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Archive for the ‘Wounded Warriors’ Category

by Robert D. Thomas, Chief Operations Officer, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

Today, we remember and honor our service members.

On Memorial Day, our nation remembers and reflects upon the loss of the service members who have had a profound impact on preserving the freedoms we enjoy daily. By honoring the memory of their service, we sustain the spirit of these fallen heroes. And, we also remember their families, who sustained their service.

When I think about the heroes we have lost, I also think of the time lost with their families. I think of the incalculable value of eating an ordinary family dinner together, watching your son or daughter play soccer, or taking a child fishing. For those deployed, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, that time is lost forever; they will never get those moments back and neither will their families.

Reflecting on my 31-year Air Force career, and the friends I have lost in the service, brings Memorial Day into sharp focus for me. My military specialty was air mobility, and when I was not flying transport/tanker aircraft, I was the officer on staff responsible for the air mobility mission.

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During multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, among other duties, I would many times find myself part of the team responsible for transporting our fallen heroes back home one last time. The units would honor their lost comrade in a solemn ceremony, almost always at night to avoid the rocket or mortar fire large groups of soldiers attract, and end with a member of the unit answering “absent sir” as the fallen warrior’s name was called in a final unit roll call.

Often, and especially on Memorial Day, I think of the families of those heroes and what it would be like to get the devastating news that a mother, father, son, or daughter was gone forever, and how many lives were changed permanently at that moment.

All Americans can take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Robert D. Thomas
Operation Homefront Chief Operations Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

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When 13-year-old Jaxson Jordan found out that he had been named the 2019 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® he got a coveted prize—his older brother’s favorite Operation Homefront hoodie given to recipients five years earlier when he also won the award.

“It’s time for me to welcome you into the MCOY family,” Jaxson said his brother Michael-Logan told him.Jaxson Jordan headshot

The seventh-grader was, for once, speechless when his parents gave him the news. They seemed so serious, his mom Rebecca Jordan setting up a video chat with his father Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Jordan, stationed in Okinawa. Jaxson credits his father with being an example of resiliency he strives to emulate. In 2006, Christopher Jordan was injured, and a fellow Marine killed in Iraq.

The challenge was one of many he and his family have faced. Even so, Jaxson’s approach to life is one with a hefty dose of humor, from dry or sarcastic to what some adults might consider a bit dark for a kid his age. But he realized that laughter, positivity and tackling problems head-on was the best way to cope after being diagnosed with nine overlapping autoimmune/inflammatory diseases at age 7.

More specifically, he has been diagnosed with: Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which attacks his organs; Polyarticular Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which attacks more than five joints; Ankylosing Spondylitis; Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III, a genetic disorder that affects joints and connective tissue; IgA Nephropathy Kidney Disease; Asthma; Interstitial Lung Disease; and Autoimmune Retinopathy and Cancer Associated Retinopathy, two very rare eye diseases. He’s also dyslexic.

“I bet you are googling these medical terms right now, aren’t you?” he wrote in an award application essay. “That’s okay. As many times as you have had to google these terms, I have had to retype this essay due to my dyslexia kicking in and my spellcheck having a field day!”

Along with his knack for making people laugh, Jaxson’s communication skills could rival the most seasoned salesman, as evidenced after his North Carolina neighborhood suffered the back-to-back devastation of hurricanes Michael and Florence. “I’ve got this,” he said when the principal of his sister’s school talked to him and his mother about trying to help victims.


Taking $100 he had saved and another $100 match from his mom, he went to a local Walmart. He walked out with $400 in supplies, food and clothing after the manager matched with his own $200.

Jaxson caught on quickly. He walked business to business, pitching his idea for hurricane donations, mentioning to each manager or owner that Walmart had doubled their amount through its own donation. Turning it into a friendly competition, Jaxson brought back $1,200 worth in donations to his sister’s school to kick off the donation drive.

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Jaxson has used that strength, purpose, hope and a love of advocacy to benefit the Arthritis Foundation as a Junior Ambassador. On behalf of the organization, he works on grassroots campaigns, including going to Washington D.C. to meet his senator and congressman, organizes walks and is a mentor to other children, telling them about his own challenges and helping them through theirs.

