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War is Hell for the Kids, Too

In my 25-years as a journalist I've met thousands of military children. And as much I sympathize with them and want to understand what they're going through, I don't think you can fully grasp how tough it is for a child to see a parent go off to war unless you've been in their shoes.

Children are resilient, but they know what war is, and for many of them deployments can be like a scary monster under their bed who doesn't leave until dad or mom comes home. Deployments are equally difficult for the spouse, of course, but kids often deal with them more internally, especially boys. Imagine what goes through the mind of a child who knows that dad or mom could be wounded or killed at any time.

One of the defining legacies, and tragedies, of the current war is that we are for the first time seeing multiple deployments, which only makes things that much worse for the families. Is it any wonder that each time dad or mom is deployed, they come back a little more damaged psychologically, a little more distant? It is any wonder that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among our active duty and recent veterans has reached epidemic numbers?


The military is finally starting to understand the toll multiple deployments are taking on families. In May, the Warrior Kids Series (WKS), a three-part program designed to help kids deal with deployment issues, was launched at Camp Pendleton. The series includes Kids and Deployment, Kids In the Midst, and Kids and Reunion. Each workshop was created to follow children ages 5-12 and their so-called "remain-behind" parent through the cycle of deployment. WKS has partnered with our local FOCUS Project (Families OverComing Under Stress) to assist in facilitating the series.

Heather J. Mendiaz, readiness & deployment support trainer at Pendleton, tells me that one of the best things about this series is that "we focus on the child as well as the remain-behind parent. In the first hour, children receive a hands-on, age-appropriate workshop which helps them identify their feelings while learning fun and simple ways to gain emotional awareness and regulation. Children are surrounded with other military children experiencing deployment, creating a fun and safe environment for them to relax and gain tools to manage the challenges that military children face."

While the kids are at their workshop, parents are in a separate room addressing the challenges and stresses of raising kids during a deployment. Remain-behind parents are able to discuss and share ideas on topics such as communication, stress and common behaviors and reactions that children have. The last thirty minutes of the workshop brings parents and children together to work on a craft project and gives children the opportunity to share what they've learned with their parent.

Mendiaz suggests that the struggles and stresses of deployments are unique to each family. "Many children who attend have known nothing but deployments for their parents during their lifetime," she says, "but that does not make it easier for them to cope. Our goal is to provide a broad range of tools to children and parents experiencing the cycle of deployment that will be helpful to them regardless of age or situation." The Warrior Kids Series is offered by Marine Corps Family Team Building. For questions regarding the series or to sign up, call 760-725-9052.