A pilot program developed in Iowa to help support the children of America’s National Guard and reserve soldiers is now going nationwide. Chris Gleason of the Iowa State Extension 4-H Youth Development program helped develop “Operation Military Kids.” She says they three main components, to create public awareness, build support networks in their local communities and to do some learning and fun activities with the military kids. Iowa was one of five states to try the program, and now 19 other states have joined in after seeing how it worked. She says their strongest supporters are their military families as she says the families believe this is something they really need. Gleason says the need for the program arose as the citizen soldiers went from one weekend of month of duty, to 18-month to two year deployments out of the country. Gleason says the children of the deployed troops need lots of support. She says, “The kids are going through emotional roller coaster rides, dads are missing their daughter’s first prom date and that kind of thing. Being a teenager is hard enough, but when your mom or dad is deployed in a dangerous place, and you have to worry about them besides dealing with everything else that’s going on in your life, they need additional support. As much support as we can give them.” Gleason says communities can get together and help out too. She says they can look at ways in their community that they can reach out to military families. She says parents appreciate a day out when groups sponsor activities for kids. She says in Ames they’re having a day for kids so parents can go out and do some things, like get their hair cut. Gleason says the program also supplies mobile computer labs that let kids connect with their deployed parents. The kids also get a “Hero Pack” that’s filled with items that help them stay connected when their parents are deployed. The program is supported by 4-H, the U-S-D-A, the Boys and Girls clubs, and the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Centers.
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