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Archive for the ‘Veterans Issues’ Category

We are pleased to share with you today some words from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.) on this year’s Military Child of the Year Awards recipients and why it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why we want to make this moment as special as possible for our 2020 recipients at this challenging time:

Although we, as a nation, are still struggling with the unprecedented challenges brought on by a global pandemic, it is important for all to look for bright spots to show the promise of a brighter future. At Operation Homefront, I don’t need to look any farther than this year’s honorees for our Military Child of the Year (MCOY) Awards.

These prestigious awards are designed to recognize the amazing achievements of seven of our nation’s military teenagers who have excelled at home, in school, and in their communities through their leadership, volunteerism, scholarship, and extracurricular involvement, all while working with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.

Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, I canceled this year’s celebration.

That said, I knew we couldn’t sit idly by and let an opportunity to showcase some exceptional young people pass so I am proud to say that the show will go on with our virtual celebration of these extraordinary representatives of the millions of military kids who serve our great nation alongside their parents.

All at Operation Homefront firmly believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event. Having grown up in a military family, and after serving for over 27 years in the Air Force, I understand the challenges that our military families experience. Faced with the uncertainty of frequent short- or no-notice moves and deployments, it can be difficult for military kids to focus in school, to feel connected to their community, and to develop close friendships. That is why I believe it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why Operation Homefront wants to make this moment as special as possible for our recipients.

President and CEO, John I. Pray, at our MCOY gala in 2019. Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, we canceled this year’s in-person celebration. However, we believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event.

The accomplishments of our 2020 group, like all our previous winners, is in a word – impressive. Our judges selected the seven honorees from a very competitive field of more than 400 nominees. The seven represent each branch of service and our Innovation Award recipient. I like to refer to them as the “Magnificent Seven.”

Our 2020 MCOY winners are:

Kainath Kamil – Innovation Award
Fionnuala “Finn” Mahoney – Army
Niklas Cooper – Marine Corps
Miryam Smith — Navy
Samantha Grab — Air Force
Pierce Corson — Coast Guard
Kristina Lee — National Guard

 

Kainath, Finn, Niklas, Miryam, Samantha, Pierce, and Kristina all exemplify the spirit of selfless service that that not only improves lives in their communities but also offers hope for our future. They have logged over 2,080 volunteer hours in the past 12 months. Five of them are National Honor Society members, all of them take AP or dual college credit classes in school. Four are competitive athletes (swimming, volleyball, cross country, cheer) and five speak at least one language other than English.

They are caregivers to family members and leaders in sports and academia. They are ambassadors for mental health awareness, global issues, and the need for greater understanding of differences. They have used science and innovation to find solutions to world problems. Finn is even working with a team at the National Institutes of Health that is searching for a solution to COVID-19.

As we soak in all their achievements, there is little doubt why we must celebrate this very special and deserving group of military teens who represent that brighter future I noted earlier. Congratulations to all of you and to your families.

I would also like to recognize and extend a heartfelt thanks to our partners and supporters who have made our MCOY program possible:

• Our 2020 presenting sponsor, United Technologies (Pratt & Whitney); our Innovation Award sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton; and our other event sponsors, Procter & Gamble, LaQuinta by Wyndham Hotels, PNC Bank, Veterans United Home Loans, Carnival Cruise Line, and Military Times

• Our MCOY judges, board members, OH staff and volunteers, and our two wonderful leaders the Military Child of the Year Award program, Jenny Valderas and Emily Miller.

The celebration continues as more stories and videos are coming – including congratulatory videos from John Heald of Carnival Cruise Line, and the country music sensation Runaway June, who were scheduled to perform. Also, while you may not meet our great MCOY recipients in person, you will get to hear the Magnificent Seven in their own words. So please stay tuned.

Please remember to share your congratulations and special messages with this year’s recipients at http://www.operationhomefront.org/mcoymessages.

View President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)’s message for the kick-off of virtual Military Child of the Year gala:

 

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Miryam Smith, our 2020 Military Child of the Year for the Navy, remembers her father telling her that hard work pays off and that she could achieve anything she put her mind to. Those words have been Miryam’s motivation since her father, retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Eduardo Smith, took his own life in 2016.

