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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our 2020 MCOY winners are:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Pierce Corson, our 2020 Military Child of the Year for the Coast Guard, is dedicated to spreading mental health awareness for young people. The 17-year-old senior at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has conducted research published in a Harvard University-affiliated journal, and also donned a llama mascot costume for a parade while volunteering with a national nonprofit.

Coast Guard_Pierce Corson 1

That commitment, plus his leadership skills in academia and sports, were the top reasons that Pierce’s school counselor, volleyball coach and principal worked together to nominate him for the award. They are also traits found in the Corson family. He is the son of veteran Coast Guard Capt. Caleb Corson, who retired after 30 years of service, and Dr. Tyler Corson, a gerontologist. Pierce’s brother Roark was the 2018 MCOY recipient.

Pierce became interested in mental health issues due to his own struggles with stress from academic pressures, his father’s deployments, and nine family moves. He also saw stress in his friends at school.

He published a research project about mental health and stress among teens in the Journal of Emerging Investigators. Pierce also worked with the Virginia Department of Education committee to include mental health topics in the state standards of learning curriculum.

He has volunteered for more than three years with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Coastal Virginia affiliate, including serving as a panelist for NAMI’s Say it Out Loud program, which combats mental health stigma for teens.

Pierce loves learning languages. He is nearly fluent in Spanish and studied Mandarin at a local Chinese school where he met with his teacher for weekly tutoring and language exchange to help her learn English.

He was awarded a scholarship from the U.S. State Department and spent the summer studying Mandarin at Wenzao University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. He said the flexibility he learned as a military child helped him succeed in his experiences abroad.

“I had to juggle attending classes for eight hours daily, multiple hours of homework, maintaining physical fitness for the upcoming volleyball season, and adjusting to a culture and lifestyle that was completely different to what I was used to,” Pierce said. “My saving grace ended up being the adaptability that I had acquired as a result of so many military moves. I was able to quickly find a rhythm in daily life and form strong habits and a social network that took a lot of the pressure off of me and allowed me to flourish for the duration of the scholarship.” Coast Guard_Pierce Corson 2

Pierce is a talented athlete who helps develop younger players on his volleyball team. He enjoys weightlifting, Chinese calligraphy, customizing shoes, speed-solving Rubik’s Cubes, and streaming Spanish and Mandarin TV shows. He plans on attending the University of Virginia next year as an Echols Scholar and pursue Chinese and International Relations.

Favorite quote: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” -from a poem by Dylan Thomas

Service/Leadership Highlights: 

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Volunteer
  • National Honor Society
  • STARTALK Volunteer
  • Tidewater Chinese School Volunteer
  • Andrew Food Bank Volunteer
  • Ocean Lakes HS Biology Club
  • Ocean Lakes HS Principal’s Student Advisory Board
  • Ocean Lakes HS Math and Science Academy Representative

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

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linked In 

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

Read previous 2020 recipient profiles:

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

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

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

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

Kristina Lee, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the National Guard

Kainath Kamil, 2020 Military Child of the Year® for Innovation

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When one meets Roark Corson, our 2018 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year®, there is no doubt that the future is in good hands.

“The movers and shakers of the world are not afraid to do things outside of their comfort zones or afraid to go to previously uncharted territory. The people who do great things for their communities and other people are courageous and willing to risk their safety and comfort for others. My dad exemplified that in his Coast Guard career, whether it was literally going into unfamiliar waters in a 378-foot cutter or working to support his crew members in new and unique endeavors. I know that in order for me to make an impact on my own community in the future, I will have to take bold action that may be frightening,“ he shared.

Roark demonstrates that ethos in everything he does. He is an academic superstar at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, VA, with a weighted GPA of 4.512 as an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction. He is a National Merit Scholarship finalist and has achieved something common to only 0.1% of high school students … a perfect 36 on the ACT.

In 2017, Roark won first place at the regional Tidewater Robotics and Maker Entrepreneur Challenge, which focused on designing and 3D printing an assistive technology device and devising product business and marketing plans. He also received the prestigious Princeton Book Award in 11th grade. Also in his junior year, Roark won first place in the Environmental Science category in the regional science fair, and his research has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Emerging Investigators.

While his academic resume is impressive, so is his dedication to serve others.

Roark has a passion for public speaking and is proud to use his voice to speak out about youth mental illness. Roark lost two friends to suicide in three years. In response, he began volunteering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the I Need a Lighthouse (suicide prevention) Foundation (INAL). He manages NAMI’s online calendar, raises funds, participates in teen conferences, and is a featured speaker for events that raise awareness of and dispel stigma surrounding youth depression and suicide. He was awarded the 2018 Helen P. Shropshire Human Rights Youth Award by the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission for his mental health advocacy work.

An Eagle scout, Roark has been involved with food, clothing and blanket drives at the family’s various duty stations, and his Eagle Scout project was building a butterfly garden in the courtyard of an inner-city K-12 school in Charleston, S.C.

As a member of the high school crew team, Roark earned two varsity letters and was elected captain his senior year.

