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Archive for the ‘Military Child of the Year’ Category

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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“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Dr. Suess

We all know military kids grow up in a unique world compared to many of their peers. Every year, we help bring military kids into the spotlight and recognize them for their service as a member of a military family.

Operation Homefront is happy to announce that nominations are now open for the 2019 Military Child of the Year® awards.

Now in its 11th year, our prestigious award will recognize 7 outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Anyone can nominate…parents, teachers, extended family, clergy, friends or distant admirers.

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Here are the details:

Six military children will be awarded the Military Child of the Year Award, one for each branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their achievements while facing the challenges of military family life. The seventh award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by our friends at Booz Allen Hamilton.

To give you an idea of some of those challenges, the average Military Child of the Year® Award: Recipients of the 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award:

  • experienced a change of station a combined 29 times;
  • lived through 225 months of deployments; and
  • have logged almost 3,000 volunteer hours in the 12 months before their nominations.

Some of our past Military Child of the Year® award recipients have dealt with serious and life threatening health issues, suffered loss, become caregivers to wounded parents, or stepped up in major ways to support their families through deployments and multiple relocations.  All the while, achieving excellence in school, sports, theatre and/or music, holding leadership positions in school and community groups, and volunteering tremendous hours to causes that impact their community and beyond.

You can read more about past recipients here.

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The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge. Last year’s recipient developed an idea to help severe allergy sufferers, especially young children, administer medication more easily. Another recipient built, planted, maintained and harvested 22 raised vegetable gardens at low-income daycare centers and shelters in their local community, and another provided accessibility ramps and other home modifications to children’s homes, which are not covered by Tricare, the military health insurance .

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All MCOY award recipients will receive $10,000 and a trip to DC for our special awards gala (see pics from last year). In addition, the Innovation Award will get to meet and work directly with members from Booz Allen Hamilton to help advance their project.

Nominate today your favorite military kid today!  Help us promote it on Facebook and Twitter so we can reach as many families as possible.  Use #MCOY2019 to join the conversation. Deadline to apply is Dec. 5, 2018.

And stay tuned for more news! We’ll announce the first round of semi-finalists in January!

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As about 3.6 million high school students graduate this year, we checked in with one of our Military Child of the Year® mothers about her emptying “nest,” and her youngest daughter’s college plans.

Moira Jablon-Bernstein, mother of 2017 MCOY Innovation Award recipient Sophie Bernstein, says she and her husband, Navy Reserve Capt. Brad Bernstein, played a role in raising three high-achieving children, but in the end, they are responsible for their own success.

Sophie, a graduating senior in St. Louis, applied to several top schools and decided to attend University of Missouri-Kansas City this fall. Under its B.A./M.D. program, she will graduate in six years with both a bachelor’s and a doctor of medicine degree. Sophie received the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Innovation Award, which is presented by Booz Allen Hamilton, for starting Grow Healthy, an organization that has planted more than two dozen gardens at preschools and daycare centers in St. Louis. These gardens help address issues like hunger, childhood obesity and the shortage of nutritious, fresh produce available in low-income neighborhoods.

After receiving the honor, which includes a $10,000 scholarship, Sophie continued working with Booz Allen Hamilton interns to re-engineer the Grow Healthy website, www.growhealthy.co where volunteers can sign up to help maintain gardens or apply to host one. “It was really neat what they did” together, Moira said. “I think it was really mutually beneficial.”

Sophie received the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Innovation Award, which is presented by Booz Allen Hamilton, for starting Grow Healthy, an organization that has planted more than two dozen gardens at preschools and daycare centers in St. Louis

Sophie is looking forward to seeing the project grow this summer, and then passing it on as she goes on to college.

Sophie’s older sister, Simone, is in the Navy and in her third year of medical school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., through the Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program. She will continue serving in the Navy after graduating. Sophie’s older brother, Jake, works for Google in Japan.

Moira used to work as a career counselor, and is now a part-time fitness instructor, teaching about 20 classes a week at community centers, corporations and universities. She recommends that parents who want to help their children do well in school and go to college must identify their kids’ strengths, and then help them achieve within their gifts, whether it’s in theater, compassion for helping others, science and math or other subjects. In their case, that meant not having computer games in the house, going to the library regularly, and limiting television. “We were just really focused on what we value, and what’s important to our family,” she said.

