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Archive for the ‘Service Members’ Category

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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For Jamal Braxton, 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award recipient for the U.S. Air Force, and future U. S. Air Force Academy Class of 2021 cadet, is always ready for a challenge . It begins with an unshakeable belief that there is always something that can be done, whether through service to others or endless compassion.

This empathy for others, to be fully engaged, also drives Jamal to serve others. Both at home and abroad, Jamal has been active in and outside of the base gates. In the U.S. and overseas, he has championed the nonprofit New Eyes for the Needy, which purchases new eyeglasses for U.S. residents and distributes used eyeglasses to the disadvantaged in developing countries. In the current school year alone, Jamal has obtained 160 eyeglasses and 70 lenses for the nonprofit.

In addition to enduring the relocations and deployments of his father, Jamal has also known loss. Two of his school-age friends have passed too young, one to an auto accident and the other to a seizure. These experiences have driven him to embrace all that life has to offer while compelling him to give back and encouraging and supporting others to do the same.

While he acknowledges the obstacles inherent to military life, Jamal is poetic in describing the positive experiences he has had, particularly when describing the family’s time in Japan. “I personally loved living in Japan, because although they’re modern they appreciate nature to its fullest,” said Jamal. “Japan has shown me how to truly appreciate nature from their breath-taking scenery and by holding festivals like the Cherry Blossoms Festival and Hanami both appreciating the beauty of flowers.”

He has also been extremely active with the Red Cross at home and during his time in Germany. In these capacities, Jamal oversees monthly veteran house visits, youth group and leadership group meetings, numerous activities related to the armed forces, the recruitment of future Red Cross Youth Services leaders, and numerous fundraisers, including the International Measles & Rubella Initiative fundraiser.

He said his time with the Red Cross has fueled his aspiration to be a neurosurgeon one day. “I have always had an interest in the function of the brain and its amazing abilities from simple tasks like our five senses to language comprehension,” said Jamal. “So, my passion for the brain and the wanting to help others has steered me to the field of Neurology.” He also educates youth on International Humanitarian Law.

Jamal doesn’t stop there. He is a varsity athlete in swimming, track and field and cross country, active in Scouting, and has a job as a lifeguard.

Jamal is the son of Master Sgt. Lawrence Braxton and Ahllam Braxton of Hill AFB, UT. With all he has accomplished to date, the sky is the limit for this young man.

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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Molly Frey faces her fears with fervor. Our 2017 National Guard Military Child of the Year said she first felt the impact of being a military kid when her dad, Senior Master Sergeant Kim Frey (ret), deployed to Iraq for the first time.

“This growing sadness and worry I developed was very difficult to explain to my school friends.Most children without a military background don’t understand deployment, and how it affects a family. He was a half a world away, and there was nothing we could do about it,” reflected Molly.

But that wasn’t all. Through her father’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Molly also faced the military demands facing her mother, Senior Master Sergeant Renee Frey, who serves in the Air National Guard. At times, she was without both parents

But Molly didn’t shrink back in fear…she let it serve as her motivation to excel in life. “I never let my grades slip, nor did I ever let his deployments stop me from accomplishing many things. I started Tribute to the Troops (an ice skating event in her area of Ohio) in honor of my father and to all the military. I took what is difficult for children to handle and used it to bounce back and give back to the military community,” said Molly.

On top of all of this, Molly was still able to maintain academic excellence, keep a 4.0 or higher..

“I have NEVER seen anyone her age exhibit the dedication she does to everything,” said Molly’s supervisor when she was an assistant sailing instructor at Leatherlips Yacht Club’s children’s camp. “On windy days, I have seen her rescue 20 capsized boats and be so tired that I had to lift her into the pontoon boat, just to watch her dive off again to rescue another. She would take charge of the students during boat rigging time to ensure that everything was done correctly.  Molly is a remarkable young lady.”

Molly’s favorite saying is by author Suzy Kassem,   “Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.”  She says it reminds her when she wants to try something new or if something scares her, to push herself to do it.

