2023 Military Child of the Year® Award Recipients
Louis Geer, 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Air Force
Louis Geer knows how easy it is to fall behind in school — as a military child, frequent moves often meant long periods out of school. He used that experience to help low-income students throughout San Antonio by creating the San Antonio Book Pool to provide free books to underserved youth during the pandemic. His efforts are just one reason he was named Operation Homefront’s 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Air Force.
Through his roles as founder and volunteer for the San Antonio Book Pool, 18-year-old Louis has collected and distributed thousands of books annually to students in need, collaborating with other community organizations. He has recruited over a dozen volunteers and worked with local community organizations such as San Antonio Youth, Communities in Schools, and Family Service.
The son of retired Air Force Col. Mike Geer and mother Hyunah Lim, Louis was used to moving from school to school but faced an academic challenge when his father retired to San Antonio and Louis enrolled in BASIS San Antonio Shavano. Accustomed to being at the top of his class, especially in math and science, Louis was surprised when he finished way behind the top scorers in state math and science competitions after joining an academic club. He used the grit he picked up as a military child, persevered, and studied subjects on his own including Algebra 2, and took an online honors chemistry class to keep up with his Science Bowl teammates.
Louis is an Eagle Scout, an established pianist and music composer, a founder of his school Entrepreneurship Club and a Gurwitz Youth Ambassador. He is also on the varsity of his school’s Science Bowl, soccer, and University Interscholastic League teams. He also participated in several research programs including the Summer Science Program in Astrophysics and a program with NASA.
His Eagle Scout project established a Little Free Library in a low-income area in San Antonio and collected over 700 books to make sure it was well supplied. He hopes to become a tech entrepreneur for social impact and is awaiting word from colleges.
• Eagle Scout, Carson Scholar & Harvard Book Prize Award Recipient
• Founder/President of San Antonio Book Pool and Basis Entrepreneurship Club
• Three-time Presidential Volunteer Service Award Recipient including Gold & Silver
• Highest Ranking Graduate at his school
• National Merit Finalist and three-time AP Scholar with Distinction
• State Champion in Science and Physics Competitions, University Interscholastic League and State Champion in Math and Physics Competitions, Texas Math and Science Coaches Association
• Four-time Science Bowl Regional Champion & four-time American Invitational Mathematics Competition Qualifier
• Received numerous music awards both in piano performance and music composition, Worked as a Gurwitz Youth Music Ambassador
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Mackenzie Hanna, 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Army
With back-to-back overseas deployments, dual-military parents who have been gone at the same time, and the changes of station most Army families endure, adaptability has become a key word in the life of Mackenzie Hanna, Operation Homefront’s 2023 Army Military Child of the Year®.
The daughter of Christopher and Katie Hanna, both retired Army lieutenant colonels, comes from a long line of family members who have served. Her Dad served two tours in Iraq and one in Kuwait. Her four great-grandfathers served with the Army Air Corps or with the Army in World War II, one grandfather served with the Army in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, another grandfather was in the Air Force, and she has three uncles and a cousin who were in the Army. Two of those uncles are retired, and each served two tours in Afghanistan.
Mackenzie incorporates her family’s history of service with her adaptability by seeking out volunteer opportunities, usually activities aligned with her faith. She has volunteered at military chapels for more than 10 years, and parishioners have commented about how mature and reverent she is. The group parent board chose Mackenzie to lead the youth group for the past two years.
The second oldest of four siblings, Mackenzie has helped take care of her younger siblings at times her parents were deployed or training.
One of her biggest challenges came when the family moved to Grafton, Massachusetts when her father transitioned from military to civilian life. It was her sixth school – she had even been to Hawaii and Germany – but the first civilian school where nearly everyone had grown up together. Mackenzie got involved in swimming, academics, and volunteering.
She is co-captain of the Grafton High School swim team, a member of the National Honor Society, and president of the Grafton High Family and Community Leaders Club, which provides service and outreach to the local community. In 2022, she was a semi-finalist for Military Child of the Year®.
Mackenzie plans to attend the University of South Carolina’s Honors College as a pre-med student and major in human biological sciences.
• National Honor Society member and community service chair
• 4.0 GPA ( unweighted) and Principal’s Highest Honor Roll (4yrs)
• Advanced placement in Statistics, Psychology, English Language, English Literature and Composition, Biology, and Environmental Science
• VFW Patriot’s Pen, advancing to the Massachusetts state level and ranked 6th
• President of the Family and Community Leaders
• Acceptance into the University of South Carolina’s Honors College
• Swim team co-captain
• Over 500 hours of community service
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Haydn Jones, 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Coast Guard
Moving from North Carolina to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, at the height of COVID-19 and just before his freshman year in high school was not easy for Haydn Jones. But Operation Homefront’s 2023 U.S. Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® rose to the challenge, jumping into activities and sports.
He continued to show resiliency when the family faced their most daunting test – his father was diagnosed with a life-threatening form of leukemia. Haydn, the second oldest of four boys, helped care for his younger brothers while his mother supported his father with treatments that could last more than a week at a time.
