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Child of Year recipients don't let military lifestyle limit their achievements

Apr. 11, 2013 - 02:55PM   |  

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Collectively, they've moved 41 times, had parents who deployed for a combined 128 months, and have volunteered for a total of 628 hours. This year's five winners of Operation Homefront's Military Child of the Year awards also are excellent students as well as athletes — four high school track team members and a high school golfer. One is an Eagle Scout who earned that rank at age 13; two are Sunday school teachers; two volunteer helping homebound seniors; and one is headed to the Naval Academy.

“Every military kid deserves an honor of some sort,” said Christina Schultz, mother of Amanda Wimmersberg, the Coast Guard honoree. “It's not an easy life, but sometimes these kids just blossom.”

In addition to a trip to Washington, D.C., for the April 11 awards ceremony, each recipient receives a laptop computer and $5,000.

Senior leaders from each service will present the awards at the ceremony. Speakers will include Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mary Jean Eisenhower, president of People To People International, an organization founded by her grandfather, President Eisenhower, a retired Army general.

The children were chosen from nearly 1,000 nominees by a committee of active-duty members, family readiness support assistants, teachers, military mothers and community members.

Air Force Military Child of the Year: Mark Newberry

One of the most meaningful accomplishments for Mark Newberry was earning his Eagle Scout rank when he was 13 years old, when his father was stationed at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

Military life helped spur that achievement.

“When I found out I'd be moving that summer, I worked hard because I wanted to earn it with my troop,” he said.

The leadership of that troop played a big part.

“You couldn't get [Eagle Scout rank] if it weren't for the leaders and the older Scouts,” he said.

The 18-year-old senior at Medical Lake High School near Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., carries a 4.25 GPA and runs varsity cross-country and track.

His favorite volunteer activity is working with a church ministry visiting homebound senior citizens, being able to “talk for an hour about their family history and things going on with them. It's nice to be able to comfort them and be there for them,” he said.

His 10th move was from Virginia back to Washington state during the summer before his senior year. His father, Col. Brian Newberry, the wing commander at Fairchild, said that when the family got ready to move in 2012, they gave Mark the option to stay in Virginia for his senior year.

“But he wanted to stay with the family. It was music to my ears,” his father said. “Having been deployed, I missed out on his junior year, and I didn't want to miss out on his senior year.”

Like so many other family members, he said, his son has sacrificed a lot for the military, especially with the moving. He said his son is persistent — whether running with a new team or starting at a new school.

“He never gives up,” his father said.

Mark recently had surgery on his toe and was hobbled as he was going through conditioning for running. “By the end of the cross-country season, he was in peak form,” Brian Newberry said.

Mark advises other military kids to enjoy the life. “At times it can be challenging, but the experiences you gain, in seeing different parts of the nation … moving has given me the ability to adapt,” he said.

Army Military Child of the Year: Nicole Daly

Nicole Daly is a junior in high school — her third high school.

Yet the 16-year-old carries a 4.7 GPA at Prince George High School near Fort Lee, Va., where her father, Col. Edward Daly, is chief of ordnance and commandant of the Ordnance Center and School and is preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan. This will be his fourth to the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.

Academics is where Nicole focuses most of her attention, she said, but she also has earned varsity letters in cross-country and track. Other activities include serving as the military child education representative for Fort Lee, as freshman class president at a prior school, and as a participant in Model United Nations.

She has started volunteering at the Fort Lee thrift shop, where she said she enjoys interesting conversations with spouses and others in the military community who come in to shop. Last year, she spent more than 150 weekend hours with her mother visiting National Guard and Reserve units to give briefings to soldiers and their families about their education benefits.

“It's gratifying to help encourage them,” she said.

In her nine moves, the most interesting place she has lived, she said, was Italy, where her father had a NATO assignment and she attended an international school.

“We were among probably six American families in the whole community. It taught me to appreciate different kinds of people and cultures,” said Nicole, who lived there while in fourth and fifth grade.

Her advice to other military children is to get involved in everything they can when they move to a new place.

“See it as an opportunity, rather than a setback,” she said. “You always have to set goals for yourself, and no matter where you move, you have to pursue those goals.”

Her school counselor sees Nicole as an example of just that.

“She is truly an example of a well-rounded student and immediately embraced her new environment and involved herself with extracurricular activities,” wrote Tara Bauman-Seely in nominating Nicole for Army Military Child of the Year.

This is Nicole's most meaningful accomplishment to date, she said.

“I know there are other military children just as deserving. I think families sacrifice just as much as service members, and I commend Army families for their service, as well,” she said.

Coast Guard Military Child of the Year: Amanda Wimmersberg

According to her mother, Amanda Wimmersberg has an amazing ability to adapt.

