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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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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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lorelei-mcintyre-brewer-armyTen-year-old Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer has already faced more than most of us will in our lifetime.

Lorelei was born missing half of her heart, for which there is no cure, and her twin brother, Rory, passed away before the two were able to meet.  She underwent open heart surgery shortly after her birth at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Two more open heart surgeries would follow, and with her third, she fought her hardest battle yet. Lorelei’s lungs collapsed and she started to literally drown in fluid surrounding her heart and lungs.  After a long, grueling recovery, Lorelei survived her ordeal, but it changed her forever.  She became determined to make a difference.

At 5, she learned to sew in order to make compression heart pillows for pediatric open heart patients, aiding in their recovery from surgery.  She named her organization Heart Hugs and it spread like wildfire.

Heart Hugs works with children’s hospitals, orphanages, and individual families to provide these pillows at no cost to the patient and family, utilizing the kindness of volunteers around the world to help Lorelei ensure no child is turned away.

In addition to undergoing 21 medical procedures to date, Lorelei has also endured seven military-related relocations and has experienced a total of 36 months of her father being deployed. Lorelei’s favorite quote is “No matter what age you are, or what your circumstances might be, you are special, and you still have something unique to offer. Your life, because of who you are, has meaning.” Explaining how that quote applies to her, Lorelei said, “I can be so many things and help so many people as long as I stay focused.”

No one would fault Lorelei for taking time for herself and focusing on her extraordinary challenges, but Lorelei is not even thinking about slowing down.  As she explained, “I am missing half of my heart and people sometimes think I can’t do anything, but I can.”  And she does. Lorelei maintains a 4.0 grade point average in school and also dedicates a great deal of time to causes dear to her. She participates in the Single Ventricle Survivorship Program, the Cardiac Kids Developmental Follow-Up Program, and the Single Ventricle Revision Study Program. Lorelei also helps with the program “Socks for Vets,” created by her brother Cavan, who was our 2015 Army Military Child of the Year.

Lorelei is the daughter of Michelle McIntyre-Brewer and Medical Service Corps Officer Capt. Steven Brewer.

For the next 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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Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 2015 U.S. Army Military Child of the Year.

Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 2015 U.S. Army Military Child of the Year.

We continue our series on our 2015 Military Child of the Year recipients with getting to know Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, Military Child of the Year, U.S. Army.

Cavan believes that service changes lives, makes them better. And he certainly walks the talk.

In addition to the challenges of military family life, the moves, the deployments, the separations, Cavan has had to face so much more. His younger brother, Rory, passed away when Cavan was four. His sister, Lorelei, also has serious health issues, being born with a heart condition. And now Cavan is facing his own health challenges, requiring significant treatment that is often painful.

But rather than withdrawing and focusing on himself (which would be understandable), Cavan channels his experiences and struggles into empathy for others, particularly veterans. A trip to a state veteran’s home had a profound effect on him. He noticed that the patients were tired, lonely, and missing essential items. So he was inspired to make a difference for veterans, starting his own organization, Socks for Vets. This organization collects socks and other donated items and distributes them to wounded warriors. He regularly serves the homeless and hungry veterans in his area, and annually travels to the National Mall in D.C. to distribute thousands of thank you cards to veterans on Veterans Day. All while maintaining an impressive 97 percent GPA at school.

After a visit to a veterans home, Cavan became a fierce advocate for our nation's veterans.

After a visit to a veterans home, Cavan became a fierce advocate for our nation’s veterans.

Cavan has found a voice in writing, and his words often reflect a maturity well beyond his years. He uses his talents to encourage others to get involved in their community, to raise awareness of the challenges faced by our veterans and wounded warriors. Much of his writing reflects a deep appreciation for the freedom we enjoy thanks to the sacrifices of our military families, past and present.

Cavan is the oldest child of Army Capt. Steven Brewer and Michelle McIntyre-Brewer. He has three siblings, sister Lorelei (9), brother Killian (2) and his brother Rory (deceased). His mother is a medical and military advocate and educator, and his father is a medical detachment Commander at Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic, Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Catch up with our Military Child of the Year spotlight series:

“An unwavering role model in the face of adversity”-Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.C.G., Caleb Parsons.

“Her humility, kindness, and candor inspire everyone she meets” –Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.A.F., Sarah Hesterman.

“The focus and discipline to stay the course.”-Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.N., Emily Kliewer.

“A Great Deal of Heart” -Military Child of the Year 2015, U.S.M.C., Christopher-Raul Rodriguez.

