Children are typically carefree; no job, no bills to pay, no worries. However, that is not true for the military child.
Military children don’t typically fall into the carefree category. At any given time their lives can be in a state of change; living in a single-parent or no-parent household with parents deployed or geographically separated due to military obligations, changing schools and living in turmoil are just a few things military children deal with on a regular basis.
April marks the Month of the Military child, which aims to honor military children and the sacrifices they make.
On April 6 the Wyoming National Guard hosted the Month of the Military Child kickoff at Storey Gym, in Cheyenne, with remarks from Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead about the unique nature of the lives of military children.
“We estimate in the state of Wyoming there are about 5,000 military children,” Mead said. “Another way to think about that is that we have 5,000 reasons to be thankful. These children represent courage, represent bravery, and they do the most important thing by supporting mom or dad by supporting the mission they do. We are so proud of you kids and what you do.
“I would tell you that as my job as governor I get the privilege of getting to spend time with our local military. On every occasion, I am so impressed with what they do . . . In the same way we recognize those who are serving, we should also recognize the families, and in particular, the children.”
Gov. Mead then went on to tell a story about a little boy who had his father deployed for so long that every time he was told his father was coming home, he didn’t believe it. It wasn’t until his father walked in the door and he was able to physically embrace him that he believed.
The struggles these children face are well known and understood by the personnel working in the Service Member, Family, Employer Readiness Support Team.
The S-FERST team provides programs and support focused on families, children and youth in a variety of arenas. One such program, the Yellow Ribbon, is aimed at providing pre and post-deployment support for children and family members.
Staff Sgt. Mikki Munson, a human resources sergeant, formerly the Yellow Ribbon program coordinator from 2012-2014 for the Wyoming Army National Guard, understands the importance of the S-FERST program and the services it provides. As a 15-year veteran of the Wyoming Army National Guard, mother of three and wife of a retired active duty Air Force master sergeant, she wears many hats and recognizes one of the most difficult aspects of military life is the toll is takes on the children.
“The sustainment and resiliency events are so crucial,” Munson said. “Every child reacts differently to a parent having to leave for a deployment and training, and then readjusting when they return home. These services are especially critical for the kiddos as we often overlook them, thinking because they are young that they don’t truly understanding the ramifications of having a parent(s) leave. They not only understand, but sometimes they are more deeply impacted than a spouse or adult.”
Employed for two years with the Yellow Ribbon program, Munson was in charge of planning pre-, during, and post-deployment events for families to help connect them with local resources.
“We would have 30, 60, 90, and 330-day resiliency and sustainment events. At the 30-day event we would ask spouses, children and family members of deployed members what they wanted or needed during the deployed member’s absence or what they were struggling with. We would then take that information and structure the sustainment events to reflect the needs of those families,” said Munson.
Amy Wilson, child and youth program coordinator for the Wyoming National Guard since 2013 said the services that S-FERST offers to military members and their families are too numerous to explain all of them. In the child and youth arena, S-FERST offers resiliency training for teens, day and summer camps, family events such as father/daughter dance, referrals for free tutoring or childcare assistance, activity grants and community trainings explaining the life of military children and how they are affected by separations.
“The most important aspect of the child and youth program is providing events with fun life-skill building activities and making sure families have the resources and information they need to navigate military life,” Wilson said.
In Wyoming, 5,000 military children who can’t be carefree are seen as reasons to be thankful and simply say ‘thank you,’ for the sacrifices made day-in and day-out.