Military Kids: Sometimes the Toughest Warriors

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Christine Cabalo / Marine Photo

Military children in Hawaii march during a 2012 mock deployment to learn what their parents do while on real deployments.

Since 1986, thanks to then-defense secretary Casper Weinberger, April has been designated as the Month of the Military Child. From the White House to military installations and schools across the nation, the commitment, sacrifice and resiliency of military kids are getting wider recognition.

According to the federal Department of Education, “more than 1.2 million school-aged children of service men and women” attend our nation’s schools – that means virtually every school has military children among its students. More than 44% of active-duty service members have children, and nearly as many members of the Reserves and Guard do, too.

A Military OneSource demographics report noted there are nearly 2 million kids with parents in uniform — 1,985,471, to be precise – in 2011, with well more than half being school-aged.

With the war in Afghanistan now having lasted three times longer than World War II — and nearing the total years of U.S. combat troops in Vietnam — researchers are compiling efforts to mitigate combat’s fall-out. In 2010, the Department of Defense conducted research into “the impacts of deployment of deployed members of the armed forces on their dependent children.” It noted that “future research is necessary to better understand the trajectory of military children’s bereavement over the span of childhood.”

Some non-military researchers and program developers have taken the emotional needs of military children to heart. Interactive workshops and camp experiences are cropping up to fill the void with preventative strategies.

Others, such as The ScreamFree Institute, are providing tools to ease transition and create calm inside military families. Operation We Are Here works hard to provide a warehouse of resources, useful in guiding families through individual and community help.

The groups that are catching my attention lately, however, are the ones rising up to involve the kids directly. Right in time with the Month of the Military Child, a Navy brat inspired a campaign to raise awareness for PTSD, in honor of her dad. Headed up by the folks at Military with PTSD, they’ve made it their mission to help kids share their stories about loving a wounded warrior through it all.

The group PTSD TKOPost Traumatic Stress Disorder Teens & Kids Overcoming – is quickly gaining momentum and inspiring brats of all ages to make a difference. Their ultimate goal: to put an end to veteran suicides and the stigma of PTSD.

Children tend to view the world without the biases or fears that adults often carry as a result of life’s experiences. Thus, they are more open-minded, accepting and willing partners in life’s toughest journeys.

That’s a great example to follow in celebrating our nation’s military children this month, and beyond.

Maryann Makekau is an Air Force veteran, spouse of a retired member, and mother of two grown military children. She’s also the founder of Hope Matters and author of the Little Patriot Books.