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Air Force Staff Sgt. Story Parsons surprised her son Caleb Parsons, 2015 Coast Guard Child of the Year, with an unexpected return from Qatar. Caleb had been caring for his younger siblings while both parents were deployed.

Their success comes at a cost. As we come to the close of this year’s Month of the Military Child, and reflect upon the amazing young men and women we honor through our Military Child of the Year® Awards, that is what we must not forget.

We were reminded of this when we saw the look on the face of Caleb Parsons, 2015 Coast Guard Child of the Year, and his brothers and sister, when they saw their mom, Air Force Staff Sgt. Story Parsons. The joy, yes, but the relief and the gift of being just a kid again in the arms of mom.

One perfect moment in time. There are no to do lists, no countdowns, no worries…just now. Just the moment. And it was a short moment, as Staff Sgt. Parsons had less than 24 hours with her family and then she had to fly back to Qatar. Tears of joy turned quickly to tears of sadness, again. It comes with the territory, when one chooses to serve their country. The whole family serves too.

Via NBC Washington: West Point-bound Caleb Parsons was named Military Child of the Year for raising his younger siblings while his parents were both deployed. Kristin Wright reports from the award ceremony, where Caleb’s mother made a surprise return from Qatar.

Those kind of moments are one of the hardest sacrifices of being a military kid.The majority of the estimated 1.88 [1]million military children will experience that moment at least once. Some more than once. Some, a lot more than once. And some will never experience it again.

So while it is always great to see homecoming videos and surprises go viral, and join in the joy of the moment, it is important to remember that this moment is often coming at the end of a very long journey. A journey lasting six months, 12 months or more, with tears, and moments of fear and doubt and frustrations. Questioning of the fairness of it all.

Acknowledging these struggles is important because while we celebrate the extraordinary achievement of some military children in the face of adversity, we must always be aware that there are many who need our support to get through it. Anxiety, depression, trouble focusing, trouble sleeping are all challenges commonly reported by children of deployed military. Ensuring they have the resources they need to succeed is of paramount importance to the military community. The challenges and obstacles faced by the children of our military families are considerable and diverse. But working together, we can make a difference.

calebhug2At Operation Homefront, we understand that resiliency and stability often begins at home. If there are financial and other worries, it only creates a steeper hill to climb for the children. So we focus on strengthening foundations with our emergency financial and morale programs, such as our upcoming 10th annual Back-to-School Brigade. But there is more to be done, and you can help.

We’re certainly not alone in doing our part to support military kids and families. Right now, our friends at Blue Star Families are asking for input from military families on the issues that have the most impact on them. Share this link to their survey with every military family you know so their voice can be heard. The National Military Family Association is also a powerful voice for the broad issues impacting military families. The Military Child Education Coalition focuses on advocacy and outreach to ensure inclusive, quality educational opportunities for all military-connected children.

Footnote: Check out the Special Department of Defense Month of the Military Child page for stories and resources for and about our military kids.
[1] http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2015/0415_militarychild/

By Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 2015 Army Military Child of the Year

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Army Vice Chief of Staff, General Daniel Allyn, presents the Army Military Child of the Year award to Cavan.

Operation Homefront gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. I was honored with a 2015 Military Child of the Year award, along with five other military kids, and had the chance to travel to our nation’s capital and meet some of the people who keep this country safe. Operation Homefront probably didn’t realize it, but they actually granted one of my life dreams: to see the Greensboro Lunch Counter at the National Museum of American History.

Last summer I got to see Stanley Nelson, Jr.’s production of Freedom Summer, a documentary of the attempt to register as many African Americans in Mississippi as possible in 1964. The movie changed me. It made me ask questions about the history of our country and challenged me to look at the world in a different way. One of the moments in history that it depicted was the sit-in by college students at a Woolworth’s store in 1960. The courage of those young black men helped build confidence in people all over the country to make strides for equality for everyone. Their willingness to make a statement that they were Americans who deserved the same rights as white people showed me that our country may not be perfect, but we live in a place where citizens can take a stand and bring about change. Their ambition gave me motivation to continue my efforts to connect the community to those who serve.

