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Posts Tagged ‘Military Child of the Year’

Christopher Rodriguez was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Marine Corps. Now a Marine himself, we had the chance to touch base with him to talk about his journey since we last saw him. (Read Christopher’s profile from 2015).

In the 2½ years since Christopher Rodriguez received Operation Homefront’s Marine Corps Military Child of the Year award, he has completed half his classes toward a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and become a private first class in the Marine Reserve.

While he has one graduation ahead of him — Christopher expects to finish his University of Nevada, Las Vegas degree in 2020 — he completed a big milestone Oct. 6, graduating from basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and Camp Pendleton, California.

The grueling 13-week, three-phase program was tough, but worth it, Christopher said. “Earning the title of Marine, receiving the eagle, globe and anchor [emblem] at the top of the Reaper was a very rewarding and proud moment for myself,” he said, referring to the last obstacle at Camp Pendleton, California, a mountain that recruits must scale before becoming Marines. “Being a Marine was something I’ve always wanted to do.”

The last phase of the training, known as The Crucible, culminates at the Reaper, and is physically and mentally challenging, “pushing your limits that you wouldn’t have expected you could do in the very beginning of it,” Christopher said. Though he had to miss a semester for boot camp, he learned a lot of valuable lessons there, such as how best to achieve goals while working with other people’s flaws and strengths. “Being able to do that kind of gave me some more confidence,” he said.

Family support was key to finishing each day with a positive mindset, Christopher said. “The main motivation for me, getting through the whole process was definitely my family, said Christopher, adding that letters from his parents, grandparents and other family members comforted him.

Another incentive that drove him to finish: his appetite. “When I graduated, I wanted to eat real food. I missed a lot of the home cooking. The first thing I ate, we went to a Mexican restaurant, and I just ordered the fattest burrito that was on the menu.”

When Christopher graduated from Lejeune High School, North Carolina, he wasn’t sure he wanted to join the Marines right out of high school, so he took time to think about it while attending college. “Now I’m ready for it,” he said. “I was all for it.”

One factor that helped him make up his mind was spending time with family. He, his parents and two younger siblings moved to Las Vegas to be closer to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Chris’ stepfather, retired Gunnery Sgt. Jermaine Smith, is now a Marine JROTC instructor at a local high school. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said Christopher’s mom, Griscelda Smith, who teaches toddlers at a child care center. Christopher’s 17-year-old sister, Jazzlyn, and 15-year-old brother, Kilyn, are in the Navy JROTC program at a different high school.

It was important to Chris to be involved in family members’ lives. Having done that, he felt content with his decision to join the Marine Corps, knowing, “If I do deploy, I got to spend my time with family.”

After two more months of training at Camp Pendleton, Chris will drill as a reservist on weekends and up to two weeks a month at the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada. He plans to go through Officer Candidates School to become a commissioned Marine Corps officer, graduating as a second lieutenant.

“Our goal as a parent, he needs to finish school,” his mom said.

Chris said later in life, he might like to go back to school for environmental science, studying renewable and reusable energy. “I find that very interesting,” he said of the field, in which some of his family members work. “A cleaner environment for everyone to live in, to me is very important,” Chris said.

One of Christopher’s favorite memories from the Washington, D.C., trip for the Military Child of the Year gala was getting to know the other 2015 recipients, a memory later marred by the death of National Guard recipient Zachary Parsons, who was killed in a February 2016 car accident. “It was a tragic moment,” Christopher said. “It hit me hard. We all got close. He was a great guy.”

Seeing the Washington sights and memorials was a “big wow moment,” that gave him appreciation for our country’s history, and that he will always cherish, Christopher said.

Another highlight: Meeting the high-ranking officers who attended the MCOY gala and had a good influence on him, especially now-retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Stay motivated, whatever you’re doing with your life,” Christopher advised future MCOY recipients. “Keep moving forward. Keep providing for your community.” He said he knows philanthropic people, such as MCOY recipients, like feeling proud for giving back and helping others, so he encouraged them to be “that leader, that role model in your family and for your friends, for your school.”

