National Guard's ‘Military Child of the Year’ comes from 179th Airlift Wing Family
Story by Tech. Sgt. Joe Harwood, 179th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
MANSFIELD, Ohio (04/28/20)
Kristina Lee, daughter of Col. Andrew Lee, commander of the 179th Airlift Wing Medical Group in Mansfield, Ohio, was recently announced as the 2020 Military Child of the Year® Award recipient representing the National Guard.
Operation Homefront, serving America’s Military Families® since 2002, announced the seven recipients of the esteemed 2020 Military Child of the Year® Award, the nation’s premier recognition of the outstanding achievements of its military children.
“These seven award recipients are truly exceptional young people. As all of our judges noted, they shined as individuals, but more so as extraordinary representatives of the larger community of amazing military kids,” said retired Brig. Gen. John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront. “All of the 400-plus nominees we had for our 12th annual Military Child of the Year® Awards exhibited remarkable resiliency, leadership, achievement and strength of character. Their families and their communities can be justifiably proud of each of them — and we are too.”
The six branch recipients — Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and the National Guard — will represent the armed forces branch in which a parent either serves or has served.
Selection was based on their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement and other criteria while facing the challenges of Military Family life.
Each awardee was selected by a panel of independent volunteer judges with deep roots in the military community. The seventh award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, presented by global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. This award goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.
Under normal circumstances, the winners travel to Washington D.C. for a gala where the awards are formally recognized by military leadership. The COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately caused the event to be canceled this year, along with most normal day-to-day activities such as school. The fortunate side to all of that is more quality time at home with family. Kristina and her father met us outside their home for a socially distanced interview about her selection.
While feeding frozen peas to her white pet duck, “Duck-Duck,” Kristina, 18, talked about being home, “I enjoy spending time growing my artistic gift. Drawing has been a huge joy in my life. It has also helped me cope with hardships in life. I also enjoy time with family, which means the world to me; I cherish every moment I have with them. At gatherings, I may seem quiet but I’m just trying to take in every detail and remember the small things. Spending long hot summer days down by our pool with family are some of my most cherished moments with them.”
When asked what the award meant to her, Kristina gave a humble response and praised her father for how he has inspired her through his examples.
“It means the world to me. I really wanted to do well for my dad, to make him proud and give him the recognition he deserves. For me, this award is so much more than a title. Growing up as the daughter of a doctor has really affected me, shaping the way I have lived my life so far. I keep high standards for my education and my behavior,” Kristina said. “Combine a doctor and a high-ranking military officer and that makes for a very hard act to follow. I feel a very strong need to carry myself as my father does, with pride, humility and respect.”
Kristina reflected on how she may have stood out among so many other military youths across the nation. “If I’m honest … I really don’t know. I hope it’s because of my caring character or ability to overcome and succeed in difficult situations, but I really don’t know. I’ve been told that I stand out wherever I go but I never thought I stood out that much.”
According to the Operation Homefront program, there were plenty of reasons that Kristina was selected:
“Our 2020 Military Child of the Year® for the National Guard has worn the crown as Ohio’s Miss Teen Buckeye State, and she sported a very different look when she campaigned for office at a SkillsUSA State Leadership Conference. The 18-year-old senior at Lee Preparatory High School and Tri-Rivers Career Center in Marion, Ohio had two dramatically black eyes, the result of basilar skull fracture received when sparring with pugil sticks in her school’s criminal justice lab. She rolled with the look — referring to herself in her campaign speech as the raccoon in the room — and was elected as a regional officer.
“It’s one example of how the student leader and honor student chooses perseverance in the face of adversity, including her brother’s death after a yearlong illness and overcoming PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after experiencing a violent crime in 2018.
“At school, Kristina distinguishes herself as a leader and in classwork as she pursues dual tracks. She’s an honor student in academics at Lee Prep School, while at a career technical school, she excels in both criminal justice and construction trades programs and is a president of the campus SkillsUSA and National Technical Honor Society chapters.
Kristina amassed more than 500 volunteer hours in the past year, including organizing a “Drug Free. Hire Me!” rally that attracted over 600 students for a daylong event, which she also emceed. She also planned and executed a “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” fundraiser to benefit survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Kristina is the sixth of the eight children of Tammy and Col. Andrew Lee, a physician and a medical group commander in the Ohio Air National Guard. During her father’s deployments and trainings, Kristina helps her mom with her two younger brothers, including one with developmental delays who is nonverbal.
She communicates with him using sign language, which she also uses in volunteer work with special-needs children at her church through a ministry called PB&J, Precious & Beloved by Jesus.”
Kristina will receive a $10,000 grant and a laptop computer to pursue her ambitions after graduation from high school.
“My plans after graduation are to enroll in a four-year heavy equipment apprenticeship to become a heavy equipment operator. After, or even maybe during, my apprenticeship, I plan to become an EMT/paramedic in the ANG (Air National Guard) to continue my calling to serve others,” Kristina said. “And maybe farther down the road of my life, I would like to pursue a political leadership role in order to serve more people, people who feel they don’t have a voice.”
Dr. Lee is a busy man serving as both a doctor in the local area and as a commander of the 179th Medical Group. He expressed pride in what his daughter has accomplished and the importance of finding balance between a successful career and family life.
“I’m super proud of Kristina,” he said. “I know she is one of those people who strives to put 110% effort into everything that she does. It was great to see her get rewarded for that extra effort.”
Although Dr. Lee admitted it can be challenging to find the proper work and family life balance, he felt it was no more for his family than most families face serving in the Air National Guard. “We all need to prioritize. Sometimes that means saying no to things which are good but not necessary,” he said. “I have tried to build margins in my life, so when things go sideways, it’s not so filled with tasks that I can’t still give my family the time they deserve.”
Kristina pointed out that her family has actually become closer because of her father’s service.
“My family is a very close-knit family because of my dad's deployments. When my dad was away, I always remember all of my family members helping my mom keep the house running. And even though my dad's deployments never made us move, it was still hard. But through our tough times and hardships, we became a stronger, kinder, and more loving family.”
Dr. Lee agreed that adversity can also strengthen your family bond.
“There are only so many hours in the day, and you can only be in one place at a time,” he said. “Both my military career and my medical career have taken me away from my family at times. This has made them much more self-sufficient and not entitled. It unfortunately has always been a delicate balancing act to do everything that I need to do, but in the end I get to be so proud of who they have become. Again, I’m super proud of Kristina, I also think that she is representative of many of the children that are a part of our 179th Family. Buckeye Airlifters. The Mansfield way!”
It is the third time in four years that the child of an Ohio National Guard member has won the national honor, the second in a row for 179th AW. Cambpell Miller was last year’s recipient and Molly Frey (121st Air Refueling Wing) won in 2017.
Photos by Tech. Sgt. Joe Harwood, 179th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Kristina Lee and Col. Andrew Lee, commander of the 179th Airlift Wing Medical Group in Mansfield, Ohio, are photographed outside of their home in Galion, Ohio. Kristina, 18, was recently announced as the 2020 Military Child of the Year® Award recipient representing the National Guard.