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The lunch counter at the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina (Courtesy National Museum of American History).

Seeing that counter in real life was the perfect way to remind me that being chosen as the Military Child of the Year for the Army wasn’t just about me, but about the work that I still need to do in order to make improvements for our veterans and wounded warriors. It would have been too easy to get swept up in all of the ceremonies and excitement, but Operation Homefront did a great job showing us why we are like those college students who sat at the Woolworth’s counter in 1960. We travelled around Washington, D.C., visiting the service memorials of our great nation. This provided a reminder that the great honor of being chosen as a Military Child of the Year is also a great responsibility.

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Cavan (right) and his fellow Military Child of the Year 2015 recipients in D.C., April 2015.

Each one of the military kids that was recognized is forging a special path that will create change for our country, and our serving parents are like the volunteers involved in the Freedom Summer, willing to sacrifice everything to ensure that all Americans are able to have the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. That is a lot of pressure for all of us, but I am up to the challenge, and I am sure that the other kids honored along with me will also do a great job. Thank you so much, Operation Homefront, and everyone else who made my time in Washington D.C. a great memory. I will never be able to thank you enough.

Operation Homefront is pleased to present the Military Child of the Year® Award to outstanding military children who demonstrate resiliency, leadership and achievement. Recipients representing each service branch are recognized at a Washington, D.C. Gala celebration in April each year. The seventh annual awards gala was held April 16. In addition to the trip to our nation’s capital, recipients are awarded a laptop computer and a $10,000 award. Learn more about our Military Child of the Year, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. Read about the 2015 recipientsSee pictures from the 2015 gala.

 

Star Struck

It’s not every day that a person gets to tag along with six kids like these four young men and two young ladies. They are not your ordinary kids. In fact, they are extraordinary. They are our 2015 Military Child of the Year® recipients. And it was my unique pleasure to join them and their families for two days as they enjoyed the nation’s capital before being recognized at a special gala in their honor.

I had been reading about these kids for several weeks and will admit to already being star struck by their awesomeness. And rightfully so. These young patriots proved to be just as impressive in person as they are on paper. And I was not the only one who was inspired. 

 

“I was invited here tonight to inspire these kids. After learning a little bit more about them, I’m the one who’s inspired.”

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Jason Brown, our keynote speaker for our gala, who is a former NFL player with the St. Louis Rams and owner of First Fruits Farms that gives all of its harvest to those in need. His brother was killed in action in Afghanistan.

 

 

 

“This nation asks a lot of each of you, and each of you continues to prove day in and day out that you are strong, that you are resilient and you are full of love of our country and for each other.”

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General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when speaking about our Military Child of the Year recipients at the gala.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“For the adults here tonight…you know all too well that life is about change. For many of us, that realization can take a lifetime. For many military kids, that realization occurs before the end of elementary school.”

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Mike Emanuel, Chief Congressional Correspondent, Fox News Channel and Emcee for our gala.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You kids have inspired me…to get back to (my) roots and do more volunteer work…it’s great for your soul, makes you feel rich.”

mcoygalablog_murphy-goode-dave-readyDave Ready, Jr. (center of photo), Winemaker, Murphy-Goode (whose great-grandfather is a WWI veteran) and his company was one of the sponsors of our Military Child of the Year gala and presented Dell laptops to all of our recipients.

 

 

“There are particular anxieties that military families face and …you are making the sacrifices just as your loved ones who serve do and I wanted to come by and … with a son in the military … say thanks and congratulate those of you who have been singled out for this honor.”

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Tim Kaine, Senator for Virginia, who was joined by Randy Forbes, Representative for Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. Both came to congratulate Caleb Parsons, 2015 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year, who lives in Virginia, at a special reception at the U.S. Capitol. Kaine is shown here shaking the hand of Caleb’s brother, Nathan.

 

“It’s fair to say that there’s nothing we do…which is quite a lot…that’s more enjoyable than tonight. These young patriots assembled here tonight reflect the achievement, service, dedication and resiliency that truly defines military kids.”

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Tim Farrell, Interim CEO and Chief Operating Officer for Operation Homefront, with 2015 Marine Corps Child of the Year Christopher-Raul Rodriquez, his brother Kilyn-Miguel and Major General James Lukeman, Commanding General of the Training and Education Command for the U.S. Marine Corps.

 

 

 

 “None of us thinks we’ve done anything that amazing…but when we read about the other kids here, wow, we’re impressed.”

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Overheard from Sarah Hesterman, 2015 Air Force Military Child of the Year (second from the right), pictured with (left to right) Caleb Parsons, 2015 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year, Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 2015 Army Military Child of the Year, Christopher-Raul Rodriguez, 2015 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year, Zachary Parsons, 2015 National Guard Military Child of the Year, Sarah, and Emily Kliewer, 2015 Navy Military Child of the Year.

 

For the very first time this year we were honored to recognize a National Guard recipient in addition to a child from each service branch. Yet even with the inclusion of the National Guard and increasing the number of our award recipients from five to six, we’re only scratching the surface in celebrating the nearly two million military kids of today. The goal of our award is that, by bringing recognition to a few, we will build support and encouragement for the many military kids who inspire us every day.

View more pictures from the event.

Zachary Parsons, 2015 National Guard Military Child of the Year.

Zachary Parsons, 2015 National Guard Military Child of the Year.

We continue our series on our 2015 Military Child of the Year recipients with getting to know Zachary Parsons, Military Child of the Year, National Guard.

A common theme among the stories of the military child experience is one of children stepping up in ways big and small when mom or dad (or both) answer the call to service. Zachary Parsons can definitely relate.

The Parsons have strong military ties. Besides his father, Zachary’s sister and brother also serve. When it came time for his father to deploy to Afghanistan, Zachary knew that he would be needed to help run the family farm, alongside his mother. But what he couldn’t know was that his father would be injured during that deployment, prolonging the family reunion and meaning that he would assume even more responsibility while worrying about his father and what the future would hold.

It has been a tough two years for Zachary. He shares, “When the main figure leaves your household there is a spiral of things to deal with. My dad was head of household, so when he left there were so many things left to do on the farm, as well as keep our life together. Dealing with that empty space is tough.”

Those responsibilities alone would be enough for many, but they have not stopped Zachary. Imbued with a strong sense of the call to service, and the cost exacted, Zachary gives back to his community in so many astonishing ways. He uses his personal experiences with deployments and the impact they have on military children to advocate as a member of Missouri National Guard Teen Advisory Council. As a child of farmers, he is active in 4-H at the state and national level, serving as a delegate to Congress from Missouri. He wants other military children to know that there is someone who understands exactly what they are going through, and that they, too, can have a voice. It is no surprise that Zachary was named Whiteman Air Force Base Youth of the Year and Missouri Military Youth of the Year.

Zachary has felt the impact of his father's deployment and injuries, but knows one day soon they will be back together for good.

Zachary has felt the impact of his father’s deployment and injuries, but knows one day soon they will be back together for good.

An accomplished debater, Zachary has maintained a 3.85 GPA while also trying new things, such as joining his school’s tennis team. Though his dad is able to come home on weekends, the family, and Zachary in particular, look forward to the day when they can be reunited for good.

Zachary is the youngest son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason and Debbie Parsons. His father is currently at the Wounded Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Leonard Wood.

Catch up with our Military Child of the Year spotlight series:

“An unwavering role model in the face of adversity”-Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.C.G., Caleb Parsons.

“Her humility, kindness, and candor inspire everyone she meets” –Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.A.F., Sarah Hesterman.

“The focus and discipline to stay the course.”-Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.N., Emily Kliewer.

“A Great Deal of Heart” -Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.M.C., Christopher-Raul Rodriguez.

 “Service changes lives” – Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S. Army, Cavan McIntyre-Brewer.

Learn more about Military Child of the Year, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for information on how you can join us for the livestream of the Military Child of the Year Award gala in D.C. on April 16, 2015.

Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 2015 U.S. Army Military Child of the Year.

Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 2015 U.S. Army Military Child of the Year.

We continue our series on our 2015 Military Child of the Year recipients with getting to know Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, Military Child of the Year, U.S. Army.

Cavan believes that service changes lives, makes them better. And he certainly walks the talk.

In addition to the challenges of military family life, the moves, the deployments, the separations, Cavan has had to face so much more. His younger brother, Rory, passed away when Cavan was four. His sister, Lorelei, also has serious health issues, being born with a heart condition. And now Cavan is facing his own health challenges, requiring significant treatment that is often painful.

But rather than withdrawing and focusing on himself (which would be understandable), Cavan channels his experiences and struggles into empathy for others, particularly veterans. A trip to a state veteran’s home had a profound effect on him. He noticed that the patients were tired, lonely, and missing essential items. So he was inspired to make a difference for veterans, starting his own organization, Socks for Vets. This organization collects socks and other donated items and distributes them to wounded warriors. He regularly serves the homeless and hungry veterans in his area, and annually travels to the National Mall in D.C. to distribute thousands of thank you cards to veterans on Veterans Day. All while maintaining an impressive 97 percent GPA at school.

After a visit to a veterans home, Cavan became a fierce advocate for our nation's veterans.

After a visit to a veterans home, Cavan became a fierce advocate for our nation’s veterans.

Cavan has found a voice in writing, and his words often reflect a maturity well beyond his years. He uses his talents to encourage others to get involved in their community, to raise awareness of the challenges faced by our veterans and wounded warriors. Much of his writing reflects a deep appreciation for the freedom we enjoy thanks to the sacrifices of our military families, past and present.

Cavan is the oldest child of Army Capt. Steven Brewer and Michelle McIntyre-Brewer. He has three siblings, sister Lorelei (9), brother Killian (2) and his brother Rory (deceased). His mother is a medical and military advocate and educator, and his father is a medical detachment Commander at Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic, Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Catch up with our Military Child of the Year spotlight series:

“An unwavering role model in the face of adversity”-Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.C.G., Caleb Parsons.

“Her humility, kindness, and candor inspire everyone she meets” –Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.A.F., Sarah Hesterman.

“The focus and discipline to stay the course.”-Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.N., Emily Kliewer.

“A Great Deal of Heart” -Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.M.C., Christopher-Raul Rodriguez.

Learn more about Military Child of the Year, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for information about our gala and join us via livestream for the Military Child of the Year Award gala in D.C. on April 16, 2015.

Christopher-Raul Rodriguez, 2015 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year

We continue our series on our 2015 Military Child of the Year recipients with getting to know Christopher-Raul Rodriguez, Military Child of the Year, U.S. Marine Corps.

Christopher-Raul certainly has overcome a lot. Early on in his life, his mom had to make a heartbreakingly tough choice as a result of alcoholism and abuse from his biological father that threatened the entire family: to take Christopher and his two siblings out of the home. This meant time spent in women’s and homeless shelters. Rather than let this define him, Christopher knew this would not be the end of his story. When reading his nomination, we could see that he was not going to be alone in his pursuit of a different path, but that it was Christopher’s courage, strength and resiliency that would drive him towards his goals.

Christopher truly understands the impact that a mentor and role model can have on a young person’s life.

Flash forward, and the results of his determination and drive are evident. A 3.25 GPA student in Advance Placement courses, the hard lessons he learned from his early years are the ones that he uses to lift others up. As varsity team captain in soccer and basketball, he is credited as the lynchpin for the teams’ successes, keeping their morale up and truly defining the word teammate. As one who understands the impact that a mentor and role model can have on a young person’s life, he returns the chances he was given to others, volunteering with a group that connects special needs children with others who are not, and volunteering with Special Olympics.

Though Christopher attributes his success in overcoming his early years to his mother and stepfather, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jermaine Smith, his counselor is emphatic that it was Christopher himself that held fast to his promise to not take the path of least resistance offered by others who would see him compromise his standards. “I cannot emphasize enough that it was Chris who made the mature decisions, despite the chaos around him, to do the right thing. In an era of the “me” generation, Christopher is clearly more focused on those around him and the concept that he needs to be successful to honor his parents and to improve the world within which he lives.”

Chris’ future aspiration is to pursue a degree in Kinesiology and become an athletic trainer.

Christopher-Raul is the oldest child of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jermaine and Griscelda Smith. He has one sister, Jazzlyn-Luz (14) and one brother Kilyn-Miguel (12). Griscelda is an on-base family childcare provider, and Jermaine is stationed at Camp Lejeune.

Catch up with our Military Child of the Year spotlight series:

“An unwavering role model in the face of adversity”-Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.C.G., Caleb Parsons.

“Her humility, kindness, and candor inspire everyone she meets” –Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.A.F., Sarah Hesterman.

“The focus and discipline to stay the course.”-Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.N., Emily Kliewer.

Learn more about Military Child of the Year, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for information on how you can join us for the livestream of the Military Child of the Year Award gala in D.C. on April 16, 2015

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Emily Kliewer, 2015 Navy Military Child of the Year

We continue our series to celebrate our 2015 Military Child of the Year® recipients with getting to know Emily Kliewer, Military Child of the Year, U.S. Navy.

“The focus and discipline to stay the course.”

Many of us have that someone who is our rock, who gives us the strength to persevere and is our reason for excellence. For Emily Kliewer, that is her mom, Cynthia. That bond was only strengthened through many life-threatening crises as a result of Cynthia’s Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

The connection Emily has with her mother, and what they have faced as a family together, shines through not only in the strength she has to committing to do her best in every facet of her life, but also in her deep respect and empathy towards others. As the athletic director of her school expressed, “I have seen her work incredibly hard for personal gain yet never sacrifice the value of her relationships, particularly those in need.”

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A member and leader of multiple academic honor societies, Emily is on track to graduate valedictorian of her class.

And Emily does work incredibly hard. A member and leader of multiple academic honor societies, she is on track to graduate valedictorian of her class. She also rocks the pool, breaking records and swimming in her regional and state championships – multiple times. Any setback only makes her work harder. That kind of discipline, time management and drive speaks volumes. That Emily achieved this while also excelling in academics and carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders truly embodies what we see from our military children.

Not content to rest on her laurels, Emily gives back to her community by mentoring her fellow teammates as captain for the swim and dive team, sharing her love of swimming as a volunteer coach for Special Olympics swimmers, and assisting in a special needs classroom. She also takes time to give back to her military family by volunteering with the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society. It is her empathy and compassion for others that her friends speak of, even above her many accomplishments.

It has by no means been the easiest path for Emily, as her mom has had serious and frightening health challenges, particularly in the last year. But rather than letting those traumas hold her back, Emily has stayed the course.

The daughter of Navy Lieutenant Commander (Ret.) Kyle and Cynthia Kliewer, Emily is the youngest of three. Her older sisters are also making waves in the world. Kaitlyn (23) is currently earning her PhD in Civic Engineering at Princeton and Nicole (21) is graduating Magna Cum Laude from Florida State University.

 

Catch up with our Military Child of the Year spotlight series:

“An unwavering role model in the face of adversity”

“Her humility, kindness, and candor inspire everyone she meets”

Learn more about Military Child of the Year, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for information on how you can join us for the livestream of the Military Child of the Year Award gala in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 2015.

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