America's Most Inspiring Military Moms For 2014

Whether she is serving in the armed forces or is the parent of a child in uniform, a military mother spends every day balancing her love for her country with her devotion to her family. Some amazing nominations were submitted for the third annual All You America’s Most Inspiring Military Moms contest.

mai christy military mom charity founder camp courage

The Caregiver

Mai Christy, 43, Milwaukie, Ore.

Nominated by her friend Debra Hoek

Mai Christy spent two hours and more than $1,400 on a recent trip to a dollar store. She cleared out entire shelves of toothpaste, breath mints and beef jerky. Then, when she got home, she stacked her stash in neat piles in a spare bedroom, nestling the new purchases among mountains of toiletries, notebooks and snacks. 

No, Mai is not a hoarder. She is the founder, president and project manager of Camp Courage, an organization that has assembled and shipped more than 2,000 care packages to service people all over the world. 

“Our service personnel spend months or years separated from their families,” says Mai’s friend Debra Hoek, 58, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who nominated her for the contest. “They miss holidays, birthdays, their children’s sports events and all those everyday things we take for granted. Mai’s packages let them know that they’re not forgotten.” 

Mai’s father and grand­father had served in the military, but when her son, Nick, 22, enlisted in the Marines in 2011, she says she was scared. “The idea that he’d chosen a career that could potentially end his life was more than I could accept,” says Mai, a single mother of three. She found support
by joining United Strength Moms Corps, a Facebook group. When
the group’s members were looking to boost injured servicemen’s morale at Camp Pendleton in California in 2012, Mai volunteered to prepare and send them care packages. “I had never put one together before,” she says. “But I thought, How hard can it be?”

During a weekend off from her job as an accounts-payable specialist, Mai shopped for items such as soap, lip balm and notebooks with $150 the moms had pitched in. She filled the boxes, paid $90 out of her pocket to ship them and figured she was done.

But as word spread on Facebook, donations kept landing in Mai’s mailbox—$50 here, $25 there—and more parents asked Mai to send a box to their Marine. Today Camp Courage has more than 6,300 members on Facebook and has touched the lives of Marines as far afield as Afghan­istan and Japan. Two spare bedrooms in Mai’s house are filled with plastic tubs of Sudoku books, granola bars, hand sanitizer and other package staples. During once-a-month “packing parties,” Mai and a handful of volunteers spend the morning filling boxes. The manager of Mai’s local discount store once cleared other customers from an aisle to let her shop quickly for everything she needed.

“My nights, weekends, holidays and vacations are all spent on Camp Courage,” Mai says. “It’s my life.” 

Nick and his siblings, Amber, 25, and Gabe, 18, tell Mai they think what she is doing is “pretty cool,” Mai says. But it’s the thank-you letters from care package recipients that nearly bring her to tears. “I cherish every one,” she says. Her sacrifice of time is “minute,” she adds, compared with that of service members: “They’ve volunteered to give their own lives for someone else, no questions asked. That’s heroic.”