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As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

At Operation Homefront, over 80 percent of our staff have served, had a significant other who served or have been part of a military family. As Veterans Day approaches, we asked our staff to share insights into what made their military service meaningful, and what kind of recognition means the most to them, if any.

Here are their reasons, realities and rewards about serving our country:

What keepsakes from your time in the service have the most meaning for you?

• A gold watch from a commander with a short note that was the most heart touching.
• My flying helmet.
• My plankowner plaque and the tri-corner-folded flag that draped the coffin of my World War II veteran father when he died in 1996. He was a great father and a great American.
• I don’t have too many keepsakes left as my household shipment sank in the ocean on the return from overseas. (Of those that I still have), my most meaningful is the baby blanket my Commander and his wife gave to me when my oldest son was born at my last duty station (Beale AFB, CA).
How did your military service shape or define who you are today?
• It allowed me to strengthen my belief in service to others.
• I learned more about how to write news stories and how to handle media relations from Defense Information School (DINFOS) than I learned at the University where I earned my (degree).
• I worked in a field that was unfamiliar to me and one that was primarily all men, so I was the minority and usually at a disadvantage. But, this allowed me to learn a lot of new skills such as construction, maintenance, etc. and taught me to be confident in myself, my knowledge, and my ability to learn.
• Most folks would say I tailored the Air Force to meet my needs and desires. (I was ) always the rebel on top of the pack and the leader of whatever I was tasked to do.

What is one way you have seen veterans honored that touched you the most? Or has someone honored your service in a way that was especially meaningful?

• The annual placement of wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, Va., is special. I’ve actually done that for the American Legion National Headquarters a few times when I was on the K Street staff of the nation’s largest veterans-service organization. I once gave a wreath to the sentry along with my wife, who is a U.S. Army veteran even though she is from Poland.
• Standing for the flag.
• A co-worker in Milwaukee went to Harley Davidson and I received the first flag flown for my retirement over H-D headquarters.
• I attended an evening event at Mt Rushmore. Veterans were asked to come to the front of the audience and say their name and branch of service, and when everyone had been acknowledged the monument was lit up. It was simple, but beautiful.

What is something meaningful that Americans can do today to honor or support those who have served in the military?

• Be interested, ask questions, and listen to their stories.
• I’m sure many adults tell veterans and troops, “Thank you for your service.” And, (sadly), most of those adults also encourage young family members to avoid the military. Be realistic about the risks, but don’t be discouraging with a young family member who has his/her mind made up to serve. They just need to know what they’re getting into.
• For myself, no thanks are needed, I chose to serve my country because I believe our freedoms come with a cost and I gladly served so others could enjoy their freedoms set by the founders of this nation. However, it doesn’t hurt when someone takes a moment to thank you for your service and sacrifice.
• Take time to understand what it means to military members to serve and why they choose to do so.

If you’ve served, thank you. Your willingness to place your life at risk, give up precious moments with family and friends (too many to count), and put others before self does not go unnoticed by all of us at Operation Homefront. Our mission is to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities you have worked so hard to protect. That’s how we say thanks. Those who support us, echo our gratitude, with their gifts.

As we draw close to Veterans Day, we wish for you to feel the full force of the honor you are worthy of as a veteran of the United States Armed Forces. Thank you for your service!

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This blog is the first part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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Brittany with her stepfather, Bobby Henline.

In April 2009, Brittany (Wallace) Strout was a 17-year-old high school senior in San Antonio, who had decided to attend University of Northern Colorado, a 17-hour-drive from home. The daughter of a wounded soldier, she planned to study psychology to learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder so she could help veterans and their families.

Meanwhile, Operation Homefront had just launched a new award to recognize the extraordinary contributions of military children. Receiving 450 nominations for Military Child of the Year® , a panel of judges would select only one recipient.

That first Military Child of the Year®  was Brittany. Two years earlier, at the age of 15, she had taken on much greater family responsibilities after her stepfather, Robert “Bobby” Henline, then an Army staff sergeant, was severely burned in a roadside bombing at the start of his fourth deployment to Iraq in 2007.

When Bobby was wounded, the family was living near Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. While Brittany’s mother, Connie Henline, traveled to be with her husband at what is now San Antonio Military Medical Center, Brittany helped care for her brother, then 9, and sister, then 8, with the help of relatives in North Carolina.

