SAN ANTONIO -- Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit organization, is accepting nominations for the 2016 Military Child of the Year awards.
Operation Homefront leads more than 2,500 volunteers with nationwide presence who provide emergency and other financial assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors.
The eighth annual awards will recognize six outstanding young people ages 8 to 18 to represent the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life, officials said.
On average, they added, previous recipients have had at least one parent deploy for 18 months or longer and have relocated at least five times due to a parent's military assignments.
The six awardees will receive $10,000 each and a laptop computer and other donated gifts, and they will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington for an April 14 gala, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards.
"It's our honor to celebrate military children through the Military Child of the Year for the eighth consecutive year," said Operation Homefront President and CEO John I. Pray, Jr. "Whether it's in schools or honor societies, civic associations and clubs, sports or volunteerism, you never have to look far to find an exemplary military child who thrives in the face of challenges inherent to military life. As we open up the nomination window, please join us in celebrating the resilience, achievement and strength of character embodied by our youngest patriots and submit a nomination to recognize them today."
Talent, Intellect, Community Involvement
The 2015 recipients reflect the high caliber of talent, intellect and community involvement that the Military Child of the Year typifies, officials said.
For instance, they noted, having already lobbied Congress for passage of the Girls Count Act of 2014, Air Force 2015 Military Child of the Year Sarah Hesterman founded while in Qatar an organization called Girl Up Qatar, a club that works to promote the rights of women and girls in the Middle East and around the world by providing access to education and resources for adolescent girls in situations of conflict. The BBC even named this current high school senior one of its 100 Women in 2014.
"The best thing about being selected as Military Child of the Year for the Air Force was feeling like I had made a contribution to [the Air Force]," said Sarah. "I had always felt as though the service gave me everything that I could ask for, but that I wasn't giving back. Knowing that I may have been able to serve and do something for the Air Force, even as just a teenager, was a wonderful feeling.
"The pride that I felt going on stage and accepting the award," she continued, "is still the same pride I feel today. ... Winning MCOY made me realize how important it is to show military kids that you can create a life for yourself outside of just being the child of someone who serves or has served. Whether it's to be a voice for other military kids or to speak up for those who need representation in other countries, I now get to show other kids how to speak up and be heard."
Sarah, who has moved back to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, said she had a busy and memorable summer, "I spent most of my summer doing work for Girl Up, and the pinnacle of my summer was attending the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.," she said. "I was fortunate enough to meet Michelle Obama and a number of other leaders who are champions for girls' education. I also went to Capitol Hill to speak with representatives and senators about female refugees and the importance of their safety."
Helping Elected Officials Understand
As president of the Missouri National Guard Teen Advisory Council, current high school junior Zachary Parsons, the 2015 National Guard Military Child of the Year, continues to enlighten elected officials to the inherent challenges of being a military child in general and in being the child of a wounded National Guard soldier in particular. Zachary also is president of his 4-H club, president of the Johnson County 4-H Council, West Central representative on the 4-H State Council, a 4-H representative on the University of Missouri Extension Council, a Missouri United Way fund-raiser, and a member of the National Honor Society.
"I was extremely proud to be the first representative of the National Guard for the MCOY award," said Zachary, who visited the White House this summer as a part of a Washington Focus trip. "I was happy to act as a voice for National Guard kids everywhere. Many [people] do not understand that we go through a totally different set of obstacles that prove to be just as difficult as those of other military kids. I was extremely proud to represent my dad's branch at a higher level."
He has continued his community service through the summer. "I volunteer with United Way," he said, "and continue to collect shoes for my Soles4Souls community service projects. I was also involved in a project called Project Smile, where I helped construct and donate 45 tie blankets to the local emergency room. I find service to be extremely important, and I will continue to help others in need all my life."