April is Month of the Military Child. It is set aside to let youngsters with a parent in the military know that they are not alone and that their sacrifice is appreciated.
Right now, two Indiana National Guard units in or near Johnson County are deployed: a medical unit out of Shelbyville with 25 members and an air traffic control unit out of Johnson County with 45 members, National Guard state family program director Maj. Lisa Kopczynski said. The first unit should return in June. The second, which left in December, will be gone until the end of the year.
In addition, reservists and Guard members are pulled away from home for periodic training. Their families live with the knowledge that a call-up to active duty can come quickly.
School counselors want to know if students have parents who are deployed and will be away from home for months or longer. Counselors know the sadness or anxiety the youngsters can feel might stop them from focusing on school. Younger students especially might feel as though they’re the only kids dealing with a parent who’s away, the counselors said.
At Creekside Elementary School in Franklin students were given boxes to fill with reminders of their parents, deployed throughout the world. Students can fill the boxes with reminders of conversations they want to have with their parents when they talk to them. They can also fill the boxes with items that remind them of their parents and keep them at school to feel closer to their relative.
The goal is to help the students whose parents are away from home serving in the military focus in school.
Counselor Samantha Vidal said, “I feel that we’ll also just show them that it’s hard having your parent away, but as a community we’re really grateful for the students’ sacrifice and the family’s sacrifice of having that military member away from home.”
At Whiteland Elementary School, counselor Kristy Boone uses memory boxes the same way. She also works with families to see if there are any other resources they need during a deployment.
“We just really kind of support them in their feelings, and keeping things close to them makes them feel like (their parents) are there,” Boone said.
The National Guard has a free, five-week-long program called Military Kids In School Support. Earlier this year, the program worked with the Creekside students to create communication boxes and to show the students they aren’t alone.
“Military kids feel really isolated. They feel they’re the only person they know going through this experience,” Indiana National Guard child and youth program contractor Anne Tedore said.
The goal by the end of the five weeks was for the students to know that they’re not alone and that there are others in their school and in Franklin who know how they feel and can support them, Tedore and Vidal said.
“They’re usually pretty surprised that they’re not the only ones going through it,” Vidal said.
Indiana has a tradition of military service, and Johnson County in particular has a strong National Guard presence with Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh and the new armory in Franklin. That means we have more than an average number of military families.
It is important to remember the families’ sacrifice as well as that of the soldiers themselves. Programs such as Military Kids In School Support and efforts by individual schools help young people know that they are not alone and that we value the vital contribution their families are making.
Month of the Military Child might not be a Hallmark best-seller, but perhaps there should be a line of greeting cards. If you know a child whose parent is serving in the military, take a moment to write a note and let the child know he or she is being remembered.