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We are excited to announce  the 95 semifinalists for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® (MCOY) Award!

Drumroll….

 

Air Force

Isabella Mollison, 17, Japan

Jordan Soles, 17, Germany

Tristan Waring, 18, Sahuarita, Ariz.

Braden Westby, 18, Vilonia, Ark.

Jacob Angerman, 16, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Trinity Boles, 17, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.

Madison Williams, 18, Monument, Colo.

Claire Alonzo, 17, Springfield, Va.

Eve Glenn, 16, Tampa, Fla. (Glenn is also one of 11 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

Brian Thompson, 15, Bel Air, Md.

Hannah Cheater, 17, Las Vegas, Nev.

Hannah Browning, 18, Wooster, Ohio

Travis Almand, 18, Southlake, Texas

Benjamin Rawald, 15, Del Rio, Texas

Hannah Bahner, 13, Layton, Utah

 

Army

Laila Donawa, 15, South Korea

Breanna Kendle, 17, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Elizabeth Clinger, 17, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Imani Jessamy, 18, Alexandria, Va.

Rachel Ball, 17, Springfield, Va.

Hunter Hotaling, 16, Lansing, Kan.

Rebekah Paxton, 17, Harrisonville, Mo.

Samantha Blankenship, 17, Elizabethtown, Ky.

Joel Thompson, 17, Lafayette, La.

Samuel Gwinn, 15, Fort Drum, N.Y.

Ryan Krese, 17, Columbia, S.C.

Jason Herlick, 16, Adams, Tenn.

Brooke Errington, 17, Fort Hood, Texas

Bryce Kim, 17, El Paso, Texas

Jazmin Norris, 18, Cibolo, Texas

 

Coast Guard

Mattie Gross, 16, Kodiak, Alaska

Roark Corson, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Danyelle Gardier, 15, Frederick, Md.

Julia Mazel, 17, Richmond Hill, Ga.

John “Jack” Kennedy, 15, Grangeville, Idaho

Liam Cooper, 15, New Orleans, La.

Austin McGuire, 18, Hamilton, N.J.

Garrett Davis, 17, Richlands, N.C.

Cody Watson, 18, Tuttle, Okla.

Allison Brozusky, 17, Middletown, R.I.

Kayleigh Wilson, 14, Munford, Tenn.

Gabriel Niles, 15, Bennington, Vt.

Adam Light, 18, Port Angeles, Wash.

 

Marine Corps

Hunter Brown, 17, Winchester, Calif.

Chance Hughes, 17, San Clemente, Calif.

Angelina Marsella, 16, Quantico, Va.

Isabel Navarro, 16, Stafford, Va.

Sadie Baer, 17, Albany, Ga.

Katelyn Francis, 17, Havelock, N.C.

Joshua Frawley, 14, Jacksonville, N.C.

Erik Hrudka, 16, Jacksonville, N.C.

Victor Ramirez, 17, Jacksonville, N.C.

Kennedy Starkey, 17, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Taylor Pokorney, 17, Albany, Ore.

Robert Boyero, 17, Senatobia, Miss.

William Butler, 16, Virginia Beach, Va.

Caitlyn Hattaway, 17, Oak Harbor, Wash.

Elena Polinski, 17, Moundsville, W.Va. (Polinski is also one of 11 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

 

National Guard

Madisyn Clark, 17, Peoria, Ariz.

Aaron Hall, 16, Coarsegold, Calif.

Amelia Bailey, 17, Saint Augustine, Fla.

Kjersten Inskeep, 15, Eudora, Kan.

Megan McKenna, 15, Bedford, Mass.

Maya Faulds, 14, Barnegat, N.J.

Dawson Gunn, 13, Rio Rancho, N.M. (Gunn is also one of 11 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

Koralys Rodriguez, 17, Statesville, N.C.

Kassidy Marciel, 17, Oregon City, Ore. (Marciel is also one of 11 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

Lindsey Faulkner, 13, Monaca, Pa.

Christian Hall, 16, Gaston, S.C.

Jessica Walker, 17, Blanding, Utah

Mikaela Georgiou, 17, Afton, Va.

Aiden Hunter, 16, Onalaska, Wash.

