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Noelani Martinez Embodies Sacrifice and Resilience

By Operation Homefront

April 1, 2024

Noelani Martinez Earns Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award

Noelani Martinez, Operation Homefront’s 2024 Military Child of the Year® Award recipient for the Air Force, is a rock ’n’ roll drummer who embodies sacrifice and resilience. The 16-year-old aspiring composer and performer is a junior at Brennan High School in San Antonio, Texas. 

Noelani is the daughter of Gail and Melchizedek “Kato” Martinez, a retired Air Force colonel and Purple Heart recipient who served for 29 years and retired in 2021. Gail died in 2016 in a terrorist attack at the Brussels airport, which left Noelani, then 9, her dad, and three siblings with injuries that required multiple surgeries and months of hospitalization and rehabilitation.  

When learning she had been chosen as one of seven Military Child of the Year (MCOY) recipients for this year, Noelani said she hugged her father in gratitude for his service to our country, and tears flowed as they remembered how her mom raised her and her siblings to overcome the challenges life presents. 

Noelani set aside her grief over her family’s profound loss while she, her father, brother, and two sisters were hospitalized. She was the only one among them able to walk, and she visited them, shared joyful observations and artwork, and enlisted nurses to help them with tasks.  

“She continues to bear both the physical and mental scars of that tragic day, but rather than allow it to crush her, she uses the pain to fight on and honor her mother’s love,” her father said, adding that Noelani assumed the role of caregiver for him and her younger sister after her older brother left to study aerospace engineering and her sister started her career as a data scientist for the U.S. Air Force. 

As a military child who experienced six permanent changes of station, Noelani’s world was broadened.  

 “It’s amazing to be able to make friends from various places in the world and share our experiences,” she said.  

She grew up speaking German while attending an international school in the Netherlands and formed friendships with children from around Europe. While stationed in Hawaii, the family reinforced the cultural values they treasure today. 

“With all that we as a family have gone through, and the love and strength my mother instilled in us, the importance of aloha and ohana (family) is rooted at our core,” Noelani said.  

She takes deep pride in her father’s work in special operations and tactical communications, which took him away for 60 months of deployments.  

“To me, my dad is a superhero whose experiences should be known,” she said. “I love asking him stories about his missions because he’s done so many things that have saved the lives of countless people, and he’s survived things nobody should have gone through.”   

She remembers the pride she felt as she and her younger sister sang the national anthem at their father’s retirement ceremony presided over by former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. 

Noelani also acknowledges the challenges military families face, and she urges other military kids to give themselves grace.  

“As military kids, we experience sacrifice and go through things other kids don’t have to. It’s okay to cry, and your feelings are valid,” she said. 

Noelani is inspired by memories of her mom to excel in school, ROTC leadership, and as a drummer with the San Antonio School of Rock House Band. Just as she would repeat drills in ROTC so the movements would become ingrained, she rehearsed audition songs as many as 20 times a day. 

Through her dedication, she earned the spot as the drummer in the performance band that plays gigs around the city. 

Noelani dreams of composing music for movies, video games, and musicals. “I’ve always wanted to evoke specific emotions through music and show how magical it can be,” she said.  

After graduation, Noelani aims to pursue her music career by studying at either the Berklee Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, or the SJA Music Institute in South Korea.  

Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year (MCOY) program, now in its 16th year, recognizes outstanding teens in each branch of the armed forces for criteria that include their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, and extracurricular involvement while facing the challenges of military family life.  

Collectively, the seven 2024 honorees logged 3,667 volunteer hours in the 12 months before nominations. Altogether, they have experienced 37 permanent changes of station and lived through 247 months of deployments.   

Noelani and her fellow recipients will be recognized at the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year Awards Gala in Washington, D.C., in April, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards. Honorees also will receive $10,000 each, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts. 

Service/Leadership Highlights 

  • National Purple Heart Leadership Award 
  • Outstanding Cadet of the Year, 2021 
  • School of Rock House Band lead drummer 
  • Led Freshman Flight to win Top Flight of Corp, 2021 
  • Best Cadet in Corp Cadet Leadership Camp, 2022 
  • 240+ hours of leadership development earned at drill competitions and practices 
  • Led JV Unarmed Drill Team to first place at Somerset Drill Competition, 2022 
  • Currently in the top 2 percent of graduating class of 850+ seniors 

Favorite quote: 

“… When all is one and one is all, to be a rock and not to roll …” – Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven” 

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