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Recipient_CoastGuard_Caleb_Parsons1

Caleb Parsons, 2015 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year

Yesterday, we invited you to get to know this year’s honorees for the Military Child of the Year® Award by introducing you to the recipient for the U.S. Air Force, Sarah Hesterman. Today, we shine the spotlight on Caleb Parsons, our Military Child of the Year for the United States Coast Guard.

“An unwavering role model in the face of adversity.”

As any high school senior can tell you, their last year of high school can be both thrilling and frightening. One comes of age, chapters close, new ones are being written. You are heading into the seemingly vast place full of opportunities and obstacles that we call the “grown up” world.

As the son of parents who both serve, Caleb had to assume adult responsibilities quickly. In the fall, while his classmates were focused on SATs and college applications, Caleb had to assume considerable responsibility for himself and his three siblings. His father was assigned to Maritime Enforcement in Florida, and then his mother received orders to Qatar. Undaunted, and with the help of his grandparents and family friends, Caleb took on the responsibility with a courage and confidence that awed all who already knew what a consummate leader and service-oriented person he was.

Well before he stepped up to this challenge, Caleb was known as a natural leader. Twice, he had been chosen for leadership roles from among his fellow students – once even BY his fellow students – for roles that had traditionally been awarded to students with more seniority or experience. He juggled all of his leadership responsibilities in both family and community while maintaining a 4.28 GPA with considerable Advanced Placement coursework and competing as a varsity swimmer.

Caleb attributes the strength he has to assume all of the responsibilities to his faith, which is central to his life. Caleb’s courage and grace under extraordinary pressure made a significant impression upon our committee as a profound example of the leadership and resiliency that are common traits among our military children.

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Caleb has maintained balance between family commitments and leadership responsibilities while maintaining a 4.28 GPA doing advanced coursework and competing as a varsity swimmer.

Caleb’s future goal is to serve the country as a Special Forces officer, and he is the recipient of a Presidential Nomination (Service Connected) to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Caleb is the oldest son of Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Ward Douglas and Air Force Staff Sgt. Story Marie Parsons. His mother Story is currently deployed to Qatar, and his father is a Maritime Enforcement Specialist currently stationed in Florida. He has two younger brothers Isaac (16), Nathan (14), and younger sister Kyleah (9).

About Military Child of the Year: Recipients of the Military Child of the Year award are military children who have demonstrated themselves as exceptional citizens while facing the challenges of military family life. The average Military Child of the Year® Award Nominee has moved five times or more, experienced at least one parent deploy for 18 months or more, all while maintaining above average grades (often with honors), volunteering with service groups an average of 75 hours during the year, excelling in sports and theatre and /or music and holding leadership positions in school and community groups. The recipients are chosen by a selection panel made up of active-duty and retired military personnel, spouses of senior military leaders, veteran service organization leadership, teachers, and community members.

Learn more about Military Child of the Year, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter (#MCOY2015) 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.

Recipient_AirForce_Sarah_Hesterman

Sarah Hesterman, 2015 Air Force Military Child of the Year

Every year, the team at Operation Homefront looks forward to celebrating our military kids. From all corners of the United States and from far flung areas of the world, we hear from people who are excited to share their thoughts and experiences with a military child in their community, and who want the rest of the world to hear about them. And so begins the journey to select recipients for our Military Child of the Year® Award.

Let’s just say…the selection process for our committee is tough. Tough, but humbling, rewarding and energizing. We wish we could recognize more than the six awardees, because there are so many we can choose from. Every nomination highlights someone extraordinary. Their personality, who they are, really comes through in their achievements and recommendations. It was a challenge for our selection panel to make a final decision for the six recipients, but they fully admit that it was a good challenge to face.

As we approach the date for our awards gala in D.C., we’d like to invite you to get to know this year’s recipients and help us celebrate how extraordinary they are. We kick off today with our Military Child of the Year for the United States Air Force, Sarah Hesterman.