Mickayla VanNatter, 15, Guernsey, Wyo.

 

Navy

Kathleen Sharman, 17, Vietnam

Kircee Killian, 17, Lemoore, Calif.

Elisabeth Lundgren, 17, Chula Vista, Calif.

Isabelle Richards, 13, Jamul, Calif.

Ethan Vicario, 18, San Diego, Calif.

Nadia Debem, 14, Aurora, Colo.

James Cosman, 13, Quantico, Va.

Jeffery Gill, 17, King George, Va.

Haleigh Dilks, 14, Honolulu, Hawaii

Sidney Brown, 17, Wiggins, Miss.

Rachel Flatt, 18, Middlebury, Vt.

Elise Avila, 17, Norfolk, Va.

Shelby Peck, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Madison Walker, 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Gabriella Cardenas, 17, Marysville, Wash. 

 

Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Miracle Olatunji, 17, New Castle, Del., Air Force

Carmie Basnight, 17, Lorton, Va., Army

Carson Freeman, 16, St. Augustine, Fla., Army

Eve Glenn, 16, Tampa, Fla., Air Force

Shelby Barber, 17, Ewa Beach, Hawaii, Air Force

Gabriel Feinn, 17, Louisville, Ky., Navy

Gavin Sylvia, 18, Fort Campbell, Ky., Army

Ashley Beers, 14, Minot AFB, N.D., Air Force

Dawson Gunn, 13, Rio Rancho, N.M., National Guard

Kassidy Marciel, 17, Oregon City, Ore., National Guard

Elena Polinski, 17, Moundsville, W.Va.

 

The Military Child of the Year® Award reflects the positive impact that these special young people have made on their military families, their schools, and their communities. The final seven award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at the April 19 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.

Beyond the ceremony and gifts, the Military Child of the Year® Award is a lifelong source of pride for the recipients and has provided them with amazing opportunities to meet senior military leaders, elected officials, celebrities, and other remarkable military children.

Mark Newberry, the 2013 Air Force Military Child of the Year®, recently wrote:

“One of the greatest honors of my life so far was representing the Air Force in 2013 as an Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year… If you would have told me as a high school senior that I would be chosen to represent military children at the Operation Homefront gala, meet the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, and receive an Air Force ROTC scholarship that would afford me opportunities to study what I love, jump out of planes, and become a pilot, I wouldn’t have believed you. Being a military child has afforded me so many opportunities that not many children get to experience.”

Thirty-five finalists will be selected in February by a panel of judges chosen by Operation Homefront’s senior leadership.

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.

View pictures from last year’s gala.

 

#     #     #

About Operation Homefront: Founded in 2002, Operation Homefront is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so that they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. Recognized for superior performance by leading independent charity oversight groups, 92 percent of Operation Homefront expenditures go directly to programs that support tens of thousands of military families each year. Operation Homefront provides critical financial assistance, transitional and permanent housing and family support services to prevent short-term needs from turning into chronic, long-term struggles. Thanks to the generosity of our donors and the support from thousands of volunteers, Operation Homefront proudly serves America’s military families. For more information, visit OperationHomefront.org

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Before we jump into 2018, we’d like to look back at some of the best moments from this past year. It goes without saying that we are able to advance our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families because of those who give – our individual and corporate donors. Thank you! These moments would not happen without you.

1. These women came to our caregiver retreat…in a hurricane! As Hurricane Harvey was skirting San Antonio, we were hosting a group of caregivers along the Riverwalk for a very special retreat, as part of our Hearts of Valor program. They would not be kept away by a hurricane and there’s a good reason. These retreats are designed to uplift those who are closest to wounded veterans. The retreats give caregivers a much-needed break and education about invisible wounds, compassion fatique, healthy living and staying connected. Special thanks to our sponsor, USAA, for making these retreats possible.

