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We are pleased to share with you today some words from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.) on this year’s Military Child of the Year Awards recipients and why it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why we want to make this moment as special as possible for our 2020 recipients at this challenging time:

Although we, as a nation, are still struggling with the unprecedented challenges brought on by a global pandemic, it is important for all to look for bright spots to show the promise of a brighter future. At Operation Homefront, I don’t need to look any farther than this year’s honorees for our Military Child of the Year (MCOY) Awards.

These prestigious awards are designed to recognize the amazing achievements of seven of our nation’s military teenagers who have excelled at home, in school, and in their communities through their leadership, volunteerism, scholarship, and extracurricular involvement, all while working with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.

Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, I canceled this year’s celebration.

That said, I knew we couldn’t sit idly by and let an opportunity to showcase some exceptional young people pass so I am proud to say that the show will go on with our virtual celebration of these extraordinary representatives of the millions of military kids who serve our great nation alongside their parents.

All at Operation Homefront firmly believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event. Having grown up in a military family, and after serving for over 27 years in the Air Force, I understand the challenges that our military families experience. Faced with the uncertainty of frequent short- or no-notice moves and deployments, it can be difficult for military kids to focus in school, to feel connected to their community, and to develop close friendships. That is why I believe it so important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our military children and why Operation Homefront wants to make this moment as special as possible for our recipients.

President and CEO, John I. Pray, at our MCOY gala in 2019. Normally, we would have had the opportunity to recognize our award winners at our “big event” – our annual gala – held every April, in Arlington, Virginia. However, because of COVID-19, and the need to do our part to ensure the safety of all our guests and to comply with the federal and state public health guidelines, we canceled this year’s in-person celebration. However, we believe taking time to celebrate our MCOY winners – no matter the venue or platform – is a “must do” type event.

The accomplishments of our 2020 group, like all our previous winners, is in a word – impressive. Our judges selected the seven honorees from a very competitive field of more than 400 nominees. The seven represent each branch of service and our Innovation Award recipient. I like to refer to them as the “Magnificent Seven.”

Our 2020 MCOY winners are:

Kainath Kamil – Innovation Award
Fionnuala “Finn” Mahoney – Army
Niklas Cooper – Marine Corps
Miryam Smith — Navy
Samantha Grab — Air Force
Pierce Corson — Coast Guard
Kristina Lee — National Guard

 

Kainath, Finn, Niklas, Miryam, Samantha, Pierce, and Kristina all exemplify the spirit of selfless service that that not only improves lives in their communities but also offers hope for our future. They have logged over 2,080 volunteer hours in the past 12 months. Five of them are National Honor Society members, all of them take AP or dual college credit classes in school. Four are competitive athletes (swimming, volleyball, cross country, cheer) and five speak at least one language other than English.

They are caregivers to family members and leaders in sports and academia. They are ambassadors for mental health awareness, global issues, and the need for greater understanding of differences. They have used science and innovation to find solutions to world problems. Finn is even working with a team at the National Institutes of Health that is searching for a solution to COVID-19.

As we soak in all their achievements, there is little doubt why we must celebrate this very special and deserving group of military teens who represent that brighter future I noted earlier. Congratulations to all of you and to your families.

I would also like to recognize and extend a heartfelt thanks to our partners and supporters who have made our MCOY program possible:

• Our 2020 presenting sponsor, United Technologies (Pratt & Whitney); our Innovation Award sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton; and our other event sponsors, Procter & Gamble, LaQuinta by Wyndham Hotels, PNC Bank, Veterans United Home Loans, Carnival Cruise Line, and Military Times

• Our MCOY judges, board members, OH staff and volunteers, and our two wonderful leaders the Military Child of the Year Award program, Jenny Valderas and Emily Miller.

The celebration continues as more stories and videos are coming – including congratulatory videos from John Heald of Carnival Cruise Line, and the country music sensation Runaway June, who were scheduled to perform. Also, while you may not meet our great MCOY recipients in person, you will get to hear the Magnificent Seven in their own words. So please stay tuned.

Please remember to share your congratulations and special messages with this year’s recipients at http://www.operationhomefront.org/mcoymessages.

