Marine Wife and Mom Pens Books to Help Military Kids Cope
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2006 Who could better share pearls of wisdom with military kids about how to cope during a parent's deployment or yet another move than a military wife and mom who's gone through the travails herself for more than 20 years?
Angela Sportelli-Rehak, a Marine Corps wife and mother, is working on her third book to help military children cope with the challenges of military life. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Angela Sportelli-Rehak, wife of Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dennis Rehak, combined her personal experience with background as a professional counselor and professor to write two children's books about the challenges facing military families.
"When Duty Calls" and "Moving Again Mom" are part of a series called, "Uncle Sam's Kids" that follows a fictitious military family through the ups and downs of military life. The books are written for children in kindergarten through fourth grade and focus on the stresses of deployments and the disruption of being uprooted during permanent-change-of-station moves, Rehak explained. The stories are based largely on the Rehak family's personal experiences, as well as those of other military families, said Rehak, who teaches child psychology and education courses at Ocean County College in Toms River, N.J.
With 13 military moves under her belt, Rehak said she was often frustrated that no books on the market addressed the stresses her three children endured when they left their school, friends, sports teams and neighborhood behind during moves. "So I decided to write one myself," she said.
But as military deployments began stepping up after Sept. 11, 2001, Rehak temporarily put that project aside to write a book for the children of deploying troops. "My husband has been on many, many deployments, and I know there are a lot of stressors that come along with that," she said. "I thought a book about it might help a lot of people."
Beyond helping military families, Rehak said she also wanted to help them recognize that they're a special group deserving of special recognition. "They are Uncle Sam's kids, and I wanted to instill a sense of patriotism and pride in what they are doing," she said.
"They may not realize it, but they're very important in supporting our country by being brave at home and doing their part by continuing to help mom or dad out, do their chores and do well in school," Rehak said. "And while they're not over there fighting in the desert, their job is very, very important at home."
Rehak calls military families, particularly military children, the country's "unsung heroes," whose emotional toughness enables their loved ones to focus on defending the country. "So their job at home is extremely important," she said.
Rehak offered some of the advice her books address.
- Recognize behaviors that might indicate children's emotional difficulties. In younger children, this might be bedwetting or disruptive sleep cycles. Older children might withdrawal or start getting lower grades in school.
- Maintain a sense of normalcy and balance at home. "Try to go on and do everything like you would if your husband or wife was home," Rehak said.
- Keep involved with the community and seek out friends, family support groups and other connections to help stave off loneliness and isolation.
During military moves:
- Recognize that it's natural to feel conflicted over a move. Research shows it often takes three years to get rooted and feel a part of a community -- and that's exactly when many military families make another move.
- Strive to view the move as an adventure rather than a loss. Focus on it as a challenge and a new learning experience.
- Visit landmarks and other sites along the way, if possible, to help make the move a happy family memory.
- Reestablish family routines and get connected with the new community as quickly as possible.
Rehak's books have gotten solid reviews from military families, librarians and teachers who use them in their classrooms, she said. She received a personal letter of thanks from first lady Laura Bush, who recommended them during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Another book in the series, with the working title "Home Again," will hit the bookstands in April and focus on the challenges of reunions after military deployments, Rehak said. Through the characters in her book, Rehak said, she hopes to help families recognize reunions as transitional time during which family members reestablish their routines, responsibilities and authorities.
"Reunions are happy times, but also involve their own stresses," she said. "It can be a very hard transitional period for everyone."
Rehak said she might tackle yet another down the road, focusing on the cultural challenges military children face living in another country.