After Brittany and her siblings joined their parents in San Antonio three months later, Brittany got her provisional driver’s license so she could drive her brother and sister to and from school and appointments, all while going through her junior year of school herself. Connie was often at the hospital, or once Bobby was released months later, spending seven to nine hours a day on wound care.

“It was hard for my parents, especially my father, to balance that I was still his baby; yet I had grown up so quickly in such a short time,” Brittany said.

Today, Brittany, who turns 26 on Sept. 25, works with military families as assistant house manager at the Lackland AFB, Texas, Fisher House, part of a network of homes near military and Veterans Affairs hospitals where families can stay for free while a loved one receives treatment. She loves the job because “we stayed at the Fisher House when my dad was injured, so it’s kind of all coming back full circle.”

Receiving Military Child of the Year®, which now recognizes seven outstanding youth each year for scholarship, volunteerism and leadership while facing the challenges of military life, was a “big shock to the entire family,” Brittany said, adding that Operation Homefront “put down the red carpet” for their trip to Washington, D.C., to accept the award. “It was an amazing weekend for me and my family,” she said, with a highlight being a tour of the White House where they got to meet Michelle Obama and the first family’s dog, Bo. In 2010, Brittany and her father appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show with Michelle Obama and former vice president Joe Biden, who each got to pick a special guest. The first lady chose Brittany.

“When you think about the hard times in anyone’s life, you just get through the day. You don’t have time to think whether this is the right thing, or the wrong thing, you just do it,” she said. “Now, looking back at it, … I now know … that not everyone would do that, but a lot of military children would. They would step up. They would be the caregiver.”

“So many other organizations should be awarding these military children because they don’t have a choice,” Brittany continued. Their mom, dad, uncle or other family member made the choice, she said, but “the child is not given a choice.” “Their sacrifice just comes with the territory.”

She didn’t fully realize it at the time, but receiving the Military Child of the Year® award helped Brittany define herself, as media interviewers and others asked her about her role as her father started his long healing process that has involved more than 40 surgeries, amputating his left hand, and turning to stand-up comedy and motivational speaking.

That time in their lives would have a profound effect on Brittany’s choices. She graduated from University of Northern Colorado in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a major she chose because she was fascinated by post-traumatic stress disorder and how war affects soldiers differently. She wanted to learn more about why military members “like so much adrenalin,” and when returning home from deployment, “why do some excel, and some, honestly, give up on life.”

She starts in January a master’s program in social work at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. She needs an advanced degree so she can counsel wounded service members and their families, a choice shaped by her own family’s experience. Ultimately, she wants to be a wounded warrior case manager at Randolph AFB, Texas.

Brittany, Billy and their daughter, Addison, 3.

Brittany also is a newlywed, married to Billy, whom she met just before traveling to Washington, D.C., for the Military Child of the Year ceremony, and the mother of a 3-year-old girl, Addison Hope. In the next five months, she’s a bridesmaid in four friends’ weddings — two in San Antonio, one in Nebraska and one in Hawaii.

Brittany said she’s thankful to have a great support system between her family and Billy’s because life will become even more demanding once her master’s program starts. Their daughter keeps them on their toes.

“She has so much attitude,” Brittany said. “I don’t know where she gets it from. She is a spitfire.” Addison corrects her mother’s driving, Brittany said. She has been walking since she was eight months old, and she taught herself to swim.

Asked about advice for other military children and future Military Child of the Year® award recipients, Brittany said: “The most important thing … is to always take care of yourself in order to be the best mother, wife, friend, coworker. You have to nurture every aspect of your life to be the best in any one of them.

“I travel a lot because that’s what makes me happy,” she said. “I can’t be a great example to my daughter if I’m not happy.”

“I think it’s so amazing that Operation Homefront awards, now, seven awards to these children who are just trying to get through so many different obstacles that they are put through that other kids are not.”

In each of the first two years of Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year® program, the nonprofit organization named only one awardee. Starting in 2011, judges selected a child representing each branch of the military for a total of five awards. In 2015, Operation Homefront added the National Guard, for a total of six awards. And in 2016, a seventh award was added, the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by Booz Allen Hamilton. This award is given for designing a bold, creative solution to a local, regional or global challenge, such as an invention, improvement to existing technology, or creation or expansion of a nonprofit or community service group. Operation Homefront and sponsors present the awards, including a $10,000 cash prize and other gifts, at a gala in April, the Month of the Military Child.