View President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)’s message for the kick-off of virtual Military Child of the Year gala:

 

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Kristina Lee, our 2020 Military Child of the Year for the National Guard, has worn the crown as Ohio’s Miss Teen Buckeye State, and she sported a different look when she campaigned for office at a SkillsUSA State Leadership Conference.

National Guard_Kristina Lee 1

The 18-year-old senior at Lee Preparatory High School and Tri-Rivers Career Center in Marion, Ohio, had two black eyes, caused by a basilar skull fracture received when sparring with pugil sticks in her school’s criminal justice lab. She rolled with the look – referring to herself in her campaign speech as the raccoon in the room – and was elected as a regional officer.

It’s one example of how the student leader and honor student chooses perseverance in the face of adversity, including her brother’s death after a yearlong illness and overcoming PTSD after experiencing a violent crime in 2018.

At school, Kristina distinguishes herself in classwork and as a leader as she pursues dual tracks. She’s an honor student in academics at Lee Prep School, while at a career technical school, she excels in criminal justice and construction trades.

After high school, Kristina plans to continue on multiple tracks. She wants to serve an apprenticeship to become a heavy-equipment operator and join the Air National Guard to become a paramedic.

“I’ve always wanted to be a civil servant but realize that it’s hard to live on a civil servant’s salary. … With the help of a construction job, I will be able to afford to pursue a military/EMT/paramedic career as well,” she said. “Maybe further down the road, I would like to pursue political leadership, but I don’t want to do that until I have some real-life experience.”

Being a military child helped her develop a servant’s heart, she said.

“Military kids have the hearts and minds to serve others whether it be in their schools, communities, or even just their homes,” Kristina said. “This may be because they model after their military parents who have to both serve and sacrifice daily.”

Kristina amassed more than 500 volunteer hours in the past year, including organizing a Drug Free, Hire Me! rally that attracted over 600 students for a daylong event, which she also emceed. She also planned and executed a Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser to benefit survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Kristina is the sixth of the eight children of Tammy and Col. Andrew Lee, a physician and a medical group commander in the Ohio Air National Guard. During her father’s deployments and trainings, Kristina helps her mom with her two younger brothers, including one with developmental delays who is nonverbal.

She communicates with him using sign language, which she also uses in volunteer work with special-needs children at her church through a ministry called PB&J, Precious & Beloved by Jesus.National Guard_Kristina Lee 2

In her spare time, Kristina enjoys drawing and painting, reading, swimming, obstacle course 5Ks, and lawn work.

Favorite quote: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’ ” – Erma Bombeck

Service/Leadership Highlights:

  • Construction Trades Academy Foreman
  • Angel Tree
  • SkillsUSA State Leadership Conference Officer
  • National Technical Honor Society President
  • National American Miss (NAM) Heart of Service state champion
  • SkillsUSA President
  • Honor Flight
  • Wings & Wheels

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

Read previous 2020 recipient profiles:

Niklas Cooper, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Marine Corps

Miryam Smith, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Navy

Fionnuala Mahoney, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Army

Samantha Grab, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Air Force

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Samantha Grab, our 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the Air Force, has brought light and happiness to so many around her through her music and positive attitude, especially during tough times. Her family’s nickname for her is Sunshine.

Air Force_Samantha Grab 1

She is the daughter of retired Lt. Col. Richard “Andy” Grab and Michelle Grab. Samantha, 18, grew up as one of three siblings but four years ago a tragedy changed their family forever when her older brother Nick, then 17, died by suicide.

His death was a challenge for everyone. At only 14, Samantha became aware of her own depression and ADHD. She relied heavily on her mother, who she says is her role model. Her mom helped them all cope with her father’s 20 months of deployments and the eight moves throughout his career.

Samantha also finds solace in music. She began playing the alto saxophone in fifth grade and also plays the French horn, piano, ukulele, and drums. A senior at O’Fallon Township High School, she was hand-picked by her music teacher for the school’s mentorship program. She also assists the fifth-grade music teacher in the classroom and through private lessons for the students.

Samantha has performed at a variety of military events, including performing the national anthem and the official Air Force song during a promotion ceremony for her father and then again during his retirement ceremony at Busch Stadium.

“I felt the happiest and most proud (of being a military child) when my Dad came home from his deployments,” she said. “It was very hard when he was gone, and I was filled with so much joy and excitement each time he came home.”

