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Last year for Mother’s Day, Air Force mom La Toya Wall received four “crazy looking birdhouses” that each of her children made at a Home Depot workshop in Anchorage, Alaska. The workshop was among many La Toya took her kids to on weekends while her husband, Blake Jacob, was deployed to Kuwait during the first half of 2016.

m2h operation homefront mother military WallJacobFam“It actually helped pass the time while he was deployed,” she said. “It put me on a schedule, knowing that they had these events” to occupy Sidney, 11; Khloee, 10; Khodee, 4; and Storee, 3. Blake also has a 9-year-old daughter, Ryleigh, who lives in Arizona with her mother. “It was awesome,” said LaToya, who compared the workshops to Scouting because Home Depot gives the kids aprons, achievement certificates, and patches or pins for their aprons. “It helped out a lot.”

Creative solutions are one of the things La Toya is known for at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, where the family has been stationed since 2013. She also wows her friends as a cook, baker, seamstress, decorator and multi-family game night coordinator.

“We’re a nerdy family,” she said. “We have a lot of game nights,” lip synching karaoke battles and Iron-Chef-style competitions, even sending guests home with to-go boxes because she was tired of all her Tupperware disappearing.

La Toya’s family will celebrate her this Mother’s Day — Blake will cook breakfast and dinner, and take the family hiking — for many of the same qualities that military moms across the world are honored, including self-reliance, resilience and a can-do attitude.

“You don’t necessarily depend on other people,” she said. “Moving here has definitely helped me into allowing other people to help. I’m used to just doing things. You don’t just wait for someone to do it for you.”

For her part, La Toya is thankful that the military exposes her and her family to diversity, “getting to meet people from different nationalities and cultures … I love that.”

m2h operation homefront military mom WallJacobFam2La Toya wouldn’t have known about the Home Depot workshops, where she made friends with other families who introduced her to a hiking group, if she hadn’t attended an Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade event in 2015. Home Depot, an OH donor, and other organizations that serve military families often provide information at OH events. At BTSB, her children and many others received backpacks filled with money-saving school supplies. “I’m always helping other people, so it was nice to be on the receiving side,” La Toya said. OH has distributed more than 250,000 backpacks to military children since the program began in 2008.

In 2016, La Toya and Blake participated again in BTSB, and also in Holiday Meals for Military at Thanksgiving and the Holiday Toy Drive at Christmas. La Toya particularly enjoyed the social atmosphere, like a church potluck, at the Holiday Toy Drive event, which included a cookie exchange. Each child receives a gift, and Santa is there to take pictures with families, something La Toya had been having trouble finding time to do, especially since Blake had been working nights.

When La Toya first heard about Operation Homefront from a friend, she wondered if it was only for needy families. “I’m pretty sure there’s someone that needs it more than I do,” she said, adding she didn’t want to take away from another family. But after learning more about who can qualify for some Operation Homefront programs, she realized, “This is for everybody.”

The families at the toy drive also received children’s passes to the local indoor waterpark, which La Toya has been putting off visiting because of the expense.

Under the Holiday Meals program, military families receive groceries or gift cards to buy food. The defrayed grocery costs allowed La Toya to buy ingredients to bake extra treats for her daughter’s birthday, which is on Christmas Day. “The day she came, I just couldn’t imagine not having her or any of them. I like the crazy smiles that I get sometimes.”

La Toya comes from a large family, the oldest with 15 siblings, at least seven of whom lived together in Texas. “My [step] mom would have a full household of all of us kids at any given time,” she said. Stressful babysitting and elder care responsibilities for her siblings and grandparents often fell to La Toya before she was 18. Even after she married the first time, she would sometimes travel home to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

“Cooking is the only way I can get everyone together. Food is like my family’s binder.” Over the last several years, La Toya has come to better understand her family’s dynamics, but has also welcomed the opportunity to shift from caring for her extended family to herself and her nuclear family.

“My kids have never really had traditional grandparents, and I have never had traditional parents,” said La Toya, who has not had a relationship with her biological mother since she was 5. “I don’t ever want to miss a moment with my kids,” she said, adding that she volunteers to chaperone almost every field trip.

Her stepmother, as a Jehovah’s Witness, does not celebrate holidays, so La Toya typically would simply call to tell her “I really appreciate that you stepped up when you didn’t have to.”