“Stay being yourself,” he advised. “Be humble.”

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times.

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Nicole Goetz was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Air Force in 2011. We were honored to have Maggie with us this year in DC, helping to present this year’s MCOY award to our Air Force recipient. We also had the chance to touch base with her recently to learn where life has taken her since we last met, including working with her good friend, Maggie Rochon, MCOY for U.S. Coast Guard 2011. (Read Maggie’s update here)

In 2011, I had the honor of serving as the first Military Child of the Year for the Air Force. That Operation Homefront gala in Washington, D.C., was such a special time for me because not only did I meet one of my heroes, then first lady Michelle Obama, but I also got surprised by my forever hero, my father. My father was finishing up a year-long deployment in Afghanistan and it was his service overseas that inspired my community service on the homefront.*

A few short months after the gala, I was pursuing an international affairs degree at Emory University in Atlanta. Every class and every discussion brought me back to my father’s service. During my time at school, I realized just how bad the military-civilian disconnect had become. For the most part, students, staff, and faculty had never personally interacted with an active-duty member or their family member. Most of their understanding of the active-duty service members had stemmed from what they read about or saw on TV, and a vast majority of it was never good. That was when I decided to act. With help from now-retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, former Air Force Chief of Staff, and Moody Air Force Base, we were able to assemble a panel of active-duty service members to speak to students.

I remember the day of the panel like it was yesterday. I was scared that students wouldn’t show, because why would they? But with extra pleading from myself and extra credit offered from professors, the room was packed. The panel consisted of five active-duty service members: a colonel; an Army Ranger who was about our age; an explosive ordnance disposal technician who was 24 with four kids and a purple heart; a combat controller; and a young female airman who performed humanitarian missions overseas.

After I introduced each guest, I watched as students connected the material they were taught in their college classes to those on the panel. The only way I could describe what happened next was that it was magic. The air in the room was no longer cold and awkward, but warm and full of empathy.

The next moment would change my life forever. The colonel shared that he was not sure how the panel was going to be received by the students. He reflected on how the Vietnam veterans were spat on and shouted at by college students when they came home. Then he started to tear up and remarked that my generation would be dealing with 20-plus years of veterans due to our involvement in the global war on terror. Right then and there I decided that I’ll be damned if I let my generation treat my father and the rest of our veterans as they did back in the 1960s and 70s. The panel was a huge success and Emory continued to host military panels and reintegration projects ever since.

From that moment, I figured my best bet at helping the military community was to work in the political sector. It was an exciting, fast-paced world. My military upbringing helped me tackle the unpredictable, tumultuous environment. I worked for organizations and campaigns from the local to national levels. It all seemed like a natural fit, until it wasn’t.

I was exhausted from constantly trying to break through the glass ceiling in politics. Sexism was and is a real issue. Many of my colleagues assumed I was there to become a senator’s wife, not to positively change policy. It had become a major hindrance that set me off my original purpose of serving our military and veteran community. Rather than continuing to try to chip away at the obtuse obstacle in front of me, I searched for a new angle. That angle soon revealed itself through the STEM field.

After my departure from politics, I accepted a marketing and outreach position with the Curtis Laws Wilson Library at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. This past February, I spearheaded the university’s largest hackathon to date. A hackathon is a weekend-long event that brings hundreds of students from across the nation together to solve a current problem in society through the use of coding and technology. This year, we decided to focus our efforts on helping our transitioning military members, veterans, and their families. With over $20,000 from corporate sponsors and around 100 hackers, the event was a success as many new ideas and platforms were created to help assist the military and their families with reintegration. Our inaugural event set a strong precedent for next year’s hackathon.

I’ve also been working on another project with a fellow 2011 Military Child of the Year and close friend, Maggie Rochon — creating a platform that will better connect military spouses and dependents across the different military bases and posts around the country and world.

