AMES, Iowa -- Soon 2,800 Iowa National Guard soldiers from across the state will deploy for duty in Afghanistan. But that’s not the whole story. According to Mikayla, an Iowa Military Kid, “It’s not just ‘oh, a soldier’s going overseas, no one’s getting affected except for them.’ The families are [affected] too.”
Mikayla is part of Speak Out for Military Kids (SOMK). This team of military and non-military kids develops communication and leadership skills as they educate the public about the challenges faced by Military Families throughout the deployment cycle. Said Mikayla, “We get to tell our stories.”
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Their stories are powerful. Many of these kids have faced multiple deployments, said Chris Gleason, project director for Iowa State University Extension 4-H’s Operation: Military Kids (OMK). “These young people have strong voices and it’s important that we listen to them.”
Mikayla’s dad has been overseas twice. Thomas’ dad has been deployed five times. Paige has a brother in the Air Force, another in the Army Reserve, two cousins in the Navy and an uncle in the Marines. These kids understand the strain that deployment places on kids and families. Through SOMK, they’re helping other kids, families and communities learn how to deal with the challenge.
Said Thomas, “We’re just trying to get the word out about what families face when soldiers are deployed.”
Just check the list of places from which Iowa National Guard units are being deployed, Gleason said. For each location, the soldiers probably come from a dozen or more towns. Teachers, fire fighters, police, doctors, mechanics and others are being deployed. Every soldier’s deployment affects the community, and communities can turn to their military kids as a resource to help others cope, Gleason said.
Be Prepared to Support Military Families
Iowa communities need to be prepared to support Military Kids, Gleason said. OMK partners are encouraging professionals who work with young children, school-age children and teens to learn about the additional stressors that military children and families experience during deployment.
Teachers, counselors, school nurses and child care professionals all have the opportunity to offer vital emotional support and provide the secure, safe environments that these children need, Gleason said. These caring adults who work with military children on a daily basis can develop plans in partnership with parents to support military kids throughout the deployment cycle.
“For example, community libraries and veterans groups can host story hours that focus on supporting military kids. Schools can create bulletin boards highlighting the military service of their students’ family members, past and present. Many schools are developing in-school and after-school support groups for Military Kids,” Gleason said.
“We want kids to thrive, not just survive, during deployment. It takes many caring adults in their lives to make this happen,” Gleason added.
OMK Provides Training, Resources
Operation: Military Kids and partner agencies provide free training and resources to school districts and communities to help them develop community capacity to support children and Military Families affected before, during and after deployment, Gleason explained.
Training includes understanding how the deployment cycle affects children, identifying stress reactions and intervention strategies designed to mitigate psychosocial stress caused by deployment, and how to access and use resources to build community-based support networks.
“Multiple deployments put many children at risk” according to Gleason. “Iowa soldiers have a mission to focus on, and they can do that more effectively when they know that their children are safe and supported in their schools and communities.”
About OMK Partners
Operation: Military Kids is funded by the U.S. Army’s Child, Youth and School Services in partnership with USDA/4-H National Headquarters and the land-grant universities. National and state partners also include the American Legion, Military Child Education Coalition, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, Iowa State University Extension, Iowa Army/Air National Guard, Reserves – Army, Navy, Air, Marine, Coast Guard, Iowa School Counselors Association, Operation Give a Hug and the Iowa National Guard Officers Auxiliary. Information is available online at www.operationmilitarykids.org or www.extension.iastate.edu/4H/omk/.
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, 515-294-0775,