La Toya has been further shaped by miscarrying a baby at two months, and twins at 6 months, her three “angel babies.”

La Toya and Blake will move their family soon to Colorado, where Blake, a staff sergeant in logistics, will support the Air Force band. La Toya is considering starting a baking business or some other creative line of work, but is concerned making it a profession might take the fun out of hobbies she enjoys. “It’s very therapeutic,” she said of baking.

Their journey will be another adventure, traveling by ferry for four days to Washington and then driving through Idaho and Wyoming. Blake wanted to surprise La Toya because she loves lighthouses and he knew they would see several at ferry stops. But she’s not a fan of surprises, and was resisting taking the ferry, so he told her.

Remembering the two-week drive to Anchorage from Texas, passing through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Canada including the Yukon Territory with three kids and pregnant, and a couple flat tires along the way, La Toya and Blake happily “found out we like being married to each other,” she joked.

It’s Military Appreciation Month! Consider joining us on our Mission2Honor military and veteran families throughout the month of May. No matter how you choose to honor service members and their families, don’t let this month pass by without doing something to show your appreciation.

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It is our honor to announce the recipients of the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award.

“These seven award recipients are among the best of their generation in terms of scholarship and service to their communities.  What is even more remarkable is that they make a profound difference in the lives of others and perform spectacularly in the classroom all while demonstrating resiliency in the face of the challenges inherent in military life,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront. “We had nearly 400 nominees for the ninth annual Military Child of the Year® Awards who personified resiliency, leadership, achievement, and strength of character. Their families, their communities, and our staff, volunteers, and corporate partners at Operation Homefront are justifiably very proud of them.”

Without further ado, here are they are!

 

Henderson Heussner, Army Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-army-henderson-heussner-225-x-281-pixelsHenderson’s family moved to Florida from Colorado as his father was deployed to Afghanistan and as the family was caring for Henderson’s terminally ill grandfather. Henderson, recipient of the 2017 Army Military Child of the Year® Award, shouldered the emotional burden and set a leadership-by-example standard for his peers. A student-athlete and member of the Estero High School varsity baseball team – who worked tirelessly to rebuild his strength after he suffered two broken vertebrae during his sophomore year – Henderson spent many hours alone in the batting cage in August 2016 in the sweltering Florida heat. He was not alone for long because he led one teammate after another to join him in putting forth the same spare-time voluntary pursuit of excellence. That is but one example of Henderson’s leadership and can-do spirit. Henderson also devoted 240 volunteer hours in the year leading up to his nomination as a tutor and mentor for at-risk children and teens at the nonprofit New Horizons of Southwest Florida. Henderson, a onetime American Legion Boys State delegate and West Point Summer Leadership Experience participant, also served multiple terms as class president and as Student Government president. He has spent hundreds of hours as a youth group leader, Sports Camp counselor and Sunday School teacher at Summit Church.

 

Alexander McGrath, Navy Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-navy-alexander-mcgrath-225-x-281-pixelsAlexander McGrath, the 2017 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, in addition to spending time with his friends, spends some of his spare time reading U.S. Supreme Court opinions as well as books about the U.S. Constitution. It is a fitting activity for this 17-year-old Severna Park Senior High School senior, who has established a laudable track record of influencing public policy in the state of Maryland. As first vice president of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, which represents more than 80,000 county students at all levels of government, Alexander organized 700 students to lobby in favor of three education reform bills that would come before the Maryland General Assembly, which is the name of Maryland’s state legislature. He instructed his peers on the legislative process and on the effective use of talking points. He also arranged meetings between the hundreds of public school students and state lawmakers. Ultimately, all three bills got to committee and two became law. Alexander has long advocated on behalf of students from military families as well, personally bringing the needs of military children, notably those needs protected under the Interstate Military Compact, to the forefront of the Maryland State Board of Education’s attention.

