Seven military kids received Operation Homefront’s annual award recognizing those making a positive impact in their community.
Six honorees were named the Military Child of the Year for their respective branches and one recipient, Brandon Mammano, received the 2019 Innovation Award sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton. The group as a whole has endured 31 PCS moves, 187 months of parental deployments and 1,800 hours of volunteer work. Though they have each emerged as leaders within their duty stations, excelling in areas of academics, sports and volunteerism.
2019 Innovation Award
Eighteen-year old Mammano, an Air Force kid, has moved eight times including from New Mexico to Hawaii, causing him to miss out on the opportunity to fulfill the class president role he was elected to. While he admits his military life has been accompanied by a “few struggles,” he says he has also had unique experiences.
“Being a military child, I’ve had the opportunity to do so many super cool things, such as climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower or surfing in Hawaii,” he said. “Military children are able to travel all over the world and experience so many great cultures. You can travel to Belgium to eat waffles or go to Germany to visit the Christmas festivals or even sled down the sands of New Mexico. Most of all, I love being a military kid because I get to be a part of a family that is serving our great country each and every day.”
His dad’s service has inspired his pride in being an American, he says, mostly because of his intimate knowledge of the sacrifices made by service members in the name of freedom. Mammano urges other military kids to embrace the opportunities afforded to them through their parent’s time in uniform.
“Try new things. You get the opportunity to do so many things that most people don’t get to do in their lifetime. You get to experience different cultures and different foods and different activities and seeing places and meet friends from all over the world,” Mammano said.
The swim team captain currently holds a 4.0 GPA and has volunteered with various organizations, such as Fisher House, Military Child Education Coalition’s Student 2 Student program and USO.
Air Force Military Child of the Year
Benjamin “Benji” Rawald knows all about going the extra mile to reach a goal. The high school junior is among a handful of students traveling 70 miles to get to school each day. Still, the long commute has not deterred him from participating in a number of projects, including local conservation efforts and cleanups at military, American Indian, historic and civic cemeteries.
His main passion has been service in Boy Scout Troop 280. He regularly teaches first aid, wilderness survival, conservation and cyber safety at the base youth center, day care facilities and scouting events. Since 2013, Benjamin has completed over 5,000 service hours. His desire to give back emerged after seeing the local community rally for his family.
“Well, when my mother was sick many people within our school and our neighborhood of Del Rio, Texas gave us food and meals because we had little to no income and at the time we weren’t able to give them anything in return. As I grew older and was heavily involved in Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, I was perhaps not able to give back to the people directly but to the community and surrounding town,” he explained.
Benjamin values the opportunity military life afforded him to meet different families and make new friends. He says the skills he received made him adaptable, but saying goodbye to friends repeatedly is challenging.
“Being able to adapt to the new school and environment from a young age is what makes part of the mold of what makes a military child,” he said. “However, once you get to meet the person as a good friend, it’s very hard to accept the loss of the family and the kids that you probably will never get to see again.”
His advice to other kids is to make the effort to stay connected to friends.
Benjamin wants to be a computer hardware engineer when he grows up.
Army Military Child of the Year
Michigan-based student Elisabeth McCallum Polleys is this year’s Army Military Child of the Year. The 16 year old credits the resiliency of being a military child with helping her change hardship into service.
In 2017, Elisabeth received serious back surgery to correct scoliosis that forced her to miss the second half of her freshman year. It led her to become active with Curvy Girls, leading a monthly Detroit support group of eight to 20 young women who may feel alone, different, angry about their brace, and worried about surgery. She says that desire to step up always came from watching her mom serve.
“I think it always started with my mom, for her being in the military she sacrifices herself for our country and that always inspired me to try and give back to the community because she’s here giving back to the United States,” she said. “Whether that’s raising money for animal shelters or being a young person empowering those with scoliosis or just being a friend to others, I really think I learned that from my mom.”
Elisabeth, now a junior in high school, began to look at military life differently as she got older.
“It took me awhile to realize the positives of being a military child because we always think of the negatives first in any situation. Knowing I have to give up my life, it feels like I have to leave it behind and start a new life and that’s really hard for a kid or a teenager. It almost feels like your breaking inside,” she said. “And it took me awhile to understand all the moving and having to sacrifice your parent — on TDY or deploy to fight for our country — it’s also a blessing because without that I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today.”
In addition to maintaining a 3.9 GPA and volunteering, Elisabeth currently works part time at the John R. Armstrong Performing Arts Center, helping with administrative and box-office duties, and behind the scenes with production, lighting, and sound.
Coast Guard Military Child of the Year
Seventeen-year old Kylie McGuire has faced events far beyond her years, including saving a classmate’s life and assisting a professor with university-level research. She received the Legion of Honor Award after successfully performing the Heimlich Maneuver on a student during a school trip.
