Courtney Bonine, 20, spent her entire life moving around the country every few years before moving to Elizabeth when she was in seventh grade. She also missed out on having her parents attend …
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Courtney Bonine, 20, spent her entire life moving around the country every few years before moving to Elizabeth when she was in seventh grade. She also missed out on having her parents attend important events in her life, spent long periods of time separated from her parents, and equally long periods of time worrying that one or both of her parents would never come home again.
Both of Bonine’s parents are in the military. Her mother, Theresa is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the Army, and her father, Gregory, is a disabled/retired Purple Heart recipient after serving in Afghanistan. Bonine’s life of lost childhoods, deployments and long separations is typical for military families, and Bonine recently told her story to more than 500 people at the ThanksUSA annual gala in Maryland, where she and her family were named Family of Honor for 2019.
“My main point at the gala was that most people don’t realize it’s not just deployments that are hard,” said Bonine. “It’s having to say goodbye to family members for drill weekends, training, courses, and not having parents for a lot of significant events in your life.”
ThanksUSA was founded in 2005 by two young sisters, Rachel (10) and Kelsi (8) Okun, with a goal to show thanks for service members by providing scholarship and education opportunities to their families. The vision of the girls began as a national treasure hunt game, which encouraged Americans to get involved through contributions and activities.
ThanksUSA stands for “Treasure Hunt Aiding Needs of Kids and Spouses of those serving the United States of America,” and has turned into a nonprofit that has awarded more than $15 million in scholarships to military spouses and children.
Bonine received a ThanksUSA/Jackson Casey scholarship, which she used to earn an associate’s degree from Northeastern Junior College in equine studies after graduating from Elizabeth High in 2017.
Bonine and her family were joined at the gala by other special guests including Gen. David L. Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force, U.S. Sen Ben Cardin of Maryland and Grammy winner LeAnn Rimes.
While she remains supportive of all military personnel and their families, including aunts, uncles and other family members of her own in addition to her parents, Bonine said she won’t be taking the military career path herself.
“I am beyond blessed to be raised by two people in the military, but I feel there are a lot of other ways to contribute to this world,” said Bonine. “My ultimate goal is to have an equine event facility, have cattle and livestock, maybe some Bible camps and weddings, and some programs that help military veterans through equine therapy.”
Jon Rosa, CEO of ThanksUSA, and a military spouse who also has served in the Navy, said Bonine embodies the challenges and resilience of military children, regardless of which branch of the parents serve.
“Courtney followed her dream to a future where her passions lie. Helping people through horses and service. She’ll tell you she is a living testament to all that ThanksUSA and its supporters aspire to do through the gift of education for all military children and spouses,” said Rosa.
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