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JBLM teen honored as top Military Youth

Katherine Wilton overcomes adversity and builds character

Katherine “Katie” Wilton, Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, and Brandon Clay met during an Aug. 23 event at the Pentagon. The two youth were runners-up for the 2018 Military Child of the Year. Photo credit: Daniel Torok

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Two Army teenagers were honored as regional winners and runners-up during this year's Boys & Girls Clubs of America's National Military Youth of the Year celebration.

Brandon Clay, from the Fort Knox Child and Youth Services in Kentucky, was selected as this year's Midwest region representative. Katherine "Katie" Wilton was the Pacific region selectee, representing the Child and Youth Services at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Navy teen, Ryan W. was selected as the 2018 Military Child of the Year at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Aug. 23. Ryan was the Overseas Military Youth of the Year selected and nominated from the Navy's Child and Youth Program in Singapore.


The life of a military child is ever changing -- but overcoming adversity is key to building strength and resiliency, Katie said.

Speaking from her own experience, Katie had to overcome adversity when she was forced to relocate during her freshman year of high school. To make matters worse, Katie's father was temporarily separated from the family while he finished his degree.

For a while, Katie and her mother were doing fine until the floor was pulled out from under them -- Katie's mom got diagnosed with cancer.

"My mother was the rock of our family, and this shook our foundation. Not only do we face the battle with cancer, but we also had a hard time navigating life in a new place. This was our third time moving, which is not unusual for military families -- still, I was angry. There are times when your problems pile up and it feels like they're punching you down all at once," Katie said during her speech.

Instead of breaking to the pressure, Katie chose to face her problems head on. And she didn't do it alone, she said, as Katie found help and support through the JBLM youth center.

"My youth center has changed my perspective. I didn't know any military children at my school, and it was hard. But when I went to my youth center with other military kids, we just had this connection," Katie said. "So even when you change homes, youth centers provide that stability. Military kids should always know that they are there for you."

Things were shaping up for Katie, she said. Her father rejoined the family and her mother underwent treatments and is now cancer-free.

Moreover, Katie became more involved with the BGCA. She served as the president of her Keystone Club and was elected to serve as her high school's student body president two years in a row. Katie's goal is to attend Columbia University and become a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon.

Furthermore, Katie remains passionate about helping the homeless children in her community and will continue to support her cause as her region's Military Youth of the Year.

"My vision is to tackle the issue of access to resources and education for these teens. I hope to provide them with the means to reach their goals," Katie said. "All children deserve a chance to succeed. When you're on the streets, you automatically have a disadvantage. That's not fair for any child."

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