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Top teens: VIPs praise honorees at Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year award gala

April 7, 2017 (Photo Credit: Operation Homefront)
The recipients of the 2017 Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year award represent the many children who are giving back to their military communities and to their communities at large, the wife of the nation's top military officer said at a Thursday gala in Washington.

This year's recipients are impressive examples of volunteers, mentors and military family advocates who excel in the classroom, in athletics and in other pursuits while helping others strive for similar successes, said Ellyn Dunford, wife of Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

"They provide comfort to others, especially the remaining-behind parent," she said. "And finally, they know how to have fun. They know how to embrace the moment and the people around them."


The honorees described their experience as a humbling one, and were appreciative of the opportunity to come to Washington. 

Henderson Heussner, 18, chosen to represent the Army, said  that "knowing there are military kids beyond us, doing similar things, making a difference in their communities, is awesome and inspiring to know we're making a difference across the nation."

The honorees thanked their parents and their communities for their love and guidance. Navy award recipient Alexander McGrath described his mother and father as "national treasures," praising his father, Capt. Richard McGrath, "as a model officer who is a testament to the truest ideals of the United States Navy. His treatment of the enlisted is amazing, his commitment to service is inspiring, and every day I'm just inspired to achieve as much as he has."


He described his mother as amazing and  "the anchor" of the family.

Operation Homefront's president and CEO John Pray, a retired Air Force brigadier general, said the honorees represent the nearly 2 million children in military families. Their spirits shine, he said, as they deal with parents' deployments, relocations and the many uncertainties and challenges that often characterize military life.

"They have developed an inner compass that points them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate and to serve in their own communities," he said.

This is the ninth year Operation Homefront has held the awards competition. The organization provides a variety of assistance to military families, including emergency financial assistance.

Six honorees were chosen from the nearly 400 nominations this year to represent their respective service branches — Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy and National Guard. They are selected based on their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership and extracurricular involvement. A seventh honoree, 17-year-old Sophie Bernstein, received the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation. 

Bernstein, the daughter of Navy Capt. Brad Bernstein and Moira Bernstiein, received the award for her work in building, planting, maintaining and harvesting 22 vegetable gardens at low-income day care centers and shelters in the St. Louis area. 

Sophie uses science, engineering and math to teach young children to maximize the output of the gardens, said Laurie Gallo, executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, which sponsored the award.

"What people have done for my family and all these other people, that's the reason I serve," said Sophie in accepting the honor. 


Each honoree received $10,000 and a free trip to Washington (with a parent) for the ceremony, They will also receive a free cruise with their family on Carnival Cruise Lines, a sponsor of the event.

The six honorees representing their branches of service are: 

  • Air Force: Jamal Braxton, 18, son of retired Air Force Master Sgt. Lawrence Braxton and Ahllam Braxton..
  • Army: Henderson Heussner, 18, son of Army Col. Todd Heussner and Linda Heussner.
  • Coast Guard: Mary Kate Cooper, 17, daughter of Coast Guard Capt. Tom Cooper and Lynn Cooper.
  • Marine Corps: Jackson Beatty, 18, son of Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 3 Geoff Beatty  and Somer Beatty.
  • National Guard: Molly Frey, 15, daughter of Air National Guard parents Senior Master Sgt. Renee Frey and retired Senior Master Sgt. Kim Frey.
  • Navy: Alexander McGrath, 17, son of Navy Capt. Richard McGrath and Jessica McGrath. 

United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Murphy-Goode Winery, La Quinta Inns & Suites, Mid-Atlantic Broadband, Tutor.com and Military Times are sponsors of the program.

Karen Jowers writes about military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at kjowers@militarytimes.com.
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