April 9, 2012
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 9, 2012) -- Amelia McConnell of Carlisle Barracks, Pa., was named Army Military Child of the Year for 2012, earning her a $5,000 tribute from Operation Homefront.
Operation Homefront awarded tributes to five young military family members during a ceremony, April 5, in Washington, D.C. The honorees were chosen because they epitomize patriotism to country, devotion and selflessness to family and outstanding leadership within their communities. Children of service members from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard were honored.
Before Operation Homefront CEO Jim Knotts and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III presented McConnell with the award check, the general took time to praise the 17-year-old for her response to adversity by focusing her energies in a positive manner.
"She chose to make a difference, not only in her own life, but in the lives of others as well and in doing so she has had an incredible impact," Austin said. "Amelia, you are truly a remarkable young lady. We are all incredibly proud of you and thank you for the many contributions you've made in support of others over the years and in supporting your dad and your brother and all those who wear the uniform and serve this great nation. I am certain you will continue to do amazing things in the years ahead."
The youngest of six children, McConnell lives with her parents: Col. G. Scott and Kathryn McConnell. Like many children in military families, she's moved multiple times over a short period; the McConnell family has moved nine times in 17 years. The family has even lived in some places twice, such as Carlisle Barracks and Germany. Her father has deployed to the front lines three times.
But it wasn't the moves that proved the greatest challenges to the family. Soon after her father returned from Iraq in 2006, he was diagnosed with leukemia. After six months of treatment, including chemotherapy, the disease appeared to be in remission and her father was redeployed to Iraq in 2007. In 2009, her only brother, Sgt. Andrew McConnell was killed in Afghanistan.
In 2010 her father was deployed to Afghanistan for a year which McConnell described as a "very long year, but we got through it with family and faith," she said.
At her new school she joined many National Honor Societies including the German National Honor Society and the National Air Honor Society of which she became vice president. She maintained a 3.5 grade average in every semester during the last four years of high school.
While pushing forward with her studies, she also earned seven varsity letters in three sports and went on to create a ski team to raise money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. The team achieved its goal by skiing 12 straight hours.
McConnell annually volunteers 200-plus community service hours while also helping to organize a 5K run and soccer game in remembrance of her brother to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. She also participates in the annual Relay for Life walk to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Every week McConnell takes time to mentor an 8-year-old boy suffering leukemia who lives in the neighborhood, comes from an Army family and attends her church.
"I always think there are a lot of people in worse situations than I am," McConnell said. "I just know that I'm blessed with these opportunities that I've been given while others aren't. I'm just humbled and honored to be representing thousands of military kids."
McConnell will be off to Longwood University in Farmville, Va., where she plans to study graphic design.
The 2012 finalists were chosen from each service branch among a field of hundreds of children by a committee made up of active duty service members, teachers, community leaders, military mothers and Family Readiness Support assistants. The Marine Corps Child of the Year award went to Erika Booth, 16, of Jacksonville, N.C. The Navy Child of the Year award went to James N. Richards, 9, of San Diego, Calif. Chelsea Rutherford, 17, earned the award for the Air Force, while Alena Deveau, 17, of Fairfax, Va., received the award for the Coast Guard.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Sammy Lee Davis, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam, delivered the keynote address thanking Operation Homefront for doing what he believed was true and correct.
"You have opened up your heart and let all the kids look in and when we honor them it helps give them hope and everybody else it gives them hope," Davis said after capping the evening by playing "Shenandoah" on his harmonica.
Operation Homefront leads more than 4,500 volunteers across 23 chapters and has met more than 590,000 needs since 2002. Rated a four-star charity by watchdog Charity Navigator, 94 percent of all revenue donated to Operation Homefront goes directly to support service members and their families.