 

Jackson Beatty, Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-marine-corps-jackson-beatty-225-x-281-pixelsJackson Beatty is an 18-year-old senior at Lejeune High School and recipient of the 2017 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award. He began studying Kenpo karate at the age of 4 and achieved his black belt at 16. He has served as captain of the high school wrestling team. He competed at the 2017 North Carolina State Wrestling Championships and placed third in the 1A 106-pound weight class. He has qualified for the State Championship for the last three years and that was his best finish. He has been captain of the Marching Band drumline. He has a near-perfect GPA and has an outstanding track record of volunteerism, thusly giving back to the community, especially to children. Jackson has achieved these milestones through his skeletal dysplasia, a condition which hampers the growth and development of bones and joints. Working in conjunction with the Semper Fi Fund, which serves the children of wounded warriors, Jackson has been a mentor to other students participating in the Outdoor Odyssey Leadership Academy. Jackson is a Lejeune High School Band Booster, raising money for competition and band necessities. Jackson teaches karate to children in his spare time at Wright’s Mixed Martial Arts.

 

Jamal Braxton, Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-air-force-jamal-braxton-225-x-281-pixelsVarsity swimming. Varsity cross country. Varsity outdoor track and field.  Jamal Braxton, the 2017 Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award recipient and future United States Air Force Academy Class of 2021 cadet, has been an achiever in them all.  This 18-year-old senior at Northridge High School in Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is distinguished, above all, by his selfless service to others. Jamal fills numerous leadership positions at the Red Cross, including Northern Utah Youth Co-Chair for Services to Armed Forces, Northern Utah Youth Co-Chair for International Services, Student Staff for Red Cross Leadership Development Camp, Member for the American Red Cross of Northern Utah Board of Directors, and the Northern Utah Youth Co-President. In these capacities, Jamal oversees monthly veteran house visits, youth group and leadership group meetings, numerous activities related to the armed forces, the recruitment of future Red Cross Youth Services leaders, and numerous fundraisers, including the International Measles & Rubella initiative fundraiser. He also educates youth on International Humanitarian Law. Serving military families abroad as well as domestically, Jamal earned the Commander’s Leadership Award from the 52nd Fighter Wing Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in 2013 and in 2014. Jamal in the U.S. and overseas has been a champion for the nonprofit New Eyes for the Needy.

 

Molly Frey, National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-national-guard-molly-frey-225-x-281-pixelsAlthough only 16, Molly Frey is a senior at Pickerington High School North in Pickerington, Ohio, and recipient of the 2017 National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award. She has been accepted to Capital University, where she will major in biology, with an emphasis on pre-med, and will play golf for the Capital Crusaders. For her academic excellence, Molly received a letter from President Barack Obama that read, in part, “Students like you will chart the course of our country’s unwritten history…” As a figure skater, dedicated to causes that benefit the troops, Molly and her coach in 2012 created the inaugural and annual figure skating show Tribute to the Troops, a program to honor the military and to collect donated items to send to deployed service members. She also raised funds and participated for five years in Skate for Hope, accumulating more than $6,000 for Breast Cancer research. Beyond the arts, Molly has served in the leadership group Students Serving Students, which is designed to improve character, bolster school climate, and organize events.

 

Mary Kate Cooper, Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-coast-guard-mary-kate-cooper-225-x-281-pixelsMary Kate Cooper, the 2017 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, is a 17-year-old junior at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va. A triple threat, Mary Kate is a scholar who is taking AP Calculus B/C as a junior and has a weighted 4.7 GPA. She is a star multi-sport athlete of national and international acclaim and a community activist who has devoted countless volunteer hours to the betterment of her peers and to strengthening a broader understanding of those with disabilities. That description does not even scratch the surface of Mary Kate’s life, which is practically the definition of resiliency. Mary Kate is a below-the-knee amputee from birth who has only known life with a prosthetic leg. She has transitioned from playing recreational soccer against able-bodied kids to competing at the highest level in Paralympic sports. In addition to earning All-American High School status in Track and Field from the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Olympic Committee, Mary has become a top swimmer, competing on the international level in the Can-Am Swimming Open. Mary Kate was one of the few athletes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Trials in more than one sport. While Mary Kate did not earn a spot on Team USA last year, in her best swimming event, she ranked 36th in the world.

