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The five youths honored as Operation Homefront's Military Child of the Year award winners are "shining examples to other young people of what you can do with a little will and a little passion and a little determination," first lady Michelle Obama said at a ceremony Thursday.
She said she and President Obama are proud of the winners "because we know about your resilience and strength. I'm here because I want the country to know about you. I want our country to know about the five of you and all the other military kids across this country," she said.
Obama announced that she and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Biden, will launch a campaign to encourage Americans to give back to military families, and will be traveling around the country to highlight the efforts of schools, communities and businesses that are making life better for military families.
The winners said they appreciate the first lady and the nearly 200 others taking time to attend the ceremony. "I'm grateful there are people who see past the military member to the families," said Maggie Rochon, Coast Guard Child of the Year.
"It was special that she was willing to take the time for us," said Melissa Rowland, Navy Child of the Year, who said she got a hug from the first lady before the ceremony.
Michelle Obama spoke about each child's contributions and achievements in the community, and quoted Melissa as saying, "You can't go wrong giving back."
"It's not a lot of 17-year-olds who get to experience the first lady quoting them," said Melissa, who turned her attention to volunteering in her community when her basketball career was ended by a disorder that inhibits her blood from clotting.
"A lot of folks don't realize that when troops are called to serve, families serve too," Obama said. "They don't know what it's like to kiss mom or dad goodbye, then go back to class and act like everything is fine."
She described the missed soccer games, missed proms, and said military kids are often stepping up to take more of the workload at home when a parent is deployed.
"In the end, while our five honorees come from different places and took a different journey to this moment, it's clear they share the same ethic of service that led their parents to enlist in our armed forces in the first place. It's clear they share the same desire to help others, to serve their country and to do something meaningful with their time on this earth."
Other winners included Army Child of the Year Kyle Hoeye, of Tucson, Ariz., and Marine Corps Child of the Year Taylor Dahl-Sims of Oceanside, Calif.
Air Force Child of the Year Nicole Goetz got a special surprise two days before the ceremony, when her father, Master Sgt. Michael Goetz, returned from Afghanistan to see her recognized.
"I was at the check-in desk, and turned around and let out a squeal, ‘It's Daddy!' " she said.
Her father said he was thinking about how proud he was of his daughter while he was on the 18-hour flight from Afghanistan. "She's fearless when it comes to meeting challenges head-on," he said.
He said he was also "a proud member of the Nicole distribution network in Afghanistan," after she mobilized schools around the county near Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., to send care packages to troops in Afghanistan for the holidays.