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Brittany with her stepfather, Bobby Henline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brittany, Billy and their daughter, Addison, 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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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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“If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them…”

-Tony Dungy, The Mentor Leader.

Jessica Short has always been inspired by legendary NFL Coach Tony Dungy. His quiet strength of character, his calm under pressure, and his desire to dedicate himself to a power higher than himself are qualities she herself strives to demonstrate in her everyday life. They are also the qualities she sees in those who swear an oath to protect our nation in our Armed Services.

Jessica’s grandfathers served in the military, and she has friends serving across multiple branches. She had heard about Operation Homefront from a friend when she was doing research for the outreach program at her church and was amazed at all the work that Operation Homefront does for military families. So, when her employer DSW Shoes gave their associates the chance to “Leave Their Mark” by nominating a non-profit to potentially receive $75,000, Jessica immediately knew who she would nominate.

“I nominated Operation Homefront because of their comprehensive approach to helping our military families. They have programs for the military wives, the kids, holiday meals, transitional housing for vets and wounded warriors. I think people should vote for Operation Homefront to show support for the family members of our men and women serving in the military. They give up so much on a daily basis so we can enjoy the life we live I think it’s amazing that Operation Homefront focuses on making sure the families stay strong and have the support they need in any situation.”

Here is how $75,000 would further our mission of building strong, stable, and secure military families.

• Support transitional housing for our nation’s wounded, ill and injured at Operation Homefront Villages, or to realize the dream of homeownership through the Homes on the Homefront program.
• Support the Critical Assistance Program which comes to the aid of military families facing an unexpected financial crisis.
• Help ensure a military child has everything they need to succeed in school via the Back-to-School Brigade campaign.
• Help welcome the newest members of our military family at Star-Spangled Baby showers.
• Stand by our nation’s caregivers through the Hearts of Valor program.
• Give thanks this upcoming holiday season with the Holiday Meals for Military program.

Since inception, Operation Homefront’s Critical Assistance Program alone has provided over $21 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests. 92% of all expenditures go toward delivering these crucial programs and services.

Looking beyond just this campaign, Jessica encourages everyone to think about Coach Dungy’s message, and take a minute to walk alongside our military families, helping in any way they can. “It’s as easy as looking around… they’re closer than you think, I promise. And it doesn’t have to be a big campaign, though you can do that. It can be as simple as buying a meal for a family, sitting and listening to their story or even a quick thank you for your service. Anything big or small to show your support is greatly appreciated.”

Or as simple as a quick click and vote for us in the DSW Shoe Lovers Care campaign. VOTE TODAY (and every day through August 15)!
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The paths our military walk carry them to places far from loved ones and friends as they protect our freedoms. Imagine the relief a family feels when the service member’s shoes are back on the doorstep at home. We strive to be there for their families when they are gone, and when they come home and need some support moving forward. Please help us win $75,000 in the DSW Shoe Lovers Care campaign and allow us to provide relief, resiliency and recurring family support to hundreds of military and veteran families across the U.S. Vote today (and every day through Aug 15) at http://shoeloverscare.com and share with #DSWShoeLoversCare

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Send a message of support!

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

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

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by John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.). President & CEO of Operation Homefront.

From our Arlington office, it’s a short 15-minute walk to N. Marshall Place near an entrance to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. That’s where you can see over the brick wall into the northern section of Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 400,000 military members, family members and others who have perished in the service of our great nation.

Section 27 is one of the oldest plots at Arlington National Cemetery.

Directly ahead is Section 27, where the first black combat soldiers of the Civil War are buried. Much further away is Section 60, the final resting place of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even further is Section 6, where my father and mother are buried.

While Memorial Day has become increasingly synonymous with the kickoff of summer, it is meant to be a day of remembrance for those who have “given the last full measure” in service to our country. Today, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, will place flags at over 228,000 headstones and 7,000 rows at the Columbarium to honor our fallen heroes.

Section 60, the final resting place of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At Operation Homefront, we have the unique ability to see firsthand the challenges that our service members and their families make to protect our way of life. We thank them for their service through our own service. 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 — drives us all.

I would encourage all to consider The National Moment of Remembrance and to pause wherever where we are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to our nation. It is an opportunity to reflect the true meaning of Memorial Day, and honor those who gave their tomorrows for our todays.

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