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Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ Category

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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Our veterans have given so much of themselves to an idea greater than themselves, and many of you have honored that gift through your support of our mission.  On the last day of our “11 Days, 11 Stories” series, we would like to show you how your support has impacted thousands of military and veteran families.  This support has truly made a difference, and we are encouraged, daily, by the efforts to give back to those who give so much of themselves.

Having seen his brothers serving in the Marines, Petero Taufagu felt inspired to serve as well. Born in Pago, Pago, American Samoa, he decided to enlist in the Army in 1993. Petero spent sixteen years in the Army, deploying multipe times including three tours to Iraq. In 2007, he was medically retired and began a new chapter in the expereince of many who serve: transition.

After he left the Army, Petero, his wife and five children moved from San Diego, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada. During the move their 2004 BMW broke down and with their limited funds, they fell into financial hardship. Petero’s mother had passed, so their savings were gone, leaving the family without money for their auto repair, security deposit, rent and food.

Having only one vehicle, the Taufagu family was not only experiencing financial stress but major logistic challenges. They had to coordinate dropping all five children as school as well as being two working adults. Petero’s wife had to work around his schedule. It was then when Petero was referred to Operation Homefront by the Warriors Transition Unit.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and generous donors, Petero paid off and repaired his car, as well as getting some breathing room with housing costs and groceries for his family.

“Thank you,” said Taufagu,” We had limited funds due to the move and my mother’s passing, and you guys made it happen.”

blog peteron400pix

Petero Taufagu was the recent recipient of a new Jeep Cherokee, thanks to our partnership with American Airlines.

Transition from service is a challenging time for veterans, and especially so for veterans also coping with injuries and illnesses as a result of their service.  Many times, just one financial crisis can mean the difference between continuing towards a strong, stable and secure future and a setback that can take years to overcome.  Our Critical Financial Assistance program, as well as our transitional housing villages, stands ready to help when these families need it the most.  Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $21 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests*, including:

  • Providing rent-free temporary housing to more than 500 families of wounded service members, saving them over $5-million in rent and utilities though our Transitional Housing program;
  • Matching nearly 600 military families with mortgage-free homes through our Homes on the Homefront program, providing well over $56-million in deeded value;
  • Delivering over a quarter million backpacks to military kids through our Back-to-School Brigade; 
  • Serving nearly 70,000 military families through our Holiday Meals for Military program,  a program that has  impacted over 300,000 individual family members since inception.  In 2017, we will be hosting families at 32 events in 20 states, serving thousands more.

This Veterans Day, we encourage everyone to show their gratitude for the gift of freedom given to us by the centuries of service of our nation’s veterans. Send a message of thanks or stories with #RaiseYourHand. Send us your pictures and videos that show your support for our military, our country and why you answer the call! Together, united, let’s show our American pride and show some love for those who give so much to make our country great!

If you would like to help support families like the Taufagu family, you can support one of our current needs or check out more ways to give here.

If volunteering is high on your list of ways to give back, we welcome you to see the ways to Get Involved with Operation Homefront.

* numbers through Summer 2017

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Continuing our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, where we spotlight the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront.  You can find previous stories here:

Veterans like Nataly Morales and Joshua Virola embody the can-do spirit found in so many other former service members, who volunteer, on average, more hours than nonveterans.

While the rate of volunteering among all Americans, 25.5 percent of the population, is comparable to the volunteering rate for veterans, veterans put in an average of 43 more hours per year for a total of 169 hours, according to a 2016 study, the Veterans Civic Health Index.

Nataly, a Marine from 2002 through 2004, and her husband, Joshua, who served 15 years and deployed three times on active duty and as a reservist with the Marine Corps, received gifts from Operation Homefront’s Holiday Toy Drive in 2014 for their children, Carisma, 14; Faith, 9; and Isaiah, 7. After that, the whole family became regular volunteers for Operation Homefront over the next two years, until right before they moved to Texas at the end of 2016, when Joshua got out of the Marines as an E-5.

“They immediately asked how they could give back and started volunteering for every event,” said Vivian Dietrich, an Operation Homefront regional director.

Even though Nataly and Joshua were busy preparing for their move from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to Grand Prairie, Texas, they helped OH bag and transport the P&G products, including cleaning supplies and tissues, that were given away at the 2016 Thanksgiving Holiday Meals for Military event. First, they drove their car, while an OH staff member drove her vehicle, over two hours away to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to pick up the stored goods and bring them to a storage facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina, closer to Camp Lejeune. Later, Nataly and Joshua retrieved the products, and brought them to the event site at a school, using the U-Haul truck they had rented for their move to Texas. They also helped fill the reusable Thirty-One tote bags with groceries provided by Walmart.

Their children helped at OH events too, organizing supplies or handing out refreshments. “I’ve always tried to teach them to help, and they love it,” Nataly said. “It’s really cute to see them work.”

For Nataly and people like her, helping others is a form of sustenance. “We made the time,” she said. “It felt good.”

“We would have people over to our house on a daily basis because they didn’t have food,” Nataly said. Their dinner company included a lance corporal, his wife and their two young kids, and a sergeant, his wife and their two children.

“Usually, we’re the givers and we never take,” said Nataly, adding that’s why they were so appreciative of OH’s assistance. “Anytime that we receive anything from any kind of program, I cry because we’ve had some really rough times,” she said. “The kids have seen and have felt the rough times that we’ve had. To have people that actually care and they donate things, it breaks my heart. That meant a lot.”

In keeping with their giving nature, Nataly and Joshua chose where to live after he left the Corps, based on where they are needed the most.