While the Bernsteins made academic education a priority, they also emphasized learning about the military and other types of service. “My husband’s philosophy has always been we give back to our community and to our nation,” Moira said. “For Sophie, that was the inspiration for the gardens.”

When Sophie received the MCOY award, “it was incredible,” Moira said. “It was wonderful on so many levels.” Moira appreciated that Sophie was honored for her work on the gardens project, and gained the opportunity to expand the initiative.

When traveling, the Bernstein family would make a point to visit military bases because they felt it was important for the kids to be around service members. “We made an effort to make the kids realize this is something their dad has taken on,” Moira said. “We tried to visit and expose our kids to as much military history as we can,” such as military museums so they understood and appreciated the U.S. armed services’ contributions.

“All three of my kids are really proud of their dad and to know that he’s giving back,” Moira said. “I just think there’s no greater gift in life.”

Moira Jablon-Bernstein(left), mother of 2017 MCOY Innovation Award recipient Sophie Bernstein (middle) visiting Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, on Capitol Hill.


Learn more about Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year Award program. #MCOY2018

Operation Homefront has joined with Procter and Gamble to promote the “Start Strong, Stay Strong” campaign, offering 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.  Moms can view a special video message from Melissa Stockwell about the campaign. Learn more at StartStrongPG.com.

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When parents doing the best they can to raise their kids need advice, they may consult friends and family, books and blogs, pediatricians and podcasts. The quality of the advice depends on the provider. Authors and doctors may offer professional credentials or even scientific evidence to support their guidance, with or without firsthand knowledge. Siblings and coworkers may base their suggestions on little more than good intentions.

That’s why some of the best advice may come from experienced mothers who are bringing up high achievers, such as the Military Child of the Year® recipients. Raising military children involves some unique challenges, including frequently changing schools, doctors and communities.

Jessica McGrath, whose older son, Alexander, was the 2017 Navy Military Child of the Year Award recipient, has learned a lot about parenting from her family’s experience moving more than seven times. She and her husband, Navy Capt. Richard McGrath, also have a son in seventh grade, Zachary. Alexander is finishing his first at Yale University, and has arranged a summer internship with a member of the British Parliament’s House of Commons.

Jessica recommends some ways parents can help their children succeed:

Be involved in their lives. “The biggest thing is to be an engaged parent,” Jessica said. “It kind of sounds clichéd, but it is very specific to the military child because … of moving so often …” It might be all right for parents who live in the same community for 10 years or more to go on “autopilot” once the child has established friends and activities, she said, but military families face a different situation. As much as possible, research schools, pediatricians and neighborhoods to find the best fit for your child.

For kids who do not handle moving as well, it is even more important to be tuned in, she said. Whenever possible, talk with them about what’s going on. Help them facilitate change if necessary because you may not have time for the issue to resolve itself. “You don’t have that gift of years of time in that one duty station.”

Act as your child’s advocate. “You need to be an advocate for your child, but that can be very positive. It doesn’t have to be an advocate in a complaining sense,” Jessica said.

For example, advocating for your child might mean being aware of and familiar with the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which requires states to ensure military kids have the same access to success as civilians, and are not penalized or delayed in achieving their educational goals. The compact addresses issues such as graduation requirements, records transfer and course placement.

It boils down to “making your child feel safe and happy and healthy in a new environment,” she said. Asking them “how can I help you learn to do it yourself?”

Tap into the local and military communities. “For a military child to be successful, it’s bloom where you’re planted,” Jessica said. They and their parents may not have had much, if any, control over where they moved, but they can make the most of what a community offers. “For this to really work though, you need support” from both the immediate family and the wider military family at the base or post. “You encourage them to get involved in this new community that you’re in,” whether that’s volunteering, joining teams or clubs, scouting, or whatever interests the child.

Getting involved helps the military children themselves, both in the moment and for future success, but also helps pave the way for other military children, she said. If they set a good example, it makes it that much easier for the community to accept the next military children who come along.