She’s received the President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence twice. In a letter to Molly, ,   President Barack Obama wrote, “Students like you will chart the course of our country’s unwritten history, and I commend you for setting a powerful example for all young Americans.”

Molly also raised funds and participated for five years in Skate for Hope accumulating over $6,000 for Breast Cancer Research. Molly served in the leadership group “Students Serving Students (S3)” designed to improve character, school climate, organize events and an anti-bullying group to formulate ideas to prevent bullying in school. Molly has also performed in the professional Columbus Ohio BalletMet Nutcracker three years. She was selected as 2012 Miss Greene Countrie Towne Junior Miss to be involved in community events.

She also plays the piano, golfs, and figure skates.  She also finds time to volunteer at her local hospital allowing her to shadow medical personnel, because she is determined to be a cardio thoracic heart surgeon.

No doubt, Molly will make a way!

 

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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At the age of 11, Sophie Bernstein asked her parents to start a garden. Her parents, Navy Reserves Capt. Brad Bernstein and Moira Bernstein, initially dismissed the request. Perhaps they thought the work of planting, weeding and harvesting would ultimately fall on them. Or maybe they envisioned a sad overgrown mess, due to neglect.

But Sophie persisted, and they gave in. Now 17 years old, Sophie’s green thumb grew into a remarkable bounty, not only for her family but also for hundreds of others in her community.

“When I explained to my parents that I would oversee all the garden tasks and that I wanted to donate the vegetables I grew to a food bank, they agreed to let me grow my first raised vegetable garden bed in 2012. For the past four years, I have expanded my project to 22 gardens at low-income preschools, daycares and emergency shelters for children in the metropolitan St. Louis region.”

For that extraordinary effort, she’s been chosen to receive Operation Homefront’s 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton.

So far, Sophie has donated more than 13,570 pounds of produce to local food banks and to families in need. Sophie’s innovation has raised awareness of childhood hunger in the community, and it has increased the volume of fresh and healthy produce available at food banks and at child care facilities.

Sophie believes that everyone can make an impact and a difference in improving the world at any age, at any time. Her favorite quote from Anne Frank, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” reminds her that Anne was only a teenager when she wrote a book that would have a huge impact on the world.

“Too often we underestimate the impact a simple gesture can have in another,” said Sophie.
Sophie’s project has been a hands-on learning lab for children, as she has led 225 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) botany and plant science workshops for young children throughout the year. In the process, students at low-income preschools are engaged in building, planting and maintaining produce gardens.

But she didn’t stop there. Sophie and her siblings started a website called http://www.volunteennation.org/ to engage youth throughout the nation in service. Using social media, they try to activate and mobilize youth in service. So far, they have recruited 785 teen volunteers from area high schools to help with the gardens and with the plant science workshops.

Sophie exemplifies the passion and resilience seen in so many military kids. Her family’s legacy of military service not only includes her dad, but also her sister serves in the Navy and both of her grandfathers were active in the Air Force and Army.

As part of the Award for Innovation, Sophie will receive a mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance her gardening and service projects. We can’t wait to see where Sophie’s passion to help others will take her next!

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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Scholar. Mentor. World Class Athlete.

There does not appear to be much that Mary Kate Cooper cannot do when she sets her mind to it. She embodies a “can-do” spirit that not only propels her towards excellence but lifts the spirits of those around her

“One thing I learned in life is you cannot control the situations you face, but you can control how you react to them,” she writes.

Mary Kate is a below-the-knee amputee from birth who has only known life with a prosthetic leg.

But rather than limit her, Mary Kate pushes those limits. Breaks them. She sets the bar high, reaches it, and then sets it even higher.

In addition to maintain a weighted 4.7 GPA in accelerated coursework, Mary Kate still finds time to mentor other children with disabilities while competing athletically at the highest levels of Paralympic sport. In addition to earning All-American High School status in track and field from the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Olympic Committee, Mary Kate has become a top swimmer, competing on the international level in the Can-Am Swimming Open and she was one of the few athletes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Trials in more than one sport. In her best swimming event, she finished 2016 ranked 36th in the world. Mary Kate also actively volunteers to mentor numerous other junior amputees, and she was recognized for her efforts with the Spirit of Excellence Award at the National Junior Disability Championship.

