Daughter of Virginia Guard Soldier recognized as one of the top “Military Kids of the Year”

Joining Baleigh Wheeler at the third annual "Celebration of Our Military Kids' Star Power" event at the U.S. Navy Memorial were (left to right) Drew Davis, Virginia National Guard Youth Programs director, Vickie Sais, Virginia National Guard Family Programs Director, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, Baleigh Wheeler, Cara Wheeler and Charlie Wheeler. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Baleigh Wheeler of Greenville, Va., was recognized April 19 in Washington, D.C., as one of five young people selected as “Our Military Kids of the Year” by the national nonprofit organization Our Military Kids. Baleigh, age 15, is the oldest daughter of Maj. Dave Wheeler, the full time personnel officer for the 116th Brigade Combat Team Headquarters in Staunton.

In observance of the Month of the Military Child, Our Military Kids hosted its third annual “Celebration of Our Military Kids’ Star Power” event at the U.S. Navy Memorial and recognized the five children and one Military Family of the Year. Wheeler previously received a $500 grant from Our Military Kids to pay for her dance lessons and competitions, and she performed a dance routine dedicated to her father who returned from federal active duty in Afghanistan in January 2012.

Baleigh Wheeler performed a dance routine dedicated to her father, Maj. Dave Wheeler, at the third annual "Celebration of Our Military Kids' Star Power" event April 19 at the U.S. Navy Memorial. Maj. Wheeler returned from federal active duty in Afghanistan with the Staunton-based 116th Brigade Combat Team in January 2012 (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

The winners honored at the event previously received grants from Our Military Kids to participate in various activities, and showcased their talents for the country’s top military officials and members of Congress.

“It’s been amazing,” Wheeler said of the experience. In addition to recognition, she also had the chance to tour Washington D.C. and meet senators and congressmen from Virginia. Out of all the experiences she had during the week, she said that performing with the other kids in front of the different members of the military at the program was the highlight.

Baleigh travels up and down the East Coast for competitions. Through her dance studio she also volunteers for Relay for Life and they also have started up the Smile-On campaign for children who have died from cancer. She also volunteers her time helping with Family Readiness Group events and will work this summer as a junior camp counselor.

Baleigh’s mother Cara said they nominated her but didn’t tell her, so the honor came as a real surprise. Cara filled out the paperwork with her husband Dave, and Baleigh’s dance teacher provided a DVD of her performing a dance routine.

“We are very proud of her,” Cara said.

Baleigh hopes to continue pursuing dance through high school and college as well.

In addition to the children’s performances, the event also included remarks from F.P. Santangelo, color analyst at the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network for the Washington Nationals, and Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram, Jr., Director of the Army National Guard.

According to a news release, Our Military Kids selected the five honorees through a contest among its grant recipients, which required an essay highlighting the child’s community service and family commitment, along with a video of the child participating in the activity for which they received a grant. The winners have diverse backgrounds, but all have demonstrated leadership in their schools and communities. The other honorees were:

– Anya Alexis Wilkie, 7, of Brighton, Ill., received a grant to attend violin camp. She performs multiple times a month at a local nursing home for senior citizens. Anya Alexis is also a volunteer violinist at her local chamber orchestra. She also studies and speaks three languages.

– Jonathan Harrell, 10, of Charleston, W.Va., received a grant to continue piano lessons. He has an extraordinary gift for music, having quickly mastered the theme song to Charlie Brown. Jonathan is also a Boy Scout and volunteers his time as a safety patrol officer and tutor at his school.

– Decorda Owens, 13, of Starkville, Miss., received a grant to take hip-hop dance classes. Dance is his passion in life, and the grant allowed Decorda to receive formal training. When not dancing, he volunteers with his church and fills his father’s shoes as man of the house in his absence.

– Sydney Schmidt, 16 of Hayfield, Minn., received a grant for a high school band trip to Disney World. She has been playing the flute for years, and the trip was the opportunity of a lifetime. Sydney is also involved with theater, cross country, student government, and the Big Sisters Program.

Our Military Kids also honored the Karnbach family of Hollywood, Md. as the Our Military Kids Family of the Year. Mrs. Karnbach nominated both children, and after reading their nominations, the Our Military Kids team determined the entire family was worthy of recognition.

With the help of Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Dirk Debbink, Chief of the Navy Reserve, Petty Officer Christopher Karnbach returned two weeks early from his deployment to Cuba with the Navy Reserve, surprising his wife, Anne Marie, and their children, Christopher, 9, and Abigail, 7, at today’s event.

In addition to its program for National Guard and Reserve families, Our Military Kids also provides grants to children of Fallen and Wounded Warriors of all branches of the military to help children adjust to the permanent absence of a parent or the challenges of a parent recovering from severe injury at home.

To date, Our Military Kids has provided more than 37,000 grants, totaling nearly $15 million.

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