As he graduates this year and heads off to college, Roark would like to pursue a career in law, as it offers him a way to combine his many talents and passion to empower others and better his community.

Roark is the son of Capt. Caleb Corson and Dr. Tyler Corson of Virginia Beach, VA.

See highlights from Roark’s long list of achievements:

Meet all of our seven Military Child of the Year® recipients and be sure to join us on Facebook on Thursday, April 19 at 7 pm EST for a live feed of the very special awards gala honoring our outstanding Military Child of the Year recipients. Thank you to our presenting sponsor United Technologies for making it 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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By John Pray, President & Chief Executive Officer
Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

It’s exciting to be able to see into the future. I had this rare opportunity when I had the privilege of spending time with seven exceptional military teens this week as we honored our Military Child of the Year ® recipients at our special gala in Washington DC.

Sophie, Henderson, Jamal, Jackson, Alexander, Mary and Molly – each one of these amazing young adults possesses a remarkable spirit: the spirit of selfless service that defines our great nation.

Their spirit shined as they dealt with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other uncertainties and challenges that often characterize military family life.

They have developed an inner compass that points them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate, and to serve others in their own communities.

They are extraordinary representatives of the nearly two million military children who serve all of us alongside their parents.

Our special guest for the evening, Ellyn Dunford, wife of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford, expressed her admiration so well when she described our seven honorees:

“When you look at this year’s recipients, you’ll find an impressive example of what these kids have to offer. They volunteer extensively both in military and civilian communities, scouting and church groups, a variety of school programs and academic excellence clubs. They overcome adversity and then helped others through the same problems. They excel in sports and music. They mentor other kids. They advocate for military families and veterans’ groups. They feed their community. They provide clothing and comfort to others. Especially comfort to the parent (who remains behind). They have taken the phrase, ‘it’s in our power’ and they are living it out. They (might) just be the next greatest generation.”

I couldn’t agree more. When you are fortunate enough to interact with a special group of young people like this, you are confident that the future of our country is in good hands.

Our honorees this year are all in their late teens – they may have just been learning to walk or talk in 2002 when an informal network of military spouses first got together to support one another during post 9/11 deployments to create the organization we now know as Operation Homefront.

We’ve grown tremendously over the past 15 years, and while the world has changed significantly our mission, our promise – to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect – still drives us all.
I am proud to tell you that thanks to your support, we are making a real difference. You help us honor our military children, those who don’t have a voice in where their family will be transferred, but who certainly seize each new opportunity to focus on making a meaningful difference in whatever community they call “home.”

At Operation Homefront, one of our core values is gratitude so I need to thank those who made this year’s Military Child of the Year® celebration a huge success:

• Ellyn Dunford, our keynote speaker, who clearly articulated our collective admiration for the resiliency of our military families and the key role military children play as they serve all of us alongside their parents;
• Andre’ McMillian, representing our presenting sponsor United Technologies Corporation and all of our other sponsors who made this evening’s celebration possible;
• The one and only John Heald, Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Lines, who cleverly orchestrated the night’s program as our emcee;
• The USO Show Troupe who provided an entertaining military salute;
• America’s Tenor, and my friend, Danny Rodriguez;
• And special thanks to the entire Operation Homefront family for all they have done and continue to do to build strong, stable and secure military families.

To all our 2017 honorees – I know your parents, families, AND communities are so proud of you — WE are proud of you too.

We look forward to next year and our 10th annual Military Child of the Year® Awards ceremony!

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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keegan-fike-coast-guardIn the tradition of many of our Military Child of the Year recipients, Keegan Fike makes time to make a difference.

It would be easy to label Keegan, who plans to pursue a career in the field of mathematics and is a member of the National Honor Society, as a consummate scholar. But his analytical mind is equally matched by the size of his heart.

Keegan found his focus in helping others through the Boy Scouts, and it also provided the opportunity for Keegan to step up and lead. To give back with his Eagle Scout project, Keegan restored five weather-beaten and rusted cannons at Fort Phoenix, a national landmark Fort that overlooks the bay where the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War was fought.

Keegan also has a creative side. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Boston/New England honored Keegan with an excellence award for a high school media production titled “My Hero Is …,” for which he was a photographer and editor.

A young man committed to his faith, Keegan also devotes time to service at his church.

Keegan has endured 125 months of his father’s deployment and has experienced six military permanent change of station relocations. His favorite quote by Marcus Aurelius reflects a common belief that we see among many of our military children as to what sustains them: “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” Keegan said this quote helped him to “stay positive,” adding, “All my life, I have tried to be happy and be a reassuring force for my peers. The positive state of mind I try to keep helps me stay focused and be the best I can be.”

Keegan is the son of Rebecca Fike and Coast Guard Lt. Brent Fike of Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

 

This week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

Our heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor United Technologies, and all of our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award sponsors, for making this annual award one of the highlights of our year.  Your support allows us to bring the stories of our military families to the forefront, making a difference in raising awareness of the challenges they face in protecting our nation.

 

 

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