 

2. Our annual gala to celebrate military kids has become a must-attend event! Celebrating the youngest heroes of our military families is one of our favorite things to do. This year’s Military Child of the Year® Award, once again, recognized several outstanding young men and women who represent their families, their branches of service and their country very well. Read more about them and you’ll be inspired. Looking forward to meeting next year’s award recipients in April 2018 in Washington D.C. Who will they be? We’ll find out in early March! #GivingStrength

 

3. There’s no place like home! We get to be a part of making dreams come true through our Homes on the Homefront program that awards mortgage-free homes to veterans. To date, we’ve awarded 599 homes since the program began. All of this is possible because of our great partners like Chase, Meritage Homes, Wade Jurney Homes and Sears (who donated and raised money to provide two homes to veteran families in 2017). Stay tuned as we plan a big celebration for our 600th home in 2018.

 

 

4. Special nights for military spouses? Yes, we did! The call to military life is not easy on a service member’s spouse. Being apart from your service member AND trying to hold down the homefront is managed more easily when you have friends nearby. Our Homefront Celebrations give military spouses a night away to relax, make new friends and be pampered just a little. And thanks to our friends at Southern New Hampshire University, these events have bolstered the careers for some very special women who received a full-tuition scholarship at each celebration, like Megan Morris (pictured here at our event in Tampa, FL). Stay tuned as we announce another year of Homefront Celebrations around the country in 2018.

 

5. Awwwwwww! At our Star-Spangled Baby Showers each year, we get all mushy at the sights and sounds of our expecting moms and the young moms who bring along their sweet newborns. In 2017, we hosted 9 events from coast to coast, a few places in between and even Hawaii, providing critical baby supplies and large raffle items to hundreds of military moms. We were also excited to be joined by Procter and Gamble and Paralympic veteran Melissa Stockwell at our baby shower in Chesapeake, VA.

 

6. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without you! It’s been an honor serving military families around the country. Thanks to our generous donors, we served more than 11,000 families with everything they needed for a spectacular holiday meal. Since we began our holiday programs in 2008, we have served nearly 80,000 military families, impacting over 330,000 family members. See our feature blog to celebrate another year of bringing joy to our military families this holiday season!

 

7. When it was time to hit the books, we made it a little easier. Going back to school is expensive. Military kids have enough to deal with and not having the right supplies should not be one of their struggles. We were happy to meet so many smiling faces, like this child in Dayton, OH, and remove the financial burden from their families. This year, we hit a major milestone, as we distributed our 300,000th backpack since the program began which included more than 41,000 backpacks given to military children around the U.S. this summer alone.

 

8. Home Depot Really Is #DoingMore4Vets! From golf tournaments to renovating veterans’ homes to providing support for our Critical Financial Assistance program, The Home Depot Foundation, and its band of Team Depot volunteers, are a long-time partner who support means so much as they join us in giving strength to military families! We were honored to present a Cornerstone Award to Heather Prill, Senior Manager, National Partnerships at The Home Depot Foundation for her contributions to the national nonprofit’s mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families this past September.

 

9. Transition from service can be a challenging time for veterans. Especially if they are coping with injuries and illnesses from their service. Our rent-free transitional housing villages stand ready to help when these families need it the most. Since inception, our villages have welcomed more than 500 families who lived in a rent-free, fully furnished apartment to help them make a smooth transition to civilian life. Our Critical Financial Assistance program helps military and veteran families overcome unexpected crises like a major appliance or car repair or help with rent or mortgage. We’ve been able to help veterans like Petero Taufagu who needed help getting his car repaired. Later, through our partnership with American Airlines, he also received a brand-new Jeep Cherokee. So now he has a reliable way to get to his necessary doctor appointments. Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $22 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests.

 

10. Fact IS Stranger Than Fiction! We can’t make this stuff up!

a. Cracker Barrel created the Flip It Forward Pancake Fundraiser and raised $64,000 for Operation Homefront! It included a media tour with a pancake artist who even created our logo in pancake batter. We thought about framing it…then thought again.

b. Who doesn’t secretly harbor the desire to shatter glass? Our friends at CDW found a way to convince PGA TOUR players Ben Crane, Smylie Kaufman, Ryan Palmer and CDW-sponsored Gary Woodland to compete in a “glass breaking” event between the golf pros. And more was at stake than just bragging rights – winner Gary Woodland presented an additional donation of 10 Lenovo Chromebooks – five to Operation Homefront and five to the charity of Woodland’s choice. The entire event raised support for military families through Operation Homefront.

