July 03, 2015 04:35 PM

Just in time for Independence Day, Hilary Swank is reflecting on her roots growing up in a military family.

Her father Stephen Swank served as Chief Master Sergeant in the Oregon Air National Guard – a responsibility that took him away from Swank throughout her youth. On Thursday, the two-time Academy Award-winning actress shared her experience as a serviceman s daughter at a New York City event where Duracell announced s $100,000 donation to the USO s Comfort Crew for Military Kids. The battery-maker also unveiled a new video honoring military families.

“I went months at a time without my dad around,” Swank told PEOPLE. “This was before cell phones, before texting, before Skype, before you could be in touch so easily like we have now just right at our fingertips. It was just the good old-fashioned phone at that point.”

She felt her father s absence at swim meets and at the breakfast table. “There were things that were missed the little things,” she said.

Hilary Swank poses with 3-year-old Mackenzie Nilson, the daughter of a Navy air traffic controller who was featured in Duracell's film
Diane Bondareff/Invision for Duracell/AP

Her unique childhood helped her connect with the Nilsons, a military family that inspired Duracell s emotional video. “She s down-to-earth, and she s very in tune with the whole program. She s very supportive, so I thank her for that,” praised Robert Nilson, a Navy air traffic controller.

Aiding military families is not the only cause that moves Swank. She won her first Oscar for her turn as a transgender man in the 1999 film Boys Don t Cry and then served as a spokesperson at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which advocates for LGBTQ youth. Swank commented: “To be their spokesperson and having to scratch the surface of what life was like for them and playing a role like that was a great honor for me.”

Reacting to the broadening acceptance of transgender people – spurred on by celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox – Swank noted: “We re all one people, and we all want to give and receive love, and I think it s really beautiful that people are celebrating our differences.”

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