Misawa keeping kids’ spirits high when parents are deployed
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — If anyone could work some magic, Julianna Valenti figured it would be the man with the long white beard.
While decorating a tree in the Torii Building on Thursday morning with some of her classmates, the Sollars Elementary School sixth-grader told Santa Claus she wished her dad would come home for Christmas.
Unless jolly ol‘ Saint Nick parks his sleigh at the Pentagon, he might be better suited to filling requests for puppies and video games.
With more than 250 Misawa personnel deployed for the current September-to-January Aerospace Expeditionary Force cycle, a lot of kids will be missing one of their parents this holiday season. To keep their spirits high, the Family Support Center has planned several activities this month for families of deployed members, including the tree decorating.
“It’s just to let them know we’re still here, that we care,” said Staff Sgt. Tessiah Hemphill, Family Readiness noncommissioned officer at the Family Support Center. “It’s a Christmas tree in support of their mom or dad who’s deployed.”
About 60 Sollars students, divided in two groups, rode a bus from school Thursday carrying photos of their distant parent glued to handmade ornaments. They hung those on the tree, along with construction-paper chains inked with family names, and checked in with an early-bird Santa. Another 60 students, from Cummings Elementary School and home-schoolers with a deployed parent, were to decorate another tree Friday morning in the mission support building lobby. The children’s names from both days were to be entered in a Dec. 16 drawing to receive one of the donated trees.
Valenti, 11, said the outing made her happy. “It made me think of my dad but not in a sad way,” she said. Valenti’s mom, Rene, said it’s the first time that Master Sgt. Bill Valenti of the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron has deployed over Christmas. He’s on a special eight-month duty assignment at an undisclosed Middle East location and isn’t due back until May.
Sollars fourth- to sixth-grade guidance counselor Morris Poston said students are handling their parents’ absence well. But “having a mom or dad gone at any time is rough on anybody. We’re hoping this will make it a little bit easier for them, get them into the Christmas spirit,” he said.
What to send mom or dad for the holiday was another challenge. “We sent a Christmas tree,” said mother-of-three Amanda Armstrong of husband Tech. Sgt. Marcus L. Armstrong. “I don’t want him to have to bring too much back.”
The Valentis sent Christmas baskets with Japanese knickknacks such as chopsticks and soda for Bill Valenti to give his troops, since most aren’t from Japan.
Sollars kindergartners and first-graders drew posters to mail. “Dad are you good?” said one. “Are you working?” said another.
Also this month, for families of deployed members, is a Dec. 9 homemade ice cream social from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Torii Building and a movie matinee on Dec. 18 at Richard Bong Theater. Hemphill said the Misawa Officers Spouses Club and Enlisted Community Organization bought 200 movie tickets for the families. For more information about attending, call the Family Support Center at DSN 226-4735.