ARLINGTON, Va. — Despite being teenagers, despite moving more than any kid should be asked to, and despite facing the stress of a parent deployed, these five military children have shown what dedication and determination can accomplish.
On Thursday night, five teens, one representing each service branch, were honored as the Military Child of the Year by Operation Homefront, a nonprofit that provides financial aid and other assistance to the families of servicemembers. These kids have different passions, but two things in common: a high GPA and a commitment to community.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Poison lead singer Bret Michaels — himself a military brat — spoke during the event of the sacrifices military children have to make and how each honoree not only rose to the occasion, but exemplified leadership and achievement.
This is the sixth year that Operation Homefront has presented the Military Child of the Year awards. Each honoree receives $5,000 and a trip to Washington. The teens are selected from a pool of a nearly 1,000 nominees.
“When we look at what the military has done over the past 12 years, it’s not just about the men and women who deploy. It’s about the families they leave behind and about the children who support their deployed parents that actually make us strong,” Dempsey said after the event.
Representing each branch were:
• Army: Kenzi Hall, 16, living in California, founded the nonprofit Bratpack 11, which grants “big dream wishes” to military children who have had a parent injured or killed in combat. She has already sent one family for a five-day, all-expenses paid trip to Disneyland.
• Marine Corps: Michael-Logan Burke Jordan, 15, of Hawaii, with a 3.9 GPA, founded The Logan’s Heroes Foundation, which promotes the spirit of volunteerism and helps wounded warriors. He was diagnosed at age 3 with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.
• Navy: Ryan Patrick Curtin, 18, of Texas, received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for amassing more than 500 volunteer hours in a single year. In August, he had a major chest operation to correct a birth defect and his Eagle Scout Project was managing 57 Marine, Navy, BSA and civilian volunteers to construct a staircase and deck for Marine Aviation Training Support Group Twenty-Two.
• Air Force: Gage Alan Dabin, 18, of Alaska, with a 4.0 GPA. Volunteers with Anchorage’s Promise: Youth Advisory Board and created a citywide campaign, Random Texts of Kindness, to combat bullying.
• Coast Guard: Juanita Lindsay Collins, 17, of Florida, with a 4.5 cumulative weighted GPA, has completed 300 hours of volunteer service and was president of her junior and senior class as well as the National Honor Society. She was also a 2013 Anne Frank Humanitarian Award winner.
Combined, they have had at least one parent deployed for 131 months, they’ve moved 30 times and they represent 2,325 hours of volunteer service.
“I think, to be a military brat, it comes with challenges,” Hall said. “It really at times pushes you to your limit. You grow attached to a place and then you have to pick up and leave again. It’s difficult. I don’t think a lot of people realize the sacrifice that military families make as well.”
“It gives you a new perspective on life,” Jordan added. “You get to look at life a different way. You have the pride of your mother and father deployed or in the military.”
All five teens credited their parents for the inspiration to volunteer and contribute so much to society.
Michaels had been asking for years to come to the event, so he was thrilled to be able to be there to support the military and the troops. He donated an additional $2,000 from his personal account to each teen being honored.
“I’m thankful for our freedom and to all the men and women, and especially their kids. Never forget, like Operation Homefront, it’s not just the battle on the battlefield, it’s the battle beyond the battlefield that happens as well. And I think that it is really important — really important — that we take care of and respect our veterans when they return. And their families, their wives, their husbands, their kids,” Michaels said.