Just like Mom and Dad
It’s not always easy, but don’t feel sorry for these kids.
They may have a parent deployed to a war zone, but such status earns them membership in a special school club that most students are sad to leave when their mom or dad comes home.
They’re known as the kids whose "cool parent is deployed, who’s a hero," said Noreen Mantini, Ramstein Intermediate School counselor
Now in its fourth year, Kids4Kids is a partner program between Ramstein Intermediate and Middle schools near Kaiserslautern, Germany, for students in grades 3 to 8 with at least one parent deployed.
Organizers say this year, with increased community support and volunteer involvement and continued funding from the schools’ Parent Teacher Associations, the group is more robust than ever. It has activities planned throughout the school year to help kids connect with their deployed parent and other students going through similar experiences.
As word about the club spreads, more kids are self-referring themselves for group inclusion, Mantini said, and interest is spreading to other schools.
"It’s grown almost tenfold since last year," said Nhung Hamilton, the group’s middle school Parent Teacher Association representative. "A lot of the kids, it gives them something to look forward to."
The 86th Construction and Training Squadron complex near Ramstein Air Base, Germany, hosted the group’s latest event, giving more than 80 students the chance to almost feel what it’s like to walk in their parent’s military boots by processing through a mock deployment line.
Tasked with fictional orders to deploy and handed a to-do list of items to complete before leaving, the kids sat on military cots, grunted through a physical training test and self-defense drills, ate in a dining hall tent and grimaced while hearing about all the shots needed to go downrange.
The information presented was realistic but nothing too scary. The guns, to the dismay of some, were fake.
"You guys are going to be taking guns with you," said Senior Airman Jennifer Amen, a public health technician, in between discussions about ticks and hand-washing.
"I didn’t understand — did you say guns?" one boy piped up in apparent surprise, only to learn this was the pretend portion of the briefing.
Real or not, the experience hopefully will better connect a child to his or her deployed parent, said Suzy Reynolds, Ramstein Intermediate School Kids4Kids coordinator.
"It answers a lot of their questions," Reynolds said. "It takes some of the mystery out of it."
Brynley Lacy, 10, will now be able to better picture her dad’s living environment downrange, she said. Her father, an Air Force major, has deployed three times.
"He talks about the tents, and I finally got to see them," she said.
Challenges that the kids might face when a parent is gone — missed birthdays, maintaining routines, for example — are dealt with during small weekly group sessions with counselors, Mantini said.
"We don’t want to say ‘poor kids,’" she said. "The best thing for kids during a deployment is for things to go on as usual … trying to keep things as steady and as predictable as possible."