“Every situation we threw her into, she never once went kicking or screaming,” said Christina Schultz, a retired Coast Guard lieutenant commander. “Her outlook is, ‘It's what I'm given, and I'm going to make the best of it.'”

The 18-year-old has moved nine times; her stepfather is Coast Guard Cmdr. Richard Schultz, stationed with the Coast Guard Force Readiness Command-Detached Duty Navy Warfare Development Command in Norfolk, Va. The rest of the family decided to stay in New Jersey so Amanda could finish her senior year and will join her stepfather in Norfolk this summer. Her father is a medically retired Navy petty officer first class.

Amanda, who will start college this fall at the University of Central Florida, wants to be a physical therapist. She has a 4.0 GPA, captains her varsity soccer and track teams, and works part-time as a lifeguard at the local community college.

One of her most meaningful activities is the Peer Leadership program, where she helps new students adjust to their new school, North Burlington High School in Columbus, N.J. About half of the freshmen are military. She tries to help make sure the students aren't getting bullied, are keeping up their grades and are adjusting to their transition.

She enjoys visiting senior citizens about once a month with her youth group at church. “We play bingo, talk to them and get to know them. A lot of them don't have family any more, and they get lonely. We hang out with them,” Amanda said.

She also volunteers with her soccer team to raise money for such causes as breast cancer research and epilepsy research. During a previous fundraiser, she said they raised $7,000 for breast cancer research, partly by selling T-shirts.

“Over 500 students have the shirt, and they still wear it,” she said, proud that the message continues to be passed along.

The best part of the Military Child of the Year award is “military kids getting recognized for what we do for our country, as well as our parents,” she said.

“All my life, people have said, ‘Oh, you're a military kid. That's cool.' They don't realize what we go through.”

Marine Corps Military Child of the Year: Abigail Perdew

When Abigail Perdew sets her mind to something, “she's like a little pit bull. You just can't pull her off,” said her mother, Jessica.

Abigail, 18, who will enter the Naval Academy this summer, carries a 4.1 GPA at Bahrain School and is captain of the cross-country and track and field teams, student council president, a Sunday school teacher and a math tutor.

Her father, Marine Lt. Col. Jason Perdew, is stationed at Marine Corps Forces Central Command Forward in Bahrain.

One example of Abigail's passion and determination is her work on Bahrain School's Student 2 Student program, which helps new students adjust.

The program had just started when Abigail found out about it last year. She showed up at a meeting and immediately ran for president of the club, which is now her favorite volunteer activity.

“I know what it's like to be the new student,” said Abigail, who counts “at least” eight moves in her life. “We make them feel included. I know what it's like to feel left out.”

She started volunteering in elementary school.

“I just like to help whenever I can,” she said. “I'm a strong believer in being the change you want to see in the world. If I can help someone, maybe they'll help someone else.”

“She's never met anyone she didn't like,” said Jessica. “She can find the best in anybody.”

But what she's most proud of in her daughter, she said, is that “she's just a genuinely good person. She always chooses to do the right thing.”

Abigail is the third of five children. Asked what advice she would give to other military children, she said: “Wherever your family goes, that's your home. Wherever you go, you're going to be happy because you're with your family, even though it's hard to leave friends.”

Navy Military Child of the Year: Alexander Burch

Alexander Burch weighed 1 pound, 13 ounces, when he was born prematurely 18 years ago. He has used hearing aids since he was young.

“But he doesn't dwell on the possibility that he could [become] completely deaf,” said his father, retired Navy Chief Electronics Technician David Burch.

“I don't allow it to get in the way,” Alexander said.

The Navy Military Child of the Year can't participate in most sports because of his hearing condition, but he's on the high school golf and chess teams and has been named youth of the year for the past two years at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., where his mother works in child and youth programs.

He logged about 430 hours last year working as a commissary bagger and on volunteer activities. He also steps up to help at home, said his mother, Joanne.

The military life has taught him to “adapt, innovate and overcome,” Alexander said. “When you have to move every three years, it can be hard. You have to go with the flow.”

He has enjoyed living in places around the world during his seven moves; his favorite was Italy.

He advises other military children to join clubs and activities to get involved in their new communities, such as Boys and Girls Clubs of America and 4-H. “You get to meet people and have fun,” he said.

Alexander's volunteering started when he was about 8, living in Guam. After a devastating typhoon, he and his mother collected food and water and took supplies to villagers.

“He's a fairly shy kid, but he likes to help people,” his father said. “Anything that needs to be done, he's more than willing to help with any problem or need.”

Having been accepted to the University of North Dakota, Alexander plans to pursue a career in business and finance, perhaps opening his own business to focus on hiring veterans and those with disabilities.

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