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

Military children bloom where they are planted, and Sarah Hesterman is the very definition of this belief. When Sarah’s family was assigned to Qatar, she was propelled into a strange new world. But rather than stay within the confines of her military community, she stretched her wings. And she soared. She plunged into learning local customs and language, impressing those around her with her intellect and curiosity. She then took her new knowledge and used it to build bridges between allies, adult and children. Empowered by the impact she was already having on her world, and propelled by concerns of the challenges faced by girls the world over, Sarah started the Qatar chapter of The United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up program, dedicated to reaching out and supporting the needs and dreams of adolescent girls where they need it the most. That path took her eventually to presenting at summits, lobbying Congress and being selected as a Malala Girl hero.

“To say Sarah will be somebody great one day, that she’ll do and accomplish amazing things goes without saying, and takes away from the fact she is already an incredible young woman doing astonishing things now,” said Sarah Kinzer, a military spouse in Qatar who observed Sarah’s groundbreaking efforts for two years and nominated her for the award.

In addition to being an outstanding student of the world, Sarah is also an outstanding student in the classroom, maintaining a 3.8 GPA while taking International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement courses. And if all that wasn’t enough to wow us, she plays two instruments (clarinet and violin) and is a very good golfer.

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Sarah started the Qatar chapter of The United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up program.

Sarah plans to continue to pursue the cause of empowering girls on a global scale by working with the United Nations in promoting gender equality and developing her own nonprofit organization that provides access to education and resources for adolescent girls in situations of conflict.

Sarah is the only child of Lt. General John W. and Dr. Jennifer Hesterman. Her father is currently the Commander, U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Southwest Asia. He has been serving for 32 years. Her mother is a retired Air Force Colonel with 21 years of service and is currently a professor and author.

About Military Child of the Year: Recipients of the Military Child of the Year award are military children who have demonstrated themselves as exceptional citizens while facing the challenges of military family life. The average Military Child of the Year® Award Nominee has moved five times or more, experienced at least one parent deploy for 18 months or more, all while maintaining above average grades (often with honors), volunteering with service groups an average of 75 hours during the year, excelling in sports and theatre and /or music and holding leadership positions in school and community groups. The recipients are chosen by a selection panel made up of active-duty and retired military personnel, spouses of senior military leaders, veteran service organization leadership, teachers, and community members.

Learn more about Military Child of the Year, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. Mark your calendars and check back in the fall as we announce the nomination period for 2016.

TeamDepotBlog

Team Depot at work “Doing More for Vets” (from the Team Depot Facebook page)

Operation Homefront and The Home Depot have partnered to provide wounded warriors assistance with the costs of critical home repairs. We have been honored to work together to help wounded warrior families like Dawn and Joseph Puntam.  Soon after moving in to their new home, the family noticed water leaks. Dawn and Joseph were notified that a new roof would be needed in order to maintain home insurance. The family—with Dawn pregnant—started worrying how they could afford a new baby, and pay for roof repairs. Through The Home Depot Foundation funding, Operation Homefront was able to approve funding for the roof repair. The roof repairs were completed while Dawn gave birth to the couple’s second child. Their infant son named Russell, in honor of Joseph’s friend who was killed in action, was brought back to a cozy, safe home.

Read more about our work with Team Depot here, and help us spread the word that help is available.

To be eligible for the program:

(1) the service member sustained a post-9/11 service-connected wound/injury,

(2) the service member or spouse owns the property in question,

(3) the property is the family’s primary residence,

(4) the family is able to afford monthly mortgage costs and are current on the mortgage,

(5) the repairs are for the interior/heated living area of the home, and

(6) the repairs are not pre-existing to the purchase of the home.

Families interested in applying for this assistance should submit an application for financial assistance at www.operationhomefront.net and should be prepared to provide documentation related to the service member’s military service as well as the property in question.