Aside from my transitioning career, I am also transitioning from the role of military brat to military spouse. In May 2017, I married my best friend, 1st Lt. Brian Kloiber. Brian is a West Point graduate, Army diver, and a great dog dad. His kindness, patience, support, and good humor have made the transition to being a spouse a fun and somewhat seamless one despite the curveballs of military life like moving, deployments, and career sacrifices. With every challenge we have faced so far, I was reminded of how great of a team we make and how we are both each other’s equals and strengths. I am excited to see what all the future has in store for us!

Obstacles and all, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I know I am blessed to be part of one of the best and strongest communities in the world. From growing up watching my mom be the strong and selfless super military spouse to now interacting with so many great, ambitious spouses, I am forever in awe of the service and support that spouses, dependents, and great organizations like Operation Homefront give to ensure our military members, veterans, and their families are well taken care of.

Moving forward, if I have to give advice to future winners, I’d say that it’s OK if things don’t work out as you plan. Things can change at the drop of a hat, dreams can shatter, and you will be thrown off course. But all that matters is how you react. If you stay true with what you are really passionate about, life has a funny way of getting you back on track.

By Nicole Goetz

*Editor’s note: Nicole’s father, now retired, was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

 

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Maggie Rochon was our Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Coast Guard in 2011. We were honored to have Maggie with us this year in DC, helping to present this year’s MCOY award to our Coast Guard recipient.  We also had the chance to touch base with her recently to learn where life has taken her since we last met, including working with her good friend, Nicole Goetz, MCOY for U.S. Air Force 2011. (Read Nicole’s update here)

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, Margaret Rochon, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt, Peggy Rochon and Chief Petty Officer Gene Rochon at the 2011 Military Child of the Year awards.

It’s been over six years since I was honored as Military Child of the Year for the Coast Guard, and I’ve been through a lot of transitions since then.

As one can expect in life, not much stays the same for very long. This was a lesson that was learned and reinforced on several occasions being a military child. Within a few months after Operation Homefront’s MCOY gala in Washington, D.C., I would decide where I was going to spend the next four years of my life, graduate high school, and move across the country to start on the college journey.

Moving to Ohio for school didn’t seem like too big of a deal. Growing up with a parent in the military, you grow accustomed to moving every few years, so what was one more move? What I didn’t know at the time was that my decision to attend The Ohio State University would be both a culture shock and a catalyst for many subsequent, major, transitions.

Growing up, no matter what new address I had to learn, or friends I had to make, or school I had to attend, I always felt a sense of comfort being surrounded by at least a few others who were also military children. There was a security blanket of sorts knowing that someone else had been in my shoes and could understand what I was going through. There was someone who knew what it was like to miss a parent that was deployed overseas, or how to start a friendship with the new kid because they were once the new kid, but college wasn’t like that. I was suddenly dropped into a setting with 50,000 other people and it felt like not a single other person had even a similar life experience to mine.

The first few weeks in college were a whirlwind of learning a new place, living without my parents for the first time ever, introducing myself what felt like a thousand times, and of course getting to know all these new people. I should have been an expert at that, and thanks to every experience I had as a child, I fared pretty well, at least for the most part, but that’s also when I was confronted with the gap between military families and civilian families. It started with the simple question: “Where are you from?” Well, as a military child, how do you answer that? Do I ask how they are defining “from”? Is it lying if I just name only one place? Will it be too long of an answer if I go into depth about all the places I’ve lived? Do I explain that I was born in one state, started school in another, and graduated high school somewhere else? But that doesn’t even touch on the two other states I lived in.

I felt like I was an anomaly among peers that had never moved from the town they were born in; some had never even vacationed out of the state of Ohio. By the time I explained why I had moved so often, I had been bombarded with so many more questions about my childhood. Next thing I knew, I had to explain what my dad did, what it was like for him to deploy so often, what my childhood was like, and so on. Even at the time of my freshman year in college, my dad was deployed to the Middle East.*

While at the time it was a little isolating to be the only military kid in my friend group, I also realized there was an opportunity to help connect a part of our population with the much smaller military community. So many people shared their gratitude for what my dad did for this country and what my family sacrificed so that he could do that. It was actually amazing.

