In honor of April’s Month of the Military Child, I created a Top 10 list of the qualities I most appreciate about children from military families.
Their amazing service and sacrifice deserve a much longer list, but I figured this would at least be a start.
What I most appreciate about children from military families:
- Their sense of humor. Navy wife Vivian Greentree’s sons pasted pictures of their deployed dad on a stick, dubbed it a “dad on a stick” and took it everywhere with them. Her son, MJ, even asked if “dad on a stick” could help make macaroni and cheese. He carefully placed the following message to his dad under the picture of this mac and cheese preparation: We’ll eat mac and cheese when you get home. You can use my Spiderman bowl.”
- They selflessly serve their community. Military children possess a strong sense of service — perhaps modeled after their military dads and moms who serve and sacrifice daily. But whatever its origin, they don’t hesitate to step up at school, at home and in their communities. James Nathaniel Richards, the fifth of six children in his military family, took on a host of deployment-related challenges when his Navy father and three of his brothers deployed at the same time. But rather than focus on the separation, the 9-year-old started a blog to help other military kids deal with deployments and separations. He also heads up the anti-bullying committee at his school, and has clocked more than 200 hours as a USO volunteer.
- They stand by their military parent through thick and thin. I met a high school senior who told me his father would miss his graduation and his departure to college. But this teen wasn’t upset in the least. “He loves to be a soldier, and if it makes him happy, it makes me happy,” he said. “How can I possibly complain that he’s not watching me graduate when he’s out there sacrificing for our nation.”
- Their sense of patriotism. Zachary Laychak was 9 years old when his father was killed Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Laychak struggled over the years with anger and confusion over the incident. But as time passed, his initial anger evolved into a deep sense of patriotism – born of resentment against those who dared to attack his nation and his family. “As terrible as this whole situation was, I know he was a very patriotic person,” he said of his father, and that he died serving his country. That’s a way he would have been proud to go.”
- They support each other. Two California teenagers, Moranda Hern and Kaylei Deakin, were inspired to create the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs after they dealt with their National Guard dads’ deployments. They didn’t want other military daughters to feel what they did: alone. Their organization is intended to unite, inspire and lead girls with parents in the military.
- Their adaptability. I attended a high school graduation at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., last year. The class included nine students from Defense Department high schools in Japan who had left with their families in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Although they had entered a new school and a new senior class just a few months shy of graduation, they were all smiles that day as they talked to me in their caps and gowns. A transition that would have thrown the best of us for a loop didn’t seem to phase these teens, who had already been through more changes in their 18 years than most people see in a lifetime. The students in that class had moved, on average, more than six times with one student tallying up a total of 18 moves in the same number of years.
- Their compassion. A number of kids have military parents who return home wounded, some with visible wounds and others with less-evident injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. These kids immediately step up to help out at home – taking on additional chores, pitching in to babysit — during their parent’s recovery. Taylor Dahl-Sims’ Marine Corps stepfather returned home from his fifth deployment with a traumatic brain injury and she stepped in to help during his recovery. She already was helping her mother with her baby brother’s medical care. Many wounded warriors have told me their children don’t look at them any differently, even if their wounds are severe. They are simply grateful their mom or dad made it back alive.
- Their global knowledge. Many military kids have traveled across the nation and around the world. They have an innate appreciation for cultural diversity and knowledge of world events that most kids who never crossed state lines would be hard-pressed to match. This will serve them well in the future as modern technology and the rise of a global economy increase the likelihood they’ll be exposed to a people of different cultures and backgrounds in their careers. “These children come to us with broadened perspectives and a broad range of experiences,” said Marilee Fitzgerald, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity. “They’re the closest to being a global citizen that this world will have.”
- Their strength. They’ve dealt with a decade of war and multiple deployments, with the associated worry and fear. But these challenges also have equipped them with a resilience that will prepare them for life’s setbacks and hardships. The first lady summed it up well at an event in June. “A bad grade on a test, a bad day at work, that’s not going to knock you off your game,” she said, “because from a very young age, you all have been dealing with the big stuff, and that’s given you perspective.”
- They serve too. Their military parent signed on the dotted line; their children did not. Yet, they must deal with deployments, frequent moves and school transitions, and they do so with courage and grace. As a nation, we owe them a debt of gratitude. This month, and year round, we should take time to let military children know how grateful we are for their service, said Barbara Thompson, director of military community and family policy, children and youth. “One of the things that’s disconcerting is we know that 1 percent of our population is in uniform and is serving, and the other 99 percent of the country takes full benefit of that,” she said. “We owe it to our children to honor them and to protect them.”