AMES, Iowa -- Fifteen-year-old Brooke Brinker, a member of the Lincoln Links 4-H club in Black Hawk County, wowed the crowd when she spoke about life as a Military Kid at a recent training for new Operation: Military Kids staff. As she told her story, the audience saw and heard a confident young adult who had taken on increased responsibilities at home to help her family deal with her father’s deployment. They also learned of her dedication to helping other Military Families cope with the changes deployment brings.
Brinker is part of Speak Out for Military Kids (SOMK), a team of teenage 4-H’ers and Military Kids who are trained on how to educate the public about military life. It’s a role she relishes.
“I decided to join to learn more about military and just so I could also meet people who were going through the same thing ... so I could get my feelings out,” she said. “I have gained presentation skills, and I’ve gained the knowledge that there are a lot of people out there who do want to help but maybe have a hard time getting started.”
Operation: Military Kids is the U.S. Army’s collaborative effort with U.S. communities to support children and youth impacted by deployment. Through a network of community partners, including Iowa State University Extension 4-H Youth Development, Operation: Military Kids provides youth program opportunities for school age, middle school and teenaged youth and connects them to support resources where they live.
The professionals at the training came from many different states and areas of expertise. Operation: Military Kids works in partnership with 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs, the American Legion, Army Child and Youth Services, Military Child Education Coalition and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, among others. Some of the people at the training session had expertise in education and child care. Some knew the Army. All wanted to learn how to support Military Kids.
Brinker spoke of her experiences with her dad serving in the National Guard. Her family has dealt with two deployments. As the oldest sibling, she has extra household chores and family responsibilities. Sometimes she has to skip school sporting events to watch her two younger brothers.
Sometimes the added responsibilities are hard for a 15-year-old to take. During a pre-Christmas weekend, Brinker recalled, “I had plans to do stuff with friends, but I had to cancel because my mom did not feel good and I had to wrap presents and watch my brother; and it just sucks because you don’t have that other parent figure there.”
It’s tough not to think about her dad when she’s in school and to stay focused in class, Brinker added. But her close friends have really helped her get through life with dad being deployed.
The opportunities that Brinker has had through Operation: Military Kids also have helped her cope with deployment. Her highlights include attending Purple Camp in 2006, where she met other Military Kids; participating in the ASPIRE Therapeutic Riding program’s Family Reintegration day, where the entire Brinker family made fun memories with horses; and gaining leadership and presentation experience from Speak Out for Military Kids.
Regarding her speaking engagement at the Operation: Military Kids staff training session, Brinker said, “My favorite part was meeting the national team and just being able to get the word out and help other states have ideas for their own Operation: Military Kids.”
Any 4-H’er or Military Youth in eighth grade or above may apply to join the Speak Out for Military Kids team. Contact Victoria Schmidt, OMK program coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how to join.
Operation: Military Kids provides positive youth development programs and community-based support for children and families affected by the increased mobilization and deployment of troops. National and State Operation: Military Kids partners include U.S. Army Child and Youth Services, USDA National 4-H Headquarters, ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development, Iowa National Guard and other state and community agencies and organizations who provide programs and community-based support for children and families throughout the deployment cycle. Visit www.operationmilitarykids.org for more information.
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, email@example.com