The transition from a military community to a civilian world was possibly one of the hardest transitions I’ve had to go through, but it was an important learning experience and opportunity that I am glad I had. The appreciation I gained for my childhood, and for what my dad did, is something I can never thank God enough for. Knowing that so many people felt touched by the service of our men and women in uniform, knowing my dad was one of them, made me so incredibly proud of this country, but especially my family.

Undergrad flew by in the blink of an eye. Even though the first year was a little tough adjusting, I found my niche, including finding friends that also were transitioning from the military life to college. In particular, I became friends with a Marine, Alex. Alex came from the Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, area, much like myself; we even had quite a few mutual friends. Alex spent four years on active duty before pursing his degree at Ohio State. We are engaged, and we’ve been together for four years, a part of three units, and are currently residing in the central Ohio area.

After graduating from college, I became actively engaged in state and national campaigns, and started pursing my career. I currently work as the Director of Constituent Affairs in Governor Kasich’s Office, and am a graduate student at Ohio University.

Thinking back six years to the gala weekend, it’s hard to believe that so much time has passed. It seems like just yesterday we were in Washington, D.C. for the event. I remember the night of the gala looking at my mom and dad, seeing how proud they were of me, and seeing that they were relieved that my dad’s decision to serve our country didn’t burden my childhood, but enriched and shaped who I was. There wasn’t a moment that I remember more than that feeling and sharing that special time with my family.

Military Child of the Year Alumni at our 2018 gala: (left to right) Alena Deveau (2012 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year), Nicole Goetz (2011 Air Force Military Child of the Year), Alex McGrath (2017 Navy Military Child of the Year), Christian Fagala (2016 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year), Henderson Heussner (2017 Army Military Child of the Year), Maggie Rochon (2011 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year)

Surprisingly, too, I met a lifelong friend that weekend, Nicole Goetz. That weekend was so overwhelming, I remember thinking that it was nice to meet so many other great, and inspiring, military kids, [but] there was no way in one weekend we would bond in such a way that we would ever be more than pen-pals. I was wrong. About halfway through our freshman year in college, Nicole messaged me on Facebook about a project she was working on. Outside of the project, it was an opportunity to connect with another military kid going through the same transition to college as I was. Now Nicole and I are dear friends and try to hang out as often as we are in the same state. We’ve even started working on a project this fall, an online forum to connect and share experiences among military families so whether they are across the street or across the country, they always have a friendly connection.

By Maggie Rochon

Please check back with us as we bring you more “Where Are They Now” stories from our previous Military Child of the Year Award winners and their families.

Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making the Military Child of the Year Award program possible. We’re also grateful to the following additional sponsors: Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, MidAtlantic Broadband, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Veterans United Home Loans, Under Armour, Tutor.com and Military Times. #MCOY2018

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We caught up with Juanita Collins, Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year® Award for the Coast Guard in 2014. She has been attending University of South Florida, where she is a junior, majoring in biomedical sciences. She plans to graduate in fall 2019, and is still determining her post-graduation plans. She is a second-year resident assistant, president of the National Residence Hall Honorary, and recently joined an acapella singing group. She also has a shadowing position at Bayside Urgent Care Center in Clearwater, Florida. Juanita thanked Operation Homefront for helping make all this possible, and shares what she learned from other award recipients — and shares some advice of her own :

OH: What has been the biggest change in your life since receiving the award

JC: The biggest change in my life since 2014 has definitely been the transition into college life and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s quite different living on your own and learning how to be independent. I absolutely love my school. Through my undergraduate experience so far, I have learned a lot about myself and about life in general.

OH: Tell us about a fond memory you have from traveling to Washington, D.C., for the gala.

JC: My favorite memory from the Washington trip for gala weekend was probably being up on the stage with my family to receive my award. Throughout that trip, I knew it was special because I was able to share that experience and accomplishment with the people who meant the most to me. It wouldn’t have been the same without them.

OH: You have always been an active volunteer with various organizations. Do you still have time to volunteer, or to help military families?

