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One of the reasons we created the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year® award program is to honor the resilience and strength of the youngest members of a military family who are along for the ride as their parents protect our freedom. It’s not an easy life. But the way most military kids carry themselves shows that they have endured, and survived, some very tough times. Multiple moves. Deployments. Sickness and injury that may affect a family member or themselves.

This year’s award recipients took some time to share how they get through tough times…to let other kids know that they struggle too and to inspire them to persevere.

Their words of advice are remarkable…read on:

 

Moving to a different place can be exciting, but with that comes the challenge of being the new kid in school and having to make new friends. Not knowing where you fit in within the social arena of school life (is hard). The thing that gets me through those tough times is running, or walking outside. Doing any activity outside helps me relieve stress and relax.
Jamal Braxton, 18, Air Force Military Child of the Year

 

 

I always would pack my schedule full during any tough time I would face. I would try new activities that would take up my free time, so that I had no time to think about what was causing that tough time, such as deployment.- Molly Frey, 16, National Guard Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

In times of trial, I find comfort in the fact that I’ve already faced and overcome some of life’s greatest challenges, and doing so is not abnormal, but my continual reality. –Henderson Heussner, 18, Army Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

My family (is) very close because of all the moves we have done. No matter how I am feeling I can always count on my family to be there and cheer me up. -Mary Kate Cooper, 17, Coast Guard Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like to exercise when I am frustrated or irritated.- Sophie Bernstein, 17, Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several things keep me together during hard times. Two of them are my dogs. They sit with me and love me no matter what I do. It is relaxing to sit there and pet them. Another factor is my family; they discuss my options with me and keep me on track.- Jackson Beatty, 18, Marine Corps Military Child of the Year

 

 

 

The support of my family, especially my mother, who has served as the anchor of my family while we have moved from place to place. My mom is a huge inspiration to me, and the soul of our family. It is because of her support that we have been so successful. I also had great personal consistency through my participation in the Boy Scouts of America. While there were many different things in the places I lived, the Scouting program always allowed me to have a home where I could easily participate in familiar activities and have an instant group of friends in a new location. – Alexander McGrath, 17, Navy Military Child of the Year

 

Find out more about this year’s recipients, take a look at more pictures from this year’s event or watch the 2017 Facebook Live presentation of our awards ceremony

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Molly Frey faces her fears with fervor. Our 2017 National Guard Military Child of the Year said she first felt the impact of being a military kid when her dad, Senior Master Sergeant Kim Frey (ret), deployed to Iraq for the first time.

“This growing sadness and worry I developed was very difficult to explain to my school friends.Most children without a military background don’t understand deployment, and how it affects a family. He was a half a world away, and there was nothing we could do about it,” reflected Molly.

But that wasn’t all. Through her father’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Molly also faced the military demands facing her mother, Senior Master Sergeant Renee Frey, who serves in the Air National Guard. At times, she was without both parents

But Molly didn’t shrink back in fear…she let it serve as her motivation to excel in life. “I never let my grades slip, nor did I ever let his deployments stop me from accomplishing many things. I started Tribute to the Troops (an ice skating event in her area of Ohio) in honor of my father and to all the military. I took what is difficult for children to handle and used it to bounce back and give back to the military community,” said Molly.

On top of all of this, Molly was still able to maintain academic excellence, keep a 4.0 or higher..

“I have NEVER seen anyone her age exhibit the dedication she does to everything,” said Molly’s supervisor when she was an assistant sailing instructor at Leatherlips Yacht Club’s children’s camp. “On windy days, I have seen her rescue 20 capsized boats and be so tired that I had to lift her into the pontoon boat, just to watch her dive off again to rescue another. She would take charge of the students during boat rigging time to ensure that everything was done correctly.  Molly is a remarkable young lady.”

Molly’s favorite saying is by author Suzy Kassem,   “Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.”  She says it reminds her when she wants to try something new or if something scares her, to push herself to do it.

She’s received the President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence twice. In a letter to Molly, ,   President Barack Obama wrote, “Students like you will chart the course of our country’s unwritten history, and I commend you for setting a powerful example for all young Americans.”

Molly also raised funds and participated for five years in Skate for Hope accumulating over $6,000 for Breast Cancer Research. Molly served in the leadership group “Students Serving Students (S3)” designed to improve character, school climate, organize events and an anti-bullying group to formulate ideas to prevent bullying in school. Molly has also performed in the professional Columbus Ohio BalletMet Nutcracker three years. She was selected as 2012 Miss Greene Countrie Towne Junior Miss to be involved in community events.