c. A personalized burger? Carnival Cruise Lines is known for fun but they outdid themselves when they devised a way to laser-burn personal well-wishes from military supporters onto burgers they served to Marines at a special event at MCAS Miramar in California. They even got former Miss USA DeShauna Barber there to serve the burgers and provided a $25,000 donation to Operation Homefront. You have to see the pictures to believe it.

d. We’ll brave a blizzard for you! We were still in the doldrums of summer heat when Chevy first invited us to be a part of their #ChevySalutes event to honor the military at the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia. Let’s just say winter hit with a vengeance that day and provided a very memorable experience to award a brand-new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse to one of the nicest caregivers and her seven-tour combat veteran husband. Don’t worry, we dressed warmly, mom!

 

11. We still get starstruck! We’ve been excited to work with some pretty inspiring people this year.

a. The Pale Ale Wins the Summer of Yes! Carson Daly who worked with Other Half Brewing to create a craft beer with proceeds to support Operation Homefront as part of his #SummerOfYes on the Today Show.

b. Wonder-Super-Mega-Amazing Melissa Stockwell: Through our partnership with P&G, we got to work with the very inspiring Melissa Stockwell, who is a bronze-medal winning, 2-time Paralympian, triathlete and Purple Heart wounded Army veteran. She attended one of our Star-Spangled Baby Showers in Virginia and has since welcomed her own baby Millie to her sweet family.

c. Tim McGraw Walks the Walk. And where do we start with Tim McGraw? We’ve been working with this country superstar since 2012. From his personal support to joining us to award mortgage-free homes along with Chase, he has been a steadfast champion for military and veteran families. #GivingStrength #startstrongstaystrong

 

12. We have the best volunteers! Our volunteers show up and pitch in whenever they are needed. We host hundreds of events all year long from Alaska to the tip of Florida, from San Diego to Massachusetts. This year, we created a special Volunteer Reserves which recruits our volunteers that want to get involved, but don’t want to volunteer on a daily basis or even a weekly basis, but they’re very interested in staying in the loop and ready to be called on when we need help serving our military families.

There are so many moments to remember in 2017. And each was an honor because we got to be a part of serving our military and veteran families. That makes any year a great year!

If you’d like to be a part of giving strength this holiday season and making our 2018 even better, consider giving to a current need of a military family to give them the best start possible to the New Year!

 

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For military families, home is where your heart is. So….we wrote, or kind of rewrote, a very special song just for you and added a few pictures from our Holiday Meals for Military program. Thank you for letting us be a small part of your holidays this year. We wish you a joyous season!

Ahem…here goes…

Oh….

There’s no place like home for the holidays,
For no matter how far away you roam
(and our military families often roam far)

When you long for the sunshine of a friendly gaze,
For the holidays – you can’t beat home, sweet home
(BUT we try to make it easier with our Holiday Meals for Military events)

Operation Homefront, Beam Suntory, and other generous partners worked together to distribute holiday meals to military families in 2017 through our annual Holiday Meals for Military program. This year, holiday meals were distributed at 45 events beginning in November and running through the week before Christmas.

 

We met some families down in Tennessee… 

Special thanks to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store for sending volunteers from the Corporate Office! Santa and Mrs. Claus were also there to spread a little Holiday cheer to the families.

 

and then we were headin’ for…
Old Dominion with some stops at Dix and Drum…

We were honored to make the holidays a little brighter for military families in on a wintery day in Hampton, VA.

 

Quite a bit of snow feel before Holiday Meals for Military at Fort Drum NY this year, but our Northeast Field Office was still ready and waiting for our military families.

 

From Virginia we went travelin’

Down to Dixie’s sunny shore…

Holiday Meals for Military at Fort Stewart GA (photo by Casey Jones, Photography http://www.caseyjonesphotos.com)

 

From Atlantic to Pacific ….

We were honored to serve a delicious meal to military families around Whiteman AFB and Knob Noster, MO. Thank you to Seaboard Foods and Operation BBQ for sponsoring the Holiday Meals for Military Appreciation Dinner in Knob Noster. MO.