The high school senior got emotional talking about what it has meant to watch her dad serve and deploy for the Coast Guard.
“It’s not just a bunch of people fighting over there — it’s family, friends that are over there. It’s someone’s dad. I know that now,” she said.
Kylie maintains a 4.4 GPA while serving as president of the National Honor Society, captain of the girls’ swim team, secretary of the French club, and student representative for her local board of education, among other activities. She has been determined to participate in as many clubs and groups as she could as a way to meet others, a tactic she recommends for her peers.
“You have to remain optimistic, like moving to a new town may be scary but just stay happy, you’ll make friends in no time. You’ll be accepted into clubs and groups. If you put yourself out there you’ll have the best time,”
After graduation, Kylie plans to attend a four-year university to major in chemistry and minor in mathematics. Her goal is to become a surgeon.
Marine Corps Child of the Year
For Marine Corps kid Jaxson Jordan, being a military kid means exuding and embodying resiliency.
“ … you get to meet new friends and have new experiences. Then you get to have friends all over the country and even other countries,” he said.
Jaxson, 13, currently attends seventh grade in Jacksonville, N.C. However, his father is serving an unaccompanied tour in Okinawa, Japan. Recent hurricanes impacting the southeast encouraged Jaxson to spring into action by organizing a school drive and collecting donations for supplies. He says his family’s giving nature and an experience with a schoolmate taught him to think of others.
“ … when I had a friend that, he never brought lunch or bought lunch, and so one day I just started bringing extra in my lunchbox to give him some. And, when he told me his family didn’t have much food in the house, and that made me sad and it came where later on they started a thing, four times a year we had kids bring in the food and we would donate that to the food shelter. That led to, for my birthdays, instead of getting stuff, I would collect stuff and donate that to the food shelter or the Ronald McDonald House, places like that,” he said.
And Jaxson hasn’t stopped at just single acts of kindness. He has volunteered for the Arthritis Foundation, Blue Star Families and trained service dogs, among other activities.
He encourages other military children to remain flexible and optimistic.
“It’s just going through everyday struggles, bouncing back and standing up is what’s important,” Jaxson added.
Navy Military Child of the Year
Ever since she was a little girl, Elisabeth Lundgren watched her father’s selfless service in the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal community. It inspired a warrior athlete mentality in the 17 year old who was diagnosed with a connective tissue and joint hypermobility syndrome causing the joints to move beyond the normal range creating repeated injuries and cycles of pain, therapy, and recovery. Even though this limited her ability to compete in land sports, she excelled in the water.
“You know, with my genetics disorder, a lot of the recovery times he was gone for, the injuries, the struggles with that. But my dad’s service has taught me to be strong for other people, so being able to support mom and my siblings, and still having to go to school and perform at high levels and find my own way to recovery. He taught me to adapt and be outgoing,” Lundgren said.
The AP Scholar, who currently resides in Chula Vista, Calif., touts a 4.6 GPA along with various volunteer work through the American Red Cross, EOD Warrior Foundation and Cancer Awareness Club.
Throughout her life she has learned that military kids get to experience many positive things that civilian families do not.
“Like, the pride and admiration for my dad and the members of the military, and the understanding and the connection and the support system with military families, and being able to understand at some sort of similar level the struggles that other military kids go through, and be able to connect and kind of support them; understanding what they have gone through and what they go through,” she explained.
Lundgren attends the University of California, Santa Cruz and plans to pursue a career in the STEM or medical field.
National Guard Military Child of the Year
Campbell Miller, the National Guard Military Child of the Year, was inspired to give back after watching his mother balance being a single parent and military officer.
Campbell was diagnosed with a blood disorder at age 3 that prevents him from joining the military, so he has found other outlets to mirror his mother’s commitment to always find a way to serve.
“She served her fellow service members at work but also she found ways to serve at the school that my siblings and I went to, she was always looking to serve in church, and she always served our neighbors. Watching that as I grew up, and then later her encouraging me to do the same thing to serve in my school, and to serve in my community, and to serve as part of the Boy Scouts,” he said.
The 17-year-old high school student has been a member of the National Honor Society, captain for varsity baseball and cross country, and taken mission trips to Guatemala, Ireland and Uganda. More recently, he was able to accomplish becoming an Eagle Scout in the midst of relocating from Maryland to Ohio — an achievement he credits with coming from the willpower of being a military child.
“I also think that being a military kid, to me, means having a sort of determination and having a positive outlook. It can be really daunting and very almost saddening to move and go to three different high schools in those two moves, so I think that having a determination to keep a positive outlook and to finish with something that you started, like with my Eagle Scout project where I moved in the middle of it, just the determination finish something,” Campbell said.
He plans to attend Auburn University and pursue a career in architecture.
Visit Operation Homefront to learn more about the Military Child of the Year award.
Maddie Dolan contributed to this report.Read comments