The children of our active service members are dealing with unprecedented circumstances. This is the longest period of conflict in our nation’s history. Our children have seen their parents leave for multiple deployments. They have coped with loss, moves to new schools and new cities. And often, they’ve spent their formative years separated from a parent.
In an effort address the challenges our military children are facing as well as share solutions and best practices, the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) held their 15th national training seminar this July 8-9 in Washington, D.C. Its attendees were community leaders, educators, policy makers, medical professionals and concerned parents. They attended workshops, training sessions, facilitator led conversations and keynote addresses, all focused on sending them back home, armed, with new tools and techniques to help our military children thrive.
The goal of the seminar was to enable participants to:
- Identify resources and initiatives that support military-connected children and youth.
- Develop connections with colleagues and experts relevant to their areas of interests in and service to military-connected children and their parents.
- Describe public policy perspectives about the changes in the Force and the implication for programs and services for military-connected children and youth
- Analyze professional and personal practices through learning and insights obtained from speaker and presenter presentations.
The seminar began with opening remarks by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey and his wife Deanie. Gen. and Mrs. Dempsey discussed – among other things – two themes that ran throughout both days of the seminar: the important role educators can play in understanding the experience and needs of military children and the role of public/private partnerships.
Gen. Dempsey’s remarks about teacher’s roles:
The second theme discussed was the forging of public/private partnerships to provide a bottom up understanding of the problems faced by military children. Much like teachers who interact daily and directly with military children, there are local and specialized private organizations that offer a similar perspective on military constituencies. Their unique and often local perspective on the military community can provide the DoD with a different view of a community’s needs.
After, the opening remarks, the seminar kicked off with a discussion led by Surgeon General and Commanding General, United States Army Medical Command, Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho and Mr. John Medve, Executive Director, VA-DoD Collaboration Service, Dept. of Veterans Affairs. They delved deeper into the importance of public/private partnerships and discussed steps that the VA and DoD are making to emphasize these collaborations.
As the seminar progressed, I attended two discussions that drilled down into the experience of younger military children.
According to Lt. Col. Molinda Chartrand, USAF, M.D., of the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, all infants and young children – military children or otherwise – develop and thrive within the context of a family. During her lecture, “Children Under 5 in Military Families: Should we be Concerned,” she discussed how more than half of military service members have children. This equates to roughly 2 million children living in military families, in 2012. The largest population of those children (41%) are 5 years of age or younger.
Lt. Col. Chartrand further continued by addressing how young children’s attachment behavior is impacted when parents are deployed during crucial early years. Parent/child bonds are formed during this early development. Communication skills are shared and taught with the child. When a parent isn’t there, steps must be made to ensure that these crucial skills are taught. However, even if the skills are taught, the bond between the absent parent and child will suffer.
The impact a deployed parent has on attachment behavior was also discussed by Patricia Lester M.D., of the UCLA Semel Institute. During her lecture, “Wartime Service on Military-Connected Children and Families: Research, Theory and Practice,” she provided an effective anecdote to illustrate the impacts a parent’s absence can have on the child’s perception of that parent. Dr. Lester shared the story of a young girl whose father was serving abroad during these early developmental years. During his deployment, his daughter communicated with him via Skype. So, when her father returned from deployment, her mother announced to the young girl that her father was home. The first thing, she did was run to the computer to see her father.
Both lectures emphasized that little is known about the impact these challenges may have on the youngest of military children.
The seminar concluded with closing remarks made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.