 

 

Statistics and infographics can’t tell the story of military kids. A chart can’t truly convey the sacrifice nor the impact that military life has on our youngest patriots. They didn’t choose to serve, but they are born into a life that requires them to give up so much for all of America’s kids.

Ask any of our children and neighbors to talk about military children, and they aren’t going to come back at you with “Well, X percent of military children experience…”

military-child-month-operation-homefront-1What you’re more likely to hear is “my classmate Elizabeth” and “my student John.” Or “Olivia, my teammate” and “Leo, my neighbor.” But most often, they will say, “my friend.”

One of the reasons we host the Military Child of the Year® Award every year is to help bring their stories to you. To help you get to know the person that their classmates, teammates, friends and community know.

Nothing speaks more loudly than the nominations we receive from coaches, teachers, pastors; the people whose lives have been touched and enriched by them. How they are astonished by them, inspired by them. But most of all, you can tell they were enlightened by them.

A frequent topic of discussion in military communities is how to bridge the military-civilian divide. Our military kids are examples of just how to “get it done.” They are doing it every day. At school, at churches and non-profits, on the ball fields and playgrounds. Bringing their unique world views and talents to communities across the United States and the world. Military kids do all of this under extraordinary circumstances, and yet continue, every day, to be a friend, a teammate, a leader and a role model to all around them.

A connection that lasts a lifetime (Nicole and Abigail, two of our Military Child of the Year 2013 winners crossing paths in NYC)

A connection that lasts a lifetime (Nicole and Abigail, two of our Military Child of the Year 2013 winners crossing paths in NYC)

 

The Calebs and Sarahs, and our other recipients this year, all represent those silently serving that live among us…approximately 1.9 million military kids around the world. They achieve the highest goals every day while dealing with deployments and moves and joys and losses. While we are only able to select one per service branch and one National Guard representative per year, all honorees represent hundreds of military children doing extraordinary things. Many have stayed in touch with us and each other, in real life and through social media, and we could not be prouder to see them continue to grow, go off to college, and continue to be amazing.

 

As we kick off April as the Month of the Military Child, we invite you to take some time this month to get to know more about these extraordinary young patriots. Check back here as we share more stories and articles about them. And mark your calendars for the live broadcast of the Military Child of the Year® Award ceremony on April 16, 2015.

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A Guiding Star

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by

Sea Fever, By John Masefield

Coming home from war can be the beginning of another journey, one that, at times, takes our wounded warriors into the unknown, the lonely sea and sky.

For Chris, it began in 2008, after a 15 month deployment. Chris came home from that deployment a different person, according to his wife Heidi. Gone was her funny, sweet, loving husband. The jokes had stopped. She said, “He was self-medicating with alcohol and would become angry over the smallest things.” As time passed, Chris’s health worsened and in 2011, Chris was given a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). By that point, the lack of sleep had triggered a dissociative episode. This started the process that would eventually determine that Chris should medically retire from service.

Chris’ health continued to worsen, and in 2013, Chris went missing. Thankfully, he was found unharmed… but would he next time? Chris’ hospitalization after he was found was the turning point. Together, he and Heidi worked hard to find solutions, get treatment, and learn as much about PTSD as they could. Chris sought alcohol dependency treatment as well. Though the years have passed, Chris still has PTSD. It impacts him daily. But he has learned ways to manage his PTSD. He has his tall ship.

Heidi is his star.

Being a caregiver for our wounded warriors is an incredible burden, but one born and sustained by love. Chris and Heidi met in the high school lunch line when Heidi was a freshman. They have been married for 17 years. On the tough days, and there are very tough days, Heidi always remembers to tell Chris that she loves him. “That’s one thing I have learned, he needs to hear I love him, no matter what his mood is.” Still, it is not an easy path. Heidi wakes up every day to all the household chores, gets the children where they need to go, and manages all the household finances. PTSD affects Chris’ short term memory and he can’t drive to the store, or help get their three children to school or lessons or balance the checkbook and manage the bills.