JC: My most recent plan to help military families is to volunteer at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Tampa, Florida, when I have time during the weekends. The VA hospital is very close to my school, so that is the least I can do to pay it forward.

OH: Have other military children ever given you advice you valued?

JC: My favorite piece of advice that I’ve gotten from another military child is to be giving. The other recipients from 2014 all displayed such giving hearts, and that’s something I always admired. For example, Kenzie Hall, the Army recipient, created a nonprofit to grant dream wishes to military kids who had a parent injured or killed in combat. That was something that I loved just seeing how young she was and how full of compassion; she was such an example. What I have learned is to always have a giving heart. No bad has ever come out of helping others.

OH: What advice would you give future MCOY award recipients?

JC: For future recipients, I would give the advice to have fun on your trip. It’s a great honor to be recognized, so continue to be awesome. Never take these opportunities for granted, and use the scholarship to do what you really want to do with your life, not what you think your parents want for you to do in school and what career they want for you, and not what you feel will impress your friends or make people think more highly of you. Use that scholarship and put that money toward what you’re passionate about, what you can imagine yourself doing for the rest of your life. Only you truly know that. But also, never doubt yourself. If you choose a major or career path that seems super hard, and you’re scared that you might not make it; go for it. Don’t be afraid to reach a goal because of the time it’ll take to accomplish; the time will pass anyway. Work hard and be determined, and stay focused! Hold that title with pride.

OH: What would you say to your past or future self?

JC: I wish I could say the above advice to my past self. I really could have used this advice, but I’m glad that I learned it while life went on, even if it was the hard way. To my future self, I would like to say, “Wherever you are, I’m glad you’re there. I’m sure it was a tough path to get to where you are, and I’m proud of you.”

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Nominations are now open for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.

Our prestigious award will recognize 7 outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Six of them will represent a branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their achievements while facing the challenges of military family life. The 7th award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by Booz Allen Hamilton which will honor a young patriot who has designed a bold, creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.

Nominate today at http://bit.ly/2cKII81 Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

Recipients of the Military Child of the Year® awards will receive $10,000 and a trip to DC for our special awards gala. The recipient of the Innovation Award will receive a $10,000 cash award, donated gifts, and a trip to Washington, DC with a parent or guardian and assistance from Booz Allen Hamilton to advance their project. #MCOY2018

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Mark Newberry, our 2013 Military Child of the Year® for the Air Force, has had quite the journey. Since we last met him, he has pursued his passions that have taken him from the University of Michigan to a pending commission in the U.S. Air Force after graduation in December.

Today, Mark shares with us his incredible story of four years of “Fun, Free-falls, Field Training and Flying Along the Way.” We hope it inspires you as much as it has all of us here at Operation Homefront:

In 2013, I embarked on a journey across the country from Spokane, Washington, to begin school at the University of Michigan, and follow in my father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force ROTC program. (Editor’s Note: Col. Brian Newberry graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1991, and retired in 2014 as wing commander at Fairchild AFB, Washington.)

Meeting all the generals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the [Military Child of the Year] gala in Washington, D.C., and seeing the family-first culture of the military being celebrated there inspired me to jump full force into ROTC and do well. Over the next four years, both college and ROTC opened many unexpected doors for me. I started school studying chemistry and planned on being a surgeon. Life, as I had thought, was all planned out. I was doing research in the hospital for a cardiothoracic surgeon, examining what caused esophageal leaks after surgery. Even though my research was extremely exciting, both the hospital experience and organic chemistry convinced me that being a doctor wasn’t where my true passion lied.
At the same time, I was preparing to travel to Alabama and endure the Air Force’s four-week field training course, where cadets are put through an intense test of their leadership abilities. It was in the humid Alabama summer that I fell in love with a new side of the Air Force. So, I decided to try flying and got bit by the bug. I guess being a pilot was in my blood because I completed my first solo flight in a Cessna 172 later that summer.

