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by Linda Medler, Board of Directors, Operation Homefront Brig. Gen. (ret.), USAF

I have been in the military for most of my life. I enlisted in the Marines out of high school, transitioned to civilian life to have children, while still serving in the Marine Corps Reserve. When I was ready to return to active duty, I was accepted to Air Force Officer Training School, and served in the Air Force until I retired with the rank of Brigadier General.

Over that time, I have served with many who gave their lives in defense of our nation, including those lost while I was serving at Hill Air Force Base, where we were always deploying airmen to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, we lost three airmen in one month to an IED attack, and a few months later, we lost another. As a leader, that is something you never get over.

When it hits that close, and you are in a leadership position, you have to look inside and say, ‘How do I help my organization and my unit go forward and recover from this — to lose four airmen on a single installation?’

To ensure that they would never be forgotten, a group of us from Hill Air Force Base entered the Air Force Installation Excellence Award Program, which comes with a cash prize to improve quality of life across the installation. We finished as one of the top award winners, and used a portion of our prize to build a Memorial Park at Hill Air Force Base in Utah as a way to memorialize the four airmen who died while serving our country.

I will never forget that Memorial Day when we dedicated the memorial. Airman and families of the fallen gathered together to grieve, to remember, to unveil the monument.

There is not a Memorial Day when I do not think back to that dedication and the Memorial Park that will forever honor the legacy of these fallen heroes of the 75th Air Base Wing.

I urge all Americans to take part in honoring those we have lost by joining the national moment of remembrance. You can participate by pausing for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Monday afternoon.

In memory of those we have lost, and in honor of those who proudly serve, please join me in standing with our nation’s military heroes.

 

 

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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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Last week, Operation Homefront hosted an activity-packed three-day celebration to honor our stellar Military Child of the Year Award® recipients.  And what an amazing three days it was!

The 10th annual Military Child of the Year festivities kicked off Tuesday with our BAH Innovation Award recipient, Shelby Barber from Hawaii, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton. Her visit included a tour, a sampling of their state-of-the-art virtual reality experiences, and a brainstorming meeting with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team who will help Shelby bring to life her concept for a portable medical device for children with severe allergies.

On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. John I Pray, Jr., Air Force (Ret.), President and CEO of Operation Homefront, welcomed all seven recipients at a welcome lunch before the kids, their families, and OH staff departed for Capitol Hill to meet and greet their state congressional representatives.

Afterwards, the MCOY recipients came back to the hotel for dinner, where they received laptops from Booz Allen Hamilton and Microsoft, along with cash awards and some very special surprises from Kendra Scott and Cracker Barrel.

Thursday, our awardees had the opportunity to meet and mingle with OH staff, our National Board of Directors, and Region 1 Advisory Board member Danny Chung, from Microsoft, our breakfast sponsor, who presented each recipient with a brand new Surface laptop.

 

Then, it was off to the National Museum of American History. For the fifth year, OH worked with the Archives Center to give the MCOY recipients a behind-the-scene tour. When the MCOY recipients weren’t weaving through a maze of stacked artifacts, they were able to explore the exhibits, including the First Ladies display as well as the Star-Spangled Banner — the original stars and stripes that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 — providing the inspiration for the Star-Spangled Banner lyrics from Francis Scott Key.

Then, it was time for the main event — the gala! ESPN analyst and former MLB player Chris Singleton served as the emcee, and appropriately kicked off the evening with a rousing “play ball!” America’s Beloved Tenor, Daniel Rodriguez, sang the national anthem during the Presentation of Colors by JROTC cadets from T.C. Williams High School from Alexandria, Virginia.


 

John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “We recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of these seven recipients, who represent the collective excellence of military children everywhere. They personify resiliency, leadership, and strength of character. Their families and communities, as well as our corporate partners and the staff and volunteers at Operation Homefront, are very proud of them as individuals and all the other young people in the military families they represent.”

