Teachers learn firsthand what GIs go through in combat
November 10, 2008
WIESBADEN, Germany — A roomful of teachers firing guns at a giant video screen full of Kalashnikov-toting terrorists looks just like you’d think.
Dressed casually in various sweaters, button-down shirts and turtlenecks, about 50 educators who took up arms on Wiesbaden Army Airfield on Thursday looked more Mr. Rogers than Rambo – no matter how much they enjoyed plinking bad guys.
Perhaps fortunately for U.S. security, these teachers won’t be headed to the front lines anytime soon. But they will be dealing with the effects of war.
The first of some 1,200 troops with the 1st Armored Division’s headquarters return to Wiesbaden this week from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. The garrison wanted its teachers to try out the life of a soldier to help them understand what their students’ parents have been going through, and what to expect when they come back.
"I don’t think it’s just trivia," said Donna Kimelman, a sixth-grade English teacher.
While she might not be able to apply the experience of wearing a Kevlar helmet and bulky tactical vest to her lessons, "I’d apply it to how I treat the kids," she said. Hearing and experiencing — if only vaguely — what their parents go through, "it gives me pause. I don’t want to have to be short with the kids when I know that they’re going through so very much."
Issues stemming from parents’ absence are often obvious, but when their parents return, students bring to school other issues that teachers can’t so easily discern.
As part of the orientation, the teachers were told of common troubles soldiers might come home with, and what troubles might develop when they get home — all of which might have an impact on students.
One of the biggest issues, the garrison’s head chaplain Col. Bruce Fredrickson explained, is marriage difficulties. Of the 168 soldiers and couples counseled on base from July through September, more than a third sought help for marriage problems, he said.
Karen Webber, a high school history and social studies teacher who has taught in the DODDS system since 1985, said she’s noticed that as parents are deployed for a second or third time, "it’s a lot harder on the family to hold all of the family functions together."
Still, children of the military today are a lot more resilient than they were in the past, she said, as evidenced by far fewer fights and tighter bonding among students going through similar hardships.
But if there are problems at home, said Peggy Baird, a Wiesbaden teacher, it will show in the students’ mood. She’s pleased, though, by the attention those problems are getting.
"With the first Desert Storm, when parents came back … you could see the kids just sit and be sad and you just knew there were things going on that we didn’t have any idea about," Baird said. There wasn’t much the Army did about helping students or families in those situations in the past, she said, "but now they’re so much more keyed into helping all areas of the family life."