Returning to school as an upperclassman brought more challenging classes and an increase in the responsibilities I held in my ROTC detachment. It was in these new roles that I grew as a leader, where as a group commander and later vice wing commander, I focused on creating a family-like atmosphere mirroring the same environment that I grew up in as a military child. I also had the opportunity to learn martial arts with the Marine ROTC program, and take those same abilities back to Alabama to be trained as an Air Force senior combatives instructor, where I taught martial arts to cadets at field training. My senior year surprised me with two more opportunities that previously I could only dream of. First, I received a pilot’s slot to attend undergraduate pilot training following graduation. Second, I was able to attend free-fall parachute training at the Air Force Academy, where I successfully completed five free-fall jumps to earn my jump wings. Now, I return to school for one final semester before I graduate in December with a degree in neuroscience and a commission in the world’s greatest Air Force.

One of the greatest honors of my life so far was representing the Air Force in 2013 as an Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year®. I grew up living the Air Force lifestyle, and as a military child, moved ten times in 18 years. I was lucky. I’m now 22 and before the age of 20, I got to travel all around the country. I stood at the base of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, ran along the beaches of Charleston, South Carolina, woke up to the sight of Mount Rainier in Washington, and lived next door to our nation’s capital. I also had the chance to meet people from every walk of life, many of whom are lifelong friends. However, it wasn’t always easy. The most difficult part of growing up came toward the end of my high school years. With my father deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, for my entire junior year, I had to step up for my family. While balancing school and athletics, I had to also be the pillar that supported my mom and brother, which proved to be challenging at times. Then, upon my Dad’s return home, it was time to move again, this time away from my closest childhood friends and right before my senior year, to a smaller, more rural school.

Mark and family at the Military Child of the Year® awards gala in D.C., 2013.

If you would have told me as a high school senior that I would be chosen to represent military children at the Operation Homefront gala, meet the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, and receive an Air Force ROTC scholarship that would afford me opportunities to study what I love, jump out of planes, and become a pilot, I wouldn’t have believed you. Being a military child has afforded me so many opportunities that not many children get to experience. For example, the drastic change in cultures between my school in Virginia and the new one in Washington at times were frustrating to deal with. However, there were many opportunities at my new school that allowed me to be a leader and to help fellow military children that I wouldn’t have had at my old school. At a small school full of military children, they all immediately looked to me, since I was the “commander’s kid.” So I led the only way I knew how, by example. I immersed myself with the cross country and track teams, took an active role in the leadership team, and strived to excel in the classroom as I prepared to apply for colleges. Even though I lived in a fishbowl environment, where every move I made was under a microscope, I made sure that my actions illustrated the high expectations I held for myself. Then, going forward into college, I used that same mindset to lead by example and strive for achievement.

My father nominated me for Military Child of the Year® for staying positive throughout all the moves, epitomizing what military kids go through, where they say, “OK, let’s do this,” and make the best of any situation while their parents serve.

My experiences as a military child are just a snapshot of the sacrifices continuously made by military children. Looking back, I am thankful for the challenges and the opportunities that being a military child gave me. I learned how to adapt, how important family is, and how incredibly blessed I am to be an American. It was at the end of my high school career that I started to realize how my experiences as a military child had shaped me.

For all the military children out there, seize those opportunities. Because of them, I will soon be soaring the big blue skies! Thank you, Operation Homefront, for all that you do to support military families and their children, and helping them follow their dreams!

-Mark

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Operation Homefront’s annual Military Child of the Year® awards recognize six outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Each of them represent a branch of the armed forces for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life. There is a seventh award for a young person age 13-18. This award is the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation® presented by Booz Allen Hamilton. 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 of this award shows the power of innovative thinking.

Nominations now open for:
2018 Military Child of the Year®
2018 Military Child of the Year® Innovation Award

 

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Brittany with her stepfather, Bobby Henline.

In April 2009, Brittany (Wallace) Strout was a 17-year-old high school senior in San Antonio, who had decided to attend University of Northern Colorado, a 17-hour-drive from home. The daughter of a wounded soldier, she planned to study psychology to learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder so she could help veterans and their families.