Aside from Junior Ambassador Awards, he has received many accolades for his volunteerism and leadership roles including Presidential Volunteer Awards, Logan’s Heroes Honu Award and Lead Award for Outstanding Community Service and Leadership, and multiple volunteer appreciation awards.Jaxson Jordan
In the future he wants to help people with disabilities retain or regain their independence.

“Originally, I wanted to become a surgeon. However, I’m sure most people would prefer not to have a visually impaired person poking around in their insides!” Jaxson said. “Challenges are meant to be overcome. There’s always a way to greatness; always a way to get through challenges. You have to stay positive and spread kindness. When you spread kindness to people, they’ll spread it to others, and so on – like a ripple effect.”

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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

Arlacee and Thien Luu are a power couple, though they might laugh at the description.  But anyone reading their story can see the power of their courage to never give up and have faith.

Arlacee, now an Army reservist, originally enlisted in the Army – and proudly served – to earn the education benefits and for the challenge. “A lot of people … did not think I could accomplish basic training, much less complete my contract,” Arlacee said. “I chose the Army because I wanted to accomplish my dream of joining the military and to prove that I am capable of anything.” In the Army, Arlacee, an E-4 specialist, was a surveyor and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. Her platoon worked on nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicles.

Thien, her husband, served in the Army from 2007-11, including a 2009 Iraq deployment. He was medically retired after sustaining a traumatic brain injury from an IED blast.

Even these challenges did not shake them.  Then came their transition from service.

Arlacee and Thein had no idea how to afford a place of their own and they ended up staying with family when they first left military service. This allowed them to save a little and prioritize their spending to care for their baby’s special needs.

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Arlacee’s and Thien Luu’s 1-year-old son, Derek, was born without ears, and with a heart condition that required surgery to correct. He can hear with hearing aids, but because of his hearing impairment, Arlacee would like to enroll him in a school for the deaf. She acknowledges that caring for Derek, who is “beating the odds,” has been a lot of work for them, not only going to doctors’ appointments but also accepting his limitations.

On top of the childcare needs, they felt financially stymied trying to address their career goals, which required them to further their education. Arlacee’s wants to go to graduate school, and possibly work part time as an intern with the university’s geology department. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2012 from New Mexico State University and will attend University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to pursue advanced degrees in geoscience, using her post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits. She would like to become a geoscientist, perhaps supporting the military or working for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Luckily, Arlacee remembered Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. While they were stationed in Hawaii, an Operation Homefront (OH) employee described how JPMorgan Chase and other partners donated mortgage-free homes across the country to award to eligible military families.  Once families are accepted into Homes on the Homefront (HOTH), they receive financial counseling to assist with saving, paying down debt and improving credit. Homes are deeded to those who successfully complete the program in two to three years.

A home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, caught her eye. Arlacee grew up on and near the Navajo reservation. She and her parents, who still live in New Mexico, are part of the Navajo Nation, and Arlacee missed the “remarkable” desert and mountainous landscapes, colorful scenery and clean air. Though she feared HOTH was too good to be true, she applied and was accepted for an Albuquerque home.

“We never, in a million years, thought we would be matched with a home,” Arlacee said. Using the Navajo word for thank you, she added, “Ahéhee’ for your generous donations.”

“We are extremely grateful, you have made a huge impact on our lives. This house is a true blessing, allowing Thien and I the opportunity to provide for our son and to continue our education. We are determined to make an impact and share our generosity with others, as you have done for us.” Arlacee said she also looks forward to the financial counseling that comes with HOTH because it will reinforce budgeting and the importance of saving, and hold them accountable. “It’s a push in the right direction,” she said.

Living in the HOTH home without the pressure of a mortgage is “such a relief,” Arlacee said. “It’s … a heavy burden off our shoulders …(and) we can focus on our child.”“Veterans go through different trials and different situations” such as injuries that sometimes require them to take things slower, Arlacee continued. “It makes life a little bit harder in different scenarios, compared to my coworkers … we face different challenges. [Operation Homefront] is a good organization to help alleviate some of these issues that we face.”