She also plays the piano, golfs, and figure skates.  She also finds time to volunteer at her local hospital allowing her to shadow medical personnel, because she is determined to be a cardio thoracic heart surgeon.

No doubt, Molly will make a way!

 

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

 

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Scholar. Mentor. World Class Athlete.

There does not appear to be much that Mary Kate Cooper cannot do when she sets her mind to it. She embodies a “can-do” spirit that not only propels her towards excellence but lifts the spirits of those around her

“One thing I learned in life is you cannot control the situations you face, but you can control how you react to them,” she writes.

Mary Kate is a below-the-knee amputee from birth who has only known life with a prosthetic leg.

But rather than limit her, Mary Kate pushes those limits. Breaks them. She sets the bar high, reaches it, and then sets it even higher.

In addition to maintain a weighted 4.7 GPA in accelerated coursework, Mary Kate still finds time to mentor other children with disabilities while competing athletically at the highest levels of Paralympic sport. In addition to earning All-American High School status in track and field from the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Olympic Committee, Mary Kate has become a top swimmer, competing on the international level in the Can-Am Swimming Open and she was one of the few athletes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Trials in more than one sport. In her best swimming event, she finished 2016 ranked 36th in the world. Mary Kate also actively volunteers to mentor numerous other junior amputees, and she was recognized for her efforts with the Spirit of Excellence Award at the National Junior Disability Championship.

About life as a military child, Mary Kate writes, “Being a Military Kid is a very unique opportunity that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have been able to travel and meet amazing people all over the country. Additionally, being part of the military is like being part of a family, everyone has each other’s back.”

“I can only speak for myself, and I have been very lucky to have met kind, supportive people wherever we have been stationed. I do believe it’s important for all Americans to recognize, that in addition to the active duty member that serves, the entire family makes a commitment and sacrifices as well.”

Mary Kate credits her parents, Captain Thomas Cooper and Lynn Cooper, for teaching her to never give up. “We are very close because of all the moves we have done. No matter how I am feeling I can always count on my family to be there and cheer me up.”

As is her way, Mary Kate thinks of others when discussing the honor of representing the Coast Guard as Military Child of The Year ® “I think everyone goes through hard times and you could find a reason to give every military child an award. Overall, I am excited and honored to have been chosen to represent the United States Coast Guard.”

 

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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It would not surprise anyone who knows Alexander McGrath that his favorite quote is from the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis:

“In a democracy, the most important office is the office of citizen.”

Alexander, our Military Child of the Year ® 2017 for the U.S. Navy shares why this quote motivates him. “This quote is powerful to me as it is a reminder of the vital importance of citizenship,” Alexander writes. “As a member of a military family, I am aware of the costs of freedom. This makes the quote especially important as it speaks to the importance of being active in your community and taking seriously the responsibilities which go along with citizenship.”

He continues, “I feel a very deep connection to this country. It also gives me a sense of responsibility to work to better my community, as I appreciate the things which our service members do and the sacrifices they and their families have made. Out of appreciation for the sacrifices of my father and countless other service members, I feel both a sense of pride and a responsibility to make the most of the freedoms, liberties and opportunities afforded to us in this country.”

Though he is not even eligible to vote yet, this incredible young man has taken the idea of service to others to heart. Already, this senior from Severna Park, MD High School has established a laudable track record of influencing public policy in the state of Maryland.

As a legislative aide to the assistant majority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, Alexander helped craft police reform and juvenile justice agendas. 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. Ultimately, all three bills got to committee and two became law.

Alexander has also long advocated on behalf of students from military families, personally bringing the needs of military children to the Maryland State Board of Education’s attention, notably those needs protected under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.

“While there is tremendous support already for military families, there is still work to be done,” he writes. “Education professionals, especially administrators at local schools need to be aware of the unique challenges military children face and respond with flexibility and support.”

The son of Capt. Richard McGrath and Jessica McGrath, Alexander has been accepted to three of our nation’s top universities: Yale University, the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Building on a youth steeped in public policy-making, Alexander is destined to make a difference in citizens’ lives in any path that he pursues.

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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Henderson Heussner arrived in Florida under circumstances that were less than ideal.

His father, Col. Todd Heussner, had just deployed to Afghanistan He was leaving behind Colorado, a place he loved and all of his friends behind. And the move was motivated by obligation and compassion – Henderson and his family needed to take care of his grandfather who had terminal brain cancer.

But 18-year-old Henderson, recently named Operation Homefront’s 2017 Army Military Child of the Year® saw the struggles he was facing as an opportunity to grow. “Life is inherently challenging, and being able to work through obstacles and adversity with a level head is a serious asset,” says Henderson.

