Military kids unprepared, face difficulties

Operation: Military Kids helps children whose parents are serving abroad.

by Marni Ginther

Dealing with a parent fighting overseas is tough enough for military children. In a controversial war like that in Iraq, soldiers’ children also have to deal with conflicting opinions at home.

Operation: Military Kids is a collaborative U.S. Army program designed to help children with parents deployed in wars abroad. The University Extension Service is a partner in that program.

The service, which is an organization that uses University knowledge and resources to address community needs around the state, held a workshop yesterday at the Penn Lake Library in Bloomington. The service will hold two more Military Kids workshops today.

Eric Vogel, a regional educator from the Extension Service, taught the class.

“Military kids go through different adjustments and need different types of support that adults and educators should be aware of,” Vogel said.

He shared an anecdote of a student who attended a liberal private high school. His father was in the military.

The school didn’t allow the student to receive certain honors because of his father’s military involvement, Vogel said.

“The school felt (the student) wouldn’t accurately represent the school’s values,” Vogel said. “Now, from a distance, that seems wrong. But oftentimes we don’t realize the hidden effects of our actions.”

Teachers, counselors and other professionals who interact with military children on a regular basis attended the workshop. Many were there to learn how to prevent situations like the one Vogel described.

Beth Rick, a fifth-grade teacher from Waconia, said she thought it was important to come because teachers need to realize that what goes on in their classrooms affects military children in their class.

“Sometimes kids just blurt out opinions on the war,” Rick said. “As educators, we need to make sure whatever we’re discussing is balanced and backed up with facts – not just opinions the kids hear at the dinner table.”

Operation: Military Kids estimates there are more than 12,000 “suddenly military” children in Minnesota. These children have not grown up in military environments because their parents are members of the National Guard or Army Reserve.

The sudden deployment of their parent makes the adjustment harder for these kids, Vogel said.

What’s more, these kids go on living civilian lives in civilian classrooms where peers and teachers can’t relate to what they’re going through.

Marie Johnson works at the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network. She said she often receives calls from child care providers who have military children in their classes.

“Military families often know what resources and support are available to them, but these child-care providers don’t,” Johnson said.

In a discussion following the workshop, Johnson summed up its theme.

“It’s not about the wars, it’s about the children,” Johnson said. “We need to put our own feelings aside and look at what our kids and families need.”