“I’m so grateful that … it’s not a too-good-to-be-true situation. We’re grateful to the donors.”

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

 

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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs. Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

An oath for life, and to give your life, is one of the most solemn gifts one can offer to their country and to another. Medically retired Army Sergeant Jennifer Gonzalez and her husband have offered theirs, and it has not come without a high cost.

Jennifer was only 17 when she joined the Army. A recruiter contacted her, and Jennifer became interested in the medical field. Although Jennifer knew of her family’s history of military service, she would be the first and only female from her family to serve. “I thought joining the military sounded cool,” said Jennifer. “And I was spontaneous and liked to take risks.”

During her 11 years with the Army Reserves, Jennifer had one deployment to Iraq that forever changed her. Suffering from post-traumatic stress. Jennifer was medically retired.

Because of her disability, her husband is now also her caregiver, while also dealing with his own transition from military service. When the family moved to a smaller town, Jennifer’s husband found it hard to find a job, especially one that was comparable to his previous job at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Without a second income, Jennifer and her husband soon found themselves in financial stress. When Jennifer received a disconnect notice from the electric company, the couple reached out to Operation Homefront for help with their monthly bills.

Thanks to generous donors, Jennifer and her family will not have their power disconnected. Not only was Operation Homefront able to pay Jennifer’s utility bill, but also paid her auto insurance payment and provided food assistance.
Jennifer is not alone. In 2017, Operation Homefront received 1,900 requests from veterans across the nation that needed help with their utilities. Additionally, over 1,300 veterans needed help providing food for their families, and over 1,300 service members requested help with their auto payment and insurance. With two more months left in 2018, we are on track to see the same, if not more, especially with the recent natural disasters hitting heavily populated military areas, such as the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

“I am so appreciative and grateful to Operation Homefront’s donors who help military families without another place to turn to,” said Jennifer. “We had no family to turn to for help. It is very humbling to ask for help, but we are so grateful. Your donors think of others after the fact (completion of service).”

“Operation Homefront is a great organization,” continued Jennifer. “My caseworker Erik was great to work with. There are a lot of emotions a veteran feels when they are transitioning; it can be shameful to ask for help and very hard to do, especially for veterans who are very independent. I never felt like I was treated differently.”

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at http://www.operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is 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. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

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After getting a much-needed boost from Operation Homefront, Tamarra now studies social work and has a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She’s already been accepted into two schools to work on her master’s degree.

To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs. Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.  You can catch up here with Day 1 and Day 2.

U.S. Army Sergeant Tamarra Stewart joined the Army in October 2008 because she wanted to serve her country. Over the course of her nine years of service, she rose to the rank of sergeant and served as a paralegal specialist. Her work ranged from criminal law, administrative law and legal assistance for other servicemen and women.

Tamarra deployed to Afghanistan for one year from 2009 to 2010. In May 2018, she medically retired with an honorable discharge. She struggles with some of the unseen wounds of war – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, bilateral shoulder impingement syndrome, and a lower back strain.

As many veterans know, the road to transition can be unexpectedly rough. Tamarra’s journey out of the military unfortunately included a separation from her husband, making her a single mother with two girls to care for on a limited income.

As a single mother, Tamarra’s injuries have not only impacted her life, but also the lives of her daughters. As her options for support were diminishing fast, she had a lucky turn of events. She discovered Operation Homefront’s rent-free transitional housing apartments, decided to apply and was accepted into the program.

Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing Program allows service members, like Tamarra,to live rent free while they go through the transition process. Upon placement, Operation Homefront onsite caseworkers set up a mandatory schedule that these service members, veterans and their families must follow. They are required to attend support groups, workshops, benefits briefings, and resume writing classes, as determined by their counselor. They also undergo one-on-one financial counseling to reduce debt and build savings. Financial counselors also meet with each military family every 30 days to review their financial situation, determine where they are in the transition process, review their attendance in the required workshops and classes, and determine their ability to live on their own. Once they have become self-sufficient, OH will help them find suitable housing in the area they intend to live on a permanent basis. Upon completion of the program, veterans and their families should have VA benefits in place, debt significantly reduced and emergency savings in place.