Military kids may not see the challenges in their lives as potential obstacles to overcome at the time, but those successes will serve them well later professionally and personally, Brittany said. She also emphasized the value of higher education. “I can’t stress to children [enough] how important college is, not only in the career field but also for personal growth. You can never be too educated, not just in academics, but in life,” she said.

Choosing a Colorado college was the right step for her, she said. Her family had been stationed in Colorado Springs when she was in eighth and ninth grades, and Brittany kept in touch with some friends she met there. She joined Sigma Kappa, becoming the sorority’s vice president of communications and then, in her senior year, its president.

“It was what I needed. I needed to have fun,” she said. “I needed to focus on myself, and I definitely got to do that in Colorado.”


Nominations are now being taken for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.  Anyone can nominate…teachers, friends, parents, grandparents.  Click here to nominate. 

Help us promote it on Facebook and Twitter so we can reach as many families as possible.  Use #MCOY2018 to join the conversation. Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

We can’t wait to be inspired by your nominations!

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“Every act of kindness grows the spirit and strengthens the soul.” Anonymous

Thank You for joining us throughout May to show your support for military families as part of our #Mission2Honor campaign. As we close out the month, we’d like to share some of our favorites we received. We hope they will inspire our military and veteran families and give them the strength of knowing their country stands behind them:

 

Thank you for the huge sacrifice and commitment to our safety and freedoms. I thank you for your selfless service. You are appreciated every day! 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸-Sally L.

 

Thank you so much for your willingness to serve, your commitment to protect, and your dedication to excellence! Take care! God Bless America. -Major Jeff B., USAF (Ret)

 

Thank you to our heroes! Your sacrifices to our country will never go unnoticed! ❤️-Tina F

 

Thank you for choosing to fight for this amazing country of ours. It is because of your service and your sacrifices our freedoms are cherished. Thanks be to those that fought to defend this country and those who lost their lives. But you all took the same vow, to defend your loved one and strangers and even enemies. Our family honors you today. Thank you for you and families service! -Collins Family

 

To all of our retired veterans and their loved ones; to all of our currently deployed military service men and women and their loved ones, and, to every recently-served service man and woman who has completed their tour of duty and is back in the U.S. as well as to any and ALL returned-to-the-U.S. service men and women who have sustained injuries, of ALL kinds, due to their recent service anywhere around the world, and, to all military service men, women and all of their loved ones, who are dealing with financial, emotional, familial, spiritual, etc., issues, and, finally, to ALL others, who have served our country, militarily, and their loved ones: THANK YOU! THANK YOU…each and every one! This country owes U OUR forever thanks!!! -Deborah T

 

Thank you for your service! May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you, guide you direct you, may his Angels bring you home safely without any harm. May Jesus comfort your loved ones and give them peace. Thanks again for your service! God Bless you! -Gail Hblessings to you and your family.-Adrian N

 

Thank you for everything you have done! I see many people forgetting what amazing people like you have done to give them the freedom they have. I hope you are having a great day and know that many people, myself included, thank you and your friends and appreciate you all so much for what you guys have sacrificed. I am in the JROTC program and just know that all of you are highly respected and we look up to you guys for your hard work and determination. I hope you are having the best day ever. Much love from Nevada -Tiana M.

 

I want you to know how grateful I am for your service to our country. You are making a great sacrifice and should be proud of yourself. I wish you the best of luck and hope you can come home soon. Our country is very lucky to good people like you. -Kathleen H.

 

I don’t need to know you to know My heart thanks you so much for all that you do for the people of this Country. A sacrifice not many do. Always be strong and don’t let anything break you. Always stand on the side of right. You got this. Sending many

 

There is still time to send your own message of support via the link below, or create your own social media post using the hashtag #Mission2Honor.

Send a message of support!

Thank you for joining us in helping build strong, stable, and secure military families.

Find out more about our #Mission2Honor campaign and ways you can honor military families beyond Military Appreciation Month.

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As part of our #Mission2Honor campaign, we asked you to share messages of thanks to our military families. Today is Thankful Thursday, and with Armed Forces Day around the corner, we challenge our community to send your own message of support via the link below, or create your own social media post using the hashtag #Mission2Honor.

