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Operation Military Kids

Operation Military Kids


Operation Military Kids
Supporting military families in Minnesota a learning circle lesson offered by the
University of Minnesota Extension Service. When a parent serving in the
National Guard or Army Reserve is called to active duty, they must leave their family,
their work, and their community. The call to active duty initiates a
cycle that impacts the entire family and all those around them. The family becomes a suddenly military
family. For many families, this is a new role. It’s important to know the stages
families in the military go through in order to provide support and
understanding. This presentation will focus on the following objectives: to
learn about the military in Minnesota, to understand the cycle of deployment, and
the impact this has on children and families, to learn about the Operation
Military Kids program, and to discuss ways that you and your community can
support military families in Minnesota. We don’t have any large military bases,
however, we do have thousands of National Guard and Army Reserve personnel who
live in our local communities and have been mobilized. Many of these people are
assigned to duty in places like Iraq and Bosnia. Others served here in the United
States helping with disasters and national security duties. When deployment
happens, the families of these soldiers experience a huge change and often the
community isn’t aware of the impact service has on these suddenly military
families. The National Guard in each state is commanded by the governor of
that state but can be called up by the President of the United States to serve
the nation during times of national conflict. Most of us know about the Guard
when we see neighbors and friends and family members report for drill weekend
each month and an annual two-week training in the summer. The Army Reserve
is not connected to the states but is under the command of the
President of the United States. As a result of the Global War on Terrorism
our Guard and Reserve soldiers are at the highest level of mobilization and
deployment since World War II. In Minnesota, most of our military service
people live in our local communities far from military installations that
typically provide support when a family member is deployed. Guard and Reserve
families have different needs than career military families. The Guard reservist is
a citizen soldier with their primary occupation in the community and a
part-time military job. Families don’t consider themselves military families. And because of geography, most families are isolated from other families with a
deployed member. The family identity changes with one phone call from
civilian to military in today’s world. Te United States has a small standing
army in times of war. The Guard and Reserve units are relied upon more and
more to support our missions around the world. We currently have troops deployed
in 133 locations worldwide. Members may be
called up for active duty from several months to two years. In most cases, they
will be far from their families and communities. A large percentage are
parents and 8% are single parents. They have children across the age range with
about one-third of the children in elementary school. What does this mean for the service
members and their families? Deployment, mobilization, service– it
impacts the entire family. Deployment creates unique issues for
families–everyone is affected. A two-parent household becomes a single-parent household. And in cases where both parents are deployed, children find
themselves living with relatives or other family members. This change in
parenting means the children have less parental involvement, more household
responsibilities, and needing to care for siblings. Children may spend time home alone. And there may be a change in caregivers if
the remaining parent needs to work outside the home to make ends meet. The
deployed parent is absent for day-to-day and significant events. Children may have
separation issues. Communication with a deployed parent may be limited and
there’s worry about the safety of the parent who may be in a war zone.
Sometimes families need to move to new neighborhoods or communities in order
to live with extended family. This means that children lose the connection to
their friends, school, and community at a time when they need it most. Educators
and community members may lack awareness of insensitivity regarding the
deployment and needs of children and families of deployed service members. The
news media takes on a different meaning and children sometimes have difficulty
understanding and dealing with the media. Families may feel alone and not know
anyone else who is going through the same thing. All these changes can impact
a family’s well-being. Youth may experience behavioral changes, peer
pressure, lower self-esteem, and the family may experience a change in
financial resources. Because Minnesota has a small military support system and
no large military bases, families don’t have a lot of services to help them cope.
The deployment cycle disrupts the family before, during, and after a parent
is called to active duty. Youth and families also develops strengths as a
result of the deployment. The situation foster’s maturity. Individuals grow
emotionally and develop insights. They have opportunities to become more
independent. The deployment encourages flexibility and adaptation to change.
Children and families build skills for adjusting to separations and losses
faced in later life. The deployment often strengthens family bonds. And youth and
families typically develop an understanding of the importance of civic
duty. The cycle of deployment is divided into five stages: pre-deployment, deployment, sustainment, redeployment, and post-employment. Predeployment begins when
the family member in the military gets notice that his or her Guard or Reserve
unit is being called to active duty. This is an initial alert notice and there may
be a very short time until they leave or it may be a year in advance for
deployment. During this time, the service member will often be required to take