On one occasion, her dad surprised Samantha and her family in what she calls “the most amazing way.” He was deployed to Korea and not expected home for several months. Samantha, along with her mom, her brother, and oldest sister Elizabeth, was visiting family in Illinois. When they went to their favorite bakery Samantha’s dad was waiting for them behind the counter.

“Our minds were so preoccupied by what to eat that we did not realize our dad was standing right in front of us taking our order!” She said. “My jaw dropped, and I immediately ran up to hug my dad.”

Samantha enjoys helping others. She has volunteered more than 300 hours in the past 12 months, including as one of a few select retreat leaders with the Helping Open People’s Eyes (HOPE) program, an organization that helps teens overcome challenges of bullying, stereotypes, depression and difficulties at school and home.

She plans on attending Illinois State University and studying psychology so she can help children and teens struggling with mental health issues. Air Force_Samantha Grab_3

When she’s not busy with color guard performances, marching band competitions or playing music, Samantha enjoys watching movies, reading, drawing, cooking, and spending time with friends and family, especially her baby sister Sarah and her niece Marcy.

Favorite quote: “All I can be is me, whoever that is.” -Bob Dylan.

Service/Leadership Highlights:

•Helping Open People’s Eyes (HOPE)

•OTHS Mentorship Program

•Christ Church Children’s Ministry

•Karla Smith Behavioral Health

•Scott Air Force Base Centennial

•OTHS Marching Band

•OTHS Jazz Ensemble

•Elk’s Organization

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

Read previous 2020 recipient profiles:

Niklas Cooper, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Marine Corps

Miryam Smith, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Navy

Fionnuala Mahoney, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Army

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Miryam Smith, our 2020 Military Child of the Year for the Navy, remembers her father telling her that hard work pays off and that she could achieve anything she put her mind to. Those words have been Miryam’s motivation since her father, retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Eduardo Smith, took his own life in 2016.

Navy_Miryam Smith 2

The tragedy, she said, taught her resilience. Two days after her father’s devastating death, Miryam returned to school to finish up final exams, committed to living a happy, fulfilling life and maintaining the excellent grades her dad appreciated.

Now a 17-year-old senior at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she is seeing dividends from her hard work.

Miryam excels in her school’s Global Studies and World Languages Academy, and she looks forward to fall, when she will attend American University’s School of Foreign Service. She plans to study International Relations and possibly minor in Environmental Science.

Miryam, an only child, is the daughter of Macarena Smith, who works for the U.S. Marine Corps as a protocol officer.

Miryam’s three military moves with her family cultivated her fascination with other cultures and world travel.

“My favorite part of being a military child was the opportunities to travel to many places at a very young age,” she said. When stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, the family traveled throughout Europe. “One holiday weekend we decided to take a road trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, and I remember it as being one of my favorite ones.”

In all, Miryam has visited 23 countries, four of them on her own. On a trip to the Normandy region of France with her school, Miryam felt particular pride in being a military child.

As her group left a World War II museum close to one of the Normandy beaches, Miryam saw a cemetery filled with hundreds of perfectly aligned white tombstones that were decorated with American flags.

“I was overwhelmed with pride, for I had never seen so many American flags in my life. At that moment I realized how many brave soldiers had sacrificed their lives to help liberate France in the war,” she said. “Although my dad did not serve in World War II, I know he made several sacrifices for his country throughout his military career, and knowing that made me very proud to be his daughter.”

Miryam understands that military children might dread moving, with changing schools, making new friends, and adjusting to a new home in a new location. She urges them to keep an open mind. “It gives you the chance to meet new people, create new memories, and possibly learn more about other cultures.” Navy_Miryam Smith 1

Miryam invests time in her community, volunteering with the Be a Reader program to read to elementary school children and mentoring children at a shelter for the homeless.

She enjoys sailing small vessels and catamarans and finds stress relief in playing piano, frequently duplicating tunes she hears on the radio.

