Military kids glimpse deployment from new perspective
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Shortly after 7 a.m. on Saturday, Paige Lane got a phone call telling her to be at Hangar 949 with her gear in 30 minutes for a quick-notice deployment.
She quickly changed out of her pajamas, grabbed her pre-packed deployment bag and asked her mom and dad for a ride.
Paige, who’s only 9, joined about 180 other base youth for a mock-deployment exercise named Operation CODE, an acronym for “children on deployment exercises.”
The goal, organizers said, is to give the children of the military community a better idea of what happens when their parents deploy, an often stressful time for the families. Base officials said that about 250 Misawa-based troops with families here are deployed now.
Paige’s mother, Jessica, a military veteran, said the operation was realistic.
“Even right down to the hurry up and wait,” she said.
After reporting to the hangar, the participants — ages 7 to 14 — were broken down into chalks, or groups, led by military volunteers. Each youth received personalized dog tags, ID card, deployment orders, a mobility folder and a T-shirt. They also got simulated shots, tried on gas masks and — between stations — performed sets of push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks. After in-processing, they were bused to a military training area on the far side of the base, where they tackled an obstacle course, watched a military working-dog demonstration, performed more physical training and got to handle real military weapons.
Tech. Sgt. Larry Goodwin, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the base’s readiness section, organized the event. He said he looked at similar programs from other bases, but decided to give much more of a military feel to it.
“It’s geared to them having fun, but at the same time, learning,” Goodwin said.
Heidi Wakefield brought her 9-year-old son, Logan, to attend. His father is deployed to Afghanistan, and Wakefield said her son was excited to take part.
“He wants to be like his dad,” she said.
Jayden Gardner, 10, said that while his parents “sort of forced” him to attend, he actually started getting excited about it as the day drew closer.
He was all smiles Saturday after learning to wield a training baton against a security forces volunteer, who wore a padded suit to soften the boy’s baton blows.
“It just felt awesome,” Jayden said.