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Operation Hero: Keesler event helps military kids understand deployment

BILOXI, Miss. — Deployment can be a scary thing, especially for young children who might not fully grasp what their mother or father does for a living.

Saturday morning, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., hosted its biannual Operation Hero, which is focused on helping children understand what military life is all about.

The event had a number of stations ranging from MRE tasting and a night vision tent to a triage demonstration. Kids even received immunizations of Kool-Aid and raced Marines through an obstacle course.

"It helps give the kids an idea of what their parents do when they deploy. They can see that it's not as daunting of an experience as they're probably thinking it is," Master Sgt. Marcus Hogsten said. "We bring out security forces so they can see weapons, try on gas masks, try MREs so they can see what their parents might be eating.

"This year, we brought in a C-130 so they could see how we get around."

Tracey Johnson, who was working at the Families OverComing Under Stress table, said the event helps to normalize deployment for children.

"Some kids might envision the worst, like dad is alone over there, so this helps them know there's a whole community involved so there's a lot of support," she said.

Staff Sgt. John Bell attended Operation Hero with his 5-year-old daughter, Lainie. Although Lainie has already gone through two deployments, Bell said it was important to bring her Saturday.

"I'm hoping to get a little information to help her cope with deployment. She has been through a couple before and this is her third deployment," Bell said. "She's getting older now, so it's going to be different for her and this will help her see what I get to go through, too, and help her understand the deployment process better."

Say cheese

There were plenty of photo opportunities as well, with stations set up so kids could try on equipment and hazmat suits or look at weapons.

"They definitely enjoy taking pictures and getting behind the guns," said Staff Sgt. Bradley Jenkins. "Most of the kids, like the older ones, play games like Call of Duty, so they take pictures to put on their Facebooks and all that fun stuff."

Normally a visit to the doctor might be a scary endeavor, but those stationed at the triage demonstration table did a good job of making the kids laugh and interacting with them while pretending to tend to their "injured" limbs.

Face painting may have been the most popular station, where kids' faces were decorated with camouflage-colored paint to look like "little warriors." A portion of the Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team also surprised the 160 or so attendees with a performance to kick off Operation Hero.

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