“Even though we are young, we still have great ideas. We can help. We can make a difference.” — 9-year-old James Nathaniel Richards, Navy Military Child of the Year
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey shared this quote from Richards’ blog, Nate the Great: A Military Brat, to military and family members at the Operation Homefront 2012 Military Child of the Year awards gala April 5 in Arlington, Va.
“I think that our military kids are who they are because of the hardships, the moves, the adaptability … our kids become who they are because of what we ask them to do, and what they see us do,” Dempsey said. “It’s incredible to me to watch our young men and women in military families grow up.”
The annual ceremony honors one child from each military service for their selfless efforts reaching out to military communities and youth and for coping with life challenges while navigating the rigors of military life. Along with Richards, senior service leaders presented awards to Amelia McConnell (Army), Erika Booth (Marine Corps), Chelsea Rutherford (Air Force) and Alena Deveau (Coast Guard).
McConnell, 17, of Carlisle Barracks, Pa., is an honor roll student, volunteers countless hours for organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and has earned seven varsity letters. The newly crowned homecoming queen’s father was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006, and three years later, her soldier brother was killed in Afghanistan. Despite these challenges, McConnell doesn’t find her situation challenging.
“[If] one person is employed in the military, we all serve. We’re all making sacrifices … and I don’t see them as difficulties,” she said.
Deveau, 17, of Fairfax, Va., helps her father, who was diagnosed with lung, hip and brain cancer, with his weekly physical therapy. The secretary of the National Honor Society also cares for her younger sister, tutors, plays varsity sports and organizes a local Veterans Day dinner. Deveau plans to study physical therapy in college and attributes her military upbringing for her resilience in the face of adversity.
“I learned a lot from my parents,” she said. ”They’ve always taught me the structure of a military family and that’s what I’m used to. I think [resilience] is in every military kid—it’s planted and growing … without even trying, it’s just part of you.”
Booth, 16, of Jacksonville, N.C., was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease. She had to give up sports, but took on volunteering.
Rutherford, 17, of Panama City, Fla., had both parents in the military deploy simultaneously. She serves as vice president of the Student-to-Student Club, helping new military students transition to campus.
Aside from blogging, Richards, of Jamul, Calif., leads the anti-bully committee at his school and volunteers at the USO.
These children share many things in common, but their resilience and motivation to make a difference while coping with deployments, transitions and the challenges of a military lifestyle, is perhaps their finest asset. Hearing their stories can inspire others to get involved and help others. You can also visit serve.gov to search for opportunities to help military families or volunteer in your community.
Operation Homefront provides emergency assistance to military families and honors kids from military families for their service and sacrifice every year. Learn more about the recipients of this year’s Military Child of the Year Award.
We know there are lots of outstanding military children in the Wisconsin National Guard. What’s your story?