 

Sophie Bernstein, Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton

for-website-innovation-sophie-bernstein-225-x-281-pixelsRecipient of the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, Sophie Bernstein, a 17-year-old junior at Clayton High School in St. Louis, is passionate about food and about social justice. Sophie’s twin passions propelled her award-winning Innovation. Committed to improving the health of her community, Sophie has built, planted, maintained and harvested 22 raised vegetable gardens at low-income daycare centers and shelters in the St. Louis area. Sophie’s innovation has raised awareness of childhood hunger in the community, and it has increased the volume of fresh and healthy produce available at food banks and at child care facilities. Sophie had donated more than 13,570 pounds of produce to local food banks and to families in need by the time she was nominated for the award in the fall of 2016. Sophie’s project has been a hands-on learning lab for children as she has led 225 science technology engineering and math (STEM) botany and plant science workshops for young children throughout the year. In the process, students at low-income pre-schools are engaged in building, planting and maintaining produce gardens.

 

What’s next?

Each award recipient will receive $10,000 and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition gala on April 6, during which senior military leaders will present the awards. In addition to the $10,000 cash award, the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation award recipient will receive a mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance the recipient’s project.

We would like to express our thanks to our presenting sponsor for the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Awards Gala, United Technologies Corporation, along with sponsors Booz Allen Hamilton, Murphy-Goode Winery, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, and the Military Times.

Check back with us as we shine a spotlight on our recipients over the next few weeks and stay tuned for details on how you can join us LIVE from the April 6th gala on our Facebook page.

Find out more about our Military Child of the Year®  Award program at www.militarychildoftheyear.org

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As we entered the eighth year of our Military Child of the Year award, we were reminded that greatness comes in all shapes and sizes. Last week, we welcomed seven amazing military kids, our 2016 Military Child of the Year recipients and our Innovation Award winner, to Washington D.C. They ranged in age from 9 to 17 years old, and as they toured DC, they impressed us with their achievements (and polite manners), wowed their representatives on Capitol Hill, and celebrated with us at our annual Military Child of the Year gala.

If these kids are any indication, the future of our nation is in good hands.

Here is a snapshot of things seen and heard, some highly unexpected and delightful, while these extraordinary young patriots took our nation’s capital by storm.

MCOYplayfulatheart

Playful at heart, but when the need arises, this group is serious about giving back to their communities and the country they love (from left to right, Our 2016 award recipients: Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer (Army MCOY), Christian Fagala (Marine Corps MCOY), Maddy Morlino (Air Force MCOY), Trip Landon (National Guard MCOY), Elizabeth O’Brien (Innovation Award winner), Jeffrey Burds (Navy MCOY) and Keegan Fike (Coast Guard MCOY).

 

MCOYGenDunfordCJOS“The resilience of our families … and our children … is absolutely what has allowed us to do the things that we’ve asked our force to do. The strength of our U.S. Armed Forces, the strength of our nation is in … our military families.”

General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose presence continued a tradition of support for our military kids’ ability to prevail in spite of the challenges of military life (shown here at the pre-gala reception with 2016 Navy Military Child of the Year recipient Jeffrey Burds).

 

 

MCOY2016ChristianGoodDayDC“When I see someone in pain or that’s sad, I have this feeling that I have to help them.”

Christian Fagala, age 9, 2016 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year, appearing on the morning show, Great Day Washington, who won his own battle with cancer by age 4 and tirelessly raises money to help kids who are fighting their own battles with the disease.

 

 

MCOYGenPrayandKids

“Each one represents the spirit of selfless service that defines our great nation. They perform at a very high level, while simultaneously dealing with their own particular turbulence — parental deployments, relocations, and the variety of uncertainties that generally characterize military life.”

Brig. Gen. John I. Pray, Jr. (Ret), President and CEO of Operation Homefront (shown here with our award recipients), who greeted each family at a special welcome dinner at Champps in Pentagon City.

 

MCOYCEOawesomeness“You’re the CEO of awesome!”

Ten-year-old Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer’s response to Senator Bob Casey when he looked at her business card for the nonprofit she started (called Heart Hugs) and said, “Wow you’re the CEO? I haven’t been the CEO of anything!” She immediately responds “That’s not true! You’re the CEO of awesome!” (Shown here, left to right, Pete Stinson, Operation Homefront regional director of our northeastern field offices, Sen. Casey, Lorelei and her mother, Chelle.)

 

 

MCOYJohnHeald“What a thrill to be part of such an extraordinary evening. The children … all amazing and a bright and shining hope for the next generation.”

John Heald, Senior Cruise Director and Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Line and our emcee for the evening (shown here with Trip Landon, 2016 National Guard Military Child of the Year), who joked that he thought his title was impressive until he came to our gala event which hosted the highest ranking military officials in the United States.

 

 

MCOYEOB

These past few days have been out of this world. I never imagined that I would have had such a wonderful opportunity to meet people who love volunteering as much as I do. I am forever grateful to Operation Homefront and the Booz Allen Hamilton group for the outpouring of support they have given to me. I look forward to being a future supporter of both organizations.”

Elizabeth O’Brien, recipient of our first ever 2016 Operation Homefront Innovation Award, sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton (shown here with Laurie Gallo, Executive Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton and Operation Homefront board member, and her parents Shelbi and Army Commander Sgt. Maj. Matthew O’Brien).

MCOYsponsors

Our event would not be possible without the support of many organizations that sponsored our awards program, including our presenting sponsor United Technologies. We are grateful for your investment in recognizing our military kids and their families.

 

 

Learn more about each of our award recipients.

View more photos from the event here.

Visit our #MCOY2016 tag board to see the flurry of attention given to the kids on social media.

 

 

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Last year’s recipients enjoy their moment in the spotlight. We can’t wait to see who the torch will be passed to in April in Washington, D.C.

Here at Operation Homefront, the New Year doesn’t just bring with it the anticipation of what can be but also the excitement of Military Child of the Year award season.

For the past 8 years, we have been amazed and inspired by the stories of thousand of military children and how they demonstrate resilience and strength of character, and leadership within their families and within their communities. All while facing of the challenges of military life.

In short, we have our work cut out for us.  And it begins in earnest today with the announcing our semifinalists for the 2016 Military Child of the Year® Award. So without further ado, here they are:

 

ARMY

Mary T., 17, Wahiawa, Hawaii

Elissa N., 16, Sparta, Wis.

Hunter H., 14, Lansing, Kan.

Emalee H., 17, Elizabethtown, Ky.

Asia H., 12, West Point, N.Y.

Lorelei M., 10, Duncannon, Pa.

Jaccob H., 15, Saucier, Miss.

Gabrielle L., 17, Shavano Park, Texas

Hannah J., 17, Valrico, Fla.

Olivia D., 18, Hattiesburg, Miss.

Amari M., 15, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Elizabeth O., 17, Aberdeen, N.C.

Jennifer L., 17, Enterprise, Ala.

Paris S., 8, Cameron, N.C.

Antoinette K., 10, Vine Grove, Ky.

 

MARINE CORPS

 Carson B., 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

Summer L., 17, Kailua, Hawaii

Christian F., 9, Quantico, Va.

Peter B., 18, Havelock, N.C.

Grace F., 17, Swansboro, N.C.

Haylee M., 12, San Diego, Calif.

Matthew C., 17, Jacksonville, N.C.

Caitlyn T., 14, Quantico, Va.

Cherita W., 17, Virginia Beach, Va.

GaBryella D., 13, Temecula, Calif.

Jewell D., 15, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Madison A., 13, Fredericksburg, Va.

Jenna A., 12, Houston, Texas

Jackson B., 16, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

 

NAVY

Elizabeth E., 15, Mc Donald, Pa.

Mariah W., 17, New Bern, N.C.

Isabelle R., 11, Jamul, Calif.

Evan P. 17, Phoenix, Ariz.

Benedict C., 17, Coronado, Calif.

Victoria B., 17, Gulf Breeze, Fla.

Jeffrey B., 17, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Michael J., 17, Stafford, Va.

Benjamin P., 17, Lakeland, Tenn.

Samantha R., 18, Fleming Island, Fla.

Alexsandra C., 17, Springfield, Va.

Adriel M., 17, O Fallon, Ill.

Gavin M., 18, Virginia Beach, Va.

Ty B., 14, FPO, AE, Rota, Spain

Sydney C., 8, Jacksonville, Fla.

 

AIR FORCE

Madeline G., 18, Springfield, Va.

Grace R., 11, APO, AE, Ramstein, Germany

Bethany S., 18, Beale AFB, Calif.

David Z. , 17, San Antonio, Texas

Lacey L., 17, Milton, Fla.

Bridget R., 17, Burke, Va.

Caroline S., 10, Las Vegas, Nev.

Jordyn M., 9

Makayla J., 9, Ruther Glen, Va.

Jamal B., 17, Hill AFB, Utah

Hailie W., 16, Gulf Breeze, Fla.

Madeleine M., 17, Moorestown, N.J.

Tristan T., 15, Sahuarita, Ariz.

Alyssa O., 16, Panama City, Fla.

Matthew N., 17, Spokane, Wash.

 

COAST GUARD

John M., 17, Annapolis, Md.

Spenser R., 18, Davie, Fla.

Chase M., 17, McLean, Va.

Kievon B., 15, Lodi, N.J.

Jessica P., 17, West Seneca, N.Y.

Gabriel N., 13, Bennington, Vt.

Jackson H., 15, Jacksonville, Fla.

Keegan F., 17, Fairhaven, Mass.

Jessie P., 16, Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Liam C., 13, New Orleans, La.

Olivia K., 18, Grangeville, Idaho

Kylie M., 14, Trenton, N.J.

Ashley F., 17, Warrenton, Ore.

Qur’Annah J., 17, Frankfort, Ill.

Giavanna V., 10, Mystic, Conn.

 

NATIONAL GUARD 

Joshua T., 15, Rolla, Mo.

Michelle G., 18, Green Cove Springs, Fla.,

Tymber L., 18, Lincoln, Neb.

John L., 17, Ellensburg, Wash.

Madeline N., 18, Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Nathan M., 17, Orange Park, Fla.

Mya K., 18, Yorba Linda, Calif.

Lily M., 14, Portland, Ore.

Sarah B., 17, Glen Carbon, Ill.

Molly F., 15, Pickerington, Ohio

Madison O., 9, Pembroke, N.H.

Sydney L., 17, Lincoln, Neb.

Jodi J., 17, Pleasant Grove, Utah

Amelia B., 15, Saint Augustine, Fla.

Jordan G., 8, Virginia Beach, Va.

 

So now that we have our 90 semifinalists, what’s next?

Each semifinalist will be interviewed by a team selected by Operation Homefront staff. Award recipients will be chosen by a panel of judges, to include senior retired service members, senior spouses, members of Operation Homefront’s board of directors, and other leaders in the military support community.

The top 5 finalists from each branch will be announced in February.  Winners will be announced in March and then on to the big gala in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 2016.

This year, the gala will present the inaugural Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award for Military Children. The Booz Allen Innovation Award for Military Children will go to a military child who has designed a bold, creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge. With a new invention, improvement to existing technology, creation of a new nonprofit or community service group or expansion of an existing membership organization, the winner will show the power of innovative thinking. Booz Allen will award a grant to the winner and host the winner at the Booz Allen Innovation Center in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Booz Allen employees will assist the winner in helping to scale or advance the project.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the Military Child of the Year Award and read about our past recipients at www.militarychildoftheyear.org.  Or check our pictures from last year’s festivities here.

Congratulations to all of our Military Child of the Year semi-finalists! Great job!

 

 

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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.”

mcoygalablog_jasonbrown

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.”

mcoygalablog_dempsey

 

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.”

mcoygalablog_mikeemanuel

 

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.”

mcoygalablog_virginiarepresents

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.”

mcoygalablog_timwithchris

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.”

mcoygalablog_kids-at-lincoln-memorial

 

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.

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Operation Homefront is proud to announce the semi-finalists for the 2015 Military Child of the Year® Award. These young men and women, ages 8-18, are making BIG impacts in their communities, not just in the US, but globally.  All while juggling the challenges of military life. Truly inspiring.

Join us in congratulating:

ARMY

Joseph C. – age 14 – Colleyville, Texas

Leslie C. – age 17 – Colorado Springs, Colo.

Johnily C. – age 11 – Nolanville, Texas

Savannah H. – age 15 – Coal Valley, Ill.

Haleigh H. – age 17 – Cadiz, Ky.

Amanda L. – age 17 – Watertown, N.Y.

Lorelei M. – age 9 – Duncannon, Pa.

Cavan M. – age 13 – Duncannon, Pa.

Grant N. – age 14 – West Point, N.Y.

Elizabeth O. – age 16 – Fuquay Varina, N.C.

India P. – age 17 – Appling, Ga.

Elisabeth P. – age 12 – Honolulu, Hawaii

Abigail P. – age 17 – Clarksville, Tenn.

Christian S. – age 17 – Seaford, Va.

Rachel S. – age 17 – Dahlonega, Ga.

 

AIR FORCE

Joel B. – age 16 – Dover, Del.

Andre B. – age 17 – Tampa, Fla.

Jacob D. – age 16 – Norman, Okla.

Meaghan F. – age 17 – Beavercreek, Ohio

Sarah H. – age 16 – Doha, Qatar

Andrew L. – age 17 – Laurel, Md.

Jordyn M. – age 8 – Trussville, Ala.

Bethany M. – age 16 – Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.

Gabriella M. – age 17 – Tucson, Ariz.

Kristen R. – age 17 – Osan, Korea

Bridget R. – age 16 – Burke, Va.

Eddie S. – age 14 – Beavercreek, Ohio

Angelo S. – age 17 – Hainesport, N.J.

Caleb Y. – age 16 – Enid, Okla.

David Z. – age 16 – San Antonio, Texas

 

COAST GUARD

Bryn B. – age 17 – Washington, D.C.

Jesse C. – age 17 – Port Angeles, Wash.

Mary Kate C. – age 15 – Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Emily C. – age 17 – Durham, N.H.

Ryan D. – age 11 – Wrightstown, N.J.

Madison F. – age 16 – Southgate, Mich.

Keegan F. – age 16 – Fairhaven, Mass.

Shyanne G. – age 17 – Onancock, Va.

Olivia K. – age 17 – Grangeville, Idaho

Marissa K. – age 15 – Grangeville, Idaho

John K. – age 12 – Grangeville, Idaho

Kylie M. – age 13 – Hamilton, N.J.

Ernesto M. – age 15 – Ashburn, Va.

Chase M. – age 16 – Mobile, Ala.

Caleb P. – age 18 – Pembroke Pines, Fla.

 

MARINE CORPS

Ashton B. – age 12 – Albany, N.Y.

Brianna C. – age 13 – Hill Air Force Base, Utah

Corey C. – age 16 – Havelock, N.C.

Tori E. – age 17 – Mesa, Ariz.

Adriana E. – age 13 – Havelock N.C.

Brady J. – age 17 – Alexandria, Va.

Mary K. – age 17 – Henderson, Nev.

Samuel K. – age 17 – Barre, Vt.

Lyric N. – age 8 – Indianapolis, Ind.

Destiny O. – age 17 – Quantico, Va.

Christopher-Raul R. – age 17 – Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Cezar R. – age 17 – Waynesville, Mo.

Briley R. – age 13 – Saint Paul, Minn.

Emily S. – age 16 – New Kensington, Pa.

Faith S. – age 17 – Biloxi, Miss.

 

NATIONAL GUARD

Mabelle B. – age 11 – Winter Garden, Fla.

Rachel C. – age 18 – Wellesley, Mass.

Adam C. – age 17 – Newport News, Va.

Molly F. – age 14 – Pickerington, Ohio

Brandon G. – age 16 – Newburgh, N.Y.

Michelle G. – age 17 – Colorado Springs, Colo.

Christian G. – age 11 – Fresno, Calif.

Arial J. – age 16 – Lithonia, Ga.

Sara M. – age 17 – Chicago, Ill.

Lily M. – age 13 – Portland, Ore.

Zachary P. – age 16 – Warrensburg, Mo.

Kameron P. – age 16 – Norfolk, Va.

Colette S. – age 9 – Napa, Calif.

Brianna S. – age 13 – Oregon City, Ore.

Maggie W. – age 16 – Yardley, Pa.

 

NAVY

Carson A. – age 14 – San Diego, Calif.

Victoria B. – age 16 – Gulf Breeze, Fla.

Michael C. – age 16 – Alexandria, Va.

Hailey F. – age 8 – Bremerton, Wash.

Katherine H. – age 12 – Havelock, N.C.

Emily K. – age 17 – Ocoee, Fla.

Daniel K. – age 15 – Newport, R.I.

Katlyn L. – age 17 – Virginia Beach, Va.

Corbyn M. – age 17 – Honolulu, Hawaii

Autumn O. – age 17 – Aiea, Hawaii

Isabelle R. – age 10 – Jamul, Calif.

Brendan S. – age 18 – Niantic, Conn.

Brady S. – age 17 – Virginia Beach, Va.

Kenan T. – age 17 – Bahrain

Mariah W. – age 17 – New Bern, N.C.