Meanwhile, Operation Homefront had just launched a new award to recognize the extraordinary contributions of military children. Receiving 450 nominations for Military Child of the Year® , a panel of judges would select only one recipient.

That first Military Child of the Year®  was Brittany. Two years earlier, at the age of 15, she had taken on much greater family responsibilities after her stepfather, Robert “Bobby” Henline, then an Army staff sergeant, was severely burned in a roadside bombing at the start of his fourth deployment to Iraq in 2007.

When Bobby was wounded, the family was living near Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. While Brittany’s mother, Connie Henline, traveled to be with her husband at what is now San Antonio Military Medical Center, Brittany helped care for her brother, then 9, and sister, then 8, with the help of relatives in North Carolina.

After Brittany and her siblings joined their parents in San Antonio three months later, Brittany got her provisional driver’s license so she could drive her brother and sister to and from school and appointments, all while going through her junior year of school herself. Connie was often at the hospital, or once Bobby was released months later, spending seven to nine hours a day on wound care.

“It was hard for my parents, especially my father, to balance that I was still his baby; yet I had grown up so quickly in such a short time,” Brittany said.

Today, Brittany, who turns 26 on Sept. 25, works with military families as assistant house manager at the Lackland AFB, Texas, Fisher House, part of a network of homes near military and Veterans Affairs hospitals where families can stay for free while a loved one receives treatment. She loves the job because “we stayed at the Fisher House when my dad was injured, so it’s kind of all coming back full circle.”

Receiving Military Child of the Year®, which now recognizes seven outstanding youth each year for scholarship, volunteerism and leadership while facing the challenges of military life, was a “big shock to the entire family,” Brittany said, adding that Operation Homefront “put down the red carpet” for their trip to Washington, D.C., to accept the award. “It was an amazing weekend for me and my family,” she said, with a highlight being a tour of the White House where they got to meet Michelle Obama and the first family’s dog, Bo. In 2010, Brittany and her father appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show with Michelle Obama and former vice president Joe Biden, who each got to pick a special guest. The first lady chose Brittany.

“When you think about the hard times in anyone’s life, you just get through the day. You don’t have time to think whether this is the right thing, or the wrong thing, you just do it,” she said. “Now, looking back at it, … I now know … that not everyone would do that, but a lot of military children would. They would step up. They would be the caregiver.”

“So many other organizations should be awarding these military children because they don’t have a choice,” Brittany continued. Their mom, dad, uncle or other family member made the choice, she said, but “the child is not given a choice.” “Their sacrifice just comes with the territory.”

She didn’t fully realize it at the time, but receiving the Military Child of the Year® award helped Brittany define herself, as media interviewers and others asked her about her role as her father started his long healing process that has involved more than 40 surgeries, amputating his left hand, and turning to stand-up comedy and motivational speaking.

That time in their lives would have a profound effect on Brittany’s choices. She graduated from University of Northern Colorado in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a major she chose because she was fascinated by post-traumatic stress disorder and how war affects soldiers differently. She wanted to learn more about why military members “like so much adrenalin,” and when returning home from deployment, “why do some excel, and some, honestly, give up on life.”

She starts in January a master’s program in social work at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. She needs an advanced degree so she can counsel wounded service members and their families, a choice shaped by her own family’s experience. Ultimately, she wants to be a wounded warrior case manager at Randolph AFB, Texas.

Brittany, Billy and their daughter, Addison, 3.

Brittany also is a newlywed, married to Billy, whom she met just before traveling to Washington, D.C., for the Military Child of the Year ceremony, and the mother of a 3-year-old girl, Addison Hope. In the next five months, she’s a bridesmaid in four friends’ weddings — two in San Antonio, one in Nebraska and one in Hawaii.

Brittany said she’s thankful to have a great support system between her family and Billy’s because life will become even more demanding once her master’s program starts. Their daughter keeps them on their toes.

“She has so much attitude,” Brittany said. “I don’t know where she gets it from. She is a spitfire.” Addison corrects her mother’s driving, Brittany said. She has been walking since she was eight months old, and she taught herself to swim.

