Given by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in conjunction with the Central Florida USO, the General H Norman Schwarzkopf Military Family of the Year award is named after the late General Schwarzkopf and his family.
"You can't help someone get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself."
It is something the General was famous for saying as a way of reiterating that the strength, commitment and resiliency that members of the military display day in and day out comes from the support and encouragement of those around them a.k.a. their families.
Each year, a family from each branch of the military: Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard/Reserves is chosen as a family who has best demonstrated the values of integrity, courage, commitment and service before self, while sharing in the sacrifices of service to our country.
One of those families awarded this year was Sergeant First Class Christopher Rolack and his family. Sergeant Rolack currently serves as an Enlistment Aide to the Commanding General of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base. His wife, Antoinetta, is a school nurse at Tinker K-8 on the base itself. The couple has eight children, each of whom they have instilled military values including service before self. Their efforts within the Tampa Bay community include volunteering at Metropolitan Ministries, the Ronald McDonald House and coaching basketball at local middle and high schools. Antoinetta and her oldest, Chrische, have also spent over 300 hours volunteering at the base's Pharmacare center where they help pharmacists and technicians prepare and retrieve medications for active and retired military members, as well as their dependents.
Chrische, Chrischel, Chrishauna, Chrisheena, Christiana, Christopher II, Christian and Christal range in age from 14-26 and are involved in multiple community efforts both here in Tampa and in Virginia where three of the eight children attend Radford University. Chrische and Chrischel are both local schoolteachers and the youngest three, Christopher II, Christian and Christal all attend nearby Robinson High School.
As you can imagine, it's hard getting the family all together in one place at one time. In fact, up until Wednesday afternoon, Sergeant Rolack hadn't seen his three children who are in college since the holidays. Nor did he know he would before they casually walked in the door around 3:30 p.m. as he was steaming his uniform in preparation for the awards.
"They walk in like, 'Hey Daddy' and I just looked at them like you all are always up to something," Sergeant Rolack said, smiling at the memory of the surprise.
It had been a couple weeks in the making, initiated by Sergeant Rolack's wife, Antoinetta, thinking it would be fun for all her children to be there as they were honored as a family for the years of military service they had collectively put in alongside their father.
"We didn't expect this," Sergeant Rolack said of receiving the award for the Army. "We weren't doing all these things trying to earn this. But then we started listing out things like my daughter volunteering at the church youth group, my wife doing the cooking after school and going on and on and seeing all the boxes we ended up checking."
The Rolack family, along with the five other honored families from each military branch, filed into the auditorium at AdventHealth Training Center with members of their extended family in tow. A total of six families were honored Wednesday night, representing all branches of the military. Key note speakers included Owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and President of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and Glazer Family Foundation Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, remarking that this event was one of her favorites of the year because of how important serving members of the military is for the Buccaneers as an organization.
View photos from the fifth annual General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Military Family awards.
"The Tampa Bay area is home to over 50,000 military families," said Buccaneers Owner and President of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation and Glazer Family Foundation Darcie Glazer Kassewitz. "Our military is truly the backbone of this region and I want to express our sincerest appreciation for all active duty, retired and veteran military family members who are here tonight."
Buccaneers players Ryan Jensen and Evan Smith were also in attendance to greet the families. Both have strong military ties in their own families. Smith has 12 family members that have served or are currently serving in the military. He was also the Buccaneers' Salute to Service nominee in 2018 following his many military efforts year-round in the Tampa Bay area. He's the first to volunteer to greet servicemembers at MacDill Air Force Base during the Buccaneers' annual visit and holds the sacrifice and commitment of military and their families close to his heart.
Smith spoke at last year's awards ceremony and had most in the room misty-eyed talking about his brother in particular who is a Purple Heart recipient.
Jensen's grandfather served in the Army during Vietnam and Korea, his Uncle Keith served in the Army as well, his 'adopted brother' served in the Marine Corps and he has countless friends who have served or are currently serving. He's seen the amount of courage and again, commitment it takes from military members and their families and appreciates their sacrifice immensely.
"It's an awesome recognition for the military families," Jensen said. "Often times the families get a little forgotten about so this is a great opportunity to bring them into the spotlight and thank them for their service because they're serving the country too by keeping our men and women who are on the front lines going."