Buda teen reflects on navigating life as military child

By Megan Wehring 

BUDA — When her biological father was killed in action nine years ago, Nyah Gray relied on her faith to deal with the heavy loss and overcome obstacles as a military child. 

Gray is one of more than two million military children in the U.S., according to the National Military Family Association, and one of eight recipients to receive the 2021 Military Child of the Year Award. Military children are brave as they shoulder the burden when their parent(s) or other relatives serve. 

April marks the Month of the Military Child; a time to pay tribute to the children who support from the sidelines. They have to endure numerous challenges from changing schools unexpectedly to celebrating birthdays over video chat and saying goodbye too many times to count. 

Gray accepting the 2021 Military Child of the Year award, representing the U.S. Air Force branch.

While it can feel hopeless to navigate life at times, Gray encourages other military children to find joy in the little things.

“Cherish every moment,” Gray said. “Take advantage of the opportunities you are given and cherish all the memories. Look forward to the future but don’t take for granted anything you are given in the present.”

Gray with biological father, mother and siblings Garrett and Ava.

Faith has also played an active role in Blalock’s life as she understands that the only constant is change for military families. 

“You just learn to be present,” Blalock said. “Enjoy the time you’re given together because the occupational hazards are great. Someone once told me that God gives the best stories to those willing to tell them. By his grace we live and serve and learn to be along for the ride.”

Gray said the close-knit relationship with her family has been a guiding hand.

“My mom has been there through everything,” Gray said. “She has always been encouraging me, pushing me to do better and do the best that I can.” 

Gray’s biological father, Maj. Walter David Gray, served as an Air Force Tactical Air Control Party air liaison officer. Her step father, Air Force Col. Jack Andrew Blalock, served as commander of a civil engineer squadron and ROTC commander at Texas State University until he retired earlier this year.

Gray accepting VFW award for essay contest with Rep. Erin Zwiener.

“It totally changed the way I think and live,” Gray reflected. “I wouldn’t be who I am without the military experience that I have with all of these different moves and people we have met.”

Gray credits the consistent travel with her father and step father for her interest in learning new languages and cultures. She is looking to attend college in the near future with a plan to pursue language studies and develop a career in ethnography or missions. 

The Military Child of the Year Award is conducted by national nonprofit Operation Homefront, which focuses on helping build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive in the communities they protect. 

Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) award reception.

“We wanted to bring the spotlight onto the service and sacrifice of our military kids,” said Robert Thomas, chief operating officer. “The kids go through a lot and they serve just the same.”

Each recipient received $10,000, a laptop computer and other gifts. For more information about Operation Homefront and the other Military Child of the Year Award recipients, please visit https://operationhomefront.org/military-child-of-the-year/.

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About Author

Megan Navarro (Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

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