Our Volunteer Reserves across the country were a huge part of the success of our Holiday meals for Military events, such as this one in Bremerton WA.

Mele Kalikimaka is he island greeting that we send to you from Holiday Meals for Military in Honolulu HI.

 

Gee, the traffic was terrific
(…to our Holiday Meals for Military events)

We know there’s no place like home for the holidays,
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays – you can’t beat where you call home.

 

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Just about 10,000 families came out this year to one of our 45 events across the United States and Hawaii. Thank you to Beam Suntory, Procter&Gamble, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, SAS Shoemakers, Safeway, Connelly Foundation, Southern Glazer’s, The Lukens Company, NFCU, Saint Germain Catering for partnering with us to bring holiday cheer to thousands of families across the country.

Join Operation Homefront in our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families through our Giving Strength initiative. This holiday season, we want to give strength to our military and veteran families. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can support, honor and serve our military.

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A Marine greets his family at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., Nov. 21, after returning from a seven-month deployment. The Marine is assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, which supported combat operations in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Terry Haynes III

Dare we say it? Thanksgiving is one of the remaining holidays with a clear central purpose. Consider the things you are thankful for … and eat! For years and years, and to this day, our nation has yet to veer from the main goal of Thanksgiving. We gather, we consider our blessings and we partake of a glorious meal. (And Operation Homefront is honored to provide Holiday Meals for Military, like our recent events in Texas).

Retailers may try to invade, starting Black Friday sales earlier every year…but Americans hold fast to this turkey-licious tradition.

And when we consider all that we have to be thankful for, our military is always at the top of our short list! We’re fairly certain that whether your family serves in the military or not, you are likely to take a moment today to be grateful for the men and women who miss many a holiday, including Thanksgiving, to ensure their fellow Americans can rest easy at night. We do.

So, share this with your family today.

Here are 3 reasons to be thankful for our military. These may not be the first time you’ve considered them, but Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to truly appreciate those who serve in our Armed Forces.

Two children excitedly welcome home their father and the crew of the attack submarine USS Norfolk from a six-month deployment during a homecoming ceremony on Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kim Williams

1. What they’ve missed. There is a reason we all love military homecoming videos. Unless you’ve experienced, you can’t completely understand the feeling of leaving those you love behind. Or the joy of returning home to them. Thanksgiving isn’t the only holiday many of our service members have spent on foreign soil in unfamiliar surroundings. Those are moments with sons, daughters, spouses and family that can never be recovered. For every peaceful day Americans get to experience with loved ones nearby, we have our military to thank.

2. Courage in the face of the unknown. Those who serve have a mission. They work as a unit. But the whole point of having a strong military is outmaneuvering those who threaten the freedoms we enjoy. While they are trained for difficult situations, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause a certain amount of trepidation – for the service members and their families who may not sleep from the weight of worry. But our service members persevere through those hard days. And for those who carry the wounds of war, they are on a journey with an unknown conclusion. They have certainly earned our support.

Pfc. Jordan Wagner, an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, greets loved ones during a homecoming ceremony at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

3. They choose to serve. Only about 1 in 4 of those between the ages of 17-23 years qualify for military service. And because we have a volunteer force, of those who qualify, not everyone wants to serve in our military. Thank YOU to the brave men and women who chose a hard but noble way to spend your youth. You did it for your future but mostly, you did it for all of us!

For all you do, thank you!

Join Operation Homefront in our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families through our Giving Strength initiative. This holiday season, we want to give strength to our military and veteran families. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can support, honor and serve our military.

A few easy ways:

1. Send a message of appreciation to our military.

2. Use our new Facebook frame to show that you join us in giving strength to our military.

3. Sign up to be a volunteer.

4. Give a gift in support of our military through one of our current needs.

May you and all our service members, veterans and their families, have a very Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for all you do to keep our country strong.

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Fire up your keyboards and help us honor the achievements and contributions of our country’s military children.

Nominations are now open for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.

Now in its 10th year, our prestigious award will recognize 7 outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Anyone can nominate. And we mean anyone: Mom, Dad, siblings, grandparents, besties, teachers, pastors, coaches, neighbors, employers…you name it. Let’s rally and share the stories of our amazing military kids.

