When Air Force son Brandon Mammano encounters tough times, including the many challenges of moving eight times in his 18 years, three sources of strength see him through: God, his parents and music.
The 2019 Military Child of the Year® Innovation Award recipient has learned to successfully balance out hardships with good times and seeks to help other students do the same. Brandon received the Innovation Award, presented by global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, for his student sponsor program at his previous high school designed to make life easier for new military youth arriving in the community.
He knows how to help because he has needed assistance before, sometimes from above. “I can always call on Him when I need help or comfort in my life,” Brandon said.
He also relies on his parents’ “never-ending support”: “They are the most amazing parents anyone can ever ask for. They have always been there. They always push me to continue whenever I feel like I can’t do something, and I will always love them for that.”
Finally, Brandon’s love of music cheers him up or provides the sound track for life’s best moments. “Music is something that I can always have that makes me feel good,” he said. “When I listen to my music, memories of my life throughout all of my moves comes back to me and reminds me of all of the fun times I’ve had with all of my friends.”
Brandon said each place he has lived – while moving for father Air Force Col. John Mammano’s career – has helped him grow. His favorites have been Germany, New Mexico and Hawaii because they have allowed him to travel, desert sled and boogie board at the beach.
But not every experience has been as much fun. For example, in 2017, he was elected class president but did not get to serve his term because his family moved from New Mexico to Hawaii, where he is now a senior. Resilient in the face of adversity, Brandon quickly found new ways to get involved, which is what his Innovation Award is all about – alleviating arriving students’ stress, fear of the unknown and loneliness.
“They pick up their entire lives to start over again from scratch somewhere else,” Brandon said. “Military families do not choose where or when they will move,” and kids are left to wonder: “What will my life look like in the next year?”
Often, they must simultaneously contend with “a loved one being deployed somewhere else in the world and not knowing if their mom or dad are going to make it home,” he said. “The pain it takes to say goodbye to your own mom or dad is something that many civilian kids will never understand, but military children do it anyway because they know the importance of why they have to say that goodbye: So that their parents can go defend and continue to make our country strong.”
Brandon improved and expanded on a program the military uses to welcome service members to their new base. The service members’ letter includes a local point of contact to smooth their transition. Brandon worked with his father’s unit to add his own welcome letter to the materials sent to those newly assigned. In his letter, he encouraged them to contact him with questions.
Brandon would like to roll out the program throughout the entire Department of Defense. He helped over 100 new students at his school alone. He envisions that local schools would work with military base family support centers to include student-to-student letters in outgoing welcome packages.
He has experiencing welcoming new students as his former school’s first president of the Student 2 Student program, a Military Child Education Coalition initiative, that seeks to ease their transitions. Working through S2S and starting more chapters across the country could be another way to roll out his program.
Offering other military children advice, Brandon said: “Moving and being the new kid will always feel scary, but it will feel so much easier when you can start by being yourself. People will learn to love you for you. You just have to have open arms and be willing to try new things. You will have a happier time if you are open to … crawling out of your shell.”
He practices what he preaches, getting involved through volunteering, including at the Schofield Barracks USO and the Tripler Fisher House, where he helps with whatever is needed from cleaning to welcoming service members home from deployment, and setting up computer equipment to child care.
One of Brandon’s mentors, Sasha Mejia, a teacher at his old high school and student council advisor, said in a recommendation letter that his strong character and ability to make difficult tasks look easy made him the right S2S leader “to ensure no student ever felt alone.” Another letter writer, Air Force Brig. Gen. Lee H. Harvis, also praised Brandon’s skill at getting to know struggling students and engaging shy students. “Brandon’s passion is helping others succeed and making a difference,” Harvis said.
Indeed, Brandon, a competitive swimmer who also plays golf, the ukulele and piano, says “I have always felt the importance of respecting and being kind to others.” “Sharing goodness has a multiplying and profound effect.”