ARLINGTON, Va., April 11, 2014 —
Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Bret Michaels, famed singer-songwriter and philanthropist, joined hundreds of guests to honor America’s youngest patriots at the 6th Annual Military Child of the Year Awards Gala at the Crystal Gateway Marriott here yesterday evening.
During the Operation Homefront-hosted event, Dempsey and Michaels, the keynote speaker, honored the sacrifices of some 2 million military children with particular recognition for the extraordinary academic and community achievements for one child from each branch of service.
“What makes America great is the people that commit … to being not only the best they can, but standing for something greater than themselves,” Dempsey said. “The … Military Children of the Year fit very well into that mold; they’re not satisfied just to be average –- they want to make a difference.”
The chairman described the honorees as those who will neither be bystanders nor accept mediocrity in life. “They will continue to be leaders of consequence for themselves, for their families, for their communities and also for the nation,” he said.
Michaels thanked military members and their families for the freedoms he and other Americans enjoy. He then awarded the five honorees a total of $10,000.
“I get to play music the way I want to do it, I get to look the way I want to look and it’s all because of the sacrifice you made,” Michaels said to the honorees. “I want to congratulate [them] on their fight in overcoming adversity [and] taking a chance to make some great opportunities.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III noted the winners’ achievements across the services.
“It seems like people want to write off young folks as not caring about things; clearly that’s not the case here,” Welsh said. “The volunteer hours, the attention they pay to each other, the way all of them take care of people and their families; it’s just remarkable – [it] makes you feel pretty good about the future.”
Services leaders presented the awards with remarks to the respective recipients.
-- Army: Kenzie Hall, 16, Temecula, Calif.
At just 11 years old, Kenzie discovered acting classes to be therapeutic during the year her father was deployed to Afghanistan. She and her sister both traveled to Los Angeles for auditions and it was then Kenzie realized she could help other military children live their dreams. For five years and counting, Bratpack 11, the organization Kenzie developed, has recruited volunteers, produced a public service announcement and made cold calls to prospective donors. And so far, the budding charity can already claim notable achievements, such as sending a family, whose father was lost in combat, on an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland.
-- Marine Corps: Michael-Logan Jordan, 15, Kailua, Hawaii.
After being diagnosed at age 3 with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which limits his mobility and requires intense medical treatment, Michael-Logan opted to volunteer to help others in need. He is now the Ambassador for the Arthritis Foundation, which helps wounded warriors, first responders and disadvantaged children. In addition to his interest in the United States’ legislative process, Michael-Logan said he would ultimately like to become a pediatric rheumatologist and help find a cure.
-- Navy: Ryan Patrick Curtain, 18, Corpus Christi, Texas.
Despite moving nine times since 1996, Ryan carries a 99-plus percent grade point average while carrying a full load of advanced placement courses. He missed the first month of his senior year in high school due to surgery recuperation to correct a life-long birth defect. He recently earned the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for amassing more than 500 volunteer hours in a single year. Ryan was also president of both the Defense Department and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi Youth Ambassador Program and the Flour Bluff High School Student-to-Student Program.
-- Air Force: Gage Alan Dabin, 18, Anchorage, Alaska.
While maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, along with advanced placement courses, varsity sports and community service organizations, Gage has received nominations to all service academies and is awaiting appointments. He aspires to serve as a foreign area officer and would also like to qualify for special operations. Following his military experience, he expressed interest in becoming a war correspondent. Gage’s long tradition of military service includes his great-grandfather in World War II and a cousin and uncle, each Naval Academy graduates.
-- Coast Guard: Juanita Lindsay Collins, 17, Clearwater, Fla.
With a 4.5 cumulative, weighted grade point average, Juanita has also achieved more than 300 hours of volunteer service and served as president of both her junior and senior class. She earned membership in the National Honor Society and played four years of varsity volleyball while holding various positions in clubs and service organizations. This fall, Juanita will begin courses to become a pediatrician, and has so far been accepted to Stetson University, University of South Florida and Florida State University in Tallahassee.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: Lyle@AFPS)