The son of dual-military parents U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Anthony Jones and retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Gretchen Jones, Haydn experienced 60 months of deployments, sometimes with both parents gone at the same time.
Their family’s service, which includes his great-grandfathers, fills Haydn with pride. He plans to continue the military tradition after he graduates from Sault Area High School in Sault Sainte Marie, where he is a junior. He hopes to serve in the military as a pilot and engineer.
Haydn is already working toward that goal. He is a cadet master sergeant and a flight sergeant in Civil Air Patrol and Life Scout for Scouts BSA. He has volunteered over 200 hours in the past 12 months, much of it to support trail and bridge building to help provide community access to outdoor recreation during long winters. He was also able to work with retired Army aviation mechanics to learn how to repair aircraft. Their service inspired him to write a speech that he was asked to read during a Veteran’s Day event at his school for the VFW’s Voice of Democracy program.
He also volunteered for Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE), which seeks to educate elementary-age children in aerospace careers and STEM fields through fun experiments. Haydn started a chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at his high school, and he has earned varsity letters in cross-country, soccer, and swimming and diving.
• National Honor Society
• Life Scout, Scouts of America
• 2nd Place UP State Diving
• Team Captain, Sault Area High School Swim & Dive Team
• Most Valuable Player, Sault Area High School Soccer Team
• National Youth Leadership Training Staff
• Senior Patrol Leader/Crew Lead Troop 105/Philmont Expedition 2021
• Sailing Ambassador, River City Community Sailing
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” – 2nd Timothy 4:7
Hannah Marie Tokiwa, 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Marines
As the new kid in town, Hannah Marie Tokiwa was anxious about starting high school in Pearl City, Hawaii. But Hannah Marie, who is Operation Homefront’s 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Marine Corps, marched in – literally – and bonded with other members of the marching band, became a leader in school organizations, and one of the top students in Pearl City High School’s Class of 2023.
The daughter of Amanda and William Tokiwa, Hannah Marie, and her family have moved every three years with her father’s Marine Corps job. He is a master gunnery sergeant assigned to the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay. The six moves in Hannah Marie’s lifetime have included posts in Japan, California, New York, and North Carolina.
Through routine moves and starting over in different schools, she has learned to embrace the inevitability of change and maintains friendships around the world. She is active in Girl Scouts and works on school and community garden and beautification projects with her school’s Key Club. She is also a teen advocate for the state chapter of the Hemophilia Foundation.
Living with a health condition that imposes boundaries on physical activity is another way Hannah Marie differs from her peers, and that has also forged her resilience. When first diagnosed at age 6, she felt special having an uncommon condition. In adolescence, that shifted to resentment.
While living in New York, she connected with others who shared similar health challenges. That inspired her to embrace her differences and focus on building awareness. Through her efforts, Hannah Marie has raised over $3,000 for research and has spoken with her state lawmakers.
Hannah Marie is proud of her family’s history of service, which dates to her great-great-grandfather’s time with the Army in World War I. Her great-grandfather earned four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart in World War II, and her grandfather retired from the Army after 27 years of service.
She plans to study forensic science after participating in the 2021 Honolulu FBI Student Academy.
• Solo and Ensemble Contest, excellent rating
• National Spanish Exam Level 1, silver medalist
• Teen Impact Award recipient
• Honor Roll
• District Key Club member recognition, bronze award
• All-American D-Day Band
• O’ahu Band Directors Association Select Band
• Earned the Global Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish
“You can’t stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting.” – Star Wars: Episode 1
Jackson Griggs, 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the National Guard
A few years ago, high school senior Jackson Griggs thought he would never run. Now, he’s a record-holding long-distance runner at Southside High School in Southside, Alabama. Jackson, who is Operation Homefront’s 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the National Guard, credits both his faith and perseverance learned growing up in a military family for fueling his stride.
He is the son of Robert and Tracie Griggs of Rainbow City, Alabama. His father has served 33 years and is a colonel in the Army National Guard. He currently serves as deputy chief of staff for personnel for the Alabama National Guard.
Jackson’s fondest family traditions stem from Romania, where his father served for over a year. His dad often offers up “pofta buna,” or good appetite, before meals, and the family savors memories of hours-long meals in Romania that focus as much on sharing time as on the food.
During his father’s overseas assignment, Jackson began learning about the flexibility and resilience of military families, particularly when deployments and changes of station separate families apart during important life events.
Throughout Jackson’s childhood, his dad has been away for a total of 20 months, about half of that when Jackson was a little boy being treated for an autoimmune disease that confined him indoors. The Griggs family was living in Romania when Jackson became ill, requiring him, his mother, and his brother to return to the U.S.
He often shares his family’s story with other military children through his volunteer work with the Alabama National Guard Youth Council. He encourages his peers to take each change with a positive attitude. For him, being a military child has broadened his worldview and helped him understand how families take on challenges to help military members serve better. He reminds underclassmen he mentors in track to persevere and not be defined by limitations.