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Heidi, Chris and the kids, enjoying time together as a family. Though there are tough days, Heidi knows that sharing her experiences with other caregivers is important. “No one should feel alone and not know what help is out there for them.”

 

So, how do we keep the star from burning out? That is focus of the mission of our Hearts of Valor program and the Dole Foundation’s Caregiver Fellows program. Heidi has been a member of HOV since shortly after her husband’s diagnosis, and was recently selected as a 2015 Dole Foundation Caregiver Fellow. Of the 32 Fellows selected, 12 of them are participants in Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program.

“When I first found Hearts of Valor, not long after my husband’s PTSD diagnosis, I was able to attend a retreat in Oklahoma City where I was able to learn so much about myself as a wife, caregiver, mother, and friend. The retreat truly taught me to be understanding, dedicated to my veteran but also to myself.” Heidi continues, “… Hearts of Valor has given me the opportunity to meet some of the greatest friends I have ever had and the chance to donate my time to help caregivers and wounded warrior families. No one should feel alone and not know what help is out there for them.”

As a Dole Fellow, Heidi will not only continue to build the network of support and friendship vital to the health and well-being of our wounded warrior caregivers, but to be a guiding force to caregivers nationwide. Senator Elizabeth Dole was inspired to launch the Elizabeth Dole Fellows Program after hearing from hundreds of caregivers across the country that they were not being given an opportunity to voice their challenges and needs. The mission of the program is to engage active military and veteran caregivers directly in the Foundation’s initiatives, allowing them to advise and play a leading role in raising awareness for the needs of caregivers throughout the nation.

When Heidi heard about the Dole Foundation accepting applications to be the voice of caregivers in her state, she was excited to help. As a volunteer with Operation Homefront since 2012, Heidi is perfect a perfect fit for this role, as she is selfless and incredibly kind. She believes that giving back is the most important part of being a caregiver and she is excited to travel with the other fellows to tell her story.

A tall ship and a star to guide her by.

As we continue to face the impact of 13 years of war on a generation, these guiding stars will remain critical to staying on course..

Learn More:

Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor

Hearts of Valor seeks to honor the service and sacrifice of the people who care for our nation’s wounded, ill or injured warriors by providing a community of support based on a foundation of empathy and mutual understanding. Twelve Hearts of Valor community members have been selected as 2015 Dole Fellows, and our Program Coordinator, Cheryl, us a Fellow Emeritus

Caring For Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

(The Foundation believes) that our nation’s military caregivers need and deserve robust, effective support in light of the mental, physical, and financial challenges they face in caring for wounded warriors suffering from physical injuries, invisible wounds of war, or both.

 

Surprise!

With a little help from her husband, we were able to surprise Hailey at home.

One minute, she was an average military wife at home on a Saturday morning. But this day was quite different, she was being given an experience most people only dream about. With the ring of the doorbell, Hailey Lorati found herself in the midst of balloons, flowers and photographers, being whisked away in a limousine. “I remember being so excited that I was shaking and just happy,” said Hailey.

First stop was a local bridal store to pick out any dress she wanted, thanks to a donation from an anonymous donor. The last time Hailey picked out a dress for herself was the day before her wedding. Like many military wives, she was young and in love but didn’t have much money for a big fancy wedding. Her best friend and she went to a shop the day before her wedding, looked at the clearance section and picked out a dress that would fit. But now, not only could she choose her dress, but shoes and jewelry to match. The VIP experience continued on to a spa for a manicure and pedicure. And she visited a local salon to have her hair and makeup done. “My husband was the last person to give me a haircut, so it was pretty messy,” said Hailey.

Operation Homefront hosts Homefront Celebrations to honor military spouses at spots around the country every year. When Hailey signed up to attend our Homefront Celebration at the beautiful Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Wash., she indicated she wanted to be considered for a scholarship from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), our partner for this event. In spite of the challenges of military life, her husband being away a lot and having children, Hailey has continued to work to complete her degree. She was contacted for an interview but had no idea she had been selected. “I assumed that I really messed up the interview,” said Hailey.