New or never heard of Military Child of the Year? Well, here are some 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 Nominee has moved four times or more and experienced at least one parent deploy for a combined 29 months or more*. (And we have recipients with dual military parents!)

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, the stellar young men and women have maintained excellent grades, often with honors, excelled in sports, theatre and/or music, held leadership positions in school and community groups, and volunteered tremendous hours to causes near and dear to them.

You can read more about past recipients here.

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 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 .

Recipients of the MCOY awards will receive $10,000 and a trip to DC for our special awards gala (see pics from last year). The recipient of the Innovation Award will receive $10,000, a trip for DC for the gala and assistance from Booz Allen Hamilton to 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 #MCOY2018 to join the conversation. Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

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

*2017 nominee average

 

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Thank goodness our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence in the summer! The 4th of July is the perfect time to celebrate freedom…freedom from school, freedom from our jobs (for at least a day), and freedom to shoot off fireworks, splash in the water like crazy people, and stay up late at gatherings of friends and family.

But behind all the fun-filled frolicking lies a heart-felt regard for the liberties we enjoy as Americans. That shared love of country draws us together at rodeos, picnics, concerts, parks and services all around the country.

Like one big happy family.

For those of us who serve, have served, or know someone who is serving, we already know that our military is like one big family. We may be next door to each other on base then soon separated by continents, but we share a bond that runs deep, and the support we give each other is often as strong as those from the families of our birth.

At Operation Homefront, we strive every day to honor that bond, and we believe wholeheartedly that strong and stable families help build stronger and better communities. This summer, we invite you to become part of our One Military One Family Back-To-School Brigade initiative.

Throughout the rest of the summer, Operation Homefront will welcome thousands of military families into communities across the county through our Back-to-School Brigade, collecting and distributing backpacks and other school supplies. Now in its 10th year, Back to School Brigade has become one of our favorite events of the year.

It’s like a gathering of one big happy family.

Want to join the fun? Here are some ways:

• If you’re a military family, review our list of events to see if there is event near you.
• Set up a Collection Bin at your office, store, church or school –we’ll provide the signage! Just contact your local field office.
• Help us distribute supplies in your area. Contact your local field office to find out more.
Become a Pick-Up Volunteer and help pick up donated school supplies from a local location
• Make a tax-deductible donation to Operation Homefront which will go to help military families through our Back-to-School Brigade™ and other programs. Or shop at Amazon using this link and Operation Homefront receives a percentage of your overall sales.
• We also love getting pictures from our community. You can send them to socialnet@operationhomefront.org or post to social using #1Mil1Fam.
• Change your Facebook pic to show your support for the military. See more instructions here.
• Follow us on our Facebook page where we will be sharing great moments around the country from our BTSB events and supply drives as well as words of welcome to new families into the community.

We wish you all a Happy Fourth of July and look forward to carrying forward the spirit of America with you in the coming weeks…

One America. One Military. One Family. #1Mil1Fam

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by Christy OFarrell.

Marine Corps Sgt. Ruben Barnett, a single dad, and his 3-year-old son, Ruben Jr. are planning to go to Dave & Buster’s arcade in Columbia, South Carolina, to celebrate Father’s Day. The two often play games, go on outings and take road trips together because Ruben arranged his schedule to allow him to spend more time with his son.

Ruben now works at the Naval Consolidated Brig at Naval Weapons Station, Charleston, South Carolina. He prefers the schedule — working 12-hour shifts, but only 14 or 15 days a month — to his old job before he was divorced, working nights often from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., as an avionics technician on helicopters at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Having enlisted in June 2009, Ruben changed his career field and schedule when he re-enlisted in 2014, the year after Ruben Jr. was born. He became a correctional officer at Camp Pendleton, California, and they moved in 2015 to Charleston.

Ruben said it can be a rough job sometimes. “Every once in a while, you’ll have one prisoner that’s not having a good day, and kind of just wants to make everybody else’s day miserable too,” he said. But serving in the military has “definitely more ups than downs,” he said. “I love the Marine Corps,” including the structure and the fraternity. “I’m proud to represent it and be a part of it.”

