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Military children – Our unsung heroes during turbulent times

Monday, April 01, 2013

You hear a lot of talk about programs that support those who serve, but most of this attention is focused specifically on the needs of service members.

The rising awareness and willingness to help members of the military community is amazing.

But what about the families, namely the kids, who are serving in their own way right next to their parent or loved one?

The mini men and women who gamely move from one adventure to the next: How do we acknowledge all that they do?

This month, we celebrate them.

April was designated as the Month of the Military Child by Secretary of Defense Weinberger in 1986, and each year the military and civilian communities are encouraged to show their thanks through special events and activities.

As a former Army brat, I see several positive effects of the military lifestyle in my adult life: Familiarity with change, being a seasoned traveler, and being able to strike up a conversation with almost anyone.

Growing up, though, none of these things felt much like a "perk."

Military kids make it all look so easy, but it’s often anything but easy.

The military culture I grew up in is much different from the one experienced by military kids today. With more than 11 years at war, military kids are grappling with experiences and issues far beyond their years.

The military they know is one of extended periods of separation due to deployments, taking on extra responsibilities at home, and parents or loved ones returning home with visible and invisible wounds.

Many of these kids weren’t even born when the events of Sept. 11 occurred, yet they carry the weight of the effects of war all the same.

However, military kids are incredibly strong and incredibly resilient, continually making the best of whatever challenges come their way.

Like most kids, simply being acknowledged is almost all the thanks they need. The DoD reports that there are now more than 2 million military kids aged newborn to 18 – that’s a lot of thank you notes to write.

Joking aside, there are many ways to simply and easily show your appreciation for the military kids you know, whether they’re your own children, students in your classroom, players on the team you coach, or members of your church’s youth group.

Consider taking some time out to do a fun activity or participate in an event in your community – you have a full month to make a special memory by doing something small.

Family support is a year-round effort, and there are many programs working to better the lives of military families and kids.

Here are a few:

Operation: Military Kids (OMK) partners with programs like 4-H, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the Military Child Education Coalition to create a network of local and national support services for military children.

OMK’s main focus is on children experiencing deployment, and encourages the military and civilian communities to show their support and appreciation with "Hero Packs" filled with materials by individuals or organizations.

Operation Purple: Now in its 10th season, the National Military Family Association’s free camp program provides weeklong adventures for military kids with deployed parents.

The deployment experience can be difficult for kids, and having a week off from the "real world" to have fun with other kids who know exactly what they’re going through can make a big difference.

Visit www.militaryfamily.org to learn more.

Military Kids Connect (MKC) is an online network for military children, ages six to 17 that provides age-specific resources, videos, and activities. It’s important for kids to feel part of a community that understands what they’re going through, no matter where they are in the world.

MKC hosts online forums for children to share experiences and ideas with other military kids.

Parents and Educators can also find useful information or working with military kids and students at www.militarykidsconnect.org.

Operation Homefront provides emergency financial and other assistance (to include auto repair, moving assistance, and home repair) to military families.

Along with hosting Homefront Celebrations (special nights out for military spouses), Operation Homefront holds an annual Military Child of the Year Award, where a military kid from each service branch receives $5,000, and a trip to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition ceremony.

Visit www.operationhomefront.net for more details.

Beyond these organizations and programs, military families can also look to places like DoD’s Military OneSource for extensive information and resources for every aspect of military family life.

Our hope is that even when April has come and gone, you will continue to support military kids.

Let’s make the Month of the Military Child a year-long celebration by acknowledging their efforts whenever possible.

Family Strong – Army Strong!