 

2015 marks the seventh year Operation Homefront has presented the Military Child of the Year Award. Each semi-finalist will be interviewed by Operation Homefront staff, and award recipients will be chosen by a panel of judges including senior retired service members, senior spouses, members of Operation Homefront’s Board of Directors, and other leaders in the military support community.

The Military Child of the Year® Award will be given to one outstanding military child from each category: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and National Guard. Recipients will be announced in March. Each award will receive $10,000 and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C. for a special recognition ceremony on April 16, 2014.

To learn more, visit our Military Child of the Year Award page.

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Do you know an outstanding young patriot to nominate for our Military Child of the Year award? Two previous recipients have some notes on what your child might experience if they are selected for the award, which comes with $10,000, a laptop and a trip to D.C. for a special gala.

Ryan Curtin was the 2014 Navy Military Child of the Year and Gage Dabin represented the Air Force as its 2014 Military Child of the Year. Both were nominated during their senior year of high school.

When asked to describe the MCOY gala, Ryan replied, “It was a surreal experience. The entire experience surrounding winning the award was fantastic. Operation Homefront really went above and beyond for us. They had tours set up throughout D.C. at several monuments and museums, as well as several interviews with newspapers and news channels. The ceremony itself was as amazing as it was humbling. Operation Homefront did an excellent job.”

Gage described the awards event as “amazing.” He continued, “It gave me the opportunity to see a world in which I want to be a part of. The award also gave me the chance to meet and establish friendships that I would never have made due to the distance. You start off the week as strangers, but at the end you leave as family.”

The two believe that being a MCOY recipient affected their lives. Ryan replied: “It has inspired me to keep giving back to the military community for as long as I can, and that as hard as life can be as a military child, in hindsight, I would not have traded the experience for anything.”

Gage stated that “winning the award made people see that what I’m doing actually matters. The award helped me pay for school, and gave me a competitive package that waived all room and board fees for the rest of my collegiate experience.”

What is the best thing about being a MCOY recipient? Ryan stated: “That would be a tie between meeting all the great people over the course of the trip, and seeing the recognition and support for military programs grow in my city as a result of me receiving the award.” Gage also could not decide on one thing: “I got to meet the Joint Chiefs of Staff and see the people that are currently changing this world. Also, the friends I made are crucial to who I am as an individual.”

operation-Homefront-military-child-award-gage-dabinAs seasoned veterans of the MCOY nomination process, Gage offered this advice to others: “Be yourself. The packages being sent in should represent you as an individual, not a façade you want people to think is you. Even if they don’t win being honest with others on their character is notable, and just being nominated for it is amazing. Winning the award doesn’t define success so don’t let winning consume you.”

Ryan added, “First, I would say to do things that you really enjoy when it comes to volunteering. Don’t ever spend your time at an organization that you don’t have a passion for because you are looking for community service hours or experience. Second, know that as a nominee, you are already among the finest kids the military has to offer. No matter what happens in the award process, know that you are doing just as much good for your country and family as the eventual winner of the award is. Lastly, remember that, although the MCOY award is for a few individuals, the military is about the team, and service. Without support, none of the current recipients would have the award.”

The Military Child of the Year Award recognizes the resiliency, leadership, and achievements of our nation’s youngest patriots.

Where are Ryan and Gage today?

Ryan attends a university in Boston, tutors at an after school program, and moved into his dorm early to participate in a community service program. The Curtain family relocated to the East Coast after Ryan graduated. “A typical summer, by military standards,” stated Ryan.

Gage is enrolled at a college in Louisiana. He is double majoring in Political Science and English; and is active in college activities. Gage’s spent his summer travelling from Alaska to his new home in Louisiana. “I also helped unpack and organize the new house that my parents moved into,” said Gage.

Both Gage and Ryan envision a military career after college. Ryan is trying to decide if he would rather be a military physician or pilot, and Gage, despite being the Air Force MCOY, would like to join the Navy as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) lawyer.

Our country’s future is in good hands because of amazing military kids like these.

 

 

2014 Military Child of the Year Award "Rockstars": Kensie, Michael, Ryan, Juanita and Gage. Showing the world that our military kids shine no matter where they are.

2014 Military Child of the Year Award “Rockstars”: Kensie, Michael, Ryan, Juanita and Gage. Showing the world that our military kids shine no matter where they are.

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