April marks the Month of the Military Child. At an April 5th gala in Arlington, Virginia, Operation Homefront along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and other senior leaders from our military's branches honored one child from each branch as the Military Child of the Year. Each of the MilKids honored distinguished themselves among their peers by reaching out to others finding themselves living the MilKid lifestyle or by keeping their chin up while moving through multiple hardships.
The youngest of those honored, nine-year-old James Nathaniel Richards, is a boy after my own heart. A Navy kid from California, he turned to blogging when his three brothers and father all deployed at the same time. His blog, "Nate the Great: A Military Brat" captured his thoughts about all he learned during those months in one place--accessible by other kids in his shoes. Nate also racked up over 200 volunteer hours with the USO while helping the organization gather toys for kids who need them as well as preparing stockings to head to troops in Afghanistan at Christmastime.
The remaining honorees are all girls in their teens.
The Army's pick, Amelia McConnell (17), resides in Pennsylvania and is the youngest in her family of six kids. In addition to her dad's three deployments and their nine moves, Amelia has faced her dad's leukemia diagnosis and the death of her brother, Army Sgt. Andrew McConnell, during his deployment to Afghanistan. This young lady helps her mom at home while maintaining leadership positions in school groups.
Chelsea Rutherford, a 17-year-old from Florida, snagged the Air Force honors. During her parents' military careers (both serve), she has attended five different schools. In addition to being a top student, Chelsea managed to complete almost 180 volunteer hours with various non-profit organizations in her community.
The Marines' honoree, Erika Booth, is a sixteen-year-old dealing with health issues and family responsibilities in North Carolina. Her softball career was sidelined by her lupus diagnosis, but even with that, she helps with her brother and the needs brought on by his autism. She excels in the classroom, ranking first in her class academically, and serving as her the junior class president at her school. She has volunteered her time and worked within organizations that allow her to reach out to other military families and kids to help them manage their own challenges.
Seventeen-year-old, Alena Deveau, the Coast Guard's pick has had to step up in a major way because of her father's grave health concerns. During her father's career, Alena visited 40 states, but when she was in junior high, her dad's lung cancer diagnosis led to a diagnosis of hip cancer. This scary news meant many painful surgeries for her dad only to have him diagnosed with brain cancer. The Virginia teen took over many household responsibilities while her mother tended to her dad's major medical needs during his three months in the hospital. Even with the care required by her younger sister, Alena managed to find time to organize her local Veterans' dinner.
All of these kids remind us that that military service of a parent has lasting effects on the youngest in the equation. Most, if not all, of these effects are positive--building resiliency, self-reliance, pride, abilities to multi-task, and the willingness to put others before self when needed. Honoring kids in this way is an important step toward helping them see they are heard, appreciated and capable of making a difference--in their own homes and beyond.