Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. --
“Dear Military Brat, Welcome to your next assignment and new home …”
This is the opening sentence of a letter introduced to children of soon-to-be Air Commando parents when they arrive at Cannon Air Force Base in the high plains of eastern New Mexico.
The idea for the letter, as with many of Brandon Mammano’s ideas, began at an unassuming dining room table in a quiet neighborhood on the base.
That’s where the story of commitment to leading the Student 2 Student program began for the Clovis High School sophomore who was recently selected as one of 12 students across the nation to attend a leadership conference at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.
“This is a club that’s built for just what I want to do,” Brandon said.
April is designated by the Department of Defense Education Activity as the Month of the Military Child, which helps recognize and highlight military children for “the daily sacrifices they make and the challenges they overcome.”
They face daunting challenges few Americans realize: The stresses of moving and relocation, making new friends, becoming familiar with the local community, etc.
These challenges, however, are nothing new to Brandon. The quiet 15-year-old harbors a bold secret behind his soft smile and respectful manner – a hunger to be the best at everything. So far, he seems pretty good at it, in part because he has had to adapt to several changes as the child of an Airman.
“It truly means something to me being able to help other kids coming into a new area, a new school, a new community, to be able to feel welcome – to start making connections with other kids as soon as they get there,’” he said. “I myself had struggles with that in some of our military moves.”
Former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger established Month of the Military Child at the Department of Defense in 1986. Since then, DoDEA officials have made it their driving force to focus on two distinct imperatives for military children: Establish an educational system that prepares all military students for college and beyond; and operate more effectively and efficiently throughout the school systems.
According to the DODEA website, their program aims to challenge each student to maximize his or her potential and to excel academically, socially, emotionally and physically for life, college and career readiness.
For Col. John Mammano and his wife Mimi, those imperatives fit perfectly into Brandon’s goal to excel at everything he does and help others to do the same, in spite of the seven permanent duty station moves he has encountered to date.
“He volunteers for everything. In fact, whenever teachers ask for volunteers, Brandon’s usually the first one who steps up and says, ‘Yep, I’ll do it,’” John said. “He mostly does this because of his own experiences. He knows how tough it is to move. He also knows it’s an opportunity to make a difference.”
One of the ways DoDEA is recognizing military children this year is through Purple Up! For Military Kids day. Friday, April 21, is designated as the day they are encouraging military families and local communities to wear purple in support of military children’s strength and sacrifices.
“Purple symbolizes the combined colors of all branches of the military-Army green, Coast Guard blue, Air Force blue, Marine red, and Navy blue,” according to the website.
For Brandon and his teachers at Clovis High School, this year’s purple-up day is bittersweet – During spring break, John found out they have orders to Hawaii. Another move for Brandon. Their eighth.
“I really hope he doesn’t go but I know it will be a good move,” said Augustine Martinez, a secondary school teacher of technology at Clovis High.
Sasha Mejia said she has had a lot of time to get to know Brandon. As the leadership teacher and student council advisor, she admitted she was eager to watch him shine during his junior year, and shocked to get the news of his departure.
“Brandon is somebody that defies the status quo,” Mejia said. “Many students have a pack mentality. Brandon is the polar opposite of that, and he encourages others to be the same. I came into this profession to make a difference in kids’ lives. It’s nice to have that one kid who reminds you of that.”
Not one to be daunted by a change in plans, Brandon is already looking to the future; a future where he might not get the same kind of welcome that he has given to countless others. If they don’t have S2S there, he’ll establish it.
“This is a club that truly means a lot to me and I will put my heart and soul into it anywhere I go,” Brandon said. “I can help other students not go through the many things that I’ve had to go through, and that’s such a great feeling.”
You can find more information about Month of the Military Child by visiting www.dodea.edu