In their young lives, these seven military teens have moved a collective 29 times and experienced a collective 225 months of parental deployments.
And in just the 12 months before they were nominated to receive the 2018 Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year award, they gave a collective 3,000 hours volunteering for their communities.
That volunteer work ― on top of their scholarship, athletics and other activities ― speaks to the character of the honorees, said John Pray, a retired Air Force brigadier general who is president and CEO of Operation Homefront.
“They have developed an inner compass that inspires them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate and to care for others in their communities,” he said, during a Thursday night gala honoring the teens, ranging in age from 14 to 17.
This marks the 10th anniversary of the awards, which recognize the positive impact children have made on their military families, their schools and their communities. Each honoree received $10,000, a laptop, a family cruise and other gifts.
The teens have stepped up to help their families as the military called and some have helped their families deal with unusually difficult circumstances.
Rebekah Paxton, the Military Child of the Year representing the Army, told the nearly 300 people gathered for the gala that she has watched her father’s brain deteriorate over the last eight years, after he returned from Iraq suffering from traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder.
“Last week, my father passed away through suicide,” she said.
“Watching my dad turn into a man that I don’t even know makes me want to develop more in the medical community on neuroscience, so I can help prevent veterans and civilians and everyone from passing the way my father did.”
Her father, the late Army Maj. Jason Paxton, was medically retired after 19 years as a trauma nurse.
The teens spoke of the many influences in their lives.
“I’d like to thank the [Department of Defense Education Activity] teachers that have inspired me to be inquisitive and to do scientific research, and to go beyond the stars,” said Eve Glenn, the Military Child of the Year representing the Air Force. The 16-year-old senior also thanked her parents and the Air Force.
“My mom is like the coolest person in the entire world,” said Shelby Barber, 17, who received the Military Child of the Year award for innovation (presented by Booz Allen Hamilton) for the device she is developing to help anyone suffering from severe allergies.
“She’s been through so much ... a lot of sacrifice, for me, my siblings, and my dad. She’s the rock of the family. She does everything for us, and makes sure everything that we need, we have. I’ve never had to worry about anything. She’s just been an example, and she’s amazing.”
While service members volunteer to serve, military children are in an “involuntary status,” said Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Lyons, director of logistics for the Joint Staff.
“This involuntary lifestyle clearly has unique demands, when compared to their civilian counterparts,” he said. “If you think about what we expect of our military children, it’s remarkable that so many children develop into resilient adults with a sense of strong patriotism and propensity for selfless service.
“In fact, there’s a high propensity for military children to volunteer to join the service. Our military children are strong, resilient, adaptable, well-traveled, fiercely patriotic, bright inquisitive, eager to help out whether at home or in their communities.”
The seven military children who were honored, selected from about 400 nominations, are a “representative sample of over 1.7 million military children serving today,” he said.
“To read the bios of these great kids was just so impressive and inspiring. ... I’m extremely proud of this group, and all of our military children that have served alongside our military members and done so much for our joint force. Tonight for our military children worldwide, we say a heartfelt thank you. We appreciate you.”
Senior Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician James Richards, father of Navy honoree Isabelle Richards, said he appreciates the recognition and support of military children. His son Nate received the honor in 2012.
“Operation Homefront nailed it with this Military Child of the Year program,” he said.
Melissa Stockwell, the first female to lose a limb in active combat, spoke to the group about her experiences after a roadside bomb in Iraq caused her to lose her left leg. The mother of two and three-time paratriathlon world champion praised Operation Homefront for its many programs contributing to the stability and recognition of military families.
“Your future is so bright,” she told the recipients. “I’ve talked to some of you … . It’s incredible the things you’ve done.
“Continue to stand up for what you believe in. Continue to surround yourself with people who believe in you. But most importantly believe in yourself.”
This year’s recipients:
- Air Force: Eve Glenn, 16, daughter of Lt. Col. Richard Glenn and Lori Glenn.
- Army: Rebekah Paxton, 17, daughter of the late Army Maj. Jason Paxton and Gina Paxton.
- Coast Guard: Roark Corson, 17, son of retired Capt. Caleb Corson and Tyler Corson.
- Marine Corps: Joshua Frawley, son of retired Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Frawley and Susan Frawley.
- National Guard: Aaron Hall, son of Col. David Hall and Christina Hall.
- Navy: Isabelle Richards, 14, daughter of Senior Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician James Richards and Lorraine Richards.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.