Extension News

Military Kids Launch Support Networks for Children of Soldiers


AMES, Iowa - Operation: Military Kids made its national launch today with kickoff ceremonies in Washington, D.C. A collaborative effort between the Army and America's communities, the program will help children and teens of military service members cope with the stresses and changes a parent's deployment brings into their lives.

OMK is co-sponsored by the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center's (CFSC) Child and Youth Services in partnership with the National 4-H Headquarters, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Partners include the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Military Child Education Coalition, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, local community groups and service organizations. The program is open to all military connected children but is geared toward those children of the 150,000 deployed National Guard and Reserve members.

"These children may never have identified themselves as military kids until a parent's deployment rendered them 'suddenly military,'" said Chris Gleason, military liaison for Iowa 4-H and program specialist with Iowa State University Extension 4-H Youth Development. "Their first true experience with the military is the stress and uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with military deployments. With the additional stresses of helping out the remaining parent at home and the constant media coverage of the war, the impact can be overwhelming for these youth, especially those living away from a military community and its comprehensive support structures."

"The children of National Guard or Reserve soldiers can really have their world turned upside down when a parent deploys," said M.A. Lucas, director, Army Child and Youth Services. "They face new stresses and responsibilities at home in helping the remaining parent, and, because they aren't living in a military community, may not have peers who can relate to their new situation."

OMK originally rolled out in 2004 in five states, including Iowa, OMK programs currently are established in 19 other states highly affected by military deployments - Ala., Ark., Calif., Fla., Ga., Hawaii, Idaho, Ind., Md., Mo., N.H., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, S.C., Tenn., Texas, Va. and Wash.

Concerned with the affect of deployments on families, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has been a strong supporter of OMK and was on hand to officially kickoff the program at an event in Washington, D.C. today.

"The Global War on Terror and the activation of so many National Guard and Reserve service members has touched communities across our country. It is imperative that we, as Americans, show our support for military children and families. Connecting them with programs in their communities, such as Operation: Military Kids, is an important way to help," said Grassley.

In addition to bringing about support and social activities, children of military service members and others interested in OMK can participate in three specific outreach activities to raise awareness and support of the OMK program in their communities.

* Mobile Technology Labs -- portable computer labs that are set up locally to connect geographically dispersed military youth with their deployed parent(s) and other youth in similar situations. The portable labs contain laptops, digital photo and video cameras, a printer, a scanner, a laminator, DVD media and a variety of software.

* Hero Packs -- children of deployed service members receive an official Hero Pack, a knapsack filled with various items to help them stay connected and to thank them for the sacrifices they make when their parents are deployed. The Hero Packs are assembled by participating OMK youth during local, county, state or national partner events.

* Speak Out for Military Kids -- Through a speakers bureau, military kids and their supporters can speak at local schools and community groups to raise awareness about the unique needs of military youth.

Operation: Military Kids evolved from the long-standing partnership between CFSC's Child and Youth Services program and 4-H. State 4-H military liaisons serve as the point of contact for participating OMK states.

"It has been wonderful to watch this program grow," said Sharon Wright, national program leader, National 4-H Headquarters, U.S. Department of Agriculture. "State 4-H military liaisons assembled statewide OMK teams of 4-H, Guard, Reserve, Boys and Girls Clubs, educators, child care providers, veterans, other community groups and youth to educate citizens about the issues facing military families and to simultaneously build networks of support for those youth and families."

"In Iowa, we have discovered that military kids and their families are key players in OMK. They offer valuable insights and are willing and eager to participate in the project," Iowa's Gleason said.

Community agencies, parents or youth interested in the OMK initiative can get more information or identify their state 4-H military liaison at www.operationmilitarykids.org.

Contacts :

Chris Gleason, Operation Military Kids, ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development, (515) 294-1557, cgleason@iastate.edu

Carol Ouverson, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-9640, couverso@iastate.edu

Sherrie Wright, CSREES, USDA, (202) 720-5075, swright@csrees.usda.gov