Tamarra and her daughters have been living at Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing Village program in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They have thrived ever since moving in and she has saved over $11,000. While living at the Village in Gaithersburg, she applied for a home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program. She was blessed to hear that she was accepted into the program and is thankful for the opportunity she has before her – a chance to have a home of her own.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and JPMorgan Chase, Tamarra will soon move into a mortgage-free home in Belcamp, Maryland. She was accepted into the HOTH program so that she can continue to attend school at Montgomery County College, save money monthly, and live her life with her daughters near family and friends. The HOTH program offers military families like Tamarra the foundation for long-term stability and resiliency in order to enjoy the American dream of home ownership.

Tamarra had always wanted to go back to school, but the stress surrounding her separation and lack of income left her struggling with her classes. After getting a much-needed boost from Operation Homefront, she has a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She’s studying social work and has already been accepted into two schools to work on her master’s degree. She said that she doesn’t quite know what specifically she wants to do in the social work field yet, but more than anything she just wants to help people as much as she can because helping people makes her happy.
There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is 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. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

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Last week, Operation Homefront hosted an activity-packed three-day celebration to honor our stellar Military Child of the Year Award® recipients.  And what an amazing three days it was!

The 10th annual Military Child of the Year festivities kicked off Tuesday with our BAH Innovation Award recipient, Shelby Barber from Hawaii, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton. Her visit included a tour, a sampling of their state-of-the-art virtual reality experiences, and a brainstorming meeting with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team who will help Shelby bring to life her concept for a portable medical device for children with severe allergies.

On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. John I Pray, Jr., Air Force (Ret.), President and CEO of Operation Homefront, welcomed all seven recipients at a welcome lunch before the kids, their families, and OH staff departed for Capitol Hill to meet and greet their state congressional representatives.

Afterwards, the MCOY recipients came back to the hotel for dinner, where they received laptops from Booz Allen Hamilton and Microsoft, along with cash awards and some very special surprises from Kendra Scott and Cracker Barrel.

Thursday, our awardees had the opportunity to meet and mingle with OH staff, our National Board of Directors, and Region 1 Advisory Board member Danny Chung, from Microsoft, our breakfast sponsor, who presented each recipient with a brand new Surface laptop.

 

Then, it was off to the National Museum of American History. For the fifth year, OH worked with the Archives Center to give the MCOY recipients a behind-the-scene tour. When the MCOY recipients weren’t weaving through a maze of stacked artifacts, they were able to explore the exhibits, including the First Ladies display as well as the Star-Spangled Banner — the original stars and stripes that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 — providing the inspiration for the Star-Spangled Banner lyrics from Francis Scott Key.

Then, it was time for the main event — the gala! ESPN analyst and former MLB player Chris Singleton served as the emcee, and appropriately kicked off the evening with a rousing “play ball!” America’s Beloved Tenor, Daniel Rodriguez, sang the national anthem during the Presentation of Colors by JROTC cadets from T.C. Williams High School from Alexandria, Virginia.


 

John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “We recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of these seven recipients, who represent the collective excellence of military children everywhere. They personify resiliency, leadership, and strength of character. Their families and communities, as well as our corporate partners and the staff and volunteers at Operation Homefront, are very proud of them as individuals and all the other young people in the military families they represent.”

 

Two wonderful guests helped OH salute the MCOY recipients: Brennley Brown and Melissa Stockwell.

Brennley, an emerging country artist (you might recognize her from Season 12 of The Voice) spoke about how inspired she was that she was here with kids who were her own age and had already accomplished so much. She treated the crowd to a beautiful musical performance.