About life as a military child, Mary Kate writes, “Being a Military Kid is a very unique opportunity that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have been able to travel and meet amazing people all over the country. Additionally, being part of the military is like being part of a family, everyone has each other’s back.”

“I can only speak for myself, and I have been very lucky to have met kind, supportive people wherever we have been stationed. I do believe it’s important for all Americans to recognize, that in addition to the active duty member that serves, the entire family makes a commitment and sacrifices as well.”

Mary Kate credits her parents, Captain Thomas Cooper and Lynn Cooper, for teaching her to never give up. “We are 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.”

As is her way, Mary Kate thinks of others when discussing the honor of representing the Coast Guard as Military Child of The Year ® “I think everyone goes through hard times and you could find a reason to give every military child an award. Overall, I am excited and honored to have been chosen to represent the United States Coast Guard.”

 

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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Henderson Heussner arrived in Florida under circumstances that were less than ideal.

His father, Col. Todd Heussner, had just deployed to Afghanistan He was leaving behind Colorado, a place he loved and all of his friends behind. And the move was motivated by obligation and compassion – Henderson and his family needed to take care of his grandfather who had terminal brain cancer.

But 18-year-old Henderson, recently named Operation Homefront’s 2017 Army Military Child of the Year® saw the struggles he was facing as an opportunity to grow. “Life is inherently challenging, and being able to work through obstacles and adversity with a level head is a serious asset,” says Henderson.

And work is exactly what Henderson did. The baseball coach was the only person at his new high school that Henderson knew. Henderson loved baseball and decided to pour his heart into the sport as it helped alleviate the stress of knowing his father was at war and seeing his grandfather battle cancer.

Every day after school, Henderson spent time in the batting cages and on the baseball field working out in the oppressive August heat. A couple of other kids noticed him and joined him. Henderson’s spirit and attitude started influencing the entire team and soon they were all getting ready for the season with extra effort. Quietly shouldering a burden that no one else knew about, Henderson built a reputation as a humble leader who set an example for others to emulate. In his sophomore season, Henderson broke two of his vertebrae but his work ethic and determination served him well as he battled back into top condition to continue playing.

Henderson credits his military upbringing with building strength and resiliency. “A military upbringing possesses inherent struggles. Overcoming these struggles is certainly not easy, but it has undoubtedly provided the most rewarding experiences of my life. To think that I’ve already faced some of life’s greatest troubles early on is encouraging, and inspires me to keep living life boldly,” said Henderson.

Henderson has excelled at baseball and academics, achieving a 5.14 GPA on a 4.0 scale and earning many college credits in the process. But Henderson’s achievements don’t stop at baseball or academics.

Henderson has also devoted 240 volunteer hours as a tutor and mentor for at-risk children and teens at the nonprofit New Horizons of Southwest Florida. Henderson, a onetime American Legion Boys State delegate and West Point Summer Leadership Experience participant, also served multiple terms as class president and as Student Government president. He has spent hundreds of hours as a youth group leader, Sports Camp counselor and Sunday School teacher at Summit Church (name town?).

Through Treats for the Troops, Henderson has collected, packaged and shipped more than 500 boxes to deployed service members. Henderson channeled his love for baseball to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges to enjoy the game through Challenger Little League and he has helped get baseball equipment to kids in the Dominican Republic.

A Rotary Club Scholar, Henderson also has volunteered for the Harry Chapin Food Bank, San Carlos Little League, Special Olympics, Family Readiness Group, and he has participated in fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy treatment and research and collected and distributed school supplies for kids in Honduras.

Henderson says his father’s service helps him stay focused. “I’m indescribably proud of my father and what he does. Knowing that, every day, he’s doing work that is shifting the trajectory of the world is a source of inspiration and motivation for me, “said Henderson. “I would advise (military kids) not to see disadvantages (of military life) as innately bad, but to see them as opportunities to create growth in themselves and the community.”

 

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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