A nonprofit organization is giving Americans the chance to sing the praises of a group often called the nation’s unsung heroes: military children.
Operation Homefront, a troop- and military-family support group, is inviting people to nominate outstanding military children from all branches of service for the 2011 Military Child of the Year Award.
“It is vitally important to recognize military children,” said Jim Knotts, Operation Homefront’s chief executive officer. “I think kids have gotten overlooked as we’ve recognized the sacrifices of the military, and they are such an important aspect of our military community. They deserve to have their moment in the sunshine as well.”
Each winner will receive $5,000 and be flown to Washington, D.C., with a parent or guardian for a special recognition ceremony April 7.
In the past, just one military child out of the services received the annual top honor. But this year — the program’s third — officials have expanded the program to recognize one child each from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
“The sacrifices of military kids are so dramatic,” Knotts said. “They live through and thrive in the face of such great challenges, it is wholly appropriate to recognize more of them.”
A panel of judges — comprising an Operation Homefront staff member and volunteer service members and spouses — will select the five winners. The panel will look at objective criteria, such as the number of months a child has dealt with deployments, and at subjective criteria, such as leadership, strength of character, resilience and ability to thrive in the face of challenges, Knotts explained.
Past winners have set a high bar, he said, but he added that he has no doubt many others are just as deserving of the award.
Last year’s winner, Willie Banks, 10, helped to care for his younger sister when his mother deployed to Iraq. His father, an Army major, died when Willie was a toddler. He also volunteers at church, school and on the athletic field.
The year before, Brittany Wallace took the title. When her father was severely injured in Iraq, Brittany took over as head of the household while her mother tended to his rehabilitation. Brittany, who was 17 at the time, took care of her two younger siblings, cleaned the house and made meals — all while keeping up her grades at school.
“The two past winners are indicative of tens of thousands of exemplary military kids that are out there,” Knotts said.
Nominations will be accepted online until Jan. 31 at www.OperationHomefront.net/MCOY.
Nominees must have a valid military ID or currently be enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System, be between the ages of 8 and 18 and able to travel to Washington, D.C., for the April 7 ceremony.