan history, but I am tested on that now,” Elisabeth said, citing one small example of the trials military kids face. “My mom travels all the time. My mom went to Afghanistan. My friends do not know what it is like to have your mom fighting in a war. My mom has missed so much of my life. She has missed so much because she was deployed or is always [traveling for work]. Military kids do not get to choose this life.”

Still, she feels patriotic having a mother in uniform. “I feel that I am a part of this country’s success because my mom is fighting for our freedoms and our rights. Without people like her, this country would not be as great as it is. People have fought and died for this country. I am proud to say that I am an American and that my mom is a part of making this country the best in the world.”

Elisabeth is also happy to represent military children as a MCOY recipient. The process “helped me realize how the military has blessed me with many opportunities,” she said. “If it was not for the Army, I would not be who I am today. I really think I am stronger because of my life as a military child.”

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

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

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

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

The award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at the April 18th gala, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards. They also will each receive $10,000, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts. The innovation award recipient will work directly with a Booz Allen Hamilton team to develop a plan to help scale the recipient’s project — drawing on technology and strategic thinking as a part of the corporation’s competitive Summer Games.

The 2019 recipients are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Operation Homefront is thrilled to announce the 96 semifinalists for the 2019 Military Child of the Year® (MCOY) Award.

Below are the 2019 Military Child of the Year® Award semifinalists by service branch along with the semifinalists for the 2019 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation:

Air Force

Shaylee Barber, 16, Ewa Beach, Hawaii
Madeline Bland, 17, Alton, Illinois
Audrey Camper, 14, Talofofo, Guam
Jakob Fick, 15, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Jaidyn Fountain, 13, Wichita Falls, Texas
Diana Fudge, 13, Kathleen, Georgia
Salysia Jimenez, 15, New Bern, North Carolina
Joshua Kelly, 14, Italy
Brandon Mammano, 18, Mililani, Hawaii *
Isabella Mollison, 18, Japan
Benjamin Rawald, 16, Del Rio, Texas
Skyler Roper, 14, Helotes, Texas
Michaela-Katherine Taylor, 17, Germany*
Jonathan Thomas, 17, Germany
Brian Thompson, 16, Bel Air, Maryland

*Brandon Mammano and Michaela-Katherine Taylor are also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Army

Gregory Davis, 17, Tampa, Florida
Abigail Faust, 16, Cadiz, Kentucky
Isaac Gonzalez, 18, Universal City, Texas
Jason Herlick, 17, Adams, Tennessee
Hunter Hotaling, 17, Lansing, Kansas
Peter Leffler, 14, Fairfax, Virginia
Elisabeth Polleys, 16, Macomb, Michigan
Elisa Rich, 16, Clemmons, North Carolina
Catherine Roller, 18, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Sarah Schaefer, 17, Stafford, Virginia
Obadiah Scroggins, 13, Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Noah Sylvia, 18, Fort Hood, Texas
Anna Torres, 15, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland
Marisol Wentling, 14, Fort Benning, Georgia
Katherine Wilton, 17, Dupont, Washington

Coast Guard

Kailey Aponte, 14, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
Giovanni Beltran, 14, Slidell, Louisiana
Shannon Campbell, 17, Saint Johns, Florida
Emma Fike, 17, Fairhaven, Massachusetts
Joshua Fisher, 13, Bluffton, South Carolina
Mackenzie Godfrey, 14, Corpus Christi, Texas
Mattie Gross, 17, Kodiak, Alaska
Emily Light, 17, Port Angeles, Washington
Hennessy Martinez, 16, San Diego, California
Kylie McGuire, 17, Hamilton, New Jersey
Hazel Romero, 14, Madisonville, Louisiana
Tyler Schultz, 16, Forestdale, Massachusetts
Tyler Shiflett, 17, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
Erin Tabor, 13, Summerville, South Carolina
Sarah Williams, 16, Macclenny, Florida

Marine Corps

William Butler, 17, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Jaidah Davis, 17, Okinawa, Japan
Sofia Gibson, 16, Chesapeake, Virginia
Logan Harrell, 17, Stafford, Virginia
Jaxson Jordan, 13, Tarawa Terrace, North Carolina
Elvine Katanga, 16, Jacksonville, North Carolina
Elizabeth Kellum, 17, Jacksonville, North Carolina
Ethan Ley, 13, Highland Park, Illinois
Julia Livingston, 17, Okinawa, Japan*
Karina Maciel, 15, Kailua, Hawaii
William Moseley, 18, Okinawa, Japan
Connor Salcido, 17, Gaithersburg, Maryland
Haes Shake, 17, Hubert, North Carolina
Briana Torres, 18, San Marcos, California
Jacob Woodall, 14, Crestview, Florida

*Julia Livingston is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

National Guard

Brennan Palani Buccat, 18, Waipahu, Hawaii
Katja Grisham, 17, Auburn, Alabama
Caleb Johnson, 17, Bakersfield, California
Cameron Lantagne, 16, Vancouver, Washington
Jack Leipertz, 17, Powhatan, Virginia
Maycie Madsen, 18, Richfield, Utah
Lauren McKenna, 17, Meridian, Idaho*
Campbell Miller, 17, Ontario, Ohio
Clayton Miller, 15, Petersburg, Illinois
Kaley Mulligan, 13, Haven, Kansas
Matthew Ospina, 17, Marysville, Washington
Koralys Rodriguez, 18, Statesville, North Carolina
Dakota Scott, 15, Fort Greely, Alaska
Carlos Vega, 17, Leavenworth, Kansas
Rachel Warner, 17, Roosevelt, New Jersey

*Lauren McKenna is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Navy

Avery Alfonzo, 14, San Diego, California
Zaira Alvarez, 17, Pensacola, Florida
Danielle Bilotta, 16, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mahlon Catalina, 17, Hanford, California
James Cosman, 14, Joint-Base Andrews, Maryland
Ronald Eytchison, 17, Huron, Ohio
Declan Fletcher, 17, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Sawyer Getschman, 16, Germany
Payton Godlewski, 17, Germany
Jack Lund, 18, Gulf Breeze, Florida
Elisabeth Lundgren, 18, Chula Vista, California
Celine Maharaj, 17, Norfolk, Virginia
Mary McLellan, 17, England
Nickolas Moncilovich, 16, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania
Isabella White, 14, Jacksonville, Florida

Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Jordan Daugherty, 17, Staten Island, New York, Army
Megan Green, 16, Whispering Pines, North Carolina, Air Force
Julia Livingston, 17, Okinawa, Marine Corps
Brandon Mammano, 18, Mililani, Hawaii, Air Force
Troy Mills Marin, 17, Brownsville, Texas, Coast Guard
Lauren McKenna, 17, Meridian, Idaho, Army
Yohanna Torres Sanchez, 17, Orlando, Florida, Army
Michaela-Katherine Taylor, 17, Germany, Air Force
Jessica Vanstory, 17, Maple Hill, Kansas, National Guard
Sophie Williams, 17, Japan, Navy

2019 marks the 11th anniversary of this special event — the nation’s premier celebration of the achievements of our military children.

The final seven award recipients will be selected by a panel of judges and announced in March. They will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at a gala on April 18 , 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.

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.

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

Read the full press release.

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