Favorite quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, and catch the trade winds in your sails.” – Mark Twain

Service/Leadership Highlights:

  • Events organizer, Global Studies and World Languages Academy International Cafes
  • Volunteer, Be a Reader program for elementary school children
  • Mentor, Care by Community
  • President Spanish Honor Society
  • Vice President Global Studies Honor Society
  • Varsity Swim Team
  • Student Athlete Leadership Training
  • Academic letter, Global Studies and World Languages Academy, 9th-12th grades

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

Read previous 2020 recipient profiles:

Niklas Cooper, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Marine Corps

Fionnuala Mahoney, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Army

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When Niklas Cooper, our 2020 Military Child of the Year for the Marine Corps, shows up, he brings a big heart as a leader and volunteer in his community and as a student at Lejeune High School in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he is a junior.

Marine Corps_Niklas Cooper 2

In the past year, the 16-year-old dedicated more than 300 hours to mentoring, tutoring, and community projects while remaining devoted to academic and athletic excellence.

Niklas is the son of Mary and David Cooper, a Marine Corps first sergeant. He credits their support for his determination.

His success on the varsity track and cross country teams underscores his dedication and perseverance. As a freshman, Niklas worked to improve his cross country time, but a heart condition curtailed his running. Niklas was ineligible to participate in athletics after being diagnosed with left ventricular hypertrophy, an enlargement of part of the heart that causes high blood pressure.

Disappointed yet determined, Niklas served as the track team manager while doctors worked for a year to bring the issue under control. During his sophomore year, he was cleared to participate, and he developed strength and speed that helped his team win first in the region and seventh in the state.

“After I was diagnosed and my mom explained to my dad what it was, he responded with, ‘I always knew my son had a big heart.’ After hearing this, I took it literally and figuratively and started being more grateful for everything in my life,” Niklas said.

He developed resilience while growing up in a military family.

“Moving over six times in my life has required me to step outside of my comfort zone and learn to deal with change by viewing it as an opportunity rather than a hardship,” he said.

On his family’s fifth permanent change of station, Niklas organized a community debris cleanup around base housing soon after moving to Camp Lejeune. He has dedicated about 100 hours of community service to getting clearance and volunteers for the Camp Lejeune Project Cleanup.

When volunteering at Outdoor Odyssey in Pennsylvania, a camp for children of injured Marines, Niklas forged a bond with a camper that he has maintained ever since. Niklas continues to mentor the boy. As military children, they do not take their close bond for granted.

Niklas tutors his peers in Spanish and mathematics, and has earned recognition for achievement in advanced placement courses and for leadership in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, where he is cadet staff sergeant.

During his father’s three deployments– a total of 30 months – Niklas helped with his three younger sisters. After the final deployment, Niklas became inspired as his father reintegrated back into the family and went back to school.Marine Corps_Niklas Cooper 1

Niklas hopes to attend the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and become a linguist or international diplomat.

Favorite Quote: “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit” – Napoleon Hill.

Service/Leadership Highlights:

  • Class President, freshman, sophomore, and junior years
  • Military Order of the World Wars, MCJROTC
  • Gold Presidential Service Award Medal, MCJROTC
  • National Honor Society
  • Founder, Camp Lejeune Cleanup Project
  • Volunteer and mentor at Outdoor Odyssey in Pennsylvania
  • Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor recognition
  • Varsity track team

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

Read previous 2020 recipient profiles:

Fionnuala Mahoney, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the U.S. Army

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We are excited to announce the start of our VIRTUAL 2020 Military Child of the Year® Awards celebration! We invite you to join us over the next two weeks to help us celebrate these seven amazing young men and women who represent the thousands of military children everywhere who thrive and excel while coping with the challenges of military life.

Due to the extraordinary and developing circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus outbreak, Operation Homefront had to make the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Military Child of the Year® Awards Gala in Arlington, VA. While the gala will not occur in-person, we can still recognize and celebrate the incredible achievements of this year’s award recipients.  We ask for your help to do this.

We start today with opening remarks from our President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.). Check back throughout the next two weeks as we add more ways for you to join in the celebration #MCOY2020

Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.

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Before we jump into 2018, we’d like to look back at some of the best moments from this past year. It goes without saying that we are able to advance our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families because of those who give – our individual and corporate donors. Thank you! These moments would not happen without you.

