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Operation: Military Kids Honored on Capitol Hill

Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) hosted the national launch of Operation: Military Kids on April 6, 2005. Operation: Military Kids (OMK) is a national collaborative effort established to support children and youth of deployed National Guard and Reserve soldiers, who often live far away from military installations that provide support to families of other deployed troops.

CSREES’ National 4-H Headquarters supports OMK activities to create community support networks for children of deployed parents before, during, and after their parent’s deployment.

“Being a military kid all of a sudden is, plain and simple, a tough situation,” said Grassley. "The Global War on Terror and the activation of so many National Guard and Reserve service members has touched communities across our country. It is imperative that we, as Americans, show our support for military children and families. Connecting them with programs in their communities, such as Operation: Military Kids, is an important way to help."

Click here to watch all of Sen. Grassley's remarks. (Real Player is required.)

When National Guard, Army Reserve, and other military parents living in civilian communities are mobilized, their children’s lives suddenly change. Now they are “suddenly military,” but they still look the same to teachers, friends, and the rest of the community. Many of their usual support systems may no longer be adequate, and they need to connect with other youth who are facing similar situations to help them cope with their new world.

OMK teams have been established in 20 states affected by the deployments. Led by state 4-H military liaisons, OMK state teams are working to help citizens understand the impact the global war on terrorism has on the children of “citizen soldiers.”  The goal is to involve these “suddenly military” youth in peer support groups and provide a variety of deployment outreach services that will help reduce the tension on them and their families. Specific actions of the OMK project include:

  • create community support networks for military youth when soldier parents are deployed;
  • deliver recreation, social, and educational programs for military youth living in civilian communities;
  • support military kids coping with the stress of knowing their deployed parents may be in harm’s way;
  • collaborate with schools to ensure that staff are attuned to the unique needs of military students;
  • educate the public on the impact of the deployment cycle on soldiers, families, kids, and the community as a whole; and
  • become a part of the ongoing 4-H program in the locations where there are military families.

Grassley’s involvement with OMK began last year in Iowa when at a women’s conference he was hosting, the spouse of a National Guard soldier spoke on a volunteer panel about the work she and her family had done with OMK.

“Her view that day was an inspiration to many, and her comments brought to light that children of guard and reserve units face tough issues,” said Grassley. “I’m proud to be part of the national launch [of OMK], proud of being an Iowan leading the way, and last, but not least, I’m proud of the military men and women leading the way to win the war on terror.”

The reception highlighted the work of the OMK state teams and included testimony from youth impacted by Operation: Military Kids, representatives of the National Guard and Reserve, and partner organizations.

Gary Ashcroft, whose father Robert is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve in Georgia, spoke about his involvement with OMK first as a 4-H’er and then as a military kid after his father had been deployed.

“It’s more than just a program to many in our nation; it’s a sense of existence that helps fill a gap by filling the void left by a parent’s deployment,” he said.

Ashcroft first became involved with OMK as a participant in Speak Out for Military Kids, a component of OMK that raises awareness among those in the community about the unique issues children of guard and reserve members face. Ashcroft said he received great satisfaction from his work, most notably speaking at the National 4-H Conference, because he was able to raise awareness among over 300 youth delegates who can share the message with the 7 million youth involved in 4-H programs.

After his father was deployed, the program took on a whole new meaning to Ashcroft and his family.

“I realized Operation: Military Kids had much to offer me and my siblings,” he said. OMK was able to provide links to other teens who had shared his experiences and others who were able to support him. “It provides a network of support and shines a light on the often gloomy life of military kids,” he said.

Operation: Military Kids is a joint collaborative project in which CSREES partners with U.S. Army Child and Youth Services, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Military Child Education Coalition, and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

Cathann Kress, Director, CSREES National 4-H Headquarters, explained that the unique partnership between the USDA and the Department of Defense is not new, but OMK is another way of strengthening the bonds between the two departments. During WWI, 4-H’ers were involved in increasing food production as part of “Food for Freedom,” and in WWII, 4-H’ers planted Victory Gardens, sold war bonds, and collected scrap iron. She said today, this partnership is working to create a safety net to the children of deployed troops and helps 4-H youth learn what it means to shoulder the responsibilities as citizens of a free society.

Brigadier General Ronald Young of the National Guard Bureau Joint Staff stressed the importance of the program to the National Guard. He compared the readiness of the National Guard to a 3-legged stool, with each leg representing the soldier, employer, and family.

“Each leg is level and balanced, and if not, then you aren’t ready to do your job. This program and its ability to provide outreach to our geographically dispersed children is vital to National Guard family readiness,” he said.

Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), said NACCRRA was involved in OMK by providing free child care for families when the deployed parent comes home on rest and recuperation leave.

“The response of volunteers shows how much this country cares and supports what [the military] is doing,” she said.

For more information contact Sherri Wright, CSREES Families, 4-H and Nutrition National Program Leader, (202) 720 – 5075, swright@csrees.usda.gov or visit the OMK Web site at http://www.operationmilitarykids.org.