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Overview of Military Youth, Family, and Community Programs through USDA/NIFA

Today’s military families face a lifestyle that includes frequent deployments and increased family separations. These unique challenges can affect military readiness and family resilience. NIFA, the Land-Grant University System, and defense agencies partner to enhance military family and youth quality of life through extension educational programs and research. As Service members transition into veteran status, educational and career opportunities can take on even greater significance.

For more than 25 years, USDA, Land-Grant Universities, the Cooperative Extension System, the Department of Defense (DoD), and military service components have partnered to support service members and their families.  These highly effective partnerships have enhanced the lives of thousands of military families and youth, both on and off installation, connecting them to quality support and educational programs to meet their unique needs. 

Levels of Programming

There are many levels of educational programming and research conducted by the Cooperative Extension System in support of the Department of Defense and military service components.  Chief among them:

Serving the needs of Military Families

Common concerns of the military community include readiness and retention of service members in military units, quality child care, and the employability of military spouses. It is widely accepted in military circles that a service member's overall satisfaction with military service is directly related to his or her perception that the needs the family are being met.

Extension military family programs focus on promoting strong family relationships built on sound financial ground and effective communication, and access to quality child care and after school programming. Deployment, the fluctuating family support associated with geographic dispersion, and the implications of military service, including injury and death, are also areas of Extension research and programming.

Lead institutions include Cornell University, Kansas State University, University of Georgia, and Texas AgriLIFE Extension Service. Under the Texas model, 70+ Extension educators are collocated on Army installations to improve life skills of military personnel and families.

Serving the Needs of Military Youth

The 4-H National Headquarters, NIFA has developed partnerships with the Army, Navy, and Air Force to develop and support military children, youth and family programs on military installations around the world, as well as the families of National Guard and Reserves living in communities far removed from military installations.

In addition to making wise use of public resources, these collaborations promote mission readiness for military personnel. With the support of 4-H extension professionals, military staff members provide strong educational programs for children so that service members can pursue their critical, high-risk assignments knowing that their children are in safe and nurturing environments.

Military 4-H Clubs provide quality educational experiences using research-based curricula in a number of areas, including photography, computer technology, arts, nutrition, fitness and citizenship for military youth ages 5 to 19. These opportunities provide military children and youth with a continuity of programs wherever their military assignments may take them.

In each state, a 4-H Military Liaison coordinates the establishment and management of Military 4-H Clubs on installations and in communities where military children and youth reside.  In addition, the liaison conducts training for military staff in areas such as positive youth development, fitness and nutrition, and financial management.

4–H also manages the Operation: Military Kids (OMK) program. OMK establishes local networks of support for military children and youth whose parents deploy in support of Overseas Contingency Operations.  The local networks educate community members and organizations through engagement in support events from military appreciation days to camp programs. 

Finally, 4-H and extension play a key role in providing technical expertise in the fields of youth development and technology.  The 4-H Military Partnership Program has 20+ LGU Faculty and Staff on assignment to the respective military services headquarters.  These individuals serve as subject matter experts to the senior leadership of military children, youth and teen programs, managing large program such as OMK and developing curriculum and trainings for military children, youth and staff.  Continuing their employment with their home LGU, these faculty and staff develop direct connections between the LGU and the military services.

Lead institutions include Kansas State University, Auburn University, University of Georgia, Washington State University, University of Maryland, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

DoD – USDA Partnership

This mission-focused project cultivates collaborations with educational institutions, non-governmental and community-based organizations, and other groups and organizations with expertise in early childhood education, youth development and related fields to support the family programs, workforce development, and child care and youth development expansion needs of the Department of Defense (DoD).  Through this partnership between NIFA and Military Community & Family Policy (MC&FP) at DoD, programs and training support military youth, families, and communities as well as non-military audiences.  NIFA engages with land-grant university and Cooperative Extension faculty and staff to:

  • Increase and strengthen community capacity in support of military families
  • Increase professional development and workforce development opportunities
  • Expand and strengthen family, child care, & youth development programs


Lead institutions include Purdue University, Kansas State University, Pennsylvania State University Ohio State University, University of Arizona, University of Nebraska, and Washington State University.  Sub-award institutions include Cornell University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, Southern University, University of Arizona, University of Georgia, University of Nebraska, West Virginia University, and West Virginia State University.

Veterans Initiatives

Through our participation on the Integrated Mental Health Strategy led by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, USDA promotes efforts that enhance the psychological health and well being of veterans. In addition, the USDA makes veteran hiring a priority. With passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, eligible service members can elect to transfer education benefits to their spouse or children, under Department of Defense regulations. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Land-Grant institutions to increase educational opportunities for the military and veteran population.


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