Melissa Stockwell, Army veteran, two-time Paralympian, and proud mom, spoke about her journey after losing her leg. In her remarks, Melissa spoke about resilience and her inspiration, telling the MCOY recipients, “your voices are so strong … stand up for what you believe in.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lyons, Director for Logistics, representing General Joseph Dunford and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered remarks that underscored the importance of the military family, particularly the children, in ensuring our nation has a ready force. “The decision of our service members to remain serving in our nation’s military is most often made at the dinner table,” said Gen. Lyons. “The way organizations like Operation Homefront care for our families and support children like these helps us keep our forces engaged and strong.”

 

Lt. Gen. Lyons then was joined by John Pray and Lieutenant General Brian Arnold, USAF, Ret., Chairman of the Operation Homefront Board of Directors, for the award presentations. Each presenter took a few moments to celebrate the military family behind the recipients, then they highlighted the amazing awardee accomplishments.

Several of our previous Military Child of the Year Award recipients were on hand to help present the awards to the new generation.

Military Child of the Year Alumni: (left to right) Alena Deveau (2012 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year), Nicole Goetz (2011 Air Force Military Child of the Year), Alex McGrath (2017 Navy Military Child of the Year), Christian Fagala (2016 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year), Henderson Heussner (2017 Army Military Child of the Year), Maggie Rochon (2011 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year)

But it was not over yet! For the second year, Carnival Cruise Line and Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Richard Morse shocked, literally, the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

“This has been a remarkable evening,” said John as he closed out the evening. “To all our honorees tonight, I know your parents, families, and communities are so proud of you. We are proud of you too. You inspire every one of us.”

 

With the 10th annual Military Child of the Year in the books, we turn our focus to wrapping up the logistics and towards planning for the 11th MCOY Gala to be held on April 11, 2019.

Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2018 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Military Times, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, Veterans United Home Loans, and Under Armour. #MCOY2018

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Rebekah Paxton was forced to grow up quickly.

Our 2018 Army Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, Rebecca was confronted first-hand with the wounds of war when her father was injured as a combat medic in the 82nd Airborne Division. He served 19 years and, now medically retired, suffers from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He is also a cancer survivor.

Coming to her family’s aid as a de facto third parent, Rebekah has spent much of her childhood caring for herself and for her younger brother and sister. She fed them, prepared them for school every morning, and took them to sports practices and games.

Rebekah has used the trial as fuel to motivate her toward a better future. Currently aspiring to become a neurosurgeon, she competed in three subjects for two years with the University Interscholastic League and earned the Medical Science Award of Excellence. “I have grown up at the Brooke Army Medical Hospital in San Antonio and I fell in love with the medical field. After I finish my residency I would like to apply for Doctors Without Borders and take two years helping other people worldwide,” she said.

As she has made college plans, Rebekah has set her sights on someday raising awareness of the plight of wounded veterans and their families. It’s no surprise that giving back is a big part of Rebekah’s past, present and future. Rebekah arrives at a life of helping others naturally. It’s in her DNA. Members of her family have served in the military from the Civil War to present day.

“Personally, I believe there is not enough support for military kids (and) families. I have (had to learn) how to cope with my father’s military-related injuries alone. Not many people outside my family realize what we have gone through in this process and I believe no one really wants to know what goes on. I believe civilians do not understand completely what it is like to have a service member come home from the terrors of war,” said Rebekah.

In addition to her passions, Rebecca has a heavy academic load, taking advanced placement courses as well as dual enrollment courses at Missouri Southern State University. Yet she still has time to pursue athletics and serve her community wherever possible. She is a varsity athlete in three sports, and has volunteered hundreds of hours working with children and faith groups. She was editor for the school yearbook and a writer for the school newspaper.

Rebekah certainly has risen to the many challenges her family has faced, and her life is an example of the quote that inspires her:

If all struggles and sufferings were eliminated, the spirit would no more reach maturity than would the child. (Elizabeth Elliott)

“I realize that what I have gone through during these trials have made me better. When I was in my toughest moments I did not believe that I would come out if those times okay. But God has been there the whole time and has given me an opportunity to do amazing things in life,” said Rebekah.

See highlights from Rebekah’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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