It’s an impressive group of individuals. One promotes the rights of women and girls in the Middle East. One is a record-holding competitive swimmer. One is an Eagle Scout. Another founded a nonprofit to help wounded veterans, and another volunteers to support children of deployed servicemembers. Yet another overcame homelessness and domestic violence to become a leader in his community.
Each one is a military child, chosen to represent his or her parent’s respective military service branches as recipients of Operation Homefront’s 2015 Military Child of the Year Awards. Operation Homefront is a national nonprofit providing emergency financial and other assistance to military families. This year’s awards honored four boys and two girls.
Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, 13, was chosen to represent the Army. He founded Socks for Vets, which collects socks and other donated items for wounded warriors.
Christopher Rodriguez, 17, received the award for the Marine Corps. After experiencing homelessness and domestic violence in his early childhood, Christopher became a military child when his mother married a Marine. Christopher is an active volunteer in his community, working with a number of organizations to help kids with special needs.
Emily Kliewer, 17, represents the Navy this year. The captain of her school’s swimming and diving team, Emily holds four aquatic records at her high school. She volunteers as a swimming instructor and coach for Special Olympics.
Sarah Hesterman, 16, received the award for the Air Force. She attends school where her father is stationed in Doha, Qatar. Sarah is the founder and president of Girl Up Qatar, a club that promotes the rights of women and girls in the Middle East and around the world. Her group is part of a United Nations campaign to empower girls.
Caleb Parsons, 18, is the Coast Guard recipient. Parsons’ father serves in the Coast Guard, and his mother is in the Air Force. While both parents were deployed, he cared for his younger siblings with help from grandparents and friends. As a Boy Scout, Parsons attained the highest rank of Eagle Scout, and is also a leader in his school’s Junior ROTC.
Zachary Parsons, 16, received the National Guard award. Zachary is a sophomore and very active in 4-H organizations at the local, state and national levels. He also supports children of deployed military members as a delegate to the Missouri National Guard Teen Advisory Council.
Caleb Parsons and Zachary Parsons are not related. This is the first year the awards, which began in 2009, have included a separate category for National Guard children.
All six winners were honored at an April gala in Washington D.C., attended by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin E Dempsey, who spoke at the event. Representatives from each of the service branches were on hand to help present the MCOY awards. Each of the recipients also received $10,000 and a laptop computer.
The accomplishments of the honorees are impressive, said Sue Hoppin, head of the National Military Spouse Network, who attended the gala.
“These young people have made it a priority to live their lives in service to others,” said Hoppin, an Air Force spouse. “It was such an honor to be able to share in this inspirational event honoring the youngest members of our military family.”
Janine Boldrin, co-founder of Chameleon Kids, a support organization for military kids, served on the panel of judges who selected the 2015 winners from nearly 500 nominees. She said the award is a reminder that military kids are thriving, not just coping.
“The MCOY awardees showed a great cross section of our military families, different backgrounds, experiences, aspirations, which shows that military kids can’t all be lumped into a generic label,” said Boldrin, an Army spouse. “They are all different with different challenges … What I loved the most about the awardees was their focus on helping others who are struggling. This is something we can all learn from, that helping others is often a great way of healing ourselves.”
MCOY recipients are selected, based on their nominations packages by a panel of judges that includes military community leaders and a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives. Anyone can nominate a qualifying military child for recognition.
The awards, gala and travel expenses are funded by corporate donors to Operation Homefront.