Jessica said another way to join the community is to take advantage of the wealth of information available among military families, and when appropriate, offer your own experiences. “Whatever it is you’re going through, someone has already done that.” In rural areas, Facebook groups of military families and spouses can be especially helpful, with members sometimes offering solutions within 20 minutes of posting. “I have always been amazed by the support,” she said.

Provide continuity. Continuing scouting, swimming, dance or other activities in each new community can help a child adapt, and gives a way to get to know kids who may become friends. An “anchor place,” somewhere you can return periodically, also helps. For the McGraths, it has been a family cabin in Maine. It could be a grandparent’s home, a friend’s place or just a favorite town.

Model how to take the initiative. “Lead by example,” she said. “We see a problem and you just fix it.” If someone needs assistance, your attitude should be “I don’t even know you, but let me drop what I’m doing and help you because I was there” too at one time. For example, Jessica and another spouse stepped in to take over the ombudsman’s responsibilities when that person became ill and had to bow out. The ombudsman is the liaison between the squadron and the ship’s command.

Teach that actions have consequences, and you control your actions. Whether it’s their own actions or someone else’s, decisions have a larger effect. “That’s, I think, the ultimate learning experience,” Jessica said. “You’re empowering them.” If a student at school got in trouble, talk about factors that may have contributed. Discuss empathy. If a friend got into college, discuss the many steps that led to that good news.

Develop a positive relationship with your kids. Jessica said if she has a parenting super power, it’s probably investing the time required for closeness and easy rapport with her sons. “They feel comfortable taking to me, and telling me their problems but also their successes, and us working together as a team.”

Realize that no two children are the same. You can strengthen a child’s attributes, and they each have their own individual qualities. Alex finds and pursues his own opportunities with tenacity. She doesn’t find them for him. But she did teach him social skills, and to always be polite, which helped him interact in ways that led to positive outcomes. “He has this inner drive that I didn’t give him,” she said. “My gift was maybe getting your foot in the door.”

Focus on the positive. Jessica acknowledges that the moving process itself isn’t always fun, but says the pros can outweigh the cons. “It builds your character, it builds resiliency. You become a better person, and basically, that sets you up to be a very successful adult.”

Meeting various challenges gives you strength to draw upon, teaches you what works and what doesn’t, and even gives you good conversation starters, she said. “Non-military kids don’t always get that opportunity, which I actually think is a blessing to learn and grow.”

Take care of yourself. Explore classes at local community colleges. Jessica, who graduated in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in management and retail buying, has worked in her field, but also reinvented herself numerous times. She worked for a company that sells mutual funds and insurance, for an attorney and for the Navy Exchange. She volunteered in advocacy for military families, helping with family readiness groups and CORE, or Continuum of Resource Education, which provides seminars and volunteers dedicated to enriching Navy spouses and families. Later, Jessica discovered a love for art and took classes in metalsmithing and photography. She is now a designer at the Baltimore Jewelry Center.

Richard McGrath, a former Navy pilot, is a professor of operations research at the Naval Academy.

Aside from being personally proud to see Alexander’s hard work pay off when he received the MCOY award, Jessica said it was even more special and meaningful knowing that he represents many other military children, “validating their breadth of experience, the resiliency of the military child.” Alex is friends with another 2017 MCOY award recipient, Henderson Heussner, who also attends Yale. Jessica said she’s glad the two of them share a common bond and background from their military upbringing.

“Just to see what a military child can accomplish is such an amazing, rewarding thing,” she said. “I love Operation Homefront and everything that they do.”

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times.

 

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Christopher Rodriguez was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Marine Corps. Now a Marine himself, we had the chance to touch base with him to talk about his journey since we last saw him. (Read Christopher’s profile from 2015).

In the 2½ years since Christopher Rodriguez received Operation Homefront’s Marine Corps Military Child of the Year award, he has completed half his classes toward a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and become a private first class in the Marine Reserve.

While he has one graduation ahead of him — Christopher expects to finish his University of Nevada, Las Vegas degree in 2020 — he completed a big milestone Oct. 6, graduating from basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and Camp Pendleton, California.