Navy_Miryam Smith 2

The tragedy, she said, taught her resilience. Two days after her father’s devastating death, Miryam returned to school to finish up final exams, committed to living a happy, fulfilling life and maintaining the excellent grades her dad appreciated.

Now a 17-year-old senior at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she is seeing dividends from her hard work.

Miryam excels in her school’s Global Studies and World Languages Academy, and she looks forward to fall, when she will attend American University’s School of Foreign Service. She plans to study International Relations and possibly minor in Environmental Science.

Miryam, an only child, is the daughter of Macarena Smith, who works for the U.S. Marine Corps as a protocol officer.

Miryam’s three military moves with her family cultivated her fascination with other cultures and world travel.

“My favorite part of being a military child was the opportunities to travel to many places at a very young age,” she said. When stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, the family traveled throughout Europe. “One holiday weekend we decided to take a road trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, and I remember it as being one of my favorite ones.”

In all, Miryam has visited 23 countries, four of them on her own. On a trip to the Normandy region of France with her school, Miryam felt particular pride in being a military child.

As her group left a World War II museum close to one of the Normandy beaches, Miryam saw a cemetery filled with hundreds of perfectly aligned white tombstones that were decorated with American flags.

“I was overwhelmed with pride, for I had never seen so many American flags in my life. At that moment I realized how many brave soldiers had sacrificed their lives to help liberate France in the war,” she said. “Although my dad did not serve in World War II, I know he made several sacrifices for his country throughout his military career, and knowing that made me very proud to be his daughter.”

Miryam understands that military children might dread moving, with changing schools, making new friends, and adjusting to a new home in a new location. She urges them to keep an open mind. “It gives you the chance to meet new people, create new memories, and possibly learn more about other cultures.” Navy_Miryam Smith 1

Miryam invests time in her community, volunteering with the Be a Reader program to read to elementary school children and mentoring children at a shelter for the homeless.

She enjoys sailing small vessels and catamarans and finds stress relief in playing piano, frequently duplicating tunes she hears on the radio.

Favorite quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, and catch the trade winds in your sails.” – Mark Twain

Service/Leadership Highlights:

  • Events organizer, Global Studies and World Languages Academy International Cafes
  • Volunteer, Be a Reader program for elementary school children
  • Mentor, Care by Community
  • President Spanish Honor Society
  • Vice President Global Studies Honor Society
  • Varsity Swim Team
  • Student Athlete Leadership Training
  • Academic letter, Global Studies and World Languages Academy, 9th-12th grades

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

Read previous 2020 recipient profiles:

Niklas Cooper, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Marine Corps

Fionnuala Mahoney, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Army

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Fionnuala “Finn” Mahoney, our 2020 Military Child of the Year for the Army, is a resilient, adaptable teenager.  She proves that every day living with learning differences, being a caregiver for her grandmother, helping to rebuild her childhood home in New Hampshire, and being a military child who moved four times until her father was medically retired from the Army after being injured.

Finn, 18, is the daughter of retired Army Capt. Howard K. Mahoney and Shari Boibeaux, an engineer and caregiver. She is the youngest of three. Her oldest brother, Howard K. Mahoney II, 21, attends the U.S.  Military Academy at West Point and her second brother, Cormac A. Mahoney, 19, attends Cornell University where he is in the Air Force ROTC.

Finn’s dad is her role model and inspiration to help other military families.

“My dad has been in the Army since I can remember,” she said. “The week after 9/11, when my dad received his white lab coat as part of his military medical school program in Boston, he held me in his arms on the stage.  I was only a week old.”

After being injured, he spent two years at Fort Belvoir in the hospital and Wounded Warrior Battalion.

“I know what it is like to see the military members in the hospital and in recovery,” Finn said. “I would not change being part of the military, I am proud that my dad chose to be a military service member and that I get to be a military family member.”

She volunteers at Lamb’s Center in Fairfax, Virginia, which serves the poor and homeless, including a large population of veterans. She assists grieving families at Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. Finn has also helped create an adaptive kayaking program with the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Walter Reed Military Medical Center.

A senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, Finn is proud to have a dad who helps with her schoolwork. She emulates his ability to overcome physical and physiological challenges to help others. She has started a nonprofit to give voice to teenagers before they can vote and she has proven to be a leader as part of her cheerleading squad.

As an intern in the Laboratory of Metabolic Control at the National Institutes of Health she has learned about biology, ketogenic and food-based technology. She is assisting with university-level research which involves the development of therapeutic ketones as part of special diets that can treat symptoms of epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease in low-income populations around the world.

Finn has traveled to 30 countries and her love of learning about different cultures and seeing new places has made her consider how she can improve public health around the world. She hopes to continue studying biology, clinical laboratory science or forensic science.

Favorite quote: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” – Steve Jobs

Service/Leadership Highlights:

  • Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) volunteer
  • American Legion Auxiliary (ALA)volunteer/Girls State
  • Washington Hebrew Congregation Youth Group Leader (WHECTY)
  • Team River Runner Adaptive Kayaking for Wounded Warriors
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)Intern
  • Walt Whitman Cheerleading and Stunt Team
  • Olympiada of Spoken Russian Medalist
  • Rye Beach Swim and Dive Team Captain

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

 

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Our virtual 2020 Military Child of the Year® award gala continues today with an introduction to this year’s recipients: Fionnuala Mahoney, U.S. Army, Samantha Grab, U.S. Air Force;  Pierce Corson, U.S. Coast Guard; Niklas Cooper, U.S. Marine Corps; Kristina Lee, National Guard; Miryam Smith, U.S. Navy; Kainath Kamil, Innovation Award presented by Booz Allen Hamilton.

Check back with us over the next week as we dedicate a day to each winner and honor their achievements by sharing their unique stories of courage, resiliency, service and success with you. We hope you will be as inspired as we have been.

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

 

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We are excited to announce the start of our VIRTUAL 2020 Military Child of the Year® Awards celebration! We invite you to join us over the next two weeks to help us celebrate these seven amazing young men and women who represent the thousands of military children everywhere who thrive and excel while coping with the challenges of military life.

Due to the extraordinary and developing circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus outbreak, Operation Homefront had to make the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Military Child of the Year® Awards Gala in Arlington, VA. While the gala will not occur in-person, we can still recognize and celebrate the incredible achievements of this year’s award recipients.  We ask for your help to do this.

We start today with opening remarks from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.). Check back throughout the next two weeks as we add more ways for you to join in the celebration #MCOY2020

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

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by Tracy Lehman, Operation Homefront

As a full-time caregiver for her wounded-warrior husband and a mom of two, Angela Walter works every day to keep her family safe.

The Colorado Springs, Colorado, woman put extra thought into emergency preparedness. “What are you going to do if whoever you’re caring for freaks out” in an emergency, she wondered.

Having an emergency plan in place can help the whole family get to safety if they need to evacuate.

Angela, who volunteers with Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor caregiver support program as a group facilitator in Colorado, shared tips for fire safety and emergency planning.

Sound the alarm

Did you know smoke alarms expire? The National Fire Protection Association recommends replacement every 10 years. The date of manufacture should be on the back of the alarm.

Check that smoke detectors are installed on each level of your home – including the basement – and in each bedroom or outside each sleeping area.

Plans B and C

How would you get out of your home if the main exit is blocked? Make an escape plan, and practice it with your family.

“We live in a townhouse, and we would have to jump out our window in the back,” Angela said. The drop would be about 15 feet, so the family added a ladder in the back.

Angela Walter, a Hearts of Valor facilitator, is a caregiver for her husband, retired Army Spc. Daniel Walter. Their children, Hunter and Ariana, know their roles in emergency situations.

Call for help

Establish a communication board with emergency phone numbers. Post the board in a prominent place in the home, and make sure the numbers are easy to access in everyone’s phones. Don’t forget to update when numbers change.