Jackson plans to participate in cross-country and track in college while he studies medicine. He said that learning throughout his childhood to remain calm and think clearly under pressure will help as he works toward that goal.
• AP Scholar Award for AP chemistry, English, and U.S. history exams
• ACT score in the 99th percentile
• Scholars Bowl national qualifying team
• Heisman High School Scholarship winner, Southside High School
• Bryant-Jordan Achievement Award, regional winner
• U.S. Presidential Scholar candidate
• Southside High School track records in 3,200 meters, 5,000 meters, and 4 x 800 relay
• Alabama High School Athletics Association North-South Cross-Country All-Star Team
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine
Jemma Bates, 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Navy
Annapolis High School senior Jemma Bates, Operation Homefront’s 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Navy, has her sights on the stars and beyond. An aspiring fighter pilot who hopes to one day work in space – possibly on Mars – Jemma recently accepted an appointment to the United States Naval Academy.
Jemma, 18, is the daughter of Captain James Bates, Deputy Superintendent / Chief of Staff at the United States Naval Academy, and Jennifer Bates. Captain Bates has been on active duty for 35 years. Calling her father her hero, Jemma said she looks forward to him swearing her in as a midshipman this summer.
Jemma credits her upbringing for equipping her with the necessary skills to overcome challenges and turn them into success stories. The family’s most recent PCS move – Jemma’s fourth – brought them to Annapolis, Maryland in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jemma’s adaptability skills kicked into overdrive when she arrived at the school of 2,200 students, all of them strangers to her.
She began making friends by joining the tennis team and starting the Conversation Club that encouraged all types of students to just show up. As a beginner tennis player, Jemma lost every match in her sophomore year. Through commitment and determination, she became not only the team captain her senior year but also the top player on the team. She also serves as vice president of the student government.
Jemma joined the local unit of the Naval Sea Cadet Corps in 2020. She served as the unit corpsman, led the color guard, and currently serves as the leading chief petty officer. She has logged 500 volunteer hours and began working toward earning a pilot’s license through Sea Cadets.
Though it was primarily her dad’s dedication to protecting our nation that inspired Jemma to join the Navy, her family has a long history of military service. One of her great-grandfathers served with the Navy and another with the Army in World War II. One of her grandfathers, an Army veteran, earned a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam. She also has an aunt and uncle who served in the Navy.
• Daughters of the American Revolution Outstanding Cadet Medal
• United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps Annapolis Division Cadet of the Year
• American Legion Auxiliary Girls State elected state comptroller of the treasury
• Member of the Anne Arundel County Youth Advisory Council
• Speaker at Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission annual board meeting
• Future Business Leaders of America public speaking team, a national competitor in sales presentation
• Annapolis High School student government vice president
“Do not fear sadness, as it tends to sit right next to love.” – Unknown
Hayley Schreiner, 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Space Force
Never give up. That’s the philosophy that has propelled 16-year-old Hayley Schreiner to become a successful volleyball player, a member of the debate team despite a fear of public speaking, and a mentor for incoming freshmen at her school, Discovery Canyon Campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The high school junior is Operation Homefront’s 2023 Military Child of the Year® for the Space Force.
Hayley’s mother, Nicole, works as a Space Force civil servant. Her father, Col. Robert Schreiner, serves as commander of Space Delta 20 of the U.S. Space Force Element to the National Reconnaissance Office. The family resides in Colorado Springs.
Hayley takes immense pride in her father’s service, and she said seeing his happiness when he was promoted to colonel made the challenges of his deployments worthwhile. It is an honor to give back to the country by supporting her father, she said, even though having a parent in the military is emotionally and mentally difficult.
The Schreiner family chose to stay in Colorado Springs to provide stability for their children, even when Robert was deployed elsewhere. For Hayley, this meant living a total of 48 months – about a quarter of her life – with her father away from home.
She was only 8 when Robert was on assignment in Europe for almost two years, and she took on caregiving responsibilities for her younger brother and sister while Nicole was at work. Hayley relished video chats with her dad, but the time wasn’t the same as having him home and practicing volleyball with her or helping with homework.
Hayley credits her resilience to being a military child, as she has learned to persevere in the face of hardships her civilian counterparts don’t always understand. Though she struggled at times with uncertainties about when she would talk to her father again and concern for his safety, she values having a vast military family to support her. She stresses to other military children that they, too, can grow stronger through challenging times.
After high school, Hayley plans to pursue a degree in engineering and perhaps work in civil service.
• Earning a 4.25 GPA in an international baccalaureate program
• Maintaining a 3.82 GPA in courses through the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
• Member of the National Honor Society
• Selected for Discovery Canyon Campus Canyon Crew Leader for mentoring incoming freshmen
• Member of the Altitude Volleyball Club 17 Navy team, currently ranked top 10 in Colorado
• Recognized with the Discovery Canyon volleyball Team Thunder Teammate Award for kindness and willingness to help teammates on and off the court
• Discovery Canyon Speech and Debate Competition Team second place for original oratory
• Earned recognition for extraordinary effort at work and in the community as a retail employee at Great Wolf Lodge
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan.