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Memorial-Day-2015-pause-remember-operation-homefrontAll of us hold dear the memory of loved ones who have passed on. We likely take time, each year, to remember the loss, and do so with a mingled sense of both fondness and sadness. We do so to keep them with us in spirit.

Memorial Day is special as we, as a nation, have the opportunity to take a moment to remember and reflect upon the loss of those who have had a profound impact on preserving the freedoms we enjoy daily. By honoring their memories, we sustain the spirit these fallen heroes shared with us.

My father served in World War II, and was one of the thousands of American and Filipino troops captured when the U.S. surrendered the Bataan Peninsula. He survived the death march, and was a prisoner of war for three and a half years. He never spoke much of his time in captivity, but it was clear that those who were lost during this difficult period came home with him in spirit. Years later, during my own service, I stood on the tarmac at Dover AFB to honor those who were making the final journey home and knew I was also bringing home loved ones in spirit.

As we get ready to enjoy an extended holiday weekend, all Americans can take part in bringing those we have lost in our nation’s service home in spirit by joining in the national moment of remembrance that takes place at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon. Let us keep them with us in spirit.

With honor and in service to all,

John I Pray, Jr.

President and CEO, Operation Homefront

 

 

Throughout our history as a nation, many have spoken eloquently about the valor, courage, commitment and sacrifice made by millions of our men and women who have defended our nation and its ideals. We share some of these moving words with you in honor of Armed Forces Day:

 

  • “Today let us, as Americans, honor the American fighting man. For it is he–the soldier, the sailor, the Airman, the Marine– who has fought to preserve freedom. It is his valor that has given renewed hope to the free world that by working together in discipline and faith our ideals of freedom will always prevail.”-Admiral Forrest P. Sherman

 

  • “It is fitting and proper that we devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world.”-President Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

  • “Our Servicemen and women are serving throughout the world as guardians of peace–many of them away from their homes, their friends and their families. They are visible evidence of our determination to meet any threat to the peace with measured strength and high resolve. They are also evidence of a harsh but inescapable truth–that the survival of freedom requires great cost and commitment, and great personal sacrifice.”-President John F. Kennedy

 

  • “Honor to the Soldier, and Sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor also to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field, and serves, as he best can, the same cause — honor to him, only less than to him, who braves, for the common good, the storms of heaven and the storms of battle.”-Abraham Lincoln, in December 2, 1863 letter to George Opdyke and others.

 

  • “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them into his Holy keeping.”-General George Washington

As time waxes and wanes, and yellow ribbons fade, let us always remember the words of one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson:

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.- Abraham Lincoln

Mom. It’s a title that claims the heart and changes it forever. And we know a special class of moms – those who serve and those who love someone who serves. Their hearts often expand and bear more than the normal American. This Mother’s Day, we wanted to let our community of moms know that we are holding you close in our hearts and thoughts.

To the Moms Serving…FBCristiCrozier

We miss you. A lot. Dad’s doing a great job, and your friends are always there for us, but no one can replace you. We’re proud of you and your service to your country, and whatever we can do to support you, we will. Yes, we have days when we wish you were here, and some days where it is harder to smile, but we never doubt once that you love us. Come home soon.

 

To The Moms on the Homefront…

momdayblogsoldiersleepingYou keep the virtual, and often literal, porch light on for us. Yes, sometimes we will roll our eyes when you ask us detail after detail about our life in the military. No, that movie you saw the other day is not really how it works in the military. But we also know that we can call, anytime of day or night, from wherever we are in the world, and you will answer. We know that you will keep a Christmas tree up until February (or later) if that is what it takes to have us home for the holidays. You keep an open invitation to anyone we bring home with us, and don’t break a sweat when we told you it was three for dinner and … we showed up with six.

You are at the core of why we serve. You made us who we are today.

 

 To The Moms Caring For Our Wounded…

momdayblogwoundedwarriorYou brought us into the world, nurtured us, cared for us. You smiled with pride as we grew, and we felt the pride you had when we stepped up to serve our country despite your fears and concerns for our safety. And then those fears became reality. And again, you are there to care for us, to see us through. Even though we feel we may never be what we once were, you believe we are still someone great. Some of us won’t be able to let you know how much we love you, as our injuries are too severe and no longer allow us to speak. But we don’t have to. You know in your heart of hearts that we love you. Mighty Moms. Please take time today for yourself. You are not alone.

 

To the Mothers Who Are Grieving …

GoldStarMotherMemorialThose who have not lost a child will never know the unbearable pain that you have suffered. We can only promise to remember, to pray for your family, and to hope that as each day passes, you’ll smile a little more as you remember.

On behalf of a grateful nation, we honor you most of all.

 

 Please join us in wishing Moms all over the world a very Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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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.

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