Give family members – even older children – responsibilities such as helping get pets or younger children to safety. List each person’s tasks, and review those regularly.  (The CDC has a great page with info and tools for preparing children)

Just in case

Store backup copies of vital documents – insurance papers and drivers licenses, for example – on a flash drive that can be stored away from your house. Send the drive to a family member or stash it in a safety deposit box.

Do you have tips on emergency preparedness? Share in the comments.

Related topics:

Top 3 tips for helping your family adjust after a move

Did you know?

Operation Homefront has a Critical Financial Assistance program? Click here to learn more.

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While the holidays can be filled with joy, friendship and family, they can also be a stressful time for military families who are on a tight budget or are separated from their loved ones.

Thanks to our generous donors, Operation Homefront’s Holiday Meals for Military program helps fill some of those gaps by providing military and veteran families with a dinner complete with all the fixings. Throughout the holiday season, Operation Homefront and their partners will have hosted nearly 60 events nationwide, serving more than 10,400 families.

Some of the events also include toy giveaways and visits from Santa.

At a recent Thanksgiving event in San Antonio, Texas, hosted by San Antonio Shoemakers, more than 400 families picked up meal kits and their turkey. Now in its fifth year, the shoe company’s HMFM event has distributed 9,500 meals across Texas since the partnership began, and this year they packed 1,600.

The Cino triplets and friend had a blast at HMFM 2019!

Military spouse Jackie Cino brought her triplets and made sure to tell her friend Stephanie Robirds, another military spouse, so she too could come along to pick up a meal. This was the third year in a row for Jackie whose husband Miles is a staff sergeant in the Army. He’s served for 11 years and is now stationed at Fort Sam Houston where he and Stephanie’s husband, Chris, a staff sergeant with seven years of service, work as instructors.

“This year we’re doing dinner for guys that don’t have their family here that will be coming to eat with us,” Jackie said.

Stephanie and Jackie thanked donors who help out, “especially this time of year,” Stephanie said, “because money is always tight.”

“This year we’re doing dinner for guys that don’t have their family here that will be coming to eat with us.”

With more than 100 volunteers from SAS Shoes who either packed up the dinner kits during the week or helped with distribution on the weekend, SAS CEO Nancy Richardson said the company’s employees want to help make a difference. San Antonio is known as “military city” and many of the employees have either served themselves or have family members who are veterans or active duty.

“To actually do something that feels meaningful to them in a positive way so that (our military) truly do feel appreciated.”

“Part of what we are trying to do here is not to make it seem like a platitude,” she said. “But, to actually do something that feels meaningful to them in a positive way so that they truly do feel appreciated.”

At the weekend distribution, three active duty airmen helped carry frozen turkeys. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashley Warden is in the volunteer reserves for Operation Homefront and this year brought along Air Force Master Sgt. William Laflair and Master Sgt. Nancy Horsey.

Nancy said she would like the donors to know that “a lot of military members would have a hard time at the holidays and this really makes it easier for them.”

Ashley sees volunteering for OH as a time to pay it forward from when she would get assistance.

“Especially this time of the year, there’s no better time to give back and be thankful for what we have and what we have benefited from in the past and help others who might be struggling or might experiencing a rough patch,” she said.

The San Antonio event gave Operation Homefront staff and volunteers the opportunity to meet some new people as well as catch up with some longtime friends.

Operation Homefront events often feel like reunions for our volunteers and families.

Veteran Army Spc. Charles Henry was one of those familiar faces. In 2012, Charles received a home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program.

“During Thanksgiving time, it’s always something we don’t have to think about because Operation Homefront is there for us,” he said.

He often tells people about Operation Homefront’s programs and the great support his family has received. He hopes donors and volunteers, like those at San Antonio Shoes who hosted the HMFM event, plus OH staff and volunteers know they are making a difference.

“My family thanks you,” Charles said. “We are very appreciative of the work they’ve done in San Antonio and throughout the United States. (Operation Homefront) is a great organization that changes veterans’ lives, as they did mine.”

For more information on Operation Homefront’s programs, including Holiday Meals for Military, visit operationhomefront.org.

See pictures from many of our Holiday Meals for Military events on our Flickr page.

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