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Darius Sims, 6, left, and his brother, Marion, 8, miss their father, Tech. Sgt. Damien Sims, who is deployed with the 48th Security Forces Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, England. The two boys have joined the Kids Deployment Zone, a new program at the base for children of deployed parents.

Darius Sims, 6, left, and his brother, Marion, 8, miss their father, Tech. Sgt. Damien Sims, who is deployed with the 48th Security Forces Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, England. The two boys have joined the Kids Deployment Zone, a new program at the base for children of deployed parents. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

RAF LAKENHEATH, England — The base has developed a new program called Kids Deployment Zone in an effort to take kids’ minds off missing their deployed parents.

KDZ, backed with $9,500 from U.S. Air Forces in Europe, is part of Combat Care, one of several programs created by Gen. Robert H. “Doc” Foglesong, the USAFE commander.

“The Family Support Center does a fantastic job supporting families as a whole,” said Matt Driver, director of Lakenheath Youth Programs and architect of the new program. “We did not have a program in place for children.”

Run by teenagers, the program’s aim is to give some relief to the parent left behind. Currently, the 48th Fighter Wing has more than 1,100 troops deployed to the Middle East.

About 100 children have signed up since the program was unveiled less than two weeks ago at a town hall meeting for families of deployed troops.

The children will be invited to exclusive parties, enjoy free entry at the skating rink — along with free skate rental — and have access to digital cameras to send their deployed parent a photo. A party is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Lakenheath Youth Center.

Laurel Edgar, coordinator of teen activities at the base, said the program “recognizes that kids miss their parents.”

Two of the children who joined are Marion and Darius Sims, sons of Tech. Sgt. Damien Sims of the 48th Security Forces Squadron, who is now deployed.

“He’s not going to come home until the swimming pool is fixed,” said Darius, 6, meaning his father will return in the spring when the weather warms.

Marion, 8, demonstrated how much he misses his father. An activity in a magazine given to KDZ children asks them to circle words that describe how they feel with their parent away.

Edgar asked Marion which words he circled. He recalled, “Awful. Sad. Upset. Worried. Unhappy.”

The program has been placed in the hands of teens at the base. Members of the Keystone Club are organizing events and acting as big brothers and big sisters for the children.

Business cards with the teens’ names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses have been given to KDZ members. A senior at Lakenheath High School, Ashley Lariviere, said she has received e-mails from two children, one asking for help with homework.

“It was cool,” she said. “This is actually going to work.”

Tara Stone, a freshman, and Dana Foster, a sophomore, are members of the Keystone Club and said helping out with the KDZ children is a good use of their time.

“I like helping out people,” said Tara. “It feels good. It’s worth my while rather than sitting around watching TV.”

Dana’s mother is deployed, she said, “so I can relate to it. Everybody’s got a parent deployed at some time.”

Capt. Sean Fitzpatrick, a social worker with the 48th Medical Group, is left at home with three children — Nicholas, 9, Brendan, 7, and Patrick, 5 — while his wife, Capt. Holly Fitzpatrick, also of the medical group, is deployed.

He has enrolled his children in KDZ and said it is a good idea for children and parents.

“Especially here overseas where you don’t have all the family support you have in the States,” he said. “It helps the kids get out of the house.”

Although still in its beginning stages, the program seems destined to work, said Driver.

“From the start, we can tell this is a program we’ll be keeping,” he said, “and it will be getting bigger.”


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