An awards program to honor American military children is now accepting applications for its 14th class of winners.
Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization focused on military families, began its Military Child of the Year award in 2009. One teenager from each branch — now including the Space Force — wins the title of Military Child of the Year. There is also one Award for Innovation, given for the design of a bold and creative solution to a local, regional or global challenge. Chosen for their civic service, leadership and extracurricular involvement, each Military Child of the Year winner gets $10,000, a laptop, a trip to Washington, D.C. and other donated gifts.
Former winners include an Air Force kid who created a sensory garden for military families, a Gold Star daughter who restores and donates old pianos to schools and nursing homes, a cancer survivor and an accomplished violinist.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Thomas is Operation Homefront’s chief operating officer and a former military child himself. Each year brings more reasons to appreciate their service and sacrifice, he says.
“The veteran is obviously a key member of the family, but the kids are part of the military family, too,” said Thomas. “These kids really have it tough, so we wanted to shine a spotlight on all military kids by recognizing some really spectacular ones from each branch.”
Winners are chosen by separate panels of five judges for each competition category. Judges are prominent members of their industry, offering nominees the chance to be evaluated and connected with high-level professionals.
“I do not exaggerate when I say that some of these kids’ resumes are better than mine, and it really shows how talented these military kids are,” Thomas said. “When these judges hang out with their friends, they say things like, ‘I was a judge for Military Child of the Year, and you won’t believe how difficult it was to pick the right person from this very talented group!’”
Thanks to sponsors like Booz Allen Hamilton, Pratt & Whitney, Proctor & Gamble and Carnival Cruise Line, Military Child of the Year recipients walk away with a hefty chunk of cash and other goodies. The money is not a scholarship, however, as Operation Homefront wants each teen to be able to use it as they see fit. Thomas says that some use the funds to start or invest in their own charities, while others use it to attend a trade school or make large purchases like cars.
“Several previous winners have gone on to Ivy League schools, one has gone to West Point, one has served as an intern in the House of Representatives and one even interned at the House of Lords in the UK!” Thomas said. “We’re looking for solid citizens.”
That doesn’t mean your kid has to be a member of MENSA or a Nobel Prize winner to apply, however.
“We like to see the kids do things that help their fellow citizens,” Thomas explained. “Lots of our winners have simply done lots of community service.”
Typically, given its population, the Army sends in the most nominations, followed in size by the Air Force, Navy, National Guard, Marines, Coast Guard and Space Force. Operation Homefront hopes to see a significant jump this year, especially in Space Force applications.
“It’s only a matter of time before you see some of these winners become CEOs, members of Congress, the mayor or even the President,” Thomas said. “They’re really some wonderful kids.”