Ruben Jr. is proud too. His dad said he used to have a children’s Marine Corps uniform that matched his own. Ruben Jr. “always says, ‘that’s cool dad,’” Ruben said. “He likes the badge and belt.”

But things changed the day before Thanksgiving 2016. When Ruben and his son left for work and daycare early that morning, all seemed normal. About 90 minutes later, the fire department called to notify Ruben at his workplace. “When I got there, I could see [the fire] from way down the street and it was terrible,” he said. “I was crushed at first but there were a lot of people there to help me. … Everyone just had words of encouragement and helped me through it.”

The fire is still under investigation, but apparently started with a faulty Bluetooth speaker, Ruben said. Right afterward, he and his son visited his hometown in Indiana to see his dad and stepmom. Then they moved into temporary housing, not far from the burned unit, and after about a month, into a more permanent location.

Photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin West.

The base housing office immediately secured a new place for the pair to live. But their new digs would have been empty since they also lost all their belongings, including furniture, clothing, household goods and food. “It was all just gone,” he said.

Operation Homefront arranged for BAE Systems in Summerville, South Carolina, to provide Ruben and his son $750 in gift cards to Lowe’s, Sears, Target and other stores, plus an additional $1,500 worth of goods, including a bed and mattress for Ruben Jr., a washer and dryer, many household items, and Christmas gifts and toys. “It was really nice,” Ruben recalls. “It was crazy like over time you build up so much stuff,” he said. “You buy stuff here; you buy stuff there. You don’t really think about how much you have or how much you’ve spent, or what you have until something like that happens.”

“I’d never heard of Operation Homefront until this fire,” Ruben said. “It was a huge relief. I was excited, I guess kind of at a loss for words.” Ruben said he was thankful that people who didn’t even know him would help. “I was grateful to be where I’m at and to receive the blessings. It’s not something that happens for everybody.”

“Hearing Ruben describe his ‘huge relief’ as a result of Operation Homefront’s support is precisely the impact we seek to deliver,” reflects John Pray, CEO and President of Operation Homefront. “We know that if we can help military families’ overcome their short-term financial challenges, we are able to ensure they stand a better chance for a brighter future — one where they thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

“Thank you to Operation Homefront and BAE Systems,” Air Force Col. Robert Lyman, Joint Base Charleston commander, said in a base publication about the fire. “This was a nice and gracious touch from our community.”

Ruben Jr. never saw the burned house, his dad said. If there was a bright side, it is that Ruben Jr. has enjoyed the places they moved to after the fire. The temporary house they stayed in initially for about a month had something his old house didn’t: stairs. “He just wanted to play on the stairs the whole time,” Ruben said. And at the one-level home they’re in now, the park and playground are practically in their backyard. “He just wants to go out the back door, right to the park,” Ruben said. “It worked out perfectly.”

Now, life is getting back to normal. On Ruben’s work days, Ruben Jr. goes to daycare from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The facility is only about 15 minutes away from their home, but not on base because there was a wait list for the on-base center. On his days off, father and son have fun. “We go get haircuts every week,” Ruben said. “In the military, obviously, I have to have a haircut. I don’t feel like it would be right for me to have a haircut and he doesn’t.

“I’ll pick him up early from daycare,” he continued. “We’ll go to the park,” indoor trampolines at Velocity Air Sports or Chuck E. Cheese pizza, where they eat one of his son’s favorite foods, a list that also includes pasta and chicken nuggets. “When I’m going out, he goes with me.”

Ruben expects to be in Charleston for at least another four to five months. “Hopefully, I get selected for promotion,” he said. “I’d like to stay in for the full 20 years.”

Ruben Jr. regularly sees his mother, who also lives in Charleston, but his father is his primary caretaker.

Ruben’s father was in the Marines before Ruben was born, so he did not experience military life when he was young. But he believes it will benefit his son, maybe even giving him a chance to learn another language, if for example, they move to Japan.

“You get to experience different cultures and different walks of life,” he said. “You meet different people and see how they live. It should be a positive thing versus just growing up and you only know one thing or one way of living. It’s a huge world out there. You’ve got to get out and see it.”

 

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