Learn more about Military Child of the Year, visit www.militarychildoftheyear.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for information about our gala and join us via livestream for the Military Child of the Year Award gala in D.C. on April 16, 2015.

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Surprise!

With a little help from her husband, we were able to surprise Hailey at home.

One minute, she was an average military wife at home on a Saturday morning. But this day was quite different, she was being given an experience most people only dream about. With the ring of the doorbell, Hailey Lorati found herself in the midst of balloons, flowers and photographers, being whisked away in a limousine. “I remember being so excited that I was shaking and just happy,” said Hailey.

First stop was a local bridal store to pick out any dress she wanted, thanks to a donation from an anonymous donor. The last time Hailey picked out a dress for herself was the day before her wedding. Like many military wives, she was young and in love but didn’t have much money for a big fancy wedding. Her best friend and she went to a shop the day before her wedding, looked at the clearance section and picked out a dress that would fit. But now, not only could she choose her dress, but shoes and jewelry to match. The VIP experience continued on to a spa for a manicure and pedicure. And she visited a local salon to have her hair and makeup done. “My husband was the last person to give me a haircut, so it was pretty messy,” said Hailey.

Operation Homefront hosts Homefront Celebrations to honor military spouses at spots around the country every year. When Hailey signed up to attend our Homefront Celebration at the beautiful Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Wash., she indicated she wanted to be considered for a scholarship from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), our partner for this event. In spite of the challenges of military life, her husband being away a lot and having children, Hailey has continued to work to complete her degree. She was contacted for an interview but had no idea she had been selected. “I assumed that I really messed up the interview,” said Hailey.

But Hailey impressed everyone with her willingness to put others before herself. “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office. So she was selected not only to receive the $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University, but was given the VIP experience to make her day extra special. With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to have an education.

Others Before Self: “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office.

Others Before Self: “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office.

 

Hailey, in true form, thought of others first when the limo pulled up to her house. She has a baby, so she was concerned that everything would go okay if she was away. “I was nervous about leaving my baby. I had never left my baby prior to… this event. Operation Homefront and SNHU staff took turns caring for him and… made it work so I could feed him (and still) look presentable for the big night,” she said. “My husband apparently was in on this entire thing. How on earth he pulled this off, I will never understand.”

 

After a day of pampering, Hailey was off to the big event. She met her husband there so he could see his beautiful wife after her transformation. “My husband was just so happy and proud of me. I’m so happy he was able to share the entire experience with me.”

afterHFCWA

 

 

Hailey was selected  to receive a $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University,  With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to pursue higher education.

Hailey was selected to receive a $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University, With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to finish her degree.

When the guest speaker spoke, “I cried reflecting on our own experiences of (deployment) and having to tell your children why Dad is leaving. My husband has a scary job and we don’t dwell on the ‘what if.’ This evening was a great reminder that I’m not in this alone, all the wives who attended have been there or could be in that place later down the road,” said Hailey.

She said that she and all of the guests were treated so well at the Homefront Celebration. Even though she had been singled out for a special day and scholarship, she “really wanted all the spouses to feel like Cinderella for the evening.”

Hailey was eager to show appreciation for her day. “I want to extend a special thank you to the United States Army, for providing my family the life we have. In addition, I want to thank my husband. He means the world to me and I wouldn’t be where I am in my life without him by my side. Lastly, I want to share my extreme appreciation towards Southern New Hampshire University and Operation Homefront staff (in Washington). They all put in an extensive amount of behind-the-scene work to ensure my day was extremely special. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend the day with them,” she said.

 

Operation Homefront’s Homefront Celebrations are designed to give military spouses an evening of relaxation and rejuvenation. It’s our way of saying thanks for the sacrifices made by those who hold down the homefront. The evening includes a special dinner, inspiring speaker, raffle drawings and gift bags for everyone to take home. Our events are possible through the support of Southern New Hampshire University, who dreamed up the idea of awarding scholarships and the VIP experience for Hailey, who plans to finish her BA in Human Services. So far this year, we’ve hosted Homefront Celebrations in San Antonio, Texas, and Tacoma, Wash., and we have several other locations we’ll visit, to be announced later this spring. View all pictures from the Tacoma event.

Special thanks to the following for donating time or services to make the event special for Hailey and her family: Excalibur Limousine Service, David’s Bridal (for opening early), Salon Miro, Savi Spa, Hotel Murano and the anonymous donor for covering the cost of the dress and accessories.

 

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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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