But Hailey impressed everyone with her willingness to put others before herself. “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office. So she was selected not only to receive the $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University, but was given the VIP experience to make her day extra special. With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to have an education.

Others Before Self: “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office.

Others Before Self: “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office.

 

Hailey, in true form, thought of others first when the limo pulled up to her house. She has a baby, so she was concerned that everything would go okay if she was away. “I was nervous about leaving my baby. I had never left my baby prior to… this event. Operation Homefront and SNHU staff took turns caring for him and… made it work so I could feed him (and still) look presentable for the big night,” she said. “My husband apparently was in on this entire thing. How on earth he pulled this off, I will never understand.”

 

After a day of pampering, Hailey was off to the big event. She met her husband there so he could see his beautiful wife after her transformation. “My husband was just so happy and proud of me. I’m so happy he was able to share the entire experience with me.”

afterHFCWA

 

 

Hailey was selected  to receive a $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University,  With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to pursue higher education.

Hailey was selected to receive a $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University, With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to finish her degree.

When the guest speaker spoke, “I cried reflecting on our own experiences of (deployment) and having to tell your children why Dad is leaving. My husband has a scary job and we don’t dwell on the ‘what if.’ This evening was a great reminder that I’m not in this alone, all the wives who attended have been there or could be in that place later down the road,” said Hailey.

She said that she and all of the guests were treated so well at the Homefront Celebration. Even though she had been singled out for a special day and scholarship, she “really wanted all the spouses to feel like Cinderella for the evening.”

Hailey was eager to show appreciation for her day. “I want to extend a special thank you to the United States Army, for providing my family the life we have. In addition, I want to thank my husband. He means the world to me and I wouldn’t be where I am in my life without him by my side. Lastly, I want to share my extreme appreciation towards Southern New Hampshire University and Operation Homefront staff (in Washington). They all put in an extensive amount of behind-the-scene work to ensure my day was extremely special. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend the day with them,” she said.

 

Operation Homefront’s Homefront Celebrations are designed to give military spouses an evening of relaxation and rejuvenation. It’s our way of saying thanks for the sacrifices made by those who hold down the homefront. The evening includes a special dinner, inspiring speaker, raffle drawings and gift bags for everyone to take home. Our events are possible through the support of Southern New Hampshire University, who dreamed up the idea of awarding scholarships and the VIP experience for Hailey, who plans to finish her BA in Human Services. So far this year, we’ve hosted Homefront Celebrations in San Antonio, Texas, and Tacoma, Wash., and we have several other locations we’ll visit, to be announced later this spring. View all pictures from the Tacoma event.

Special thanks to the following for donating time or services to make the event special for Hailey and her family: Excalibur Limousine Service, David’s Bridal (for opening early), Salon Miro, Savi Spa, Hotel Murano and the anonymous donor for covering the cost of the dress and accessories.

 

mcoy15winnersOperation Homefront is pleased to announce the six recipients of the 2015 Military Child of the Year® Award.  The award is presented annually to an outstanding military child from each branch of service – Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard – and for the first time in 2015, the National Guard.

From a pool of nearly 500 nominees, each award recipient was chosen by a committee including active-duty and retired military personnel, spouses of senior military leaders, veteran service organization leadership, teachers, and community members.  The six awardees will receive $10,000 each, will receive a laptop computer and other donated gifts, and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition gala on April 16, 2015. The awards will be presented by senior leaders of each branch of service.

“We’re thrilled to honor these six outstanding young patriots with our Military Child of the Year Award,” said Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer for Operation Homefront.  “These awardees represent the strength of our military families, who sacrifice so much in service to our country.”

Following are the 2015 Military Child of the Year® Award recipients. Read more details about them here.

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