DOD celebrates Month of the Military Child

  • Published
  • By Elaine Sanchez
  • American Forces Press Service
Children of U.S. service members around the world will be honored throughout the month of April for their contributions to their families' well-being and sacrifices on behalf of the nation, a Defense Department official said.

Each April, Americans pause to recognize the nation's 1.8 million military children during the Month of the Military Child, which marks its 25th anniversary this year.

"It's really exciting that the Department of Defense, the White House and civic leaders recognize the sacrifices that military children make," said Barbara Thompson, the director of the Pentagon's office of family policy, children and youth. "It's particularly important during these times of conflict, when children are missing their parents and are sacrificing a lot, to say your sacrifice is recognized and we want to commend you for what you do for your family."

Throughout the month, military installations worldwide will host programs and activities for military children, including fairs, picnics, carnivals and parades, Thompson said. Communities also can get involved by sponsoring fun events to celebrate military children.

Military children's sacrifices and contributions have risen to the forefront in recent years, Thompson said, as people have become increasingly aware of the impact a decade of war is having on military families. Along with the typical military-related stressors of multiple moves and schools, children also have had to deal with long-term, multiple deployments and separations from one, or both, parents over the past 10-plus years.

More than 900,000 military children have had a parent deploy multiple times, she added.

Military children have known only war since 9/11, Thompson noted, and recent research suggests deployments and the length of time separated have an impact on children's academic success and psychological well-being.

Other research regarding children and attachment indicates that "this has to be a difficult time for military children," she said.

Just as important as caring for children is caring for their parents, Thompson added.

"We know that if the parent is taken care of, the children are taken care of," she said.

Thompson praised the introduction of programs such as the DOD's military family life consultants, who provide coaching and nonmedical counseling to children, families and staff in schools and child development and youth programs.

Sports and camps offer other opportunities for children to thrive and grow, she said.

However, she said, Defense Department officials can't tackle all of these issues alone.

The nation took an important step forward in January, Thompson said, when President Barack Obama unveiled a government-wide plan to strengthen military family support. Federal agencies committed to nearly 50 new programs and cooperative efforts to improve quality of life and well-being for military families.

Thompson also called for a strong "circle of support," in which schools, communities, health care providers and federal agencies come together to support military families.

"We know that it takes a village," she said.

"Without a doubt, when we can recognize their sacrifices, when we can tell them that we'll reach out and help them, that we care about them and will connect them with the resources they need, then we're doing right by them," she said.