 

Two wonderful guests helped OH salute the MCOY recipients: Brennley Brown and Melissa Stockwell.

Brennley, an emerging country artist (you might recognize her from Season 12 of The Voice) spoke about how inspired she was that she was here with kids who were her own age and had already accomplished so much. She treated the crowd to a beautiful musical performance.

Melissa Stockwell, Army veteran, two-time Paralympian, and proud mom, spoke about her journey after losing her leg. In her remarks, Melissa spoke about resilience and her inspiration, telling the MCOY recipients, “your voices are so strong … stand up for what you believe in.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Lyons, Director for Logistics, representing General Joseph Dunford and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered remarks that underscored the importance of the military family, particularly the children, in ensuring our nation has a ready force. “The decision of our service members to remain serving in our nation’s military is most often made at the dinner table,” said Gen. Lyons. “The way organizations like Operation Homefront care for our families and support children like these helps us keep our forces engaged and strong.”

 

Lt. Gen. Lyons then was joined by John Pray and Lieutenant General Brian Arnold, USAF, Ret., Chairman of the Operation Homefront Board of Directors, for the award presentations. Each presenter took a few moments to celebrate the military family behind the recipients, then they highlighted the amazing awardee accomplishments.

Several of our previous Military Child of the Year Award recipients were on hand to help present the awards to the new generation.

Military Child of the Year Alumni: (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)

But it was not over yet! For the second year, Carnival Cruise Line and Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations Richard Morse shocked, literally, the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

“This has been a remarkable evening,” said John as he closed out the evening. “To all our honorees tonight, I know your parents, families, and communities are so proud of you. We are proud of you too. You inspire every one of us.”

 

With the 10th annual Military Child of the Year in the books, we turn our focus to wrapping up the logistics and towards planning for the 11th MCOY Gala to be held on April 11, 2019.

Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2018 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Military Times, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, Veterans United Home Loans, and Under Armour. #MCOY2018

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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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We’re checking in with some of our 2011 Military Child of the Year Award winners about what the award meant for them.  This years winners will be announced March 8, 2012. Today, we’re hearing from Nicole Goetz,  USAF MCOY 2011:

Nicole Goetz represented the USAF as their finalist for MCOY 2011.

1. My favorite part of winning the 2011 Military Child of the Year award was being able to meet the other recipients of the award. They are all amazing and well-deserving individuals. I am very excited to keep in touch with them and see how far in life they go.

2. The highlight of my trip to D.C. was  my father (after his year long deployment in Afghanistan) surprising me at the Ritz when I first arrived in D.C.

3. Meeting an amazing individual such as First Lady Michelle Obama was a phenomenal experience. She is one of the most down to earth people I have ever met and as First Lady of the United States, she embodies all traits that America holds dear in their First Lady. It was truly an honor to meet her.

4. To be honest, I was surprised with how big the ceremony actually was. The massive positive response was overwhelming. It was amazing to see all of the support the country had for not only our military kids, but the military families as well.

5.  The response from my friends and family was overwhelmingly positive. They have always been very supportive of me even before this award and encouraged me to always be my best and do my part in the community. However, the day before I found out I won the award, my father emailed me from Afghanistan, telling me that he was proud of me no matter what. At that point, that was all that really mattered to me.

6. While I am grateful for the honor, I do not truly feel like a hero. When I think of heroes I think of people like my dad and the troops, I have done nothing compared to what they have done, the sacrifices they’ve made. What I’ve done was step up to the plate and do what I thought was right. I wanted to do my part, just as my dad and the troops were.

7. Well on base I was no longer “the Chief’s daughter,” but Nicole, while the Chief became “Nicole’s dad.” But really, if anything has changed it is the way that I conduct myself, knowing that I represent thousands of other military kids. With that new conscience, I do the best I can and try to be the best role model I can be.

Operation Homefront announced the Top 5 Finalists from each branch on March 1, 2012.  Click here to see complete list.

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