And work is exactly what Henderson did. The baseball coach was the only person at his new high school that Henderson knew. Henderson loved baseball and decided to pour his heart into the sport as it helped alleviate the stress of knowing his father was at war and seeing his grandfather battle cancer.

Every day after school, Henderson spent time in the batting cages and on the baseball field working out in the oppressive August heat. A couple of other kids noticed him and joined him. Henderson’s spirit and attitude started influencing the entire team and soon they were all getting ready for the season with extra effort. Quietly shouldering a burden that no one else knew about, Henderson built a reputation as a humble leader who set an example for others to emulate. In his sophomore season, Henderson broke two of his vertebrae but his work ethic and determination served him well as he battled back into top condition to continue playing.

Henderson credits his military upbringing with building strength and resiliency. “A military upbringing possesses inherent struggles. Overcoming these struggles is certainly not easy, but it has undoubtedly provided the most rewarding experiences of my life. To think that I’ve already faced some of life’s greatest troubles early on is encouraging, and inspires me to keep living life boldly,” said Henderson.

Henderson has excelled at baseball and academics, achieving a 5.14 GPA on a 4.0 scale and earning many college credits in the process. But Henderson’s achievements don’t stop at baseball or academics.

Henderson has also devoted 240 volunteer hours 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 (name town?).

Through Treats for the Troops, Henderson has collected, packaged and shipped more than 500 boxes to deployed service members. Henderson channeled his love for baseball to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges to enjoy the game through Challenger Little League and he has helped get baseball equipment to kids in the Dominican Republic.

A Rotary Club Scholar, Henderson also has volunteered for the Harry Chapin Food Bank, San Carlos Little League, Special Olympics, Family Readiness Group, and he has participated in fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy treatment and research and collected and distributed school supplies for kids in Honduras.

Henderson says his father’s service helps him stay focused. “I’m indescribably proud of my father and what he does. Knowing that, every day, he’s doing work that is shifting the trajectory of the world is a source of inspiration and motivation for me, “said Henderson. “I would advise (military kids) not to see disadvantages (of military life) as innately bad, but to see them as opportunities to create growth in themselves and the community.”

 

Operation Homefront would like to thank presenting sponsor, United Technologies, for their support of Military Child of the Year®.  Support from companies like United Technologies and all of our MCOY sponsors is invaluable in helping us showing appreciation for the contributions our military families make to our communities.

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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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Operation Homefront is accepting 2017 Military Child of the Year nominations through Dec. 5, 2016. There will be 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. A child can be nominated and apply for both awards. We encourage it! Nominate here

mcoy2017rerunGoogle “military kids”, and you’ll find there’s no shortage of research and statistics available about the impact of the military life on the children who live it. How many times the average military child can expect to move. How many schools the average military child can expect to attend. How many deployments the average military child can expect to face.

But those statistics don’t tell us who they really are. YOU DO. And they aren’t average. They are extraordinary.

Every year, when we open nominations for our Military Child of the Year Award, we get forms filled with the pride and love of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, teachers, coaches and community members. Yes, they talk of accomplishments; GPAs, leadership positions, obstacles overcome. But they also talk about the little things that matter the most. The smile that lifts up those around them. The jokester that keeps the family on their toes. The one who knows just when a hug is needed. The artist. The musician. The ever energetic powerhouse and the budding philosophers.

Quiet courage and strength that speaks volumes. They aren’t just making the best of what military life handed them….they’re owning it. With zest and joy and determination.

Which is why we always look forward to the opening of the annual nomination period for the Military Child of the Year Award. As part of our mission to raise awareness for the challenges faced by the children of our military families, we are always looking for the right words and message that captures just how terrific these kids are, and why it is so important to recognize them as a force behind the forces. For the past 8 years, we have truly had to look no further than you, our community, for the pride, love, and awe in your words as you share the stories of the youngest heroes in your lives.

mcoyblog2015familyHelp us tell the stories of who our military children really are. Anyone can nominate a military child in their life, so share with your friends, neighbors, schools, and community groups. One child from each branch will be honored in April at a special gala in our nation’s capitol. Recipients will also receive a laptop and a $10000 award.  The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation recipient will receive a $5,000 cash award, will benefit from mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance the winner’s project, and will be flown to Washington along with a parent or guardian to be recognized at the gala. So, fire up those keyboards!

To learn more about the Military Child of the Year and Innovation Awards, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. You can also find the nomination form here and FAQ here.

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