by Margaret B. Davis, President and CEO, Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation
Our Nation is eternally grateful for our service members and their families, but this month in particular – with Military Family Appreciation Month, Veterans Day, the Marine Corps birthday and Thanksgiving – supporters and members of the military community nationwide pause to offer special thanks to an all too often overlooked segment of America: our military families. As the President and CEO of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, an organization whose compass is set by the ethos of the Marine Corps, I am often humbled by the honor, courage, and commitment displayed daily in the character of these spouses and children.
The Scholarship Foundation is the country’s oldest and largest provider of need-based scholarships to military children. The nature of that work has exposed us to some truly remarkable Marine families, all of whom we honor during Military Family Appreciation Month. These families have opened their lives to us and shared their incredible stories. And while the stories of these families are as varied as the individuals they represent, they all share the common threads of honor, courage, and commitment. Stories like these not only serve as daily inspiration for me personally, they drive the daily actions of the Scholarship Foundation’s Directors and staff. Moreover, they remind us all that true appreciation for our military families should be a year-round occasion.
Catalina Cotis didn’t have the life of a typical teenager. The child of Gunnery Sergeant Kevin Cotis USMC who has served Country and Corps for 20 years, Catalina was constantly on the move. By the time she was just 18 she had attended eight different schools and had become all too familiar with the challenges brought on by each move. Drawing strength from her own relationship with the Marine Corps community, Catalina embraced the diversity of her unique childhood. Her personal experiences with adversity fueled her passion and kept her driven no matter where in the world her family was living.
With the help of the Scholarship Foundation, Catalina enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall of 2012. When it came time to pick a career path, her choice embodied the characteristic selflessness we see in so many of this nation’s military families. In a letter Catalina told me, “My ultimate goal is to work as an Athletic Trainer for the Marine Corps. I would love to give back to the community that always supported me when growing up by providing healthcare to injured Marines and Sailors.”
On the other side of the country, Allison Wilkinson was living in California in 2008 when her family received the call that her father had been severely wounded while deployed in Iraq. Sergeant Major Patrick Wilkinson USMC was serving in Fallujah when a suicide bomber detonated his vest in a heavily populated area, killing three Marines, wounding 20 Iraqis, and severely injuring SgtMaj Wilkinson – he lost his right leg.
Allison is the oldest of three children and although she was just thirteen at the time, she knew her life would be changed forever, but that didn’t mean she would shrink from the new challenges she faced. She later recalled that, “It was about an hour of tears, and after that…I needed to contain it and be strong for my brother and sister.”
Allison had to grow up fast. She had new responsibilities and undoubtedly a new view of the world. But Allison’s jarring entry into adulthood didn’t dim her prospects. She focused her strength and channeled her experiences towards becoming a great student and a committed volunteer in her community. Now Allison is pursuing a career in law at California Poly State University -San Luis Obispo and remains committed to the same values that shaped her from such a young age, “Growing up in a Marine Corps family completely shaped who I am. The emphasis on hard work, determination, and integrity has carried over into all aspects of my life, especially my studies.”
Stories like Catalina and Allison truly capture what’s best about our Nation’s military families. Presented with a crossroads, they choose a path of service. Faced with adversity; they rise to the occasion. Given the challenges of a life so few understand, they remain steadfast. These families not only support America’s service members, they are the living embodiment of the values our Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines are fighting to defend.
Military Family Appreciation month may take place in November, but the impact of the honor, courage, and commitment of these families is felt and should be honored every day of the year.
Photo Caption: The family of Sergeant Major Patrick Wilkinson USMC is honored at the Scholarship Foundation’s 2013 Chicago Dinner for the Gravely Wounded.