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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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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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You could say Edward Smith has the military in his blood. Born and raised in Freeport, New York, Edward knew early on that he wanted to answer the call to serve his country. It’s easy to see why. His father was a Korean War veteran and had a major influence on him wanting to join the military.

edwardsmith-300pixelsHis father had served in the Army, but Edward had a longing for the wind and the waves. So in 1984, he joined the Coast Guard in his hometown. After serving for seven years in the Coast Guard, Edward’s love of the water led him to join the Navy. He served another seven years and received an honorable discharge from the Navy before returning to the Coast Guard as a reservist in 1998.

As an assistant master of arms, Edward assisted in law enforcement by enforcing discipline and non-traditional punishment. During his 30 years of military service, Edward was deployed to Iraq in 2008.

Unable to afford his own home, Edward was living in a one bedroom apartment. With two teenage children, it felt a little crowded for a family of three. After hearing about our Homes on the Homefront program through a veteran’s program, Edward decided to apply for a home.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and our partner Wells Fargo, Edward received a mortgage-free home in Connecticut. “It’s a perfect situation,” Edward said. “This will provide stability and improve my financial situation.”

Edward still spends time on the water as a tug boat captain, but he hopes to retire soon. He also plans on transferring his GI Bill to his children and help put them through college. Until then, he’d like to spend more quality time with them camping and white water rafting.

Vets-Day_blog_icontact“Operation Homefront and Wells Fargo are what make this country great,” added Edward. “Thank you all for helping the veteran community.”

Thank you, Edward, for how you chose to answer the call and build a life of military service.

Join Operation Homefront as we increase our efforts to help our military families. Find out more at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

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operation-homefront-veteran-johnsonPaul Johnson understands that you never know where life will take you, what doors will close, and the others that will open. One life changing journey began for Paul when he emigrated to the U.S. from England in 2000. He settled in New York City.

And then, on September 11, 2001…

After that day, Paul felt the need to answer the call on behalf of his “new country.” He attended fleet week, toured several Coast Guard vessels, and fell in love with the Coast Guard. He decided to join.

It was a perfect match. Paul loved his job. Not only was Paul protecting his adopted country against the drug trade, but he was also saving lives. Paul and his unit made countless rescues, many involved migrants desperate to reach America who jeopardized their lives trying to cross the seas in structures barely seaworthy. Many of those rescued exhibited the signs of what they would give for a new life. They were exhausted, hungry, dehydrated and frequently required medical attention.

In 2013, however, it was Paul who needed medical attention, as he suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in a shipboard accident. In addition to the TBI diagnosis, Paul was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a result, Paul’s dream of serving his country was ended with a medical discharge from the Coast Guard.

The loss in active duty pay caused a financial hardship, but rather than being deterred, Paul looked at his options. That is when he found Operation Homefront. Although he was not one to ask for assistance, his discussion with our caseworker made him feel like he had a sense of control, a voice in the process. Paul’s family received financial assistance for an auto payment, travel expenses, food, and later, a move to a home where they could focus on their future.

Now on more solid footing, Paul can reflect on the different direction his life has taken. Having a TBI has changed Paul’s life in both positive and negative ways. He became involved in adaptive athletics and that has opened up a wide world of new experiences for him. He has skydived in tandem and became a member of Team USA for the Invictus Games in England, the only Coast Guard member. He received a bronze medal in rowing. He is currently working with a Paralympic rower in a double scull with his eyes on the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Paul hopes that his participation on Team USA will inspire others to perform, believe, and move past their disabilities.

Vets-Day_blog_icontactPaul believes in the importance of understanding that one has options despite changes, injuries, and perceived inabilities. He tries to not think in terms of what he can’t do, but instead how he can do things in a different way.

Because he has been helpedby others so much in the past, Paul would like to get into the other side of service by doing peer counseling. To reach this goal, Paul is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Psychology.

But if we know Paul, he won’t stop there. He has learned that everything is a beginning, not an end.

If Paul’s example has inspired you to do something to help military families and wounded warriors, we invite you to join Operation Homefront and find your own way to answer the call. There are many stories like Paul’s, and they need help now. Visit www.OperationHomefront.net/AnswerTheCall

 

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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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