Mark Newberry, our 2013 Military Child of the Year® for the Air Force, has had quite the journey. Since we last met him, he has pursued his passions that have taken him from the University of Michigan to a pending commission in the U.S. Air Force after graduation in December.
Today, Mark shares with us his incredible story of four years of “Fun, Free-falls, Field Training and Flying Along the Way.” We hope it inspires you as much as it has all of us here at Operation Homefront:
In 2013, I embarked on a journey across the country from Spokane, Washington, to begin school at the University of Michigan, and follow in my father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force ROTC program. (Editor’s Note: Col. Brian Newberry graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1991, and retired in 2014 as wing commander at Fairchild AFB, Washington.)
Meeting all the generals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the [Military Child of the Year] gala in Washington, D.C., and seeing the family-first culture of the military being celebrated there inspired me to jump full force into ROTC and do well. Over the next four years, both college and ROTC opened many unexpected doors for me. I started school studying chemistry and planned on being a surgeon. Life, as I had thought, was all planned out. I was doing research in the hospital for a cardiothoracic surgeon, examining what caused esophageal leaks after surgery. Even though my research was extremely exciting, both the hospital experience and organic chemistry convinced me that being a doctor wasn’t where my true passion lied.
At the same time, I was preparing to travel to Alabama and endure the Air Force’s four-week field training course, where cadets are put through an intense test of their leadership abilities. It was in the humid Alabama summer that I fell in love with a new side of the Air Force. So, I decided to try flying and got bit by the bug. I guess being a pilot was in my blood because I completed my first solo flight in a Cessna 172 later that summer.
Returning to school as an upperclassman brought more challenging classes and an increase in the responsibilities I held in my ROTC detachment. It was in these new roles that I grew as a leader, where as a group commander and later vice wing commander, I focused on creating a family-like atmosphere mirroring the same environment that I grew up in as a military child. I also had the opportunity to learn martial arts with the Marine ROTC program, and take those same abilities back to Alabama to be trained as an Air Force senior combatives instructor, where I taught martial arts to cadets at field training. My senior year surprised me with two more opportunities that previously I could only dream of. First, I received a pilot’s slot to attend undergraduate pilot training following graduation. Second, I was able to attend free-fall parachute training at the Air Force Academy, where I successfully completed five free-fall jumps to earn my jump wings. Now, I return to school for one final semester before I graduate in December with a degree in neuroscience and a commission in the world’s greatest Air Force.
One of the greatest honors of my life so far was representing the Air Force in 2013 as an Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year®. I grew up living the Air Force lifestyle, and as a military child, moved ten times in 18 years. I was lucky. I’m now 22 and before the age of 20, I got to travel all around the country. I stood at the base of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, ran along the beaches of Charleston, South Carolina, woke up to the sight of Mount Rainier in Washington, and lived next door to our nation’s capital. I also had the chance to meet people from every walk of life, many of whom are lifelong friends. However, it wasn’t always easy. The most difficult part of growing up came toward the end of my high school years. With my father deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, for my entire junior year, I had to step up for my family. While balancing school and athletics, I had to also be the pillar that supported my mom and brother, which proved to be challenging at times. Then, upon my Dad’s return home, it was time to move again, this time away from my closest childhood friends and right before my senior year, to a smaller, more rural school.
If you would have told me as a high school senior that I would be chosen to represent military children at the Operation Homefront gala, meet the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, and receive an Air Force ROTC scholarship that would afford me opportunities to study what I love, jump out of planes, and become a pilot, I wouldn’t have believed you. Being a military child has afforded me so many opportunities that not many children get to experience. For example, the drastic change in cultures between my school in Virginia and the new one in Washington at times were frustrating to deal with. However, there were many opportunities at my new school that allowed me to be a leader and to help fellow military children that I wouldn’t have had at my old school. At a small school full of military children, they all immediately looked to me, since I was the “commander’s kid.” So I led the only way I knew how, by example. I immersed myself with the cross country and track teams, took an active role in the leadership team, and strived to excel in the classroom as I prepared to apply for colleges. Even though I lived in a fishbowl environment, where every move I made was under a microscope, I made sure that my actions illustrated the high expectations I held for myself. Then, going forward into college, I used that same mindset to lead by example and strive for achievement.
My father nominated me for Military Child of the Year® for staying positive throughout all the moves, epitomizing what military kids go through, where they say, “OK, let’s do this,” and make the best of any situation while their parents serve.
My experiences as a military child are just a snapshot of the sacrifices continuously made by military children. Looking back, I am thankful for the challenges and the opportunities that being a military child gave me. I learned how to adapt, how important family is, and how incredibly blessed I am to be an American. It was at the end of my high school career that I started to realize how my experiences as a military child had shaped me.
For all the military children out there, seize those opportunities. Because of them, I will soon be soaring the big blue skies! Thank you, Operation Homefront, for all that you do to support military families and their children, and helping them follow their dreams!
Operation Homefront’s annual Military Child of the Year® awards recognize six outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Each of them represent a branch of the armed forces for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life. There is a seventh award for a young person age 13-18. This award is the Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation® presented by Booz Allen Hamilton. With a new invention, improvement to existing technology, creation of a new nonprofit or community service group, or expansion of an existing membership organization, the winner of this award shows the power of innovative thinking.