1. These women came to our caregiver retreat…in a hurricane! As Hurricane Harvey was skirting San Antonio, we were hosting a group of caregivers along the Riverwalk for a very special retreat, as part of our Hearts of Valor program. They would not be kept away by a hurricane and there’s a good reason. These retreats are designed to uplift those who are closest to wounded veterans. The retreats give caregivers a much-needed break and education about invisible wounds, compassion fatique, healthy living and staying connected. Special thanks to our sponsor, USAA, for making these retreats possible.

 

2. Our annual gala to celebrate military kids has become a must-attend event! Celebrating the youngest heroes of our military families is one of our favorite things to do. This year’s Military Child of the Year® Award, once again, recognized several outstanding young men and women who represent their families, their branches of service and their country very well. Read more about them and you’ll be inspired. Looking forward to meeting next year’s award recipients in April 2018 in Washington D.C. Who will they be? We’ll find out in early March! #GivingStrength

 

3. There’s no place like home! We get to be a part of making dreams come true through our Homes on the Homefront program that awards mortgage-free homes to veterans. To date, we’ve awarded 599 homes since the program began. All of this is possible because of our great partners like Chase, Meritage Homes, Wade Jurney Homes and Sears (who donated and raised money to provide two homes to veteran families in 2017). Stay tuned as we plan a big celebration for our 600th home in 2018.

 

 

4. Special nights for military spouses? Yes, we did! The call to military life is not easy on a service member’s spouse. Being apart from your service member AND trying to hold down the homefront is managed more easily when you have friends nearby. Our Homefront Celebrations give military spouses a night away to relax, make new friends and be pampered just a little. And thanks to our friends at Southern New Hampshire University, these events have bolstered the careers for some very special women who received a full-tuition scholarship at each celebration, like Megan Morris (pictured here at our event in Tampa, FL). Stay tuned as we announce another year of Homefront Celebrations around the country in 2018.

 

5. Awwwwwww! At our Star-Spangled Baby Showers each year, we get all mushy at the sights and sounds of our expecting moms and the young moms who bring along their sweet newborns. In 2017, we hosted 9 events from coast to coast, a few places in between and even Hawaii, providing critical baby supplies and large raffle items to hundreds of military moms. We were also excited to be joined by Procter and Gamble and Paralympic veteran Melissa Stockwell at our baby shower in Chesapeake, VA.

 

6. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without you! It’s been an honor serving military families around the country. Thanks to our generous donors, we served more than 11,000 families with everything they needed for a spectacular holiday meal. Since we began our holiday programs in 2008, we have served nearly 80,000 military families, impacting over 330,000 family members. See our feature blog to celebrate another year of bringing joy to our military families this holiday season!

 

7. When it was time to hit the books, we made it a little easier. Going back to school is expensive. Military kids have enough to deal with and not having the right supplies should not be one of their struggles. We were happy to meet so many smiling faces, like this child in Dayton, OH, and remove the financial burden from their families. This year, we hit a major milestone, as we distributed our 300,000th backpack since the program began which included more than 41,000 backpacks given to military children around the U.S. this summer alone.

 

8. Home Depot Really Is #DoingMore4Vets! From golf tournaments to renovating veterans’ homes to providing support for our Critical Financial Assistance program, The Home Depot Foundation, and its band of Team Depot volunteers, are a long-time partner who support means so much as they join us in giving strength to military families! We were honored to present a Cornerstone Award to Heather Prill, Senior Manager, National Partnerships at The Home Depot Foundation for her contributions to the national nonprofit’s mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families this past September.

 

9. Transition from service can be a challenging time for veterans. Especially if they are coping with injuries and illnesses from their service. Our rent-free transitional housing villages stand ready to help when these families need it the most. Since inception, our villages have welcomed more than 500 families who lived in a rent-free, fully furnished apartment to help them make a smooth transition to civilian life. Our Critical Financial Assistance program helps military and veteran families overcome unexpected crises like a major appliance or car repair or help with rent or mortgage. We’ve been able to help veterans like Petero Taufagu who needed help getting his car repaired. Later, through our partnership with American Airlines, he also received a brand-new Jeep Cherokee. So now he has a reliable way to get to his necessary doctor appointments. Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $22 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests.