additional training and the family needs to get its personal legal and financial
affairs in order. Families often experience this as a
time of unpredictability with changes in plans and changes in dates. Stage 2 is
deployment. The service member departs for duty. This is the time of goodbyes
and learning to adjust to the physical absence of the parent who has left. This is an activation ceremony. The soldiers are the focus of attention but notice
the many family members and friends there to support them. We need to
remember how important community support is for everyone impacted by deployment. Stage 3 is sustainment. Now the service member is gone and is performing
his or her duties. This can last from 2 to 18 months. Its a time when the family
at home begins to develop their own routines and responsibilities. It’s a
particularly hard time to listen to the news knowing a loved one is in harm’s
way. Sometimes young people will not want to talk about the absent family member
and this makes it hard to know they need support. Redeployment, also known as deactivation,
is the time right before and right after the service member returns home. The service member may be home for good, for a leave, or to see if their unit will
be redeployed. Its a time of anticipation, excitement, and preparing for the
homecoming. At the same time, it can be a time of apprehension. Things have changed. Their children have grown, spouses have taken on new responsibilities and there
are many other changes from life before deployment. The family has developed new
ways of doing things. The returning service member may want everything to
be the same as before, but that is probably not a reality. Families need time to figure out new
ways of communication, of parenting, and sharing in household responsibilities.
The last stage is post-employment. The homecoming has ended and now the family is reunited. It’s typical for families to go through a honeymoon period but then
it’s time to adjust to the new normal. The family is no longer an active
military family but they will always be a family that was changed by military
service. Every family is different. The adjustments they needed to make to adapt
to the absence of the family member now need to be looked at and often changed. Perhaps it’s time to move back home. Or the family communication patterns need
to change with both parents in the house. The independence experienced by the
family when they had to go it alone needs to be negotiated. Service in a war
zone involves experiences that can affect a
soldier’s mental health. It’s not unusual for veterans to experience depression
and a sense of isolation or even post-traumatic stress disorder. For some
soldiers and families dealing with this process may require professional help.
Along with that strong, supportive relationships will help speed the
process of adjustment during the deployment process. Operation Military
Kids is working to help families. It helps provide community
support networks, recreational, social, and educational programs. Support for coping
with stress, and education for schools, community agencies, and the public.
Operation Military Kids has four major activities. The first is “ready, set, go
trainings”. These are trainings designed to educate a variety of audiences
including educators, community groups, clergy, and others on the impact of the
deployment cycle on soldiers, families, kids, and the community as a whole. “Speak Out for Military Kids” is a youth
speaker’s bureau where trained military and non-military children make
presentations about the impact of becoming suddenly military. It includes
recreational, social, and educational programs for military youth living in
civilian communities and providing support to military kids coping with
stress. “Hero Packs” are backpacks containing items such as cameras, writing
material, diaries, stuffed toys, and baseball caps, that are distributed to
children of deployed soldiers to provide comfort as well as recognition for their
sacrifices of having a parent serve the country. Finally, “Mobile Tech Labs” contain
computers and other digital technology intended for children of military
families to communicate with their deployed parents. Families need support
during all five phases of the deployment cycle. Here are some ways that you can
help when you know a family has a member who’s been called to active duty. It’s
important to show appreciation for their efforts. One of the things service people worry
about is the welfare of their families back home. Be supportive. You can mow their lawn,
shovel the snow or just checking in. It will make a big difference. You can also send
letters and care packages to a deployed family member. We can all do our part to
care for those here at home. It’s recommended that if you offer
help, be specific rather than saying “let me know if…” say
“what do you need this week” or “I’ll be over to mow your grass on Saturday”.
Offer to support the children too with transportation, paying for a meal, or a
treat to an event. Probably one of the most important things you can do is
listen to the concerns of the family and avoid pushing your political views about
the war. We all need to support the troops no matter what our opinions are
about the war. If you’d like more information or want to know how to
volunteer with Operation Military Kids, you can go to our web site www.operationmilitarykids.org. You can also contact Jim Diedrick, who is the state
4-H Military Liaison. And additional websites are listed on the materials
that you receive with this lesson. Operation Military Kids in Minnesota is
supported by a number of partners– 4-H, the University of Minnesota
Extension Service, the National Guard, the Army Reserve, the American Legion, the
Minnesota Department of Education, Boys and Girls Clubs, Child Care Resource and
Referral, and the Military Child Education Coalition. This presentation
was developed by Rose Allen, Regional Extension educator and Family Relations,
and Sarah Croymans Regional Extension educator Family Resource Management with
the support of the Minnesota Operation Military Kids team. Thanks for joining us.


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