Send a message of support!

This week, we picked some of our favorites we’ve received so far!

Thank you so much for all that you do and for the family that was left behind while you were protecting mine. You are true heroes. Thank you for everything. — Sherri C.

Thank you for your sacrifices each day so my family can live in such a wonderful country! From one Veteran to another, I appreciate each of you! — Retired Sgt. And Wounded Veteran, Don R.

Thank you so much for your sacrifice and service. Military members and their families have had to sacrifice so much, the past 16 years especially. I want to offer my heartfelt thanks and gratitude for all you do for our country. — Jim W.

A world of thanks to those who serve and their families for securing peace and prosperity for our country.  We are the best nation because our military guarantees us the space, resources, and freedom to pursue excellence in business, education, health care and all the other endeavors which make us Number 1.  THANK YOU!  THANK YOU!  THANK YOU! — John A.

I support all our military personnel and their families. You guys do a great job by serving and protecting our country. Thank you so much!! Salute for all of you guys!! — Janine S.

Join us for Military Appreciation Month and send a message of support to honor those who have served and are continuing to serve our communities across the country, using this link or via your social using #Mission2Honor. We will continue to share your messages as they come in.

 

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One of the reasons we created the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year® award program is to honor the resilience and strength of the youngest members of a military family who are along for the ride as their parents protect our freedom. It’s not an easy life. But the way most military kids carry themselves shows that they have endured, and survived, some very tough times. Multiple moves. Deployments. Sickness and injury that may affect a family member or themselves.

This year’s award recipients took some time to share how they get through tough times…to let other kids know that they struggle too and to inspire them to persevere.

Their words of advice are remarkable…read on:

 

Moving to a different place can be exciting, but with that comes the challenge of being the new kid in school and having to make new friends. Not knowing where you fit in within the social arena of school life (is hard). The thing that gets me through those tough times is running, or walking outside. Doing any activity outside helps me relieve stress and relax.
Jamal Braxton, 18, Air Force Military Child of the Year

 

 

I always would pack my schedule full during any tough time I would face. I would try new activities that would take up my free time, so that I had no time to think about what was causing that tough time, such as deployment.- Molly Frey, 16, National Guard Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

In times of trial, I find comfort in the fact that I’ve already faced and overcome some of life’s greatest challenges, and doing so is not abnormal, but my continual reality. –Henderson Heussner, 18, Army Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

My family (is) very close because of all the moves we have done. No matter how I am feeling I can always count on my family to be there and cheer me up. -Mary Kate Cooper, 17, Coast Guard Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like to exercise when I am frustrated or irritated.- Sophie Bernstein, 17, Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several things keep me together during hard times. Two of them are my dogs. They sit with me and love me no matter what I do. It is relaxing to sit there and pet them. Another factor is my family; they discuss my options with me and keep me on track.- Jackson Beatty, 18, Marine Corps Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

The support of my family, especially my mother, who has served as the anchor of my family while we have moved from place to place. My mom is a huge inspiration to me, and the soul of our family. It is because of her support that we have been so successful. I also had great personal consistency through my participation in the Boy Scouts of America. While there were many different things in the places I lived, the Scouting program always allowed me to have a home where I could easily participate in familiar activities and have an instant group of friends in a new location. – Alexander McGrath, 17, Navy Military Child of the Year

 

Find out more about this year’s recipients, take a look at more pictures from this year’s event or watch the 2017 Facebook Live presentation of our awards ceremony

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By John Pray, President & Chief Executive Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

It’s exciting to be able to see into the future. I had this rare opportunity when I had the privilege of spending time with seven exceptional military teens this week as we honored our Military Child of the Year ® recipients at our special gala in Washington DC.

Sophie, Henderson, Jamal, Jackson, Alexander, Mary and Molly – each one of these amazing young adults possesses a remarkable spirit: the spirit of selfless service that defines our great nation.

Their spirit shined as they dealt with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other uncertainties and challenges that often characterize military family life.

They have developed an inner compass that points them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate, and to serve others in their own communities.

They are extraordinary representatives of the nearly two million military children who serve all of us alongside their parents.

Our special guest for the evening, Ellyn Dunford, wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford, expressed her admiration so well when she described our seven honorees:

“When you look at this year’s recipients, you’ll find an impressive example of what these kids have to offer. They volunteer extensively both in military and civilian communities, scouting and church groups, a variety of school programs and academic excellence clubs. They overcome adversity and then helped others through the same problems. They excel in sports and music. They mentor other kids. They advocate for military families and veterans’ groups. They feed their community. They provide clothing and comfort to others. Especially comfort to the parent (who remains behind). They have taken the phrase, ‘it’s in our power’ and they are living it out. They (might) just be the next greatest generation.”

I couldn’t agree more. When you are fortunate enough to interact with a special group of young people like this, you are confident that the future of our country is in good hands.

Our honorees this year are all in their late teens – they may have just been learning to walk or talk in 2002 when an informal network of military spouses first got together to support one another during post 9/11 deployments to create the organization we now know as Operation Homefront.

We’ve grown tremendously over the past 15 years, and while the world has changed significantly our mission, our promise – to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect – still drives us all.
I am proud to tell you that thanks to your support, we are making a real difference. You help us honor our military children, those who don’t have a voice in where their family will be transferred, but who certainly seize each new opportunity to focus on making a meaningful difference in whatever community they call “home.”

At Operation Homefront, one of our core values is gratitude so I need to thank those who made this year’s Military Child of the Year® celebration a huge success:

• Ellyn Dunford, our keynote speaker, who clearly articulated our collective admiration for the resiliency of our military families and the key role military children play as they serve all of us alongside their parents;
• Andre’ McMillian, representing our presenting sponsor United Technologies Corporation and all of our other sponsors who made this evening’s celebration possible;
• The one and only John Heald, Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Lines, who cleverly orchestrated the night’s program as our emcee;
• The USO Show Troupe who provided an entertaining military salute;
• America’s Tenor, and my friend, Danny Rodriguez;
• And special thanks to the entire Operation Homefront family for all they have done and continue to do to build strong, stable and secure military families.

To all our 2017 honorees – I know your parents, families, AND communities are so proud of you — WE are proud of you too.

We look forward to next year and our 10th annual Military Child of the Year® Awards ceremony!

Find out more about this year’s recipients, take a look at more pictures from this year’s event or watch the 2017 Facebook Live presentation of our awards ceremony!

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Jackson Beatty, 2017 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award, has spent his entire youth overcoming adversity and making a difference.

When asked what trait he hoped someone would think of when describing him, Jackson writes, “I would hope they would pick my determination. Through all the hardships of my life I have never looked down and felt defeated. I have tried to keep my head high and push through obstacles in my way.”

Military kids often speak of the impact military moves have on them fitting in and making new friends, and for Jackson, this has been doubly true. Jackson had to adapt to the physical challenges of a condition called skeletal dysplasia which hampers the growth of bones and joints, while facing the emotional challenges of being bullied.

But it is Jackson’s character, leadership, and academic excellence that set an enviable example of resilience and strength.

Jackson’s determination has paid off. In addition to a near perfect GPA, he is his high school’s wresting team captain, recently placing third in his weight class at the 2017 North Carolina state championships. He is also a Kempo karate black belt, an art he has pursued since he was 4 and that he teaches to children in his spare time at a local facility.

His leadership has not been limited to the mat. He has served as Vice President of the Executive Board of the Student Government Association at his school. He has been chosen by both the faculty of his school and The Rotary Club of Jacksonville, N.C to attend leadership conferences to develop his promise.
Completing a trifecta of school involvement, Jackson has been captain of the Marching Band drumline and an active Band Booster, raising money for competition and band necessities.

His service continues outside of school, as he has devoted time to support March of Dimes, Special Olympics, Relay for Life, and Semper Fi Fund among many others.

Jackson is the son of Chief Warrant Officer Geoff Beatty and Somer Beatty of Camp Lejeune, NC. He is planning on attending the University of Alabama next academic year and majoring in either biology or engineering. It is fitting that his favorite quotes is from the legendary ‘Bama coach, Bear Bryant:
“A champion pays an extra price to be better than anyone else.”

Jackson said: “This year is my last year in high school, and I want it to be the best. To do this, I have to push myself and make it great. This quote reminds me that I have to give more to obtain what I want.”

#RollTide

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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