The grueling 13-week, three-phase program was tough, but worth it, Christopher said. “Earning the title of Marine, receiving the eagle, globe and anchor [emblem] at the top of the Reaper was a very rewarding and proud moment for myself,” he said, referring to the last obstacle at Camp Pendleton, California, a mountain that recruits must scale before becoming Marines. “Being a Marine was something I’ve always wanted to do.”

The last phase of the training, known as The Crucible, culminates at the Reaper, and is physically and mentally challenging, “pushing your limits that you wouldn’t have expected you could do in the very beginning of it,” Christopher said. Though he had to miss a semester for boot camp, he learned a lot of valuable lessons there, such as how best to achieve goals while working with other people’s flaws and strengths. “Being able to do that kind of gave me some more confidence,” he said.

Family support was key to finishing each day with a positive mindset, Christopher said. “The main motivation for me, getting through the whole process was definitely my family, said Christopher, adding that letters from his parents, grandparents and other family members comforted him.

Another incentive that drove him to finish: his appetite. “When I graduated, I wanted to eat real food. I missed a lot of the home cooking. The first thing I ate, we went to a Mexican restaurant, and I just ordered the fattest burrito that was on the menu.”

When Christopher graduated from Lejeune High School, North Carolina, he wasn’t sure he wanted to join the Marines right out of high school, so he took time to think about it while attending college. “Now I’m ready for it,” he said. “I was all for it.”

One factor that helped him make up his mind was spending time with family. He, his parents and two younger siblings moved to Las Vegas to be closer to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Chris’ stepfather, retired Gunnery Sgt. Jermaine Smith, is now a Marine JROTC instructor at a local high school. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said Christopher’s mom, Griscelda Smith, who teaches toddlers at a child care center. Christopher’s 17-year-old sister, Jazzlyn, and 15-year-old brother, Kilyn, are in the Navy JROTC program at a different high school.

It was important to Chris to be involved in family members’ lives. Having done that, he felt content with his decision to join the Marine Corps, knowing, “If I do deploy, I got to spend my time with family.”

After two more months of training at Camp Pendleton, Chris will drill as a reservist on weekends and up to two weeks a month at the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada. He plans to go through Officer Candidates School to become a commissioned Marine Corps officer, graduating as a second lieutenant.

“Our goal as a parent, he needs to finish school,” his mom said.

Chris said later in life, he might like to go back to school for environmental science, studying renewable and reusable energy. “I find that very interesting,” he said of the field, in which some of his family members work. “A cleaner environment for everyone to live in, to me is very important,” Chris said.

One of Christopher’s favorite memories from the Washington, D.C., trip for the Military Child of the Year gala was getting to know the other 2015 recipients, a memory later marred by the death of National Guard recipient Zachary Parsons, who was killed in a February 2016 car accident. “It was a tragic moment,” Christopher said. “It hit me hard. We all got close. He was a great guy.”

Seeing the Washington sights and memorials was a “big wow moment,” that gave him appreciation for our country’s history, and that he will always cherish, Christopher said.

Another highlight: Meeting the high-ranking officers who attended the MCOY gala and had a good influence on him, especially now-retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Stay motivated, whatever you’re doing with your life,” Christopher advised future MCOY recipients. “Keep moving forward. Keep providing for your community.” He said he knows philanthropic people, such as MCOY recipients, like feeling proud for giving back and helping others, so he encouraged them to be “that leader, that role model in your family and for your friends, for your school.”

“Stay being yourself,” he advised. “Be humble.”

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times.

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Nicole Goetz was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Air Force in 2011. We were honored to have Maggie with us this year in DC, helping to present this year’s MCOY award to our Air Force recipient. We also had the chance to touch base with her recently to learn where life has taken her since we last met, including working with her good friend, Maggie Rochon, MCOY for U.S. Coast Guard 2011. (Read Maggie’s update here)

In 2011, I had the honor of serving as the first Military Child of the Year for the Air Force. That Operation Homefront gala in Washington, D.C., was such a special time for me because not only did I meet one of my heroes, then first lady Michelle Obama, but I also got surprised by my forever hero, my father. My father was finishing up a year-long deployment in Afghanistan and it was his service overseas that inspired my community service on the homefront.*

A few short months after the gala, I was pursuing an international affairs degree at Emory University in Atlanta. Every class and every discussion brought me back to my father’s service. During my time at school, I realized just how bad the military-civilian disconnect had become. For the most part, students, staff, and faculty had never personally interacted with an active-duty member or their family member. Most of their understanding of the active-duty service members had stemmed from what they read about or saw on TV, and a vast majority of it was never good. That was when I decided to act. With help from now-retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, former Air Force Chief of Staff, and Moody Air Force Base, we were able to assemble a panel of active-duty service members to speak to students.

I remember the day of the panel like it was yesterday. I was scared that students wouldn’t show, because why would they? But with extra pleading from myself and extra credit offered from professors, the room was packed. The panel consisted of five active-duty service members: a colonel; an Army Ranger who was about our age; an explosive ordnance disposal technician who was 24 with four kids and a purple heart; a combat controller; and a young female airman who performed humanitarian missions overseas.

After I introduced each guest, I watched as students connected the material they were taught in their college classes to those on the panel. The only way I could describe what happened next was that it was magic. The air in the room was no longer cold and awkward, but warm and full of empathy.

The next moment would change my life forever. The colonel shared that he was not sure how the panel was going to be received by the students. He reflected on how the Vietnam veterans were spat on and shouted at by college students when they came home. Then he started to tear up and remarked that my generation would be dealing with 20-plus years of veterans due to our involvement in the global war on terror. Right then and there I decided that I’ll be damned if I let my generation treat my father and the rest of our veterans as they did back in the 1960s and 70s. The panel was a huge success and Emory continued to host military panels and reintegration projects ever since.

From that moment, I figured my best bet at helping the military community was to work in the political sector. It was an exciting, fast-paced world. My military upbringing helped me tackle the unpredictable, tumultuous environment. I worked for organizations and campaigns from the local to national levels. It all seemed like a natural fit, until it wasn’t.

I was exhausted from constantly trying to break through the glass ceiling in politics. Sexism was and is a real issue. Many of my colleagues assumed I was there to become a senator’s wife, not to positively change policy. It had become a major hindrance that set me off my original purpose of serving our military and veteran community. Rather than continuing to try to chip away at the obtuse obstacle in front of me, I searched for a new angle. That angle soon revealed itself through the STEM field.

After my departure from politics, I accepted a marketing and outreach position with the Curtis Laws Wilson Library at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. This past February, I spearheaded the university’s largest hackathon to date. A hackathon is a weekend-long event that brings hundreds of students from across the nation together to solve a current problem in society through the use of coding and technology. This year, we decided to focus our efforts on helping our transitioning military members, veterans, and their families. With over $20,000 from corporate sponsors and around 100 hackers, the event was a success as many new ideas and platforms were created to help assist the military and their families with reintegration. Our inaugural event set a strong precedent for next year’s hackathon.

I’ve also been working on another project with a fellow 2011 Military Child of the Year and close friend, Maggie Rochon — creating a platform that will better connect military spouses and dependents across the different military bases and posts around the country and world.

Aside from my transitioning career, I am also transitioning from the role of military brat to military spouse. In May 2017, I married my best friend, 1st Lt. Brian Kloiber. Brian is a West Point graduate, Army diver, and a great dog dad. His kindness, patience, support, and good humor have made the transition to being a spouse a fun and somewhat seamless one despite the curveballs of military life like moving, deployments, and career sacrifices. With every challenge we have faced so far, I was reminded of how great of a team we make and how we are both each other’s equals and strengths. I am excited to see what all the future has in store for us!

Obstacles and all, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I know I am blessed to be part of one of the best and strongest communities in the world. From growing up watching my mom be the strong and selfless super military spouse to now interacting with so many great, ambitious spouses, I am forever in awe of the service and support that spouses, dependents, and great organizations like Operation Homefront give to ensure our military members, veterans, and their families are well taken care of.

Moving forward, if I have to give advice to future winners, I’d say that it’s OK if things don’t work out as you plan. Things can change at the drop of a hat, dreams can shatter, and you will be thrown off course. But all that matters is how you react. If you stay true with what you are really passionate about, life has a funny way of getting you back on track.

By Nicole Goetz

*Editor’s note: Nicole’s father, now retired, was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

 

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