This year’s seven Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year honorees have experienced a cumulative 31 moves and 187 months of parental deployments.
But they also gave more than 1,800 cumulative hours of volunteer time just in the year before they were nominated – among their many other accomplishments such as stellar academic work, overcoming health challenges, becoming Eagle Scouts, being competitive in swimming and other sports.
“Each one possesses… a driving force, spirit of service and of serving others. As individuals, they have shined as they dealt with parental deployments, relocation and the many other challenges that often characterize military life,” said John Pray, a retired Air Force brigadier general who is president and CEO of the nonprofit Operation Homefront, during an awards gala in Arlington, Va. The gala honored youth from each branch of service, including the National Guard, as well as a youth who received an award for innovation.
“They are the future and I know the future is bright,” he said.
Each of the seven received $10,000, a laptop, a free week-long cruise for their family on Carnival Cruise Line, and other donated gifts. This year, more than 350 military children were nominated for the honor, in the 11th year of the awards program. The recipients were selected by an independent panel of volunteer judges in the military support community.
“It’s surreal, still, standing here, getting this award,” said Campbell Miller, 17, the National Guard Military Child of the Year. “It’s been amazing to get to know everybody, everybody’s story, all the great work they have done. It’s been a life-changing moment.”
The award “moves me forward to just keep serving …like my mom has taught me to do,” he said.
His mother, Air National Guard Col. Allison Miller, said she determined early on that “I would raise my kids showing them the life of service, [beyond] the uniform of the military, showing them how to honor others first.”
The youth mirror their parents’ service and dedication to a cause greater than themselves, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Daniel J. O’Donohue, director for joint force development for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his keynote address.
They have embraced the challenges of military life and become more resilient.
These children didn’t choose military life; they were born into it. “This idea of choice…. For sure military children are born into it, but if you look at these magnificent young leaders, their whole lives have been in service. Their whole lives have been in service under the conditions of war,” O’Donohue said.
“Their parents couldn’t have continued to serve unless these children decided that they would fall in, that honor, courage and commitment was part of their life,” said O’Donohue, the father of seven children.
“The reason we have great families… the reason why the fruit of the families is so magnificent, is that these families made a choice, through the drumbeat of deployments, the drumbeat of combat, the stress that’s accumulated over 18 years. These children have been with them every step of the way as they made the decisions around the family table.”
One of the parents, Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Jordan, flew home in the midst of his year-and-a-half-long deployment in Okinawa to see his son, Jaxson, receive the award.
Jaxson, 13, said he wants to leave the world a better place. That passion for helping others is a common one among the seven honorees.
Of her 16-year-old daughter Elisabeth McCallum Polleys, Army Maj. Tara McCallum said, “She actually cares about other people more than herself.”