 

10. Fact IS Stranger Than Fiction! We can’t make this stuff up!

a. Cracker Barrel created the Flip It Forward Pancake Fundraiser and raised $64,000 for Operation Homefront! It included a media tour with a pancake artist who even created our logo in pancake batter. We thought about framing it…then thought again.

b. Who doesn’t secretly harbor the desire to shatter glass? Our friends at CDW found a way to convince PGA TOUR players Ben Crane, Smylie Kaufman, Ryan Palmer and CDW-sponsored Gary Woodland to compete in a “glass breaking” event between the golf pros. And more was at stake than just bragging rights – winner Gary Woodland presented an additional donation of 10 Lenovo Chromebooks – five to Operation Homefront and five to the charity of Woodland’s choice. The entire event raised support for military families through Operation Homefront.

c. A personalized burger? Carnival Cruise Lines is known for fun but they outdid themselves when they devised a way to laser-burn personal well-wishes from military supporters onto burgers they served to Marines at a special event at MCAS Miramar in California. They even got former Miss USA DeShauna Barber there to serve the burgers and provided a $25,000 donation to Operation Homefront. You have to see the pictures to believe it.

d. We’ll brave a blizzard for you! We were still in the doldrums of summer heat when Chevy first invited us to be a part of their #ChevySalutes event to honor the military at the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia. Let’s just say winter hit with a vengeance that day and provided a very memorable experience to award a brand-new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse to one of the nicest caregivers and her seven-tour combat veteran husband. Don’t worry, we dressed warmly, mom!

 

11. We still get starstruck! We’ve been excited to work with some pretty inspiring people this year.

a. The Pale Ale Wins the Summer of Yes! Carson Daly who worked with Other Half Brewing to create a craft beer with proceeds to support Operation Homefront as part of his #SummerOfYes on the Today Show.

b. Wonder-Super-Mega-Amazing Melissa Stockwell: Through our partnership with P&G, we got to work with the very inspiring Melissa Stockwell, who is a bronze-medal winning, 2-time Paralympian, triathlete and Purple Heart wounded Army veteran. She attended one of our Star-Spangled Baby Showers in Virginia and has since welcomed her own baby Millie to her sweet family.

c. Tim McGraw Walks the Walk. And where do we start with Tim McGraw? We’ve been working with this country superstar since 2012. From his personal support to joining us to award mortgage-free homes along with Chase, he has been a steadfast champion for military and veteran families. #GivingStrength #startstrongstaystrong

 

12. We have the best volunteers! Our volunteers show up and pitch in whenever they are needed. We host hundreds of events all year long from Alaska to the tip of Florida, from San Diego to Massachusetts. This year, we created a special Volunteer Reserves which recruits our volunteers that want to get involved, but don’t want to volunteer on a daily basis or even a weekly basis, but they’re very interested in staying in the loop and ready to be called on when we need help serving our military families.

There are so many moments to remember in 2017. And each was an honor because we got to be a part of serving our military and veteran families. That makes any year a great year!

If you’d like to be a part of giving strength this holiday season and making our 2018 even better, consider giving to a current need of a military family to give them the best start possible to the New Year!

 

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carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30845320545_oBefore the night was over…

They were dropping names like Carrie Underwood and saying they got to be part of a private concert with her.

Before the night was over…

They were talking about Carnival Cruise Lines, well-known for a fun family atmosphere, and proclaiming they got one free night on Carnival’s biggest and best ship, the Carnival Vista, with a skyline view of New York City.

Before the night was over…

They could say they met Miss USA Deshauna Barber, the very first active duty service member to wear the crown.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30544200720_oBefore the night was over…

They were able to be part of a rare event, a naming ceremony to officially christen Carnival’s biggest and best new ship, the Carnival Vista, complete with helicopter delivery of the champagne, Kathie Lee Gifford, confetti cannons, and more.

Is it possible that all that could happen in less than 24 hours? Yes it is. And all of those experiences, and many more, were a reality for some of our military families, who were guests of Carnival’s “Honor.Family.Fun” event in New York City recently.

The experience featured it all before the night was over.

But beyond the bright lights, the gorgeous expansive ship and the entertainment…one message came through loud and clear.

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808587226_oPeople care about our military.

Our families heard it over and over again.

They heard it in Carrie’s live performance of her song Keep Us Safe:

“And through the struggles and the trouble I know we don’t walk alone.

Even when we get lost through the valleys we crossed.”

