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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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