Having met while both were on active duty, they each have family in their respective home states — Texas for Nataly and New York for Joshua. They chose Texas partly because of its lower cost of living, but mainly so they can help Nataly’s family. Her mom is sick with lupus and other health conditions; one sister is a single mom of three kids; and another sister has a child with special needs. “There’s a lot more need here,” she said. Her brother, a Marine Corps master sergeant stationed in Virginia, has kids who also live in north Texas. The third weekend of every month, Nataly cares for his kids, and takes them to their soccer games.

The family continues its volunteering with The Miracle League Dallas Fort Worth, for children with disabilities who want to play baseball, including Nataly’s niece.

Joshua works as a crane mechanic. He and Nataly hope his latest transition to civilian life goes better than a previous attempt. “We tried the civilian world for a little bit,” said Nataly, referring to the earlier stint in 2008, in between Josh’s active-duty and reservist periods. “It didn’t work out.”

Joshua first served four years on active duty, got out, and deployed to Iraq as a reservist for six months in 2006. During his 2008 stint as a civilian, he had found work as a warehouse manager. The company moved them to Mohave Valley, Arizona, “one of the hottest places I’ve ever lived,” and laid him off six months later, Nataly said. “We were stuck there. We had no money to move back home.” The only income was from Nataly working from home as a flooring estimator for her dad. “We were able to pay the rent, but we were behind on the cars,” she said. “We had a hard time with food. It was the worst year.”

Joshua was gone a lot after being laid off, trying to get back into the Marine Corps. After returning to active duty in early 2009, he deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2010. Another year-long deployment to Afghanistan followed in 2011 and 2012.

Nataly works as a pregnancy educator at the American Pregnancy Association. She also takes classes at both Tarrant County College and University of Texas at Arlington. She expects to complete her associate degree in December, and will apply for UTA’s social work program in the spring. She wants to work with veterans, using what she has learned and experienced to assist others going through trying times. “I want them to get the help that they need,” she said. “I want to be that one person who makes a difference. If anybody understands them, it’s another veteran.”

We are grateful for our veterans, those who chose to raise their hand when they pledged to defend our country. Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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Kenzie Hall, Operation Homefront’s 2014 Army Military Child of the Year and founder of Brat Pack 11 for military kids, joins us to celebrate military kids with a special blog in April, Month of the Military Child and offers words to inspire all members of the military family.

 

Being a military kid is an experience truly like no other. You get to travel all over the world, experience opportunities that most civilian kids never will, and make a bunch friends from all the schools you attend.

However, being a military kid isn’t always easy. There’s the lengthy deployments, and not knowing if your parent, who is deployed, will be coming home. There’s saying goodbye to your new best friends and your home every couple of years. And military kids are more aware of what’s going on in the world, the good and the bad, at a very young age.

On top of having to deal with the military lifestyle and all of the struggles that come with it, you also have to handle the normal day-to-day struggles that come with just being a kid or a teenager. I didn’t live on many military installations so I attended public schools most often. Most public school kids don’t have parents in the military and they can’t grasp the struggles you’re faced with, sometimes on a daily basis. You feel like you don’t really have anyone to relate to and you can feel quite lonely during these times. I moved 14 times and attended 12 different schools. At one point, I attended three schools in one year.

Personally, I had trouble making new friends when switching schools because everyone else had known each other most of their lives. There was an abundance of cliques who simply just didn’t want you to break into their tight-knit group. I won’t sugarcoat it, school was sometimes rough and some people were flat out mean. The bullies are real and plentiful, and some will even disguise themselves as your friend. Being a kid or a teenager is hard enough, but sprinkling the military lifestyle on top of that can make life seem like a constant uphill battle.

Being born into this lifestyle wasn’t a choice that I consciously made, but it is one I wouldn’t change. If being a military kid taught me anything, it was how to deal with adversity. It showed me that I could handle anything. And believe it or not, so can you! This lifestyle showed me over and over again that every situation was temporary, and I had the ability to affect my circumstances.

As I said before, I didn’t get the chance to bond with many other military kids. However, when I was awarded the Army Military Child of The Year by Operation Homefront in 2014, I met four other teens who had lived the same way I did and who had experienced some of the same struggles. I no longer felt alone. Operation Homefront created a support group for 5 kids without even realizing it. Ryan, Gage, Michael-Logan, Juanita, and I still talk from time to time, and we even catch up through Skype.

Even though I was running a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called Brat Pack 11 that granted wishes to military kids of wounded and fallen Soldiers, I left the MCOY Gala feeling as though I wasn’t doing enough. That is how inspired I was by these other outstanding military teens.

I had a hard time convincing some adults that I could make a difference at age 11, but winning Operation Homefront’s award motivated my vision for Brat Pack 11. Their recognition of my efforts was a huge affirmation that I was doing something right. Three years later, Operation Homefront continues to support my mission to help my fellow military brats. I’m forever grateful for Operation Homefront’s support of myself and Brat Pack 11. Their guidance and mentorship is something I will always treasure.

If there was one piece of advice I would offer, it would be to always listen to your positive inner voice; the one that tells you, “you can do it!”; even when others don’t see it in you. Your success is dependent on a high level of motivation mixed with an unshakeable belief in yourself. Age means nothing! You are never too young to chase your dreams or to make your ideas come to life. You have a voice, so let it be heard! Don’t fall for the lie that you are too young or that you are not enough. Because on the other side of that fear is your dream. Operation Homefront’s, MCOY Award is a terrific program that amplifies the voice of our military youth and supports their efforts to have a positive impact in our World, regardless of age. If you have a passion for what you are doing, and back it with tenacity and drive, you can accomplish almost anything. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote,

“If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.” ~Anonymous

Learn more about Brat Pack 11 here.

Learn more about Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year® Award here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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