Military Children Earn Top Honors for Service, Sacrifice
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 12, 2012 At just 9 years old, James Nathaniel Richards already considers himself a seasoned military “brat.”
The fifth of six children in his family, Richards took on a host of deployment-related challenges when his Navy father and three of his brothers deployed at the same time. But rather than focus on the separation, he started a blog to help other military kids deal with deployments and separations.
He also heads up the anti-bullying committee at his school, and has clocked more than 200 hours as a USO volunteer.
For these contributions and others, Richards, of Jamul, Calif., is one of the five recipients of Operation Homefront’s 2012 Military Child of the Year Award. This nonprofit organization, which provides emergency assistance to military families, annually gives the award to an outstanding military child from each branch of service, including the Coast Guard.
“The sons and daughters of America’s service members learn what patriotism is at a very young age,” Jim Knotts, president and CEO of Operation Homefront, said in a news release. “Children in military families demonstrate leadership within their families and within their communities. This is what the Military Child of the Year Award honors.”
A committee of active duty service members, family readiness support assistants, teachers, military mothers and community members selected the children from a pool of more than 1,000 nominees, the news release said. Each child will receive $5,000 and be flown with a parent or guardian to the nation’s capital for a recognition gala April 5.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Medal of Honor recipient Sammy L. Davis, a Vietnam veteran, are slated to be among the keynote speakers at the gala. Senior leaders from each service also will attend to present the awards to the children and their families.
Richards discussed the honor in a recent post to his blog called “Nate the Great: A Military Brat.” After the initial shock of the honor wore off, Richards’ thoughts immediately turned to others. “What can I do to make a change?” he wrote. “A lot of people are going to listen to me, so now is a chance for me to use my voice for all military kids.”
The other recipients of this year’s Military Child of the Year award are:
-- Chelsea Rutherford, Panama City, Fla., for the Air Force. This 17 year old from has two parents in the military and has attended five different schools. Still, she’s an honor roll student with a 3.6 grade point average and serves as the vice president of the Student-to-Student Club, which introduces new students to the campus and helps to ease their transition. She’s also an avid volunteer who clocked nearly 180 hours with nonprofit organizations in 2011, and is a member in the Society of Leadership and Success and the National Society of High School Scholars.
-- Amelia McConnell, of Carlisle Barracks, Pa., for the Army. At 17, McConnell is the youngest of six children. She’s moved with her family nine times, and her father has deployed three times. In 2006, after her father returned from Iraq, he was diagnosed with leukemia. After six months of treatments, the disease appeared to be in remission. He returned to Iraq in 2007. Two years later, her only brother, Army Sgt. Andrew McConnell, was killed in Afghanistan. A year later, her father deployed to Afghanistan shortly after the family moved to Pennsylvania from overseas. While helping her mother at home, McConnell also served as the vice president as the National Art Honor Society, and she is a member of the Germany National Honor Society.
-- Alena Deveau, of Fairfax, Va., for the Coast Guard. This 17 year old has visited 40 states during her father’s career. When she was in the seventh grade, Deveau’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer, followed by hip cancer. He underwent multiple surgeries before being diagnosed with brain cancer. Her father, who now is medically retired, was hospitalized for nearly three months. Deveau’s mother spent her time by her husband’s bedside, and Deveau held up the home front, helping to care for her 15-year-old sister. Still, she found time to volunteer as an organizer of the local Veterans Day dinner.
-- Erika Booth, of Jacksonville, N.C., for the Marine Corps. The 16 year old was an avid softball player until she was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that affects her blood and requires painful monthly kidney checks. While dealing with her own health issues, Booth also helps to care for her 13-year-old brother, who has autism. Despite these challenges, Booth is academically ranked first in her class, serves as the junior class president and vice president of her local Health Occupations Students of America chapter, and volunteers as a mentor with the Drug Education for Youth program. She also works with other military children and adults to help them cope with the challenges of military life, and has traveled abroad with the People to People Ambassador Program.