Asked about advice for other military children and future Military Child of the Year® award recipients, Brittany said: “The most important thing … is to always take care of yourself in order to be the best mother, wife, friend, coworker. You have to nurture every aspect of your life to be the best in any one of them.

“I travel a lot because that’s what makes me happy,” she said. “I can’t be a great example to my daughter if I’m not happy.”

“I think it’s so amazing that Operation Homefront awards, now, seven awards to these children who are just trying to get through so many different obstacles that they are put through that other kids are not.”

In each of the first two years of Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year® program, the nonprofit organization named only one awardee. Starting in 2011, judges selected a child representing each branch of the military for a total of five awards. In 2015, Operation Homefront added the National Guard, for a total of six awards. And in 2016, a seventh award was added, the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by Booz Allen Hamilton. This award is given for designing a bold, creative solution to a local, regional or global challenge, such as an invention, improvement to existing technology, or creation or expansion of a nonprofit or community service group. Operation Homefront and sponsors present the awards, including a $10,000 cash prize and other gifts, at a gala in April, the Month of the Military Child.

Military kids may not see the challenges in their lives as potential obstacles to overcome at the time, but those successes will serve them well later professionally and personally, Brittany said. She also emphasized the value of higher education. “I can’t stress to children [enough] how important college is, not only in the career field but also for personal growth. You can never be too educated, not just in academics, but in life,” she said.

Choosing a Colorado college was the right step for her, she said. Her family had been stationed in Colorado Springs when she was in eighth and ninth grades, and Brittany kept in touch with some friends she met there. She joined Sigma Kappa, becoming the sorority’s vice president of communications and then, in her senior year, its president.

“It was what I needed. I needed to have fun,” she said. “I needed to focus on myself, and I definitely got to do that in Colorado.”


Nominations are now being taken for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.  Anyone can nominate…teachers, friends, parents, grandparents.  Click here to nominate. 

Help us promote it on Facebook and Twitter so we can reach as many families as possible.  Use #MCOY2018 to join the conversation. Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

We can’t wait to be inspired by your nominations!

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Fire up your keyboards and help us honor the achievements and contributions of our country’s military children.

Nominations are now open for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.

Now in its 10th year, our prestigious award will recognize 7 outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Anyone can nominate. And we mean anyone: Mom, Dad, siblings, grandparents, besties, teachers, pastors, coaches, neighbors, employers…you name it. Let’s rally and share the stories of our amazing military kids.

New or never heard of Military Child of the Year? Well, here are some details:

Six military children will be awarded the Military Child of the Year Award, one for each branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their achievements while facing the challenges of military family life .  The seventh award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by our friends at Booz Allen Hamilton.

To give you an idea of some of those challenges, the average Military Child of the Year® Award Nominee has moved four times or more and experienced at least one parent deploy for a combined 29 months or more*. (And we have recipients with dual military parents!)

Some of our past Military Child of the Year® award recipients have dealt with serious and life threatening health issues, suffered loss, become caregivers to wounded parents, or stepped up in major ways to support their families through deployments and multiple relocations.  All the while, the stellar young men and women have maintained excellent grades, often with honors, excelled in sports, theatre and/or music, held leadership positions in school and community groups, and volunteered tremendous hours to causes near and dear to them.

You can read more about past recipients here.

The  Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation   goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge. Last year’s recipient built, planted, maintained and harvested 22 raised vegetable gardens at low-income daycare centers and shelters in their local community, and another provided accessibility ramps and other home modifications to children’s homes, which are not covered by Tricare, the military health insurance .

Recipients of the MCOY awards will receive $10,000 and a trip to DC for our special awards gala (see pics from last year). The recipient of the Innovation Award will receive $10,000, a trip for DC for the gala and assistance from Booz Allen Hamilton to advance their project.

Nominate today your favorite military kid today!  Help us promote it  on Facebook and Twitter so we can reach as many families as possible.  Use #MCOY2018 to join the conversation. Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

We can’t wait to be inspired by your nominations!

*2017 nominee average

 

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