Last month, Moranda Hern was very nervous. She was speaking at a White House ceremony that marked the first anniversary of “Joining Forces” — a national initiative established by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to ensure military families have the support they have earned. She was also asked to introduce the First Lady at the event.
Hern, a rising junior diver at the Air Force Academy, sailed through the speech without a stutter, and is still glowing from the moment. But while she was honored for that opportunity, Hern is prouder of reason she was invited to the White House.
Hern, along with friend Kaylei Deakin, founded the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs, a non-profit organization that provides support to girls aged 13 to 18 who come from military families. The organization was one of 20 finalists in the Joining Forces Community Challenge, recognizing citizens, communities, schools, non-profit organizations, faith-based institutions, philanthropic organizations and local governments for their efforts in supporting military families with several, non-monetary, national prizes.
The two California natives and military daughters met at a National Guard leadership conference in St. Louis. The idea for the Sisterhood started to form after Hern struggled during her father’s deployment. Lt. Col. Rick Hern was deployed by the Air National Guard to Afghanistan for six months when Moranda was a sophomore in high school.
“I didn’t know any other kids that had parents in the military or were going through deployments,” Hern said. “It hit me and I felt really isolated. A lot of my friends didn’t know how to act, so they just ignored the issue because they didn’t want to say or do the wrong thing. After his deployment was over I met another military daughter named Kaylei Deakin. When I met her I realized I wasn’t the only one who struggled through their parent being deployed.”
But while Hern and Deakin’s ideas were solid, getting the organization off the ground was a long process. They spent several weekends on Skype discussing the nuts and bolts of the organization. There were a lot of cold calls to companies for funding, and teaming up with other non-profits.
“Starting a non-profit organization generally takes a while and is really difficult, but when you’re in high school and have no experience, no money and really no connections, it is very difficult,” Hern said. “We had a lot of great supporters from the California National Guard that helped a lot.”
The goal of the Sisterhood is to unite and inspire military daughters throughout their parents’ deployments. Their website provides a support group through an online community, while the group also offers conferences where girls are able to connect with other military daughters. The organization’s first conference in California in 2010 drew 100 girls, and there are plans for another conference in the fall in Pennsylvania.
“It was really surprising to me because my reactions to my dad’s deployment were so mild compared to many of the girls I’ve met,” Hern said. “There are girls struggling with eating disorders, girls with grades slipping – a lot of the issues girls go through in high school are intensified during deployment.
“A girl told me she was so glad that someone was talking about what she wasn’t brave enough to say, and giving her a voice and an avenue to connect with other girls.”
Hern has had to put her day-to-day involvement with the Sisterhood on hold while she fulfills her lifelong dream of attending the Air Force Academy. The co-founder is still very much a part of the organization, but concentrates on the conceptual process and big picture ideas.
At the Academy, Hern is juggling a busy schedule of classes, diving and her military duties. Air Force head diving coach Stan Curnow said Hern has always been a self-starter.
“I first met Moranda several years ago when she came to our diving camp in the summer,” Curnow said. “She earned her own money and paid for camp herself each time she came to camp. I was very impressed with her as an individual.”
Hern was Air Force’s top female diver in all three events this season until suffering a concussion, forcing her to sit out the conference championships. However, like most cadets, she has much more on her plate than diving. She will be traveling to Madrid, Spain, and Kuwait for an internship and military training this summer. Hern’s goal is to one day become a pilot in the Air Force.
“She’s going to be a good officer in the Air Force,” Curnow said. “She’s got vision and knows how to reach out and go for it. She’s a great young lady and I have great respect for her.”