FORT SAM HOUSTON (June 9, 2017) - - The Army announced the winners of the "Young Lives, Big Stories Contest" where military children and youth, preschool through 12th grade wrote about what it means to be in a military family.

As part of the 2017 Month of the Military Child observances in April, each participant provided an essay or art work to tell their story, and compete for prizes such as Leap Pads, iPads, Xboxs or Apple laptops.

"I remember watching my dad put on his boots every morning- left before right, green socks, brown boots," Amanda Macauley, the overall winner from USAG Benelux, wrote in her essay.

Retired Sgt. Maj. Ronald Macauley is an 18 Zulu Special Forces and served for 34 years. He is now working as a Department of the Army civilian.

Like military father and daughter, Macauley participated in the Junior ROTC program at her high school and has been accepted into the United States Academy at West Point. She will start basic training in July.

Because of frequent Permanent Changes of Station or PCS in military speak, Macauley spent much of her childhood in Europe and Asia, according to her essay. She's "ridden camels and surfed the coasts of many continents as a military brat" but Army life instilled in her a set of "unshakable values" of leadership, honesty and dedication.

"All my life has been spent overseas, so I don't have a frame of reference for living in small town U.S.A," said Macauley. Her most recent Army home was USAG Benelux. "Now I'm making the leap from high school in the Netherlands to my next mission in life. I intend to give everything I can. My best effort."

The annual contest is conducted as part of the Child and Youth Services program in the U.S. Army Installation Management Command's G9 Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Services. These programs are designed to enable Soldiers to build individual, collective and Family self-reliance.

"I feel both pride and sadness," said Ruth Beaudry, IMCOM CYS program manager, after reading all the winning entries. "Sadness because I read about the sacrifices military child and youth make for their nation; and pride because of their ability to cope and make the best out of it. It really made me appreciate the military family more and how privileged these children and youth are - willing to serve along with the military parents. It is important for the world to meet these winners and all the Army youth because they are strong and courageous individuals."

Every entry was scored based on the following criteria: content, form, grammar, presentation of the main idea and creativity. Each age group was judged separately for fairness, and to be able to highlight how their experiences may be different within that group.

The winner in the 9th-12th grade category is Emma Leifermann from Fort Stewart, who in her essay captured the IMCOM tagline "we are the Army's Home -- serving the rugged professional."

Leifermann wrote about the acquired skill of handling separation. "Every time our parent left, it would be much harder for everyone in our family. It will always be hard seeing your loved-one go. What I am saying is that we have to develop this skill for dealing with the stress."

Nathan Perez from USAG Rheinland-Pfalz won in the 6th-8th grade category; Yariana Calo from Joint Base Lewis McChord won in the 4th-5th grade category; Ethan Perez from USAG Rheinland-Pfalz won in the 2nd-3rd grade category; Joshua Guzman from USAG Bavaria won in the 5 year-old - 1st grade category; and Theodore Rebl from USAG Grafenwoehr won in the 3-5 year-old category.

"To be a military child you have to be able to handle separation, added responsibility, and accepting change" said Leifermann in her essay. "For me, my mom's expectations get higher. Having more responsibility doesn't define what it means to be a military child. The way I choose to deal with it does."

"[As an Army youth] find the best in every situation and remember, family is the most important thing," Macauley said. "They have the experience."

"I want Army youth to have the courage to take advantage of their location and opportunities, wherever they are," said Macauley. "I'm so fortunate to have been able to seek and find the best in every situation."