And in Carrie’s words:

“It’s been really amazing to get to be a part of such an incredible organization and the way you’ve…committed to helping military families and giving them special time together. I’m a mother and I know how precious those moments are.”

They heard and recognized themselves in the words of our President and CEO, John I Pray, Jr., Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.):

carnival-honorfamilyfun-featuring-carrie-underwood_30808588626_oI served in the Air Force for 27 1/2 years. When I go back and look at pictures of my family, I am not in any of them…because I wasn’t there. This partnership is important (because) those military families will be able to create the memories that will last a lifetime. The opportunity to go on vacation with your families and capture those photos, is going to be truly spectacular.

They heard it from Carnival CEO Christine Duffy:

Carnival carries more active and retired U.S. military personnel than any other cruise line. So it means a great deal to me to be able to be a part of this amazing event, honoring and celebrating the sacrifices of those who serve in our Armed Forces and protect our freedoms each and every day. I couldn’t think of a more deserving group to honor as we celebrate the launch of our spectacular new ship, Carnival Vista.

They heard from Miss USA Deshauna Barber who understand the military life very well. As she spoke at the Naming Ceremony, she recalled, with barely veiled emotion, the birthdays and holidays that her father always missed because he deployed a lot as part of special forces:

“I do a lot of speeches… but this one touches my heart. I am humbled and proud and honored and inspired all at the same time. …What we do as military is very important. When the days get hard, you have to think about days like this.”

As we approach Veterans Day, we want to remind our military families that we are grateful for the courage and honor of all of you who serve our great nation. We know you must give up so much and you do it willingly. We are grateful and we care about you.

We hope you hear that over and over again.

Check out our album of images from that special day, and join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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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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Carrie Underwood took time to meet Antwon Speller and his family, giving him and his family, helping to lift them out of the challenges of dealing with the wounds of war.

Carrie Underwood took time to meet Antwon Speller and his family, giving him and his family a much needed break, and helping to lift them out of the challenges of dealing with the wounds of war.

“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” – Elton John

For a few hours one Saturday night, music brought peace to one very deserving military family.

As part of our partnership with Carnival Cruise Line and country superstar Carrie Underwood, select military families get a personal meet-and-greet with Underwood before her concerts. One such moment occurred at Underwood’s sold-out concert in Hampton, Virginia. The email we received from the Speller family afterwards validates the quote above, and why partnerships like this truly make a difference.

being around someone that has taken out their time to just get to know about you, and appreciate what you do for your country is so meaningful to me.”

We hear from many of our nations’ wounded and their families about feelings of isolation they experience trying to cope with both the seen and unseen wounds of war day in and day out. As simple as it may seem, a night out, especially one where these amazing families can connect and feel appreciated can be life-changing.

“However, I was in extreme pain but I wasn’t going to allow anything to ruin this moment, we all enjoyed an electrified experience that only comes once in a life time.” 

Anyone who has been in pain can tell you, its constant presence in your life can wear down even the strongest among us. Routine functions that many of us take for granted become monumental tasks. As time goes on, feelings of hopelessness can seep in as one begins to question whether there will ever be an end to the pain. Anything that takes the focus off the pain, even for a brief period of time, allows for a refocus and much-needed breather that can remind one that there is more to life and that it can and will get better.

Honestly, I just want to cry, for real, it has been a very rough couple of weeks for me, but as Ashley (Operation Homefront representative) said to me, ‘this is what makes all things worth all the while’… and she was absolutely right.”

Perhaps the time to spend together as a family, making memories, with a few hours of no worries, no pain… just joy… are what will be the catalyst to help someone through dark times. Give them something beautiful to hold onto when it is all too easy and understandable that one may want to give up.

“..all I can say is thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you guys.”

We suspect that when asked, most artists would answer that they just want to touch someone through their craft, to have an impact. That happened this Saturday night in Virginia, and we know it will happen again throughout Carrie’s “Storyteller” tour. In fact, check out this heartwarming interview with another of our families after their concert experience in D.C.


We appreciate the support of Carnival Cruise Line and Carrie Underwood as we continue to focus on building strong, stable and secure military families and the needs of our nation’s wounded veterans.

Learn more about our partnership with Carrie Underwood and Carnival Cruises

Check out Carrie on tour at a city near you.

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