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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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For Jamal Braxton, 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award recipient for the U.S. Air Force, and future U. S. Air Force Academy Class of 2021 cadet, is always ready for a challenge . It begins with an unshakeable belief that there is always something that can be done, whether through service to others or endless compassion.

This empathy for others, to be fully engaged, also drives Jamal to serve others. Both at home and abroad, Jamal has been active in and outside of the base gates. In the U.S. and overseas, he has championed the nonprofit New Eyes for the Needy, which purchases new eyeglasses for U.S. residents and distributes used eyeglasses to the disadvantaged in developing countries. In the current school year alone, Jamal has obtained 160 eyeglasses and 70 lenses for the nonprofit.

In addition to enduring the relocations and deployments of his father, Jamal has also known loss. Two of his school-age friends have passed too young, one to an auto accident and the other to a seizure. These experiences have driven him to embrace all that life has to offer while compelling him to give back and encouraging and supporting others to do the same.

While he acknowledges the obstacles inherent to military life, Jamal is poetic in describing the positive experiences he has had, particularly when describing the family’s time in Japan. “I personally loved living in Japan, because although they’re modern they appreciate nature to its fullest,” said Jamal. “Japan has shown me how to truly appreciate nature from their breath-taking scenery and by holding festivals like the Cherry Blossoms Festival and Hanami both appreciating the beauty of flowers.”

He has also been extremely active with the Red Cross at home and during his time in Germany. 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 said his time with the Red Cross has fueled his aspiration to be a neurosurgeon one day. “I have always had an interest in the function of the brain and its amazing abilities from simple tasks like our five senses to language comprehension,” said Jamal. “So, my passion for the brain and the wanting to help others has steered me to the field of Neurology.” He also educates youth on International Humanitarian Law.

Jamal doesn’t stop there. He is a varsity athlete in swimming, track and field and cross country, active in Scouting, and has a job as a lifeguard.

Jamal is the son of Master Sgt. Lawrence Braxton and Ahllam Braxton of Hill AFB, UT. With all he has accomplished to date, the sky is the limit for this young man.

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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mcoy15winnersOperation Homefront is pleased to announce the six recipients of the 2015 Military Child of the Year® Award.  The award is presented annually to an outstanding military child from each branch of service – Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard – and for the first time in 2015, the National Guard.

From a pool of nearly 500 nominees, each award recipient was chosen by a committee including active-duty and retired military personnel, spouses of senior military leaders, veteran service organization leadership, teachers, and community members.  The six awardees will receive $10,000 each, will receive a laptop computer and other donated gifts, and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition gala on April 16, 2015. The awards will be presented by senior leaders of each branch of service.

“We’re thrilled to honor these six outstanding young patriots with our Military Child of the Year Award,” said Tim Farrell, Chief Operating Officer for Operation Homefront.  “These awardees represent the strength of our military families, who sacrifice so much in service to our country.”

